Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Scientific ethics and research

Judy Curry has a very thoughtful post about how climate science research is conducted and potentially skewed:
Scientists will only be able to command trust in society if they follow basic professional standards. Prime among them is to publish the results of their research, no matter if they support a desirable storyline or not.

Last year, I encountered a stark example of this.  One of my colleagues was thinking about publishing a paper that challenges the IPCC interpretation of the previous pause during the 1940s to 1970′s.  My colleague sent a .ppt presentation on this topic to three  colleagues, each of whom is a very respected senior scientist and none of whom have been particularly vocal advocates on the subject of climate change (names are withheld to protect the guilty/innocent).  Each of these scientists strongly encouraged my colleague NOT to publish this paper, since it would only provide fodder for the skeptics. (Note: my colleague has not yet written this paper, but not because he was discouraged by these colleagues).

What is at issue here is a conflict between the micro ethics of individual responsibility for responsible conduct of research and larger ethical issues associated with the well-being of the public and the environment.  Most such examples are related to suppression of evidence including  attempting to stifle skeptical research (particularly its publication and dissemination to the public); the Climategate emails provide abundant examples of this.
I think that this is pretty insightful, and only part of a long and insightful post.  Dr. Curry isn't one of those beastly Deniers like me, but rather a "luke warmer" who thinks that we are on net making our climate warmer.  However, she thinks that there is a systemic problem in how the science is performed and this is effecting the trust that the public has in the scientific community as a whole.  And quite rightly, as she observes from inside the community:
Fuller and Mosher’s book Climategate: The CruTape Letters argued that ‘noble cause corruption’ was a primary motivation behind the Climategate deceits.  Noble cause corruption is when the ends (noble) justify the means (ignoble).  I think that there is an element of this that can be seen in the Climategate emails, but I think the motivated reasoning by climate scientists is more complex (and ultimately less ‘noble’).
There's a lot of dirty laundry being hung out here.


Anonymous said...

I'm in the biz ... with a science Fudd in a correct field and a very strong background in instrument development. However, since I simply seek a form of truth and don't expound The Truth, the combination makes me an outcast - but as I've said before - I feel I'm a Protestant working at the Vatican.

These people are Believers. But if one takes a look at the instrumentation, one will develop doubts of the data. But since The Answer is known, who cares?

Look what's happened to AGU over the past 20 years ...

One "scientist" stood in front of a group showing a PP slide comparing "data" to model results ... and made the statement that since the model was Truth, an algorithm needed to be developed to fit the data to the model for use in future "experiments".

I don't believe there's any hope for the next decade or two. Even if we survive the aftermath of the upcoming Syrian escapade.


kx59 said...

"there is a systemic problem in how the science is performed and this is effecting the trust that the public has in the scientific community as a whole."

That I completely agree with.
I find myself very suspicious of all scientists now, having seen the self serving pettiness and abject fraud perpetrated by the global worming sciencytists.

Anonymous said...

It’s not just the global warming scientists.
Say hypothetically that you’re a scientist and you’ve run an experiment and published a paper on radiation. Your peers think it was great and first thing you know you’re scheduled to receive a Nobel Prize. Life is good. You’re famous and the notoriety gives you a soapbox to advance your own personal views that are supported by your discovery.
Then reality rears its ugly head. Another scientist runs a similar experiment that tends to disprove your result. Now your Nobel may be at risk. Do you speak up and tell the Nobel committee that they need to wait on the party? Do you ask the other scientist to hold off on publishing? Do you bluster on and hope that no one notices?
And no, it’s not really hypothetical. Ever hear of Herman Joseph Muller or the linear no-threshold hypothesis? This sort of thing predates global warming.