Friday, October 18, 2013

Why Climate Science is such a mess

It seems that most fields of science are a mess:
In the 1950s, when modern academic research took shape after its successes in the second world war, it was still a rarefied pastime. The entire club of scientists numbered a few hundred thousand. As their ranks have swelled, to 6m-7m active researchers on the latest reckoning, scientists have lost their taste for self-policing and quality control. The obligation to “publish or perish” has come to rule over academic life. Competition for jobs is cut-throat. Full professors in America earned on average $135,000 in 2012—more than judges did. Every year six freshly minted PhDs vie for every academic post. Nowadays verification (the replication of other people’s results) does little to advance a researcher’s career. And without verification, dubious findings live on to mislead.

Careerism also encourages exaggeration and the cherry-picking of results. In order to safeguard their exclusivity, the leading journals impose high rejection rates: in excess of 90% of submitted manuscripts. The most striking findings have the greatest chance of making it onto the page. Little wonder that one in three researchers knows of a colleague who has pepped up a paper by, say, excluding inconvenient data from results “based on a gut feeling”. And as more research teams around the world work on a problem, the odds shorten that at least one will fall prey to an honest confusion between the sweet signal of a genuine discovery and a freak of the statistical noise. Such spurious correlations are often recorded in journals eager for startling papers. If they touch on drinking wine, going senile or letting children play video games, they may well command the front pages of newspapers, too.
Incentives matter, and you get what you pay for.  Now governments are paying tens of Billions of dollars a year for "publishable results".  Well, OK - here are a bunch of publishable results.  Some of them even seem like they are true (although "some" may only be a quarter or less).

Now add in a preference by Government funding agencies for certain results - those that imply a preference for new, big government programs like Cap And Trade - and the desire for reproduceability drops to zero.  For policy makers the desire may even be negative.  The chance of real funding to experiments to falsify Global Warming dogma are slim to none.

And without falsifiability, you don't have science.  You have something that looks to a casual observer like science, but is actually careerism driven by public policy preferences.


Dave H said...

"You have something that looks to a casual observer like science"

Like the "experiments" we did in science class in school. We weren't discovering anything, we were following a script and putting on a show. And when the experiment went off-script, the teacher was just as baffled as we were.

But the show must go on.

AndyN said...

Two different groups of scientists who have to produce marketable results for a living tried to replicate published academic research and were able to replicate between 10-35% of the original results.

My favorite quote: "I explained that we re-did their experiment 50 times and never got their result. He said they'd done it six times and got this result once, but put it in the paper because it made the best story. It's very disillusioning."

So, yeah, it's not a huge surprise that something that's by design politically driven is no better.

Old NFO said...

Well said BP, and absolutely CORRECT! sigh...

AnarchAngel said...

Sad to say, but the Gell-Mann effect applies to "science" as well.