Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Science and the Cold Civil War

Here are three (somewhat longish) but intensely interesting items.

The intellectual closing of the Scientific mind:
A new class of scientists have evolved. Young and ambitious people who look at the world differently than most of their elder peers. They think everything is relative…especially morality. For them the ends justifies the means and peer-justification trumps empirical justification.

They think they are really smart, and compared to their non-science age cohort I suppose they are…. But that ain’t saying much. Those of you who follow science probably know that the performance of the American science student, from top to bottom, has been in decline for decades now. When I was in grad school the vast majority of my peers were native born and educated. Now the converse is true. Most science grad students in the USA were not born here.

Why? Because our science education was gutted by “progressive” reforms. I could rant for pages on this topic… it makes me really angry actually. Suffice to say a new generation of scientists is developing who have been trained that group validation and self-esteem is more important than veracity and rigor. We are steeply declining in our production of competent scientific minds.
This is a rant, but one where the anger is ice cold and the reasoning adamantine in it's clarity.  And he coins a wonderful new word, "Saganized":
Carl Sagan was the country's leading practitioner of the mythologization of science, transforming a process into a philosophy, substituting political agendas for inquiry and arrogance for research. Sagan was often wrong, but it didn't matter because his errors were scientific, rather than ideological or theological. He could be wrong as many times as he wanted, as long as he wasn't wrong politically..

Science has been thoroughly Saganized. The vast majority of research papers are wrong, their results cannot be replicated. The researchers writing them often don't even understand what they're doing wrong and don't care. Research is increasingly indistinguishable from politics. Studies are framed in ways that prove a political premise, whether it's that the world will end without a carbon tax or that racism causes obesity. If they prove the premise, the research is useful to the progressive non-profits and politicians who always claim to have science in their corner. If it doesn't, then it isn't funded.
Next up, the Climate mob:
In the mid-2000s, I was researching an archaeology story that took me to several national parks in the Southwest. At one of them, the National Park Service (NPS) archaeologist discussed competing theories about the disappearance of a mysterious ancient culture. For decades, there had been heated debate among scholars over what became of this culture.

In an aside, the NPS archaeologist told me how professional squabbles in her field prompted her at one point to flee the Southwest to do archaeology in another region. Why? “One reason I left is I find southwestern archaeologists… [long pause] very unforgiving.” How so? “Part of it is the backstabbing.”
This actually sums up the pettiness that oozes out of the Climategate emails.  But the knives have been whetted for some years now, and the back stabbing is reaching impressive heights:
What’s unusual about the climate debate is that partisans don’t want you to be able to choose among those competing biases. That’s why Marc Morano wages a Tea Party-like campaign against Republican moderates who dare to talk about climate change. That’s why his counterparts in the climate-concerned community have waged a similar effort over the years to discredit University of Colorado political scientist Roger Pielke Jr., an effort that reached a shameful crescendo these past few weeks.

This is not to say that Roger is above criticism (He’s not). Or that Roger is blameless. (He’s not.) And there’s some useful context here from Dale Jamieson (ignore the headline), if you want to understand the anger that has been building against Roger since the mid to late 2000s. But I’m sorry, the torch-bearing mob that went after him after he published his first piece at Nate Silver’s new site was despicable. And now it’s turned into the sort of agenda-driven campaign and ideological cleansing that even Morano would grudgingly admire.
Long and thoughtful, from someone who has been watching the climate science community longer than I.

Lastly, a story from the British press.  A note to my readers from the Colonies: the term "sexed up" is a typical britishism referring to what we might term marketing spin.  The reference here no doubt is to the claims that Tony Blair "sexed up" the report on Iraqui weapons of mass destruction.  Green 'smear campaign' against professor who dared to disown 'sexed up' UN climate dossier:
The professor who refused to sign last week’s high-profile UN climate  report because it was too ‘alarmist’, has told The Mail on  Sunday he has become the victim of a smear campaign. 

Richard Tol claims he is fighting a sustained attack on his reputation by a key figure from a leading institution that researches the impact of global warming.
Note that Tol isn't a beastly Denier like I am, rather, he's a mainstream climate scientist.  At least for now - he's strayed off the reservation.

Lastly (yeah, I know that this makes four, not three), Nigel Calder discussed (some time back) why science is slowing down:
The modest output of major discoveries compared with a century ago, despite the huge increase in the scientific workforce, was the theme of an earlier post on this subject, which you can see here http://calderup.wordpress.com/2010/05/06/why-is-science-so-sloooow/ . A relevant extract  from the Magic Universe story on “Discovery” included this paragraph about the use of peer review to resist the funding and publication of novel research.
As a self-employed, independent researcher, the British chemist James Lovelock was able to speak his mind, and explain how the system discourages creativity. ‘Before a scientist can be funded to do a research, and before he can publish the results of his work, it must be examined and approved by an anonymous group of so-called peers. This inquisition can’t hang or burn heretics yet, but it can deny them the ability to publish their research, or to receive grants to pay for it. It has the full power to destroy the career of any scientist who rebels.’
Lovelock made those remarks in a lecture in 1989, but the situation remains grim.
Remember the second link, about the backstabbing?  This puts peer review in a whole different light, doesn't it?

If you care about science as an uncorrupted institution, you need to spend some time with all of these.  That's a lot of reading (don't miss Calder's link to his older post, which is very thought provoking indeed), but the reward is considerable.


Old NFO said...

It's not just climate, it's everything in science... Whales for example... The infighting there is just amazing, with NRDC getting funding from China to attack leading US scientists for the grant work they are doing...

Sherm said...

I'm currently reading the book, "Making of the Atomic Bomb" by Richard Rhodes. (It is not at all what I expected. For example, I'm half way through and WWII only started in the last chapter.) One of the things that struck me was the level of cooperation and information sharing among physicists from around the world in the years preceding the two world wars, when they took a couple of time outs. Success by one scientist was celebrated and built upon by another. The expansion of knowledge was amazing. Climate scientists today remind me more of medieval scholars arguing about dancing angels on the head of a pin. No one wants to stop and ask if (an angel or) the climate might have its own agenda.

Archer said...

FYI, "Saganized" was coined by Daniel Greenfield over at this post, which Sgt Eddy Brewers (the KillingtonZone author) was quoting in its entirety.

Chas Clifton said...

I know a number of archaeologists. After dog trainers, it is the most vicious profession you can imagine. I have no idea why.