Monday, November 26, 2018

Science as practiced today is very sick

"Sick" as in unhealthy.  Something is very wrong in how science is done, and people are talking about it:
According to theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder, impaired methodology and groupthink is retarding the discovery of new physics.
The present phase of stagnation in the foundations of physics is not normal
Nothing is moving in the foundations of physics. One experiment after theother is returning null resultsNo new particles, no new dimensions, no new symmetries. Sure, there are some anomalies in the data here and there, and maybe one of them will turn out to be real news. But experimentalists are just poking in the dark. They have no clue where new physics may be to find. And their colleagues in theory development are of no help.
Some have called it a crisis. But I don’t think “crisis” describes the current situation well: Crisis is so optimistic. It raises the impression that theorists realized the error of their ways, that change is on the way, that they are waking up now and will abandon their flawed methodology. But I see no awakening. The self-reflection in the community is zero, zilch, nada, nichts, null. They just keep doing what they’ve been doing for 40 years, blathering about naturalness and multiversesand shifting their “predictions,” once againto the next larger particle collider.
This is a long and detailed discussion which is hard to excerpt.  This bit seems very important as to the institutional rot:
Developing new methodologies is harder than inventing new particles in the dozens, which is why they don’t like to hear my conclusions. Any change will reduce the paper output, and they don’t want this. It’s not institutional pressure that creates this resistance, it’s that scientists themselves don’t want to move their butts.
How long can they go on with this, you ask? How long can they keep on spinning theory-tales?
I am afraid there is nothing that can stop them. They review each other’s papers. They review each other’s grant proposals. And they constantly tell each other that what they are doing is good science. Why should they stop? For them, all is going well. They hold conferences, they publish papers, they discuss their great new ideas. From the inside, it looks like business as usual, just that nothing comes out of it.
This is not a problem that will go away by itself.
As I said, this is hard to excerpt but is really important.  RTWT.

I've been beating the drum of institutional rot in the scientific community for a long time.  This is more than just the chicanery that passes itself off as mainstream Climate Science®, this is describing how the institutions that are supposed to support scientific research are actively hindering it.  Here are a few from the archives:

The Iron Law and the bureaucratization of science.  This post makes the case that scientific discoveries are not appearing faster than they did a century ago, despite the vast increase in the number of people who "do science" for a living.  Long and hard to excerpt but this is the key bit:
The billions of taxpayer dollars being spent on scientific research do not seem to be accelerating the advance of scientific discovery.  Well, not obviously, in any case.  However, they do appear to be stunningly successful in creating and nourishing a scientific bureaucracy (as Lewis points out).  Bureaucracies have particular well understood characteristics, most interesting of which is Pournelle's Iron Law:
Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. Examples in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, vs. union representative who work to protect any teacher including the most incompetent. The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions.
Think of the Iron Law, and a representative of each class of people.  Wilhelm Röntgen discovered X-Rays (see the chart above), one of the great scientific advances of the 1890s.  Curtis G. Callan, Jr. of Princeton University is President of the American Physical Society.  Who does the Iron Law predict will gain control of the funding?

I can't believe that scientists today are less brilliant than Röntgen.  With so many more of them working today, something must explain the lack of expected progress.  The Iron Law does just that.  Consider all the potential topics that a brilliant young physicist might choose from.  Some of these might threaten Dr. Callan's position and funding.  The Iron Law predicts that the bureaucracy will respond to stifle this threatening research.  
A couple people left comments to the effect that a century ago there was a lot more low hanging fruit than today.  We've discovered the easy things and what's left is harder.  That's a fair assessment but simply can't explain the lack of ground breaking new discoveries.  Surely we haven't learned 80% of all there is to know about the Universe.  Why then are things going so slowly with all these scientists working on it?  This post dovetails so close with Dr. Hossenfelder's as to be a bit eerie.  And it's from almost 8 years ago.

Soviet Science delves into a specific incident that illustrates this "control from the top" problem in science.  Scientists at CERN got their marching orders telling them what they should NOT talk about:
As with Galileo, we see bad things happening when the State intervenes in a scientific discussion.  Good thing that would never happen in the West.  Oh, wait:

The chief of the world's leading physics lab at CERN in Geneva has prohibited scientists from drawing conclusions from a major experiment. The CLOUD ("Cosmics Leaving Outdoor Droplets") experiment examines the role that energetic particles from deep space play in cloud formation. CLOUD uses CERN's proton synchrotron to examine nucleation.

CERN Director General Rolf-Dieter Heuer told Welt Online that the scientists should refrain from drawing conclusions from the latest experiment.

"I have asked the colleagues to present the results clearly, but not to interpret them," reports veteran science editor Nigel Calder on his blog. Why?

Because, Heuer says, "That would go immediately into the highly political arena of the climate change debate. One has to make clear that cosmic radiation is only one of many parameters."
If you suspect that scientists are only supposed to enter the "highly political arena of the climate change debate" when they're presenting evidence of Manmade Global Warming, then you're as nasty and suspicious as I am.
The whole brouhaha was about the Svensmark Hypothesis which posits that Cosmic Rays striking the Earth's atmosphere generate aerosols which lead to cloud formation.  This is dangerous to mainstream Climate Science since the number of cosmic rays that hit the atmosphere is controlled by the Sun's magnetic field - a stronger field means fewer strikes and therefore fewer clouds (and a higher temperature).  CERN is involved because as the world's largest cyclotron (what we used to call "Atom Smasher"), it's where the experiment was performed and Svensmark's hypothesis confirmed - cosmic rays striking the atmosphere do indeed lead to aerosol formation.  This clearly threatens the "Carbon Dioxide is the control knob for global temperature" position and so the CERN Director basically told all his people to STFU.  This is another post from 2011 and so this is something that I've been going on about for a long, long time.  RTWT and the post about Svensmark and you'll know more about real climate science that 99% of people.

In Science and the Cold Civil War I give a number of examples showing just how nasty the current situation is, with the "Politics of Personal Destruction" as a key technique to try to keep everyone on the reservation.  This is impossible to excerpt, but you might want to take a shower after reading about the examples.  "Nasty" doesn't even begin to describe the disfunction that is institutional science today.


And I haven't even mentioned Retraction Watch, which publishes retracted scientific papers and other news (did you know that Duke University is about to settle a lawsuit alleging $200M in grant fraud?  I hadn't).  I also haven't talked about the massive crisis in reproduceability that the scientific community is going through.  These two items are effects, not a cause.  The cause it the horrible state of science as practiced today.

9 comments:

SiGraybeard said...

Sarah Hoyt has a good piece on the crisis in science up on PJMedia. Her emphasis is on a reproducibility crisis, but that just translates into stuff that wasn't good enough to publish but was published anyway.

I know I've commented here about some of these things as well.

We're just (barely) coming out of a roughly 60 year demonization of dietary fat as responsible for just about all the illnesses of mankind. That's based on the work of one guy, Ancel Keys who was such a a son of a bitch that he pushed his way through. His famous "7 Countries Study" was a study of 23 countries and he picked the 7 that supported his ideas. Instead, the recommendation to eat seed oils (don't call soybean or cottonseed oils vegetable oils - those are seeds) and grains, combined with what appears to be widespread genetics, have led to diabetes and human suffering on a scale never seen before.

In engineering, that's called fraud, and it gets you a semi-private room behind bars with a big guy who thinks "you sure got a purty mouth". In medicine, backed by big grain, the vegans, and big pharma, it gets you on the cover of Time magazine and almost canonized as a saint.

The problems in physics are easy to consider as "academic" problems; the problems with medicine have killed - and are killing - people.

Borepatch said...

Graybeard, as near as I can tell the problems are across all fields in science right now. The use of grant funding and peer review by an in-group to exclude novel ideas that threaten their work seems pervasive. It can be more or less politicized, but it looks like it is ruining science as we've known it.

Old NFO said...

Oh so true. Sadly saw this from the 'inside' if you will. VERY hard to move a scientist off top dead center, unless there is a threat to their funding... And then they go crying to their senator/congressman, and outside pressure gets brought.

Divemedic said...

Western society is in collapse. We are in the beginnings of the next dark age.

ProudHillbilly said...

Read years ago that "peer reviewed" didn't mean what we thought it meant anymore. And then tried to get some peers to review my own work that was destined for publication a couple times - near impossible. Nobody wants to take the time - they just sign off on it.

I remember the day that I lost respect for the, at the time, very popular Carl Sagan. I heard that he had said that we knew most of what there was to know about the universe. He's since been proved wrong over and over again.

Daniel Barger said...

Follow the money. Science is now MORE about research grants, patents, revenue etc. than it is about learning something new.
Therefore the incentive is to keep doing what brings in the $$$.
If something new is found great.....but the goal is not learning,
the goal is fame and fortune.

McChuck said...

Politics and big money (but I repeat myself) ruin everything. Ayn Rand talked about this phenomenon in Atlas Shrugged (1957).

I first learned there was a problem in science and engineering when I left Army SigInt after 4 years and went back to college. I talked to some of the EE grad students about topics of interest - and they had no clue. All they knew was how to do the math. They didn't know what it did.

I've seen the same thing over and over since then. We aren't training scientists and engineers. We're training mathematicians and computer programmers. They don't have any intuitive sense of what the equations mean and do in the real world.

As a hobby, I've taught myself to understand relativity over the past few years. It's only hard to learn because 90%+ of what's published about it is wrong. Many published works on the topic are self-contradictory. Once I fought my way through the jungle of falsehoods and misunderstandings, I finally arrived at the truth. It's remarkably simple. Once again, the scientists have merely learned to "shut up and calculate."

This is my $.02 on what's wrong with the heart of science. When you add Leftist dogma on top (you can't avoid it at universities, where scientists work), it just gets worse.

Stephen Gustav said...

While there's always been attempts to silence dissenting views - it used to be a more level playing field. I might try and silence Borepatch's opinion, but without the power of the state and/or vast grant dollars behind me, my efforts are not going to be as effective.

Greybeard's comment on Ancel Keys is spot on. I'd add that while the lethal effects of that fraud are obvious, I wonder if the 'academic' problems of physics or other fields are any less lethal, but just less obvious. What might we have now that could have changed things dramatically had the pace of discovery not dropped off so dramatically?

We've been dealing with the same issue of incompatibility between quantum physics and relativity for the best part of a century now. No one has resolved this. We have ever increasing numbers of magical entities - like dark matter that by definition can not be seen, felt, or sensed. Things that just scream fudge factor to me. I wonder that along with the social/infrastructure problems we didn't just take a dead end path, and can't back up because there's too damn much money and career prestige involved.

I want my inertialess drive and ultrawave communicators.

Allen L. said...

One of the aspects of this is due to the financial end of things. The costs of doing any experiments has skyrocketed. With any bureaucracy you will also have an attendant number of people whose jobs have nothing to do with the actual research. It's about five to one, admin to researcher, these days. Add into that the complexity of many of the experiments and you have a dearth of data. Once that happens the discoveries dry up and you get the reproducibility problem.