Skepticism of science

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Luca
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Skepticism of science

Post by Luca » Mon Jan 24, 2011 9:48 am

The following article is excerpted from The Independent:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/scien ... 92462.html

"Scientists are being subjected to shocking levels of personal vilification and distrust, Britain's most senior scientist has warned.

Sir Paul Nurse, the new president of the Royal Society, Britain's national academy of sciences, urged scientists to take on those critics who have cast doubt on the veracity of scientific discoveries ranging from the link between climate change and man-made carbon dioxide to the benefits of GM crops.

Sir Paul said many scientists felt under attack from critics in the blogosphere and the mainstream media, but rather than retreating into their ivory towers they needed to speak directly to the people who paid their wages.

"Scientists have got to get out there. They have to be open about what they do ... even if it does put their reputation in doubt," Sir Paul said in a BBC Horizon documentary that airs tonight. "This is far too important to be left to the polemicists and the commentators in the media. Scientists have to be there too. We've got an unholy mix of the media and the politics and it's distorting the proper reporting of science and that's a real danger to us if science is to have its proper impact on society."

Sir Paul, who won a Nobel prize for his work on cell biology, said science was used to dealing with controversies but the vilification and distrust levelled at some scientists had shocked him.

"I think today there is a new kind of battle. It's not just about ideas but whether people actually trust science... Science has created our modern world so I would like to understand why scientists are under such attack and whether scientists are partly to blame," Sir Paul said.

Climate science in particular seems to have polarised public opinion, especially in the aftermath of the leak of emails from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, which one media commentator said had exposed the "greatest scientific scandal in the history of the world". Yet four independent inquiries have cleared the scientists involved of scientific fraud or misconduct and have explained that the most damning quotation from the emails, which talked about a "trick" to "hide the decline", referred to nothing more than a fairly standard scientific technique of splicing two sets of data.

"This seems to be the greatest scientific scandal that just didn't take place," Sir Paul said."..........................
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I find observations like this very discouraging. I have studied science all my adult life and to me the reasons for growing skepticism about science and scientists seem fairly obvious. I think Dr. Nurse is either playing the innocent or has amazingly little insight.

His first problem seems to be that he has a rather exalted view of science and its role in human civilization. Science is merely a method of discovering physical truths. It has been extraordinarily successful and obviously a great deal of our current civilization is due to the utility of the scientific method. Insofar as this goes, there can be no complaint. But science does not provide any values and people are driven by values and beliefs. Science has no role in trying to instill values or morality and when scientists try to do so, they overstep their lines of expertise and are as open to criticism as is any other purported leader. Scientists increasingly are trying to direct rather than merely describe.

If this were all there were to the issue, there would not be the degree of vilification that Nurse decries. But he rightfully points out the role specifically of climate science and climate scientists. The behavior of some of these scientists and the overreaching conclusions and moral imperatives that some have promulgated have of course antagonized that portion of the population which remains unconvinced by the evidence.

It's not the role of scientists to tell the population how to interpret ambiguous information and certainly not how to respond as a result of it. I was very disappointed at how he whitewashed the behavior of the Climatic Research Unit. Even if one were to believe his interpretation of the utilization of statistical "tricks", the real problem was that these scientists clearly showed that they were not merely trying to provide information, they were clearly trying to compete against and suppress their scientific opponents and shape what the public response should be to what they believe to be true.

The reason science and scientists are subjected to increasing skepticism is because of the perception that in too many situations they are trying to dictate rather than to merely inform, which is the appropriate role of science and scientists. If you choose to step into the public arena and become a "leader" you will inevitably be subjected to the same skepticism as everyone else and you can't wear the cloak of science as a righteous shield and pretend to be shocked by the skepticism. Luca

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GOODave
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Re: Skepticism of science

Post by GOODave » Mon Jan 24, 2011 10:17 am

Luca wrote:His first problem seems to be that he has a rather exalted view of science and its role in human civilization. Science is merely a method of discovering physical truths. It has been extraordinarily successful and obviously a great deal of our current civilization is due to the utility of the scientific method. Insofar as this goes, there can be no complaint. But science does not provide any values and people are driven by values and beliefs. Science has no role in trying to instill values or morality and when scientists try to do so, they overstep their lines of expertise and are as open to criticism as is any other purported leader. Scientists increasingly are trying to direct rather than merely describe.
I don't intend to divert this thread back down the "religion" avenue, but I cannot read the above without having to comment (as I have so often commented), neither is The Bible a science (or anthropology or [ ] textbook as some would want us to believe.

That a given physical process is not included in its pages means EITHER that the physical process isn't valid OR (and more likely) the physical process has nothing to do with the topic the Bible addresses at any given point (or overall). I can't tell you how many arguments I've participated in, with well-intended Christian brothers and sisters, who tell me (for example), "well, Genesis says it was 7, 24-hour days." First, it does NOT say that and, what's more, we have no indication HOW LONG the days were until the sun, moon, and stars were created on day 4; but second God also says (elsewhere) that "...one day is as a thousand years with God..." so without some study and devoted research, you cannot create some physical timeline for the creation account. (I do happen to BELIEVE that days 4-7 were, indeed, 24 hour days ... but so what: THAT wasn't the point of the account).

There is history included in its pages, but it is not a history book. There are prophecies included in its pages, but it is not a futurist handbook. There are science and anthropology in its pages, but it is not a science or sociology or psychology ... book.

Not ONLY can science neither prove nor disprove the Bible ... but the Bible can only be seen to SUPPORT (or lack support for) science but in most cases won't refute any scientific findings (OTHER than those relatively small number of cases where science explicitely violates science).

And finally, God is not submitted to (neither beholdin' to) our man-based logic or methods. We use those so that WE can better understand the physical world around us. God is not limited to this physical world.

THAT is why they call this "faith" (which means more than what most of us think it means).

bubba35
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Re: Skepticism of science

Post by bubba35 » Mon Jan 24, 2011 11:48 am

The reason people question science is because science is for sale. If you pay enough money, you can find a scientist to find the results you want found.

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kramer
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Re: Skepticism of science

Post by kramer » Tue Jan 25, 2011 4:43 pm

Luca wrote: Yet four independent inquiries have cleared the scientists involved of scientific fraud or misconduct and have explained...
A Parliamentary committee has found the University of East Anglia's two "independent" enquiries into Climategate mildly troubling in parts – but says everyone should keep calm and carry on, only with a little more transparency.
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/01/25 ... print.html
A committee of MPs has described two independent inquiries into the ‘climategate scandal’ as ‘unsatisfactory’ because they failed to answer important questions about allegedly missing emails.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthn ... ctory.html
TWO inquiries into claims that scientists manipulated data about global warming were yesterday condemned by MPs as ineffective and too secretive.
http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/225 ... ate-probes
“We should have been warned by the CFC/ozone affair because the corruption of science in that was so bad that something like 80% of the measurements being made during that time were either faked, or incompetently done.”

- Scientist James Lovelock

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Fordama
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Re: Skepticism of science

Post by Fordama » Tue Jan 25, 2011 6:18 pm

Luca wrote: It's not the role of scientists to tell the population how to interpret ambiguous information and certainly not how to respond as a result of it. I was very disappointed at how he whitewashed the behavior of the Climatic Research Unit. Even if one were to believe his interpretation of the utilization of statistical "tricks", the real problem was that these scientists clearly showed that they were not merely trying to provide information, they were clearly trying to compete against and suppress their scientific opponents and shape what the public response should be to what they believe to be true.
Actually, there was nothing wrong or improper with the "trick." You, like others, are getting hung up on the informal language used in the stolen email.

I teach kids a "trick" to factor the difference of squares in a quadratic expression. It is not deceitful, or improper--it's simply a method that yields proper results in a different method. That I call it a trick does not mean it is any more or less valid.

If you call a method a trick--which many people would in any informal discussions on procedures--there is no implied deception.

More on "the trick" and what it was about.

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009 ... the_tr.php

Fordama
This country of the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them.---JFK

Luca
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Re: Skepticism of science

Post by Luca » Tue Jan 25, 2011 9:55 pm

The issue here is not one of the validity of certain statistical methods. It is far more than that.

To start, the link - which I read -gives an example of the type of scientist/activist of the very type that I just criticized. If you look at the top of his website he refers to himself as a "godless liberal" and promptly goes off on "the nuts screaming shrilly on Fox News." This is not the attitude nor the language of a dispassionate scientist. This is an activist. This is a juvenile clown.

(As a digression, I find it very curious that he states that we rely on tree rings to indicate the climate going back - I don't know - tens of thousands of years but claims that this method became less effective starting around 1960 because of an increasing concentration of CO2 in the environment......... and yet they assume that this method is reliable going back 10,000 years ago in an environment that they know next to nothing about other than those same tree rings. Why do they assume they know and can exclude all the possible complicating variables from thousands of years ago? This doesn't sound like really rigorous science to me. Anyway.......)

The comment made by the researcher in question was:

"I've just completed Mike's Nature trick…to hide the decline,"

While I assume it is true that you have to make some allowances for the accuracy of those tree rings, to say that you are doing it "to hide the decline" is hardly a legitimate scientific attitude. It sounds very much like he knows what he wants the statistics to indicate and he will use whatever statistical method is necessary to get the results he wants, i.e. "to hide the decline." I may be reading into that, but it does sound ominous.

But all this is not the real issue at any rate. The comments that this guy made regarding talking to editors of scientific journals to convince them not to publish work by his opponents is one of the shabbiest examples of bad science I'm aware of. As far as I'm concerned, it torpedoes his credibility entirely.

This is, to put it mildly, an important issue and these guys have an ethical obligation to stick to legitimate science and let the truth come out (assuming it is even discoverable with today's technology) rather than play these Mickey Mouse games to rig the conclusions in favor of what they want them to show. This is what I'm talking about, not some minor statistical jiggling of tree rings.

Science is not about drawing your conclusions and then engaging in deceit to buttress your conclusions. You publish your conclusions and compare it to everyone else's and if your conclusions are strong they will be accepted. Otherwise there is no consensus as appears to be the case with global warming or climate change or climate chaos or whatever the name du jour is. Luca

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kramer
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Re: Skepticism of science

Post by kramer » Wed Jan 26, 2011 10:14 am

Fordama wrote: Actually, there was nothing wrong or improper with the "trick." You, like others, are getting hung up on the informal language used in the stolen email.

I teach kids a "trick" to factor the difference of squares in a quadratic expression. It is not deceitful, or improper--it's simply a method that yields proper results in a different method. That I call it a trick does not mean it is any more or less valid.

If you call a method a trick--which many people would in any informal discussions on procedures--there is no implied deception.

More on "the trick" and what it was about.

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009 ... the_tr.php

Fordama
The issue is trying to "hide the decline" using the trick.

Read my signature on how 'objective' and 'truthful' scientists really are.
“We should have been warned by the CFC/ozone affair because the corruption of science in that was so bad that something like 80% of the measurements being made during that time were either faked, or incompetently done.”

- Scientist James Lovelock

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kramer
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Re: Skepticism of science

Post by kramer » Wed Jan 26, 2011 10:50 am

Luca wrote:The issue here is not one of the validity of certain statistical methods. It is far more than that.

To start, the link - which I read -gives an example of the type of scientist/activist of the very type that I just criticized. If you look at the top of his website he refers to himself as a "godless liberal" and promptly goes off on "the nuts screaming shrilly on Fox News." This is not the attitude nor the language of a dispassionate scientist. This is an activist.
In political process too, the search for 'new combinations' can be expected to produce valuable results. Such a search is likely to demonstrate the responsibilities which scientists and other specialists have, not only to their nations, but also to the constituency of mankind. In the past, specialist have often been reluctant to engage in political debate or to share their knowledge and fears with the general public. Given social dilemmas, they have often preferred to adopt neutral rather than value positions, to tacitly advise rather than openly advocate. This generalization no longer holds true. In many branches of science there are radical movements. Increasingly, both in the rich and poor worlds, scientists are involved in active advocacy which they see as an intellectual and ethical duty.
- RIO: Reshaping the International Order-A Report to the Club of Rome' - 1975 - page 133 of the paperback version
The same thing was said by Harvard and Princeton Historian, Professor Carroll Quigley in his book 'Tragedy and Hope' published around 1967.
“We should have been warned by the CFC/ozone affair because the corruption of science in that was so bad that something like 80% of the measurements being made during that time were either faked, or incompetently done.”

- Scientist James Lovelock

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Fordama
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Re: Skepticism of science

Post by Fordama » Wed Jan 26, 2011 11:15 am

kramer wrote: The issue is trying to "hide the decline" using the trick.
Yet nothing in the actual study was found to be in error or misleading.

Fordama
This country of the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them.---JFK

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kramer
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Re: Skepticism of science

Post by kramer » Wed Jan 26, 2011 11:34 am

Fordama wrote:
Yet nothing in the actual study was found to be in error or misleading.

Fordama
That's probably because they lost and/or kept part of the data from independent reviewers.
And at least two of those 'investigations' are coming under fire now for being weak.
“We should have been warned by the CFC/ozone affair because the corruption of science in that was so bad that something like 80% of the measurements being made during that time were either faked, or incompetently done.”

- Scientist James Lovelock

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Fordama
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Re: Skepticism of science

Post by Fordama » Wed Jan 26, 2011 11:58 am

kramer wrote:
That's probably because they lost and/or kept part of the data from independent reviewers.
Uh huh. That's why.

Fordama
This country of the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them.---JFK

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kramer
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Re: Skepticism of science

Post by kramer » Wed Jan 26, 2011 12:34 pm

Fordama wrote:Uh huh. That's why.

Fordama
Got a link to back this up?
“We should have been warned by the CFC/ozone affair because the corruption of science in that was so bad that something like 80% of the measurements being made during that time were either faked, or incompetently done.”

- Scientist James Lovelock

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