Skepticism about science and medicine

In search of disinterested science

Can truth prevail?

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2017/10/08

Recently I joined the Heterodox Academy, whose mission is to promote viewpoint diversity :

We are a politically diverse group of social scientists, natural scientists, humanists, and other scholars who want to improve our academic disciplines and universities.
We share a concern about a growing problem: the loss or lack of “viewpoint diversity.” When nearly everyone in a field shares the same political orientation, certain ideas become orthodoxy, dissent is discouraged, and errors can go unchallenged.
To reverse this process, we have come together to advocate for a more intellectually diverse and heterodox academy.

My personal focus for quite some time has been the lack of viewpoint diversity on scientific issues — HIV/AIDS, global warming, and a host of less prominent topics (see Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth). But earlier I had been appalled — and still am — over political correctness, by which I mean the dogmatic assertion that certain sociopolitical views must not only prevail but must be enforced, including by government action.

I became aware of political correctness when it came to my university in the late 1980s (distinctly later than elsewhere) and led to the resignation of Alan Mandelstamm, a nationally renowned teacher (of economics) who had for more than a decade attracted more students to his classes than any other teacher of any subject, as well as having a variety of faculty members from other fields sit in on his classes purely for the learning experience. I’ve described the circumstances of Al’s resignation in a couple of articles (The trivialization of sexual harassment: Lessons from the Mandelstamm Case; Affirmative action at Virginia Tech: The tail that wagged the dog). Al passed away some years ago; his obituary has been funded to be permanent and the contributors to it testify to what a marvelous instructor Al was, to the benefit of untold numbers of individuals: 4 years after Al died, former students and associates who learn of his passing continue to add their recollections. Al and I had both participated in the Virginia chapter of the National Association of Scholars (NAS), which stands for traditional academic ideals:
NAS is concerned with many issues, including academic content, cost, unfairness, academic integrity, campus culture, attitudes, governance, and long-term trends. We encourage commitment to high intellectual standards, individual merit, institutional integrity, good governance, and sound public policy.

What that involves in practice is illustrated in the newsletter I edited until my retirement.

Common to NAS, the Heterodox Academy, and dissenting from dogmatism on HIV/AIDS, global warming, and many other issues is the belief that views and actions ought to be consonant with and indeed formed by the available evidence and logical inferences from it — by the truth, in other words, at least as close as humans can come to it at any given time.

Ideologies and worldviews can make it difficult for us even to acknowledge what the evidence is when it seems incompatible with our beliefs. Since my interest for many decades has been in unorthodoxies, I’ve looked into the evidence pertaining to a greater number of controversial issues, in more detail and depth, than most people have had occasion to, with the frustrating consequence that nowadays many of the people with whom I share the preponderance of sociopolitical preferences are not with me regarding HIV/AIDS or global warming; I’m the rare example of “A politically liberal global-warming skeptic”; and I wish that those who seem to agree with me did not include people whose sociopolitical views and actions are abhorrent to me (say, Ted Cruz or Jeff Sessions).

At any rate, in science and in the humanities and in politics, in all aspects of human life, the thing to aim for is to find the best evidence and to be guided by it. Through the Heterodox Academy I learned recently of the Pro-Truth Pledge; see “How to address the epidemic of lies in politics: The ‘Pro-Truth Pledge,’ based on behavioral science research, could be part of the answer”.

The badge of that pledge is now on my personal website, and I encourage others to join this venture.

 

I don’t expect quick results, of course, but “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” (often misattributed to Chairman Mao, but traceable more than a millennium further back to Lao Tzu or Laozi, founder of Taoism).

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Posted in conflicts of interest, consensus, global warming, politics and science, science is not truth, science policy, scientific culture, scientists are human, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

HPV vaccination: a thalidomide-type scandal

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2017/09/17

I’ve posted a number of times about the lack of proof that HPV causes cervical cancer and that the anti-HPV vaccines are being touted widely by officialdom as well as manufacturers even though the vaccines have been associated with an unusually high number of adverse reactions, some of them very severe, literally disabling.

Long-time medical journalist and producer of award-winning documentaries, Joan Shenton, has just made available the first of a projected trilogy, Sacrificial Virgins, about the dangers of anti-HPV vaccines: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAzcMHaBvLs&feature=youtu.be

The website, WHAT DOCTORS WON’T TELL YOU, comments in this way: “HPV vaccine ‘a second thalidomide scandal’, says new YouTube documentary”

 

Posted in medical practices, peer review, prescription drugs | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

American Medicine Needs Reform — or perhaps revolution

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2017/09/10

Dozens of books and myriad articles have been published over the last few decades about What’s Wrong With Present-Day Medicine.

A recent addition is An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back by Elisabeth Rosenthal, lauded in a lead review  in the New York Times (4 & 9 April 2017) and with 250 customer reviews on amazon.com, >80% of them 5-starred.

The New York Times review is titled “Why an open market won’t repair American health care”, which indicates clearly enough why it may take a revolution, and perhaps a President Bernie Sanders, and certainly a squashing of the Republican Party’s free-market-above-all ideology, to bring American citizens the guaranteed and affordable heath care that is enjoyed by the citizens of every other major country on Earth.

It is far from only the political left that recognizes this need. Angus Deaton, 2015 Nobel Prize for economic science, wrote: “I would add [to possible ways of reducing income inequality] the creation of a single-payer health system; not because I am in favor of socialized medicine but because the artificially inflated costs of health care are powering up inequality by producing large fortunes for a few while holding down wages; the pharmaceutical industry alone had 1,400 lobbyists in Washington in 2014. American health care does a poor job of delivering health, but is exquisitely designed as an inequality machine, commanding an ever-larger share of G.D.P. and funneling resources to the top of the income distribution” (review of The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution — Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic by Ganesh Sitaraman, New York Times, 20 March 2017)

 

 

Posted in conflicts of interest, medical practices | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Scientific consensus vs. the evidence: Big-Bang theory and fudge factors

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2017/09/02

The scientific consensus is that the universe began in a “Big Bang” around 13 billion years ago.

As with the scientific consensus on most matters, the media and society at large treat this consensus as unquestionable truth. Serious and competent dissenters are almost invisible, and much of the media depict people who don’t accept the consensus as Flat-Earthers, crackpots.

Again as with the scientific consensus on many matters, the actual evidence, the facts, do not support the consensus unequivocally. Sorely missing from society’s respect for “science” is an appreciation of the difference between facts and theories.

Concerning the Big Bang, the facts are the differences in colors of the light emitted by the chemical elements as observed on Earth and on cosmic objects.

“Color” is the human sensation experienced when visible light of particular wavelengths (or frequencies, inversely proportional to wavelengths) hits the eye’s retina. A well established physical phenomenon is the Doppler Effect: an observer moving away from a source of waves registers a longer wavelength than an observer at the source itself (and vice versa, an observer traveling towards a source of waves registers an apparently shorter wavelength). The example typically given in schools, long ago in the days of steam-engine trains, was that the whistles from the train’s engine sounded a higher tone when the train was approaching the station and a lower note when moving away from the station; the Internet offers many illustrations of this, for example “Brass band on train demonstrates Doppler effect”.

All observations of distant cosmic objects show a “redshift”: the colors of light emitted by the chemical elements on the objects are shifted to longer wavelengths, to the red end of the spectrum of visible light. According to the Doppler Effect, that means the objects are moving away from Earth, in all directions; the universe is expanding, in other words.

However: Is the Doppler Effect the only possible reason for the cosmic redshifts?

No, according to observational evidence accumulated by astronomer Halton Arp, which suggests that the light emitted by quasars has a redshift that is only partly a Doppler Effect, the other part possibly characteristic of newly formed matter. Quasars are “quasi-stellar objects”, emitting much larger amounts of energy than would stars of apparently similar size, and they are key components in calculations of the distances and speeds of cosmic objects. If Arp was right, then Big-Bang cosmology might well be replaced by the Steady-State theory of the universe promoted by Fred Hoyle and others. Since quasars are far from fully understood (Frequently asked questions about Quasars ), Arp may turn out to have been right.

At any rate, that the scientific consensus on Big-Bang cosmology is almost universally accepted, that the common conventional wisdom has no doubts about it, illustrates how a scientific consensus can become popular public dogma even when there are substantive reasons to doubt its validity.

There are actually many reasons to doubt the validity of the Big-Bang hypothesis, set out for instance by the late Tom Van Flandern (The Top 30 problems with the Big Bang Theory) or more recently and succinctly by “Tanya Techie” (Top Ten scientific flaws in the Big Bang Theory).

What has seemed to me the kiss of death for Big-Bang Theory is the need for the fudge factors of “dark matter” and “dark energy” to explain the calculated rate of universe expansion; fudge factors that seem utterly absurd given that they are supposed to represent amounts much larger than the known amounts of normal matter and energy (Rethinking “Star Soup”) but have never actually been observed, they are postulated to exist solely to make Big-Bang Theory work.

An additional ground for doubt is that the calculations on which dark matter-energy are estimated appear to be seriously flawed: Donald G. Saari, “N-body solutions and computing galactic masses”, Astronomical Journal, 149 (2015) 174; “Mathematics and the ‘Dark Matter’ puzzle”, American Mathematical Monthly, 122 (2015) 407.

*                     *                   *                   *                   *                   *                   *                   *

Big-Bang Theory is far from alone as an almost universally accepted doctrine that in reality conforms only doubtfully with the actual evidence. Close examination of the actual facts on quite a number of other topics reveals that there are reasonable doubts about the validity of the scientific consensus on how to interpret the evidence about

Ø      the extinction of the dinosaurs

Ø      the mechanism of smell

Ø      the efficacy of anti-depressants

Ø      the cholesterol theory of cardiovascular disease

Ø      the blood-pressure theory of strokes and heart attacks

Ø      the cause of AIDS

Ø      when and from where the first human settled in the Americas

Ø      the hazards of second-hand tobacco smoke

Ø      whether nuclear fusion is feasible at ordinary temperatures (“cold fusion”)

Ø      whether human-generated carbon dioxide is responsible for climate change

Ø      whether continental drift (plate tectonics) adequately explains all the facts about earthquakes and other geological phenomena

Ø      the cause(s) of Alzheimer’s disease

Ø      the potential danger of mercury in vaccines and in dental amalgams

and more; see Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth

Posted in consensus, science is not truth, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

Slowing of global warming officially confirmed — by reading between the lines

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2017/08/12

Climate-change skeptics, deniers, denialists, and also unbiased observers have pointed out that measured global temperatures seem to have risen at a slower rate, or perhaps ceased rising at all, since about 1998.
But the media have by and large reported the continuing official alarmist claims that each year has been the hottest on record, that a tipping point is nearly upon us, catastrophe is just around the corner — exemplified perhaps by Al Gore’s recent new film, An Inconvenient Sequel, with interviews of Gore in many media outlets.

However, that the pause in global warming is quite real is shown decisively by the way in which the mainstream consensus has tried to discount the facts, attempting to explain them away.
For example a pamphlet, published jointly by the Royal Society of London and the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, asserts that human-caused release of greenhouse gases is producing long-term warming and climate change, albeit there might be periods on the order of decades where there is no or little warming, as with the period since about 2000 when such natural causes as “lower solar activity and volcanic eruptions” have “masked” the rise in temperature (“Climate-Change Science or Climate-Change Propaganda?”).

That assertion misses the essential point: All the alarmist projections are based on computer models. The models failed to foresee the pause in temperature rise since 1998, demonstrating that the models are inadequate and therefore their projections are wrong. The models also fail to accommodate the period of global cooling rather than warming from the 1940s to the 1970s.

The crux is that the models do not incorporate important natural forces that affect the carbon cycle and the energy interactions. Instead, when the models are patently wrong, as from 1940s to 1970s and since 1998, the modelers and other researchers vested in the theory of human-caused climate change speculate about how one or other natural phenomenon somehow “masks” the asserted underlying temperature rise.

Above all, of course, the theorists neglect to mention that the Earth is still rebounding from the last Ice Age and will, if the last million years are any guide, continue to warm up for many tens of thousands of years (Climate-change facts: Temperature is not determined by carbon dioxide).
The various attempts to explain away the present pause in temperature rise were listed a few years ago at THE HOCKEY SCHTICK“Updated list of 66 excuses for the 18-26 year ‘pause’ in global warming — ‘If you can’t explain the ‘pause’, you can’t explain the cause’”.
Here are a few of the dozens of excuses for the failure of global temperature to keep up with projections of the climate models:

1. Lower activity of the sun
That ought to raise eyebrows about this whole business. Essentially all the energy Earth receives from out there comes from the Sun. Apparently the computer models do not start by taking that into account?
(Peter Stauning, “Reduced solar activity disguises global temperature rise”, Atmospheric and Climate Sciences, 4 #1, January 2014 “Without the reduction in the solar activity-related contributions the global temperatures would have increased steadily from 1980 to present”)
And of course if the Sun stopped shining altogether…
Anyway, the models are wrong.

2. The heat is being hidden in the ocean depths (Cheng et al., “Improved estimates of ocean heat content from 1960 to 2015”, Science Advances, 10 March 2017, 3 #3, e1601545, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.160154
In other words, the models are wrong about the distribution of supposedly trapped heat.

3. Increased emission of aerosols especially in Asia (Kühn et al., “Climate impacts of changing aerosol emissions since 1996”, Geophysical Research Letters, 41 [14 July 2014] 4711–18, doi:10.1002/2014GL060349)
The climate models are wrong because they do not properly take aerosol emissions into account.

3a. “Volcanic aerosols, not pollutants, tamped down recent Earth warming, says CU study”
       In other words, the models are wrong because they cannot take into account the complexities of natural events that affect climate.

4. Reduced emission of greenhouse gases, following the Montreal Protocol eliminating ozone-depleting substances (Estrada et al, “Statistically derived contributions of diverse human influences to twentieth-century temperature changes”, Nature Geoscience, 6 (2013) 1050-55 doi:10.1038/ngeo1999
       The climate models are wrong because they do not take into account all greenhouse-gas emissions.

5. “Contributions of stratospheric water vapor to decadal changes in the rate of global warming” (Solomon et al., Science, 327 [2010] 1219-12;
DOI: 10.1126/science.1182488)
In other words, the models are wrong because they do not take account of variations in water vapor in the stratosphere.

6. Strengthened trade winds in the Pacific
Again, the models are wrong because they cannot take account of the innumerable natural phenomena that determine climate.

6a.     An amusing corollary is that “Seven years ago, we were told the opposite of what the new Matthew England paper says: slower (not faster) trade winds caused ‘the pause’”

And so on though another 50 or 60 different speculations. Although they are all different, there is a single commonality: The computer models used to represent Earth’s climate are woefully unable to do so. That might well be thought to be obvious a priori in view of the astronomical number of variables and interactions that determine climate. Moreover, a little less obviously perhaps, “global” climate is a human concept. The reality is that short- and long-term changes in climate by no means always occur in parallel in different regions.

Take-away points:

Mainstream climate science has demonstrated that
all the climate models are inadequate
and their projections have been wrong

Since the late 1990s, global temperatures have not risen
to the degree anticipated by climate models and climate alarmists
but that is not officially admitted
even as it is obvious from the excuses offered
for the failure of the models

Posted in consensus, denialism, global warming, media flaws, science is not truth, science policy, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Another medical dogma deconstructed: DO NOT restrict sodium intake

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2017/08/01

Medical dogma has long been that blood pressure should be lowered to a level that is normal for young people, and that taking in salt increases blood pressure significantly.

The facts are otherwise. Lowering salt intake has a virtually negligible effect in lowering blood pressure, but low sodium causes tangible harm: Rethinking the War on Salt

The book-length discussion is The Salt Fix.

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HPV vaccines: risks exceed benefits

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2017/07/09

“Vaccination” is publicly argued in black/white, yes/no fashion, as though one had to be either for or against ALL vaccinations. But the fact is that the benefits of some vaccinations far outweigh the dangers of occasional harmful “side” effects whereas that is not clear with other vaccines. Polio vaccine, for example, seems to have been wonderfully effective and is still so in many countries; on the other hand, in regions where polio is no longer endemic, the risk of contracting polio from oral vaccine exceeds the danger of contracting it when not vaccinated (see links near the end of What to believe? Science is a red herring and a wild-goose chase).

Immune systems are complex and not fully understood, and there are individual variations galore — as when one of my friends came down with shingles shortly after being vaccinated against shingles. (The doctor of course assured him that the outbreak would have been more painful had he not been vaccinated; an ex cathedra assertion without possibility of verification.)

I was reminded of the issue of HPV vaccination by a brouhaha in Europe between the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and medical practitioners and researchers who had come across a substantial number of cases of harm seemingly following HPV vaccination, harm specifically in the form of chronic autoimmune ailments. Since vaccination affects the immune system, such an undesired effect in some individuals seems perfectly plausible.

The Nordic Cochrane Center exists for the purpose of evaluating the evidence underlying medical practices. The Cochrane Center and others have been campaigning for many years to have the data from clinical trials made available to all researchers (1). Last year it lodged a complaint (2) against EMA for conflicts of interest with drug companies exacerbated by the secrecy of discussions that led to criticism of physicians’ reports about autoimmune symptoms appearing after vaccination against HPV. That secrecy is truly extraordinary, virtually an admission of conspiracy: “experts who are involved in the process are not named and are bound by lifelong secrecy about what was discussed” (3).

An EMA publication had severely criticized publications by Louise Brinth and others who had published reports of autoimmune symptoms following vaccination (4); Brinth has delivered a blistering response to the EMA insinuations (5).

The supposed benefit of vaccinating against HPV is to decrease the risk of certain cancers, primarily of the cervix. There are perhaps a hundred types of HPV, of which about 40 are sexually transmitted, and two to four of these seem to be statistically correlated with cancer:
“High-risk HPV strains include HPV 16 and 18 . . . . Other high-risk HPV viruses include 31, 33, 45, 52, 58, and a few others. Low-risk HPV strains, such as HPV 6 and 11, cause about 90% of genital warts, which rarely develop into cancer” (What is HPV?).

HPV infections are the most common sexually transmitted infection: “HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get the virus at some point in their lives” (Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Statistics). Thus most infections do not lead to cancer, which might induce thought about what “cause” could mean in this context. About 4% of Americans are infected each year with a “high-risk” strain, about 6 million women (USA population is about 320 million, so roughly 160 million women). There are only about 12,000 cases annually of cervical cancer: thus only about 1 in 500 of even “high-risk” infections is associated with this cancer. Thus vaccinating about 500 “high-risk” women might prevent 1 cervical cancer; NNT (number needed to be treated for 1 person to benefit) = 500.

On the other hand, there appears to be about 1 chance in 200 of an adverse effect from vaccination by Gardasil (Gardasil and the sad state of present-day medical practices); about 8% (~ 1 in 12) of adverse events are “serious”, so there’s about 1 chance in 2500 of a serious adverse event. NNH (number needed to be treated for one person to be seriously harmed) = 2500.

For any medical treatment to be desirable, it should be necessary to treat many more people to harm a single one than the number needed to be treated to benefit a single person; NNH should exceed NNT by a substantial amount.
The numbers just mentioned yield a ratio of only 5 — in other words, there’s something like a 1 in 5 chance, 20%, that HPV vaccination would harm rather than benefit. But those numbers apply if only those women infected with high-risk strains are vaccinated. However, the advocates of HPV vaccination, which includes official agencies in the USA and some other countries, recommend HPV vaccination for all girls. That increases NNT by a factor of 25 and reverses drastically the benefit/cost ratio: It is 5 times more likely that an HPV vaccination will result in a serious adverse event than that the vaccination prevents a case of cervical cancer — even if HPV is the actual cause of cervical cancer, which remains to be proved beyond a mere weak statistical correlation.

It is simply not known whether HPV causes cancer at all. Certainly it does not always cause cancer. An extended article on the invaluable Snopes.com website that debunks urban legends is judicious on this matter by pointing out that the claimed association of HPV vaccination with autoimmune symptoms is only speculative. On the other hand, it also concludes in an update of 12 June 2017:
“An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that countries with high HPV vaccination rates show declines in cervical cancer diagnoses. Both Gardasil and Cervarix have demonstrated efficacy in preventing HPV infections that cause cervical cancer, and evidence suggests declines in precancerous lesions and other abnormal growths as a result of HPV vaccination. There is debate over evidence for declines in cervical cancer diagnoses — as well as over how much time it would take after the introduction of the vaccine to see any effect on cancer diagnoses” [italics added].

The vaccines against HPV are successful against HPV — but it has never been proved that HPV (or the four strains of it supposed to be associated with cervical cancer) actually causes cancer. Since the rate of HPV infections exceeds the rate of cervical cancer by a huge amount, any “causative” action of HPV must be very indirect, especially since only a small percentage of HPV strains shows even a statistical association with cancer.
Recall that the usual test of “statistical significance” in medicine is p ≤ 0.05, meaning that there is less than a 5% chance that the association is owing only to chance. If there are 100 possible associations, about 5 of them will seem significant even though they are not, being picked out purely by chance because of the (weak!) criterion for statistical significance (6). If there are 100 strains of HPV, then at p ≤ 0.05, purely by chance about 5 strains will seem to be correlated with cervical cancer — or with just about anything else.
Before accepting any role fort HPV in cervical cancer, one should want a demonstration of the mechanism of the claimed causative effect.

***************************************
(1) “Opening up data at the European Medicine”, Peter Gøtzsche & Anders Jørgensen, British Medical Journal, 342 (28 MAY 2011) 1184-6; “EMA must improve the quality of its clinical trial reports”, Corrado Barbui , Cinzia Baschirotto & Andrea Cipriani, ibid., 1187-9
(2) Complaint to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) over maladministration at the EMA, 26 May 2016
(3) “Complaint filed over EMA’s handling of HPV Vaccine safety issues”, Zosia Chustecka, 5 July 2016
(4) “Suspected side effects to the quadrivalent human papilloma vaccine”, Louise Brinth, Ann Cathrine Theibel1, Kirsten Pors & Jesper Mehlsen, Danish Medical Journal, 62 (#4, 2015) A5064
(5) “Responsum to Assessment Report on HPV-vaccines released by EMA November 26th 2015” by Louise Brinth, MD PhD, Syncope Unit, Bispebjerg and Frederiksberg Hospital, Copenhagen, December 15th 2015
(6) For a thorough discussion of the pitfalls of interpreting p values, see Gerd Gigerenzer, “Mindless Statistics”, Journal of Socio-Economics, 33 (2004) 587-606.

Posted in medical practices, prescription drugs, science policy, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

What science says about global warming and climate change

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2017/07/06

There is strong evidence that global temperatures are not significantly dependent on the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (Climate-change facts: Temperature is not determined by carbon dioxide).

That’s what science — the evidence, the facts — says.

Nevertheless, the overwhelmingly widespread belief among public and governments is the opposite, believing carbon dioxide to be the single most important determinant of global temperature and climate.

How could such a disparity between fact and public belief come about?

President Eisenhower foresaw the possibility half a century ago:
“in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite” (Farewell speech, 17 January 1961).

Such influence of a scientific-technological elite is possible because “science” has become believed in superstitiously: on authority, not because it offers sound evidence and logic (Superstitious belief in science). A number of popular misunderstandings about science conspire to maintain this state of affairs, notably a failure to appreciate how drastically different scientific activities became following World War II, different from earlier times; science nowadays is not self-correcting and it does not follow the so-called scientific method. A full discussion of those points is in my just-published Science Is Not What You Think — How it has changed, Why we can’t trust it, How it can be fixed.

The “fix” refers to the possible establishment of a Science Court to adjudicate expert differences over technical issues. That was first suggested more than half a century ago when the experts were at loggerheads and arguing publicly over whether power could be generated safely using nuclear reactors.
More recently, some legal scholars have pointed out that such an institution could help the legal system to cope with cases where technical issues play an important role.
Beyond that, I suggest that a Science Court is needed to force the prevailing “scientific consensus” to respond substantively to critiques like those made by the many critics of human-caused global warming and climate change.

Posted in consensus, global warming, politics and science, science is not truth, science policy, scientific literacy, scientism | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Has all academic publishing become predatory? Or just useless? Or just vanity publishing?

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2017/06/14

A pingback to my post “Predatory publishers and fake rankings of journals” led me to “Where to publish and not to publish in bioethics – the 2017 list”.

That essay brings home just how pervasive has become for-profit publishing of purportedly scholarly material. The sheer volume of the supposedly scholarly literature is such as to raise the question, who looks at any part of this literature?

One of the essay’s links leads to a listing by the Kennedy Center for Ethics of 44 journals in the field of bioethics.  Another link leads to a list of the “Top 100 Bioethics Journals in the World, 2015” by the author of the earlier “Top 50 Bioethics Journals and Top 250 Most Cited Bioethics Articles Published 2011-2015

What, I wonder, does any given bioethicist actually read? How many of these journals have even their Table of Contents scanned by most bioethicists?

Beyond that: Surely the potential value of scholarly work in bioethics is to improve the ethical practices of individuals and institutions in the real world. How does this spate of published material contribute to that potential value?

Those questions are purely rhetorical, of course. I suggest that the overwhelming mass of this stuff has no influence whatever on actual practices by doctors, researchers, clinics and other institutions.

This literature does, however, support the existence of a body of bioethicists whose careers are tied in some way to the publication of articles about bioethics.

The same sort of thing applies nowadays in every field of scholarship and science. The essay’s link to Key Journals in The Philosopher’s Index brings up a 79-page list, 10 items per page, of key [!] journals in philosophy.

This profusion of scholarly journals supports not only communities of publishing scholars in each field, it also nurtures an expanding community of meta-scholars whose publications deal with the profusion of publication. The earliest work in this genre was the Science Citation Index which capitalized on information technology to compile indexes through which all researchers could discover which of their published work had been cited and where.

That was unquestionably useful, including by making it possible to discover people working in one’s own specialty. But misuse became abuse, as administrators and bureaucrats began simply to count how often an individual’s work had been cited and to equate that number with quality.

No matter how often it has been pointed out that this equation is so wrong as to be beyond rescuing, this attraction of supposedly objective numbers and the ease of obtaining them has made citation-counting an apparently permanent part of the scholarly literature.

Not only that. The practice has been extended to judging the influence a journal has by counting how often the articles in it have been cited, yielding a “journal impact factor” that, again, is typically conflated with quality, no matter how often or how learnedly the meta-scholars point out the fallacies in that equation — for example different citing practices in different fields, different editorial practices that sometimes limit number of permitted citations, the frequent citation of work that had been thought important but that turned out to be wrong.

The scholarly literature had become absurdly voluminous even before the advent of on-line publishing. Meta-scholars had already learned several decades ago that most published articles are never cited by anyone other than the original author(s): see for instance J. R. Cole & S. Cole, Social Stratification in Science (University of Chicago Press, 1973); Henry W. Menard, Science: Growth and Change (Harvard University Press, 1971); Derek de Solla Price, Little Science, Big Science … And Beyond (Columbia University Press, 1986).

Derek Price (Science Since Babylon, Yale University Press, 1975) had also pointed out that the growth of science at an exponential rate since the 17th century had to cease in the latter half of the 20th century since science was by then consuming several percent of the GDP of developed countries. And indeed there has been cessation of growth in research funds; but the advent of the internet has made it possible for publication to continue to grow exponentially.

Purely predatory publishing has added more useless material to what was already unmanageably voluminous, with only rare needles in these haystacks that could be of any actual practical use to the wider society.

Since almost all of this publication has to be paid for by the authors or their research grants or patrons, one could also characterize present-day scholarly and scientific publication as vanity publishing, serving to the benefit only of the author(s) — except that this glut of publishing now supports yet another publishing community, the scholars of citation indexes and journal impact factors, who concern themselves for example with “Google h5 vs Thomson Impact Factor” or who offer advice for potential authors and evaluators and administrators about “publishing or perishing”.

To my mind, the most damaging aspect of all this is not the waste of time and material resources to produce useless stuff, it is that judgment of quality by informed, thoughtful individuals is being steadily displaced by reliance on numbers generated via information technology by procedures that are understood by all thinking people to be invalid substitutes for informed, thoughtful human judgment.

 

Posted in conflicts of interest, funding research, media flaws, scientific culture | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

How to interpret statistics; especially about drug efficacy

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2017/06/06

How (not) to measure the efficacy of drugs  pointed out that the most meaningful data about a drug are the number of people needed to be treated for one person to reap benefit, NNT, and the number needed to be treated for one person to be harmed, NNH.

But this pertinent, useful information is rarely disseminated, and most particularly not by drug companies. Most commonly cited are statistics about drug performance relative to other drugs or relative to placebo. Just how misleading this can be is described in easily understood form in this discussion of the use of anti-psychotic drugs.

 

That article (“Psychiatry defends its antipsychotics: a case study of institutional corruption” by Robert Whitaker) has many other points of interest. Most important, of course, the potent demonstration that official psychiatric practice is not evidence-based, rather, its aim is to defend the profession’s current approach.

 

In these ways, psychiatry differs only in degree from the whole of modern medicine — see WHAT’S WRONG WITH PRESENT-DAY MEDICINE  — and indeed from contemporary science on too many matters: Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth, Jefferson (NC): McFarland 2012.

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