Skepticism about science and medicine

In search of disinterested science

Archive for the ‘global warming’ Category

The Loch Ness “Monster”: Its real and important significance

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2021/01/29

Because of my writings about Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster [1], I am periodically approached by various media. Last year I had published [2] the suggestion that the Loch Ness creatures are more plausibly related to sea turtles than to the commonly popular notion of plesiosaurs.

A Scottish journalist came across that article, and for one day something about it and me was featured in every yellow-press newspaper in Britain, and several broadcast media asked for interviews.

The episode reminded me of some of the things that are so wrong with modern mass media.

Their overriding concern is simply to attract an audience. There is no intention of offering that audience any genuinely insightful analysis or context or background information. Media attention span approximates that of Twittering. One television network asked for an instant interview, wanted the best phone-contact number, even offered me compensation — and then never followed up.

I did talk to one Russian and one Spanish station or network, and I tried to point to what the real significance is of the Loch Ness animals, namely, that their existence has been denied by official scientific sources for not much less than a century, demonstrating that official science can be wrong, quite wrong; and while that matters little if at all about Loch Ness, I said, it does matter greatly when official science is wrong about such matters of public importance as HIV/AIDS  or climate change,  about which official science does in fact happen to be wrong [3].

So far, however, my bait about those important matters has not been snapped up.

Misunderstandings about science are globally pervasive, especially not realizing that it is fallible. The consequent unwarranted acceptance of wrong beliefs about HIV and about carbon dioxide demonstrate the need for some institution independent of official science, independent of existing scientific organizations and institutions, to provide fact-checking of contemporary scientific consensuses, an impartial, unbiased, strictly evidence-based assessments of official science. In other words, society sorely needs a Science Court [4].

Misconceptions about science can already be seen as a significant reason for flaws in the announced policies of the new Biden administration, as it places high priority on “combating climate change” and engaging in a “moon shot” to cure cancer: having not learned any lessons from the failure of the war on cancer, or from the fact, obvious in great swaths of the geological literature, that carbon dioxide is demonstrably not the prime cause of global warming since there is no correlation between global temperatures and carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere [5], neither over the whole life of the Earth nor over the last couple of centuries.

——————————————————

[1]    The Enigma of Loch Ness: Making Sense of a Mystery, University of Illinois Press, 1986/88; Wipf & Stock reprint, 2012
GENUINE  FACTS about “NESSIE”, THE LOCH NESS “MONSTER”
[2]    “Loch Ness Monsters as Cryptid (Presently Unknown) Sea Turtles”, Journal of Scientific Exploration, 34 (2020) 93-104
[3]    Dogmatism  in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth, McFarland, 2012
The Origin, Persistence and Failings of HIV/AIDS Theory, McFarland, 2007
[4]    Science Is Not What You Think: How It Has Changed, Why We Can’t Trust It, How It Can Be Fixed (McFarland 2017), chapter 12
“The Case for a Science Court”
Science Court: Why and What
[5]    “A politically liberal global-warming skeptic?”
”Climate-change facts: Temperature is not determined by carbon dioxide”

Posted in consensus, fraud in medicine, fraud in science, global warming, media flaws, politics and science, resistance to discovery, science is not truth, science policy, scientific culture, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , , , | 16 Comments »

From uncritical about science to skeptical about science: 5

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2021/01/09

Learning from what science ignores — within science as well as outside

The Society for Scientific Exploration (SSE) had been founded at the start of the 1980s by scientists, engineers, and other scholars who believed that there was sufficient substantive evidence, enough sheer facts, to warrant proper scientific investigation of topics ignored by science or dismissed as fictive, existing not in Nature’s reality but only in human imaginations: psychic phenomena; flying saucers or UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects); cryptozoology — animals unknown to biology, or extinct animals said to be still extant; as well as such heretical views as that the theory of relativity is unsound [1].

Being ignored in the face of apparently good evidence was the shared bond within SSE. Few if any of us shared belief in the reality of all the topics that one or more members favored. I certainly didn’t. In fact, I soon began wondering how it was that so many competent, accomplished, intelligent, highly educated, cosmopolitan people could believe firmly in things that seemed to me highly implausible, at best doubtful.

The next insight followed naturally: My new colleagues surely wondered how I, a successful  chemist and cosmopolitan Dean of Arts and Sciences, could firmly believe in the reality of the Loch Ness Monster.

My fascination over that had begun through random chance, a book picked up and riffled through. No doubt something analogous, some unplanned experience, had set my new colleagues off on their particular interests.

There is an important general point to be made here. Scientists characteristically have an intellectual blind spot — certainly I do: imagining that beliefs are created by factual knowledge, remain held because of factual evidence, and can be changed by new facts. That is simply not the case.
Interest or some other stimulus is crucial. Why does one ever seek facts in some specific direction?
Everyone would likely look for reliable knowledge about something pertinent to health, family matters, earning a living; but it can also happen by chance, by happening upon a book picked up at random. So there is no reason why others should find interest where I happen to.

And it is not sufficient that good and respected friends and colleagues urge one to look at the facts. I have maintained only an observer’s interest in most of the matters that absorb others in the Society. Even though I’d quite like to know enough to warrant having an informed opinion, the problem is the sheer amount of time and effort needed to wade through all the claims and counterclaims before reaching a reasonably firm belief or disbelief. Outside chemistry, I’ve looked in enough detail at only three major controversial topics: Loch Ness Monsters, HIV/AIDS, and global warming (or climate-change).

That there are a great variety of different specialized interests in the Society for Scientific Exploration was not a disturbing factor. We talked (and wrote and published [2]) about our interests and claimed facts and speculations, and benefited from constructive mutual criticism, sometimes quite incisive.  Frustration at the lack of interest from mainstream science was and remains an overwhelmingly strong bond. A corollary is something like shared disdain for the individuals and groups who wage public campaigns about the purported dangers to society of believing in the reality of UFOs, Bigfoot, psychic phenomena and the like [3]. Those activists, who purport to be supporters and defenders of science, typically describe themselves as Skeptics [4], a grossly misleading misnomer since they are dogmatists of the highest order, unwilling to contemplate that official or mainstream science might be wrong in any particular — a stance that ignores the whole history of science.
To my mind, the real danger to society stems from such arrogantly dogmatic groups which insist that everyone share their particular beliefs, as is all too commonly the case with specific religions or, in this case, scientism, the religious faith that science be acknowledged as the sole authoritative source of knowledge and understanding.
These “Skeptics” (Truzzi famously and aptly called them “pseudo-skeptics”) criticize the topics of interest within SSE as pseudo-science, but SSE advocates scientific exploration, seeking the best available facts about Nature and trying to explain and understand them. SSE has quarrels not with “science” but with the too-many career scientists who behave unscientifically in forming opinions without looking at the facts, and then defend those opinions dogmatically.

When I analyzed the Velikovsky Affair [5], what had then most struck me was how incompetently the scientific community had criticized Velikovsky’s pseudo-science, and how little so many scientists seemed to understand what science is really about. Several decades later, having written articles and books about the prevalence of dogmatism in science [6], I can see in retrospect that I had overlooked or not noticed or missed the significance of how insufferably dogmatic the criticisms of Velikovsky had been. Yet that dogmatism was far from a minor part of the Affair; it surely played some part in bringing some social scientists and humanists to rally to Velikovsky’s defense.

The Society for Scientific Exploration also led to my learning about the extent of dogmatism within mainstream science. The society offered a forum not only for topics dismissed as pseudoscience, we also heard at times about  the suppression of unorthodox views within mainstream science. For example, Thomas Gold was widely acknowledged and applauded for his original insights in astrophysics, but mainstream science wanted nothing to do with his ideas about the origin of what are said to be fossil fuels in the Earth  and about life having originated deep in the earth rather than in warm ponds on its surface [7]. Gold also favored the steady-state theory of the cosmos rather than the accepted paradigm of the Big Bang. Halton Arp, an observational astronomer, published data that support the steady-state theory, whereupon mainstream science refused to allow him further access it to the telescopes he needed [8]. A variety of observations indicate that earthquakes may be predictable by electromagnetic or other signals, but mainstream geology will have none of it [9]. “Cold fusion” remains beyond the pale despite intriguing evidence from competent mainstream researchers [10].

I learned that even distinguished mainstream researchers who take a distinctly different view from the prevailing majority consensus are treated no better than are those of us accused of espousing pseudo-science, in fact they often have it worse: their unorthodoxies can damage their career, whereas most members of SSE earn their living by something quite separate from their oddball interests, which are more hobbies, things pursued in amateur fashion, out of sheer fascination and not as a way to earn a living.

So Loch Ness Monsters led me to SSE and SSE led me to recognize how widespread throughout mainstream science is the passionately dogmatic, even vindictive suppression of minority opinion [6] — quite contrary to the popular view of science, the idealistic view that remains my own vision of how science should be carried on.

It seemed natural, then, in my new academic career in STS, to make my special interest the study of scientific controversies and of what exactly distinguishes genuine proper science from what is widely denigrated as fringe, alternative, or pseudo science [1].
My research focus required looking for examples of scientific controversies to study. I don’t recall what first alerted me that there was dissent from the belief that HIV causes AIDS, that there was ever any controversy about it, but I did come across that in the early 1990s.
That is what eventually taught me that what taken-as-authoritative institutions nowadays proclaim in the name of science should never be automatically trusted; it should be fact-checked. The dogmatism, careerism, and institutional as well as personal conflicts of interest that are now rampant in contemporary science have actually brought official public policies and actions that are contrary to the facts of reality, have harmed massive numbers of people, and threaten to cause yet further damage.

—————————————————————————————————–

[1]    Science or Pseudoscience: Magnetic Healing, Psychic Phenomena, and Other Heterodoxies, University of Illinois Press 2001
[2]    The Journal of Scientific Exploration began publication in 1987. It is now freely available on-line
[3]    Examples are discussed and critiqued at p. 200 ff. in [1]
[4]    The iconic organization was CSICOP (Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal), founded in 1976 by predominantly non-scientists (philosophers, psychologists, writers, amateur investigators) but including a few prominent scientists, for example Carl Sagan; it publishes Skeptical Inquirer and includes under matters criticized as “paranormal”, claims of the existence of what would be perfectly natural creatures
[5]    Beyond Velikovsky: The History of a Public Controversy, University of Illinois Press, 1984
[6]    Dogmatism  in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth, McFarland,  2012
[7]    Fuel’s Paradise
[8]    Halton Arp, Quasars, Redshifts and Controversies, Interstellar Media, 1987; Seeing Red: Redshifts, Cosmology and Academic Science, Apeiron, 1998
[9]    On earthquake prediction, but more generally about matters that global tectonics (“continental drift”) does not adequately explain, see the NCGT Journal
[10]  The topic is nowadays thought to be not the fusion originally inferred but the general phenomenon of Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR), nuclear transformations at ordinary temperatures

Posted in conflicts of interest, denialism, global warming, medical practices, science is not truth, science policy, scientific culture, scientism, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Patriotism, ideology, science, politics

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2020/09/11

The development of atomic weapons during the Second World War is widely regarded as an enormous achievement of science — though it would be described more accurately as an enormous practical, interdisciplinary, achievement with contributions from engineers as well as chemists, physicists, mathematicians — and not forgetting that government played an entirely necessary role in providing and arranging appropriate administration and resources.

Not widely remembered nowadays is the fuss, the outrage aroused by the matter of espionage concerning atomic weaponry, in particular that some details of the technical developments were shared secretly with the Soviet Union by some dedicated communists in the USA and in Britain.

Those who did this secret sharing are commonly described as traitors. However, some of them and some of their supporters defended their actions by appealing to an idealistic ideology of science as a universal public good that belongs properly to all of humankind and not just to those who make discoveries or to the discoverer’s institutions or nations.

That attempt at rationalization and excusing, blatantly self-serving, will hardly carry much weight with most of us, but there are less extreme instances where the relation between science and politics, ideology and patriotism, can be troubling and far from clear-cut.

Nowadays, for example, politically liberal skeptics about global warming and climate change may confront — or talk themselves into — a dilemma: the hegemonic attribution of climate change to increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide is factually wrong: see blog posts listed below; but universal recognition of that would be a political triumph for right-leaning political groups and a severe undermining of the credibility of left-leaning groups and environmental activists. Belief in human-coerced climate change and global warming (AGW, for anthropogenic global warming) has become an unquestioned dogma among politically left-leaning individuals and groups whereas that belief is questioned or pooh-poohed almost only by those on the political right.

Should the truth about climate change, global warming, and carbon dioxide be suppressed in the fear that universal recognition of that truth might contribute to political successes by such authoritarian right-wing movements as those supporting President Donald Trump?

Dilemmas of that ilk are unavoidable so long as there is no authoritative source of scientific knowledge and understanding that is universally recognized as impartial, unbiased, non-partisan, trustworthy.

The only suggestion for what such a source could be is a Science Court that could earn the sort of respect that is accorded the United States Supreme Court in its better decisions. Prominent among the considerable number of non-trivial problems facing the possible establishing of such an institution is how to harness the political willingness and energy for such an establishment from all sides and shades of the political spectrum.

In reason, though, every individual and every political and ideological sect ought to recognize that it is to their clear individual advantage if the actual facts of the real world were in harmony with their beliefs, so that they could cite the authority of the Court as legitimation of their own particular ideology. Everyone and every group should therefore welcome the establishment of a universally agreed source of scientific knowledge and understanding.

Bringing one’s worldview or religion or ideology into harmony with material reality would also avoid the cognitive dissonance that threatens scientifically minded people whose religious or ideological sect preaches things that are at odds with scientifically established views. Thus many Catholics and fundamentalist Christians and their institutions will have been greatly relieved when the Pope finally acknowledged that evolution is more than a theory.

As the posts listed below illustrate, the evidence is quite overwhelming against the theory of human-caused global warming (AGW, anthropogenic global warming), yet it has become globally hegemonic, and contrarian dissenters are ignored or maligned or suppressed or censored or otherwise persecuted. I suggest that this topic in itself shows how sorely needed is a truly impartial and trusted institution for assessing scientific evidence and its interpretation, a Science Court. I discuss it in chapter 12 of Science Is Not What You Think: How It Has Changed, Why We Can’t Trust It, How It Can Be Fixed (McFarland 2017).

 

—————————————————-

A politically liberal global-warming skeptic?
Climate-change science and cover-ups
Climate models are wrong — Surprise??
Mainstream propaganda by the BBC about denialism and global warming
Evidence-based global-warming science?
Climate change is responsible for everything, as everyone knows (but what everyone knows is usually wrong)
Sea-Level-Rise Hysteria
Climate–change beliefs are politically and not scientifically determined
Freeman Dyson on climate change
Psychological toll of climate-science belief
Climate change “deniers”
The political division over climate change
Who can be trusted about science? Not the Royal Society of London or the National Academy of the United States
Climate-change facts: Temperature is not determined by carbon dioxide
Climate-change orthodoxy: alternative facts, uncertainty equals certainty, projections are not predictions, and other absurdities of the “scientific consensus”
What science says about global warming and climate change
Slowing of global warming officially confirmed — by reading between the lines
The consensus against human causation of global warming and climate change
Human-caused global warming as Groupthink
Australian university fires climate-change dissenter: dissent is not collegial…
What everyone ought to know about global warming and climate change: an unbiased review

Posted in consensus, denialism, global warming | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The end of the Enlightenment era

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2020/05/05

The previous two posts (CoVID19, HIV — Enlightenment? Reason based on evidence?; CoVID19 and the HIV legacy: Toxic “antiretroviral” drugs and PrEP) described the actual lack of competence of the medical scientists whose words are being treated by the mass media as Gospel Truth, about CoVID19 as well as about related or other matters.

Quite clearly, what such acknowledged experts as Anthony Fauci (Director of The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) say and advise cannot be trusted automatically. In this day and age, lauded not infrequently for its advanced medical science, how has this come about?

One part of the wider context for this bemusing and dangerous state of affairs is that since the latter decades of the 20th century, research, “science”, has become so commonplace an activity that its practitioners are anything but a small elite distinguished by outstanding intellect and background knowledge. Instead, most people doing “science” nowadays are journeymen practitioners carrying on predetermined tasks that do not call for original thinking. “Science” in the 21st century is a corporate, bureaucratic activity carried on without much (if any) thinking about whether accumulating evidence continues to support contemporary beliefs, the prevailing paradigm, the conventional wisdom in the given specialty. Science can no longer be relied on to be self-correcting.

Following WWII, science had increasingly become so intertwined with other social sectors as to have lost what characterized the Scientific Revolution and subsequent Enlightenment, namely, an unfettered single-minded pursuit of veritable, demonstrable truth. As John Ziman pointed out (Prometheus Bound, 1994), toward the end of the 20th century there was no longer a substantive distinction to be made between applied science and pure science: science was serving commerce and industry and government at least as much as being a search for genuine understanding. Science has not learned that it is impossible to serve both God and Mammon.

What has happened with science is just one aspect or symptom of something even more significant, portentous, indeed cataclysmic: a distinct change in the world order, marking the end — or at least the beginning of the end — of an era in which Western Civilization dominated the Earth. For a full and erudite discussion, see Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life (2000). The accuracy of Barzun’s diagnosis, published already a quarter of a century ago, is being demonstrated by the rising influence of China as well as India, while the United States and Europe have lost their dominance and are striving mightily just to keep their heads above water, so to speak.

It was not unusual in the 19th and 20th centuries to note that the authority of science had eclipsed that of religion. That stemmed in part from the decadence of religious institutions, progressively corrupted from their initial ideals in becoming large, bureaucratic, institutions — bureaucratic institutions being self-serving almost by definition, and “large” tends to make for mediocrity. Catholic priests and Anglican pastors were by the 20th century quite ordinary men (and women, among the Anglicans), not at all like the idiosyncratic, highly motivated characters among the apostles of Jesus, nor at all like such strong personalities as Luther or Calvin who rejuvenated the Christian religion in the 16th-century Reformation.

Modern science, emphasizing the careful, scrupulous attending to tangible evidence on which to base beliefs, is consensually dated to the 16th century Scientific Revolution, which led to the 17th century Enlightenment that sought to extend that scientific method to human culture as a whole. Just as religion became corrupted, so too has modern science become corrupted through growth and worldliness. The hosts of people nowadays doing some sort of “science” also display the pervasive mediocrity that follows inevitably as an activity attracts more and more people, with the forming of an increasing number of organizations with the inevitable consequence of bureaucracy and an effective loss of any ideals with which the enterprise might have begun. (A prescient discussion was published in 1985: Jan Klein, “Hegemony of mediocrity in contemporary sciences, particularly in immunology”, Lymphology 18:122-31; it is a little eerie in this age of deadly viruses that Klein emphasized immunology, since our only truly effective weapon against viruses is the immune system; and Klein wrote just as the HIV/AIDS blunder was taking hold.)

Religions became decadent as the host of ordinary priests and pastors merely parroted what they had been taught. Just the same decadent mediocrity has now overtaken science and its acolyte, medical science. The media feature as “experts” a variety of scientists and practicing physicians whose credentials illustrate this phenomenon: anyone with an MD or a PhD is automatically accorded the status and prestige of expertise, when in point of fact far from all of these featured experts deserve that appellation: not many of them offer added value beyond what they were taught and what the prevailing so-called consensus happens to be. Before they speak, one knows pretty much what they are going to say, for it differs in no way from what the mainstream conventional wisdom happens to be.

And so it has come about in the 21st century that science has lost and superstition has won, as the public and the media simply accept on the authority of science — in other words, on faith, superstitiously — whatever they are told by “the experts”, no matter how unlikely or contrary to available facts. (See historian John Burnham’s How Superstition Won and Science Lost, 1987).

Almost universally accepted is the belief, disseminated by the International Panel on Climate Change, that human generation of atmospheric carbon dioxide is the prime cause of global warming, a belief that is proved wrong by the long-standing and unquestioned actual data in the geological literature (lack of correlation between global temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide; for primary sources see Climate-change facts: Temperature is not determined by carbon dioxide).

The degree to which science is generally accorded unquestioned and magical powers is nicely illustrated by the fact that knowledgeable advertisers understood that it would be effective to market a remedy for declining memory (Prevagen) by claiming that its efficacy stemmed from an ingredient first discovered in jellyfish, a species not otherwise known for remarkable powers of memory.

When historian Jon Meacham notes that Trumpism marks a loss of Enlightenment values, he may not realize how deeply that loss is pervasive in contemporary culture.

 

————————

Caveat re contemporary CoVID19 panic: That Anthony Fauci, Robert Redfield and others lack all credibility does not mean that they are necessarily wrong about CoVID19 or anything else. Many Trumpists, after all, happen to be right about climate change. We are all fallible, and we may sometimes be right just by chance, perversely and for wrong reasons.

Posted in consensus, global warming, media flaws, resistance to discovery, science is not truth, scientific culture, scientists are human | Tagged: , , , , | 7 Comments »

Science: Sins of Commission and of Omission

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2019/04/21

What statisticians call a type-I error is a scientific sin of commission, namely, believing something to be true that is actually wrong. A type-II error, dismissing as false something that happens to be true, could be described as a scientific sin of omission since it neglects to acknowledge a truth and thereby makes impossible policies and actions based on that truth.

The history of science is a long record of both types of errors that were progressively corrected, sooner or later; but, so far as we can know, of course, the latest correction may never be the last word, because of the interdependence of superficially different bits of science. If, for instance, general relativity were found to be flawed, or quantum mechanics, then huge swaths of physics, chemistry, and other sciences would undergo major or minor changes. And we cannot know whether general relativity or quantum mechanics are absolutely true, that they are not a type-I error — all we know is that they have worked usefully up to now. Type-II errors may always be hiding in the vast regions of research not being done, or unorthodox claims being ignored or dismissed.

During the era of modern science — that is, since about the 17th century — type-I errors included such highly consequential and far-reaching dogmas as believing that atoms are indivisible, that they are not composed of smaller units. A socially consequential type-I error in the first quarter of the 20th century was the belief that future generations would benefit if people with less desirable genetic characteristics were prevented from having children, whereby tens of thousands of Americans were forcibly sterilized as late as late as 1980.

A type-II error during the second half of the 19th century was the determined belief that claims of alleviating various ailments by electrical or magnetic treatments were nothing but pseudo-scientific scams; but that was corrected in the second half of the 20th century, when electromagnetic treatment became the standard procedure for curing certain congenital failures of bone growth and for treating certain other bone conditions as well.
Another 19th-century type-II error was the ignoring of Mendel’s laws of heredity, which were then re-discovered half a century later.
During the first half of the 20th century, a type-II error was the belief that continents could not have moved around on the globe, something also corrected in the latter part of the 20th century.

 

Science is held in high regard for its elucidation of a great deal about how the world works, and for many useful applications of that knowledge. But the benefits that society can gain from science are greatly restricted through widespread ignorance of and misunderstanding about the true history of science.

Regarding general social and political history, Santayana’s adage is quite well-known, that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. That is equally true for the history of science. Since the conventional wisdom and the policy makers and so many of the pundits are ignorant of the fact that science routinely commits sins of both commission and omission, social and political policies continue to be made on the basis of so-called scientific consensus that may quite often be unsound.

In Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth (McFarland 2012), evidence is cited from well-qualified and respectable sources that the mainstream consensus is flawed on quite a number of topics. Some of these are of immediate concern only to scholars and researchers, for example about the earliest settlements of the Americas, or the extinction of the dinosaurs, or the mechanism of the sense of smell. Other topics, however, are of immediate public concern, for instance a possible biological basis for schizophrenia, or the cause of Alzheimer’s disease, or the possible dangers from mercury in tooth amalgams, or the efficacy of antidepressant drugs, or the hazards posed by second-hand tobacco smoke; and perhaps above all the unproven but dogmatic belief that human-generated carbon dioxide is the prime cause of global warming and climate change, and the long-held hegemonic belief that HIV causes AIDS.

The topic of cold nuclear fusion is an instance of a possible type-II error, a sin of omission, the mainstream refusal to acknowledge the strong evidence for potentially useful applications of nuclear-atomic transformations that can occur under quite ordinary conditions.

On these, and on quite a few other matters * as well, the progress of science and the well-being of people and of societies are greatly hindered by the widespread ignorance of the fact that science always has been and will continue to be fallible,   committing sins of both omission and of commission that become corrected only at some later time — if at all.

On matters that influence public policies directly, policy-makers would be greatly helped if they could draw on historically well-informed, technically insightful, and above all impartial assessments of the contemporary mainstream consensus. A possible approach to providing such assistance would be the establishing of a Science Court; see chapter 12 in Science Is Not What You Think: How It Has Changed, Why We Can’t Trust It, How It Can Be Fixed (McFarland 2017).

 

—————————————————-

*    Type-I errors are rife in the misapplications of statistics in medical matters, including the testing and approval of new drugs and vaccines; see the bibliography, What’s Wrong with Present-Day Medicine
      For a number of possible type-II errors, see for instance The Anomalist  and the publications of the Society for Scientific Exploration  and the Gesellschaft für Anomalistik

Posted in consensus, funding research, global warming, media flaws, medical practices, peer review, politics and science, resistance to discovery, science is not truth, science policy, scientific culture, scientific literacy, scientism, scientists are human, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Optimal peer review for guiding public policy: A Science Court

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2019/01/29

“Peer review” is widely regarded as the mechanism by which science manages to produce impartial, unbiased, objective facts and interpretations. As with so many popular notions about scientific activity, this is very far from the truth [1].

Innumerable observers and practicing researchers have written copiously about the many things that are wrong with peer review [2]. Contemporary practices of peer review are only about a century old. They began simply as a way of assisting editors of journals to assess the merits for publication of manuscripts too specialized for the editorial staff itself it to render judgment. The need for such specialized advice was not unrelated to the enormous expansion of scientific activity that followed World War II, bringing an ever-increasing demand for space in scientific periodicals as well as ever-increasing competition between researchers for funding and for getting published as a necessary prerequisite for career advancement and resources for research.

At any rate, peer review in science is no more impartial, unbiased, or objective than is criticism of art, music, film, or literary products. One illustration of that: it is becoming quite common for journal editors to ask the authors of submitted manuscripts whether there are individuals who should not be asked to serve as peer reviewers because of their known biases or hostility against the authors. Another point: Peer reviewers are typically chosen because they work on much the same topic as that of the manuscript to be reviewed; thereby they are likely to be to some extent competitors or allies, conflicts of interest that ought to be disbarring.

Modern (post-16th-17th-century) science managed to progress and to succeed quite magnificently for several centuries without the current practices of systematic peer-review. The assessing of already published work through further research and commentary gave science the appearance and the effect of being eventually self-correcting. Note “eventually”: the trials and errors and that preceded correction, sometimes for very long periods indeed, were of concern only within the specialized scientific communities, they were not any problem for the wider society.

Nowadays, however, society in general and industries and governments in particular have come to look to contemporary science for immediate guidance to significant actions and policies. That makes the fact that peer review is not impartial or objective quite important, and indeed dangerous. The nature of scientific activity and of the scientific community is such that the consensus among those who happen to be the most prominent researchers in any given field comes to control what research gets funded, which results get published and which are suppressed, and what the media and the public and policy-makers take to be “what science says”.

Unfortunately, the history of science is far from widely known or appreciated, most notably the fact that the contemporary scientific consensus at any given time has almost invariably turned out, sooner or later, to have been flawed, in minor or major ways.

Ignorance of the history of science, together with the misguided view that any prominent contemporary scientific consensus can be safely relied upon to guide social and political actions on any matters that are technical, including matters of medicine and public health, have already resulted in widespread actions that have brought tangible harm on such issues as supposedly human-caused global warming and climate change [3] and the mistaken belief is that AIDS was caused by a novel virus that destroys the immune system [4]. The closest precedent for these contemporary mistakes seems to be the ideology of eugenics, which led to the forced sterilization of tens of thousands of Americans over a period of more than half a century.

Since peer-review is not effectively making science contemporaneously objective and reliable, on matters of social and political importance policymakers badly need some other way to counteract the bias and dogmatic single-mindedness of any contemporary scientific consensus. The only conceivable mechanism to that end would seem to be something like an Institution of Scientific Judgment, as Arthur Kantrowitz suggested half a century ago [5], a concept that has come to be described as a Science Court [6].

 

———————————————-

[1]  Science Is Not What You Think — how it has changed, why we can’t trust it, how it can be fixed (McFarland, 2017)

[2]  pp. 106-9 in [1] and sources cited there

[3]  “What everyone ought to know about global warming and climate change: an unbiased review”referring to “#16 A Summary” by Don Aitkin

[4]  The Case against HIV  and sources cited there

[5]  Arthur Kantrowitz, “Proposal for an Institution for Scientific Judgment”, Science, 156 (1967) 763–4.

[6]  Chapter 12 in [1] and sources cited there

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

The Case for a Science Court

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2019/01/24

I mentioned the concept of a Science Court in a previous post on this blog: “Who guards the guardians? Who guards science?”

and I’ve mentioned it in a number of other places as well. Sometimes those mentions have brought comments on a variety of blogs. Some raised objections to the idea, unfortunately most commonly individuals who have not read my full discussion of the concept, which comprises the 20 pages of chapter 12 in my latest book, “Science Is Not What You Think”  (see reviews of it).

Obviously I cannot reproduce here the 20 pages of that book chapter. Here are the salient points:

Ø     Nowadays, science is almost universally taken as the ultimate authority on knowledge about the natural world

Ø     Media, pundits, policymakers, and governments accept as reliable knowledge what science says

Ø     “What science says” is taken to be the contemporary “scientific consensus”, the mainstream view, the view held by the contemporary elite group of experts on the given topic

Ø     The history of science is unequivocal, that any given contemporary scientific consensus has been quite often significantly mistaken

Ø     History also records that contemporary experts who dissented from the scientific consensus sometimes — though by no means always — turn out to have been closer to the truth and then the consensus was

Ø     Society at large, and policymakers in particular, would benefit from an impartial independent assessment of the evidence respectively for and against the contemporary consensus. The aim of a Science Court would be precisely to facilitate such an impartial independent assessment.

The need for such an institution is nowadays quite pressing because on a whole host of topics there is no substantive, open, public, debate between proponents and challengers of the contemporary consensus. Many of those topics are of little or no immediate practical public significance, say, what the mechanism is of the sense of smell, or what caused the extinction of dinosaurs, or some other matters discussed in my earlier book, Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth (2012) .

However, there are also some topics of prime human, social, political importance on which informed and qualified experts have offered strong evidence that the contemporary consensus is dangerously flawed: HIV/AIDS, human-caused global warming and climate change, the role of prescription drugs in preventive medicine. On those, the popular media illustrate well enough that official institutions accept the scientific consensus and dismiss all challenges as “denialism”, no matter how eminent are the challengers. Something like a Science Court would seem to be the only conceivable mechanism by which the consensus could be forced to confront openly and substantively the challenges to its hegemonic, dogmatically held, view.

In my chapter-length discussion, I consider also the following:

Ø     The formal structure, sponsorship, authority and powers of the Science Court

Ø     Staffing of the Court: permanent and also ad hoc as appropriate to each specific topic

Ø     The choice of advocates for and against, on each particular topic

Ø     The choice of which issues are to be considered by the Court

My chapter discusses the benefits the Science Court would bring on questions concerning prescription drugs, climate change, and HIV/AIDS. It also describes the history of the concept of a Science Court, which dates back half a century to qualms about the potential safety of generating power in nuclear reactors, when equally qualified experts were arguing both sides of the issue. In more recent times, several legal scholars have argued that a specifically Science Court would be of considerable benefit to the judicial system in general and as a whole, since that system is called on increasingly to decide cases in which central questions involve scientific evidence and the qualifications of expert witnesses.

The pressing need for a Science Court nowadays arises because the scientific consensus cannot be relied upon to deliver the benefits that “science” supposedly brings, namely, the best available impartial, objective, unbiased assessment of what is actually known, what “science” has established.

Science did indeed bring those benefits for the first several centuries of what is generally called “modern science”, beginning around the 16th/17th centuries or so with the Reformation and the subsequent Enlightenment. What has not yet been widely enough recognized is how different scientific activity is since the middle of the 20th century, by comparison with those earlier centuries of modern science. Those differences are described in considerable detail in chapter 1 of my recent book; in a nutshell:

The circumstances of scientific activity have changed, from about pre-WWII to nowadays, from a cottage industry of voluntarily cooperating, independent, largely disinterested ivory-tower intellectual entrepreneurs, where science was free to do its own thing, namely the unfettered seeking of truth about the natural world; to nowadays a bureaucratic corporate-industry-government behemoth in which science has been pervasively co-opted by outside interests and is not free to do its own thing because of the omnipresent conflicts of interest. Influences and interests outside science now control the choices of research projects and the decisions of what to publish and what not to make public.

Aspects of that change were noted by John Burnham in his book, How Superstition Won and Science Lost (1987), and by Jacques Barzun in his magisterial From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life (2000).

Science nowadays plays much the same societal role as the Roman Catholic Church did in Western Civilization before the Reformation and the Enlightenment. The Church had become corrupted through bureaucracy and self-interest and the dysfunctions that arise inevitably as a result of human failings when an activity becomes too big and too powerful. It became obvious that the Church’s policies and actions had grown seriously at variance with its founding ideals. The Reformation and the Enlightenment brought and demonstrated the benefits of empirical, rational, evidence-based, pragmatism in the search for reliable understanding, by contrast to taking for granted what the authorities said.

Today’s scientific activity has become similarly dysfunctional through growing too big and too influential; something like a Science Court is needed to bring society the benefits of empirical, rational, evidence-based, pragmatism in the search for reliable insights.

 

Please note that I am far from alone in noting the dysfunctions of contemporary science and medicine: consider the many books, articles, and reports listed in these bibliographies:
http://henryhbauer.homestead.com/CRITIQUES_OF_CONTEMPORARY_SCIENCE_AND_MEDICINE.pdf
http://henryhbauer.homestead.com/WhatIsWrongWithMedicine.pdf

Posted in conflicts of interest, consensus, denialism, global warming, media flaws, medical practices, politics and science, prescription drugs, science is not truth, science policy | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

What everyone ought to know about global warming and climate change: an unbiased review

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2018/09/11

“What everyone knows” is that burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide, a “greenhouse gas” that holds in heat, warming the Earth and causing climate change, with catastrophic consequences if it isn’t stopped soon.

All official agencies, all mainstream scientific groups, say that.

What few people know is that a considerable number of experts and informed observers do not believe this AGW scenario to be correct: AGW = Anthropogenic Global Warming, global warming caused by human actions.

Those dissenting experts point out that actual data on temperature and carbon-dioxide levels, over the life of the Earth but also over the last century, show that carbon dioxide does not cause high global temperature.

But few people, again, can believe that “everyone” could be wrong about this, that “science” could be so dogmatically wrong. To form an opinion as to the relative merits of the official view and of the dissenting experts, therefore requires not only looking at the data but also at how the official view came into bring and how and why it persists. Few people want to take the time and make the effort to wade through huge amounts of writings by opposing advocates to ferret out the genuine facts and legitimate conclusions, which often calls for reading between the lines and being skeptical about everything.

My recent discovery of the Peter Ridd affair had a wonderfully beneficial consequence, learning about the writings of Don Aitkin, an Australian whose academic career included research on social and political matters as well as administrative experience that included heading a university (as Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Canberra). Aitkin spent a decade or more reading and thinking about AGW, and summarized what he learned in a series of blogs. The last in the series, #16,  sums things up and has appropriate links to the earlier ones which concentrate on different aspects of the matter.

This offers a wonderfully convenient way for anyone to become genuinely informed about AGW, and “climate-change denialism”, and incidentally about the interaction between science and public policy. Aitkin is factually reliable and ideologically unbiased, an all-too-rare combination.

*                     *                   *                   *                   *                   *                   *                   *

My appreciation of Aitkin’s series on global warming was enhanced when he noted that the hysteria over AGW “bridges the space between science and politics in an almost unprecedented way, though it has some similarities to the ‘eugenics’ issue a hundred years ago”, something that had occurred to me also.

Another Aitkin blog-post, “A good starting position in discussions about ‘climate change’” cites the salient points made by Ben Pile at Climate Resistance:

  1. There is good scientific evidence that human activities are influencing the climate. But evidence is not fact, and neither evidence nor fact speak for themselves.
  2. The evidence for anthropogenic climate change is neither as strong nor as demanding of action as is widely claimed.
  3. Our ability to mitigate, let alone to reverse, any such change through reductions in CO2 emissions is even less certain, and may itself be harmful.
  4. The scientific consensus on climate change as widely reported inaccurately reflects the true state of scientific knowledge.
  5. How society should proceed in the face of a changing climate is the business of politics not science.
  6. Political arguments about climate change are routinely mistaken for scientific ones. Environmentalism uses science as a fig-leaf to hide an embarrassment of blind faith and bad politics.
  7. Science is increasingly expected to provide moral certainty in morally uncertain times.
  8. The IPCC is principally a political organisation.
  9. The current emphasis on mitigation strategies is impeding society’s ability to adapt to a changing climate, whatever its cause.
  10. The public remains unconvinced that mitigation is in its best interest. Few people have really bought into Environmentalism, but few people object vehemently to it. Most people are slightly irritated by it.
  11. And yet climate change policies go unchallenged by opposition parties.
  12. Environmentalism is a political ideology, yet it has never been tested democratically.
  13. Widespread disengagement from politics means that politicians have had to seek new ways to connect with the public. Exaggerated environmental concern is merely serving to provide direction for directionless politics.
  14. Environmentalism is not the reincarnation of socialism, communism or Marxism. It is being embraced by the old Right and Left alike. Similarly, climate change scepticism is not the exclusive domain of the conservative Right.
  15. Environmentalism will be worse for the poor than climate change.
  16. Environmentalism is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

*                   *                  *                     *                   *                   *                   *                   *

Aitkin is an Australian, and any connection to Australia always rekindles my appreciation for the sanctuary Australia provided the refuigee Bauers and the excellent public education from which I benefited in elementary school (Picton, NSW), at The Sydney Boys’ High School, and at the University of Sydney (moreover, in those years, at almost no cost to my parents!).
Browsing Aitkin’s writings, I came across an after-dinner speech about “Australian values”  that rings true to my own recollections and also, I think, offers some insights into the similarities and differences between American and Australian life.

Posted in conflicts of interest, consensus, denialism, funding research, global warming, media flaws, peer review, politics and science, resistance to discovery, science is not truth, science policy, scientific culture, scientific literacy, scientism, scientists are human, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Australian university fires climate-change dissenter: dissent is not collegial…

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2018/09/08

Just another bit of evidence of politically correct dogmatism in science; see Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth, McFarland 2012

Tenured professor Peter Ridd, a marine scientist, was fired from James Cook University (Queensland, Australia), for sharing with a journalist his view that certain published work is misleading:

“Ridd’s expertise is in coastal oceanography and the impact of sediments on reefs and, for years, he has criticised research suggesting the Great Barrier reef is in serious trouble due to global warming and agricultural run-off, among other things. He claims the research lacks quality assurance, isn’t replicated often enough, and that the peer review system for research is inadequate. . . .
His trouble started in April 2016 when he received a ‘formal censure’ for ‘misconduct’. It was a curious incident: the university had got hold of an email that Ridd sent to a news.com.au journalist a few months before. In it, he urged the journalist to look into work Ridd had done suggesting that photographs released by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority indicating a big decline in reef health over time were misleading …
the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies – based at James Cook University –‘should check their facts before they spin their story . . .’

This was enough for the university to censure Ridd on the grounds that he breached the code of conduct by ‘going to the media in your professional capacity in a way that was not collegial and did not respect the rights of others or uphold professional standards’. It was a warning. Ridd could make public comments but they ‘must be in a collegial manner that upholds the university and individuals’ respect’”.

In other words, don’t offer evidence that contradicts the mainstream view, especially if there are mainstream proponents in your own university.

Academic freedom to teach and publish?

Open-minded science that respects evidence?

Read the full article in The Guardian: Gay Alcorn, “Peter Ridd’s sacking pushes the limit of academic freedom”. Note that the journalist, Alcorn, takes human-caused climate change as Gospel truth, yet recognizes that the University fired Ridd because he sought media prominence for his views and refused to allow himself to be censored into not speaking publicly about the University’s actions against him. The Guardian, a stalwart supporter of left-leaning political correctness, could not quite bring itself to state straightforwardly that the university stepped way over the line as to academic freedom, but that’s a minor quibble; I congratulate Gay Alcorn and The Guardian for straight, unbiased reporting.

Ridd has sued the University and raised funds for his legal costs though crowd-funding; “the court hearing has been set for 12, 13 and 14th November”.

Posted in conflicts of interest, consensus, denialism, funding research, global warming, legal considerations, media flaws, politics and science, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

21st century science:   Group-Thinking Elites and Fanatical Groupies

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2018/08/11

Science has been a reliable resource for official policies and actions for much of the era of modern science, which is usually regarded as having begun around the 17th century.

It is almost without precedent that a mistaken scientific consensus should lead to undesirable and damaging public actions, yet that is now the case in two instances: the belief that carbon dioxide generated by the burning of fossil fuels is primarily responsible for global warming and climate change; and the belief that HIV is the cause of AIDS.

Both those beliefs gained hegemony during the last two or three decades. That these beliefs are mistaken seems incredible to most people, in part because of the lack of any well known precedent and in part because the nature of science is widely misunderstood; in particular it is not yet widely recognized how much science has changed since the middle of the 20th century.

The circumstances of modern science that conspire to make it possible for mistaken theories to bring misguided public policies have been described in my recent book, Science Is Not What You Think [1]. The salient points are these:

Ø     Science has become dysfunctionally large

Ø     It is hyper-competitive

Ø     It is not effectively self-correcting

Ø     It is at the mercy of multiple external interests and influences.

A similar analysis was offered by Judson [2]. That title reflects the book’s opening theme of the prevalence of fraud in modern science (as well as in contemporary culture). It assigns blame to the huge expansion in the number of scientists and the crisis that the world of science faces as it finds itself in something of a steady-state so far as resources are concerned, after a period of some three centuries of largely unfitted expansion: about 80% of all the scientists who have ever lived are extant today; US federal expenditure on R&D increased 4-fold (inflation-adjusted!) from 1953 to 2002, and US industry increased its R&D spending by a factor of 26 over that period! Judson also notes the quintessential work of John Ziman explicating the significance of the change from continual expansion to what Ziman called a dynamic steady-state [3].

Remarkably enough, President Eisenhower had foreseen this possibility and warned against it in his farewell address to the nation: “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”. The proponents of human-caused-climate-changer theory and of HIV/AIDS theory are examples of such elites.

A crucial factor is that elites, like all other groups, may be dysfunctionally affected by the phenomenon of Groupthink.

Janis [4] showed in detail several decades ago how that phenomenon of Groupthink had produced disastrously bad policy actions by the United States. The same phenomenon of Groupthink can cause bad things to happen in other social sectors than the government. Recently, Booker [5] has shown how Groupthink has been responsible for creating the worldwide belief, shibboleth, cliché, that humankind’s use of fossil fuels is causing global warming and climate change through the release of carbon dioxide.

Commonly held ideas about science do not envisage the possibility that a scientific consensus could bring misguided policies and actions on a global scale. What most people know — think they know — about science is that its conclusions are based on solid evidence, and that the scientific method safeguards against getting things wrong, and that science that has been primarily responsible for civilization’s advances over the last few centuries.

Those things that most people know are also largely mistaken [1, 6]. Science is a human activity and is subject to all the frailties and fallibilities of any human activity. The scientific method and the way in which it is popularly described does not accurately portray how science is actually done.

While much of the intellectual progress in understanding how the world works does indeed stand to the credit of science, what remains to be commonly realized is that since about the middle of the 20th century, science has become too big for its own good. The huge expansion of scientific activity since the Second World War has changed science in crucial ways. The number of people engaged in scientific activity has far outstripped the available resources, leading to hyper-competition and associated sloppiness and outright dishonesty. Scientists nowadays are in no way exceptional individuals, people doing scientific work are as common as are teachers, doctors, or engineers. It is in this environment that Groupthink has become significantly and damagingly important.

Booker [5] described this in relation to the hysteria over the use of fossil fuels. A comparable situation concerns the belief that HIV is the cause of AIDS [7]. The overall similarities in these two cases are that a quite small number of researchers arrived initially at more or less tentative conclusions; but those conclusions seemed of such great import to society at large that they were immediately seized upon and broadcast by the media as breaking news. Political actors become involved, accepting those conclusions quickly became politically correct, and those who then questioned and now question the conclusions are vigorously opposed, often maligned as unscientific and motivated by non-scientific agendas.

 

At any rate, contemporary science has become a group activity rather than an activity of independent intellectual entrepreneurs, and it is in this environment that Groupthink affects the elites in any given field — the acknowledged leading researchers whose influence is entrenched by editors and administrators and other bureaucrats inside and outside the scientific community.

A concomitant phenomenon is that of fanatical groupies. Concerning both human-caused climate change and the theory that HIV causes AIDS, there are quite large social groups that have taken up the cause with fanatical vigor and that attack quite unscrupulously anyone who differs from the conventional wisdom. These groupies are chiefly people with little or no scientific background, or whose scientific ambitions are unrequited (which includes students). As with activist groups in general, groupie organizations are often supported by (and indeed often founded by) commercial or political interests. Non-profit organizations which purportedly represent patients and other concerned citizens and which campaign for funds to fight against cancer, multiple sclerosis, etc., are usually funded by Big Pharma, as are HIV/AIDS activist groups.

__________________________________

[1]  Henry H. Bauer, Science Is Not What You Think — how it has changed, why we can’t trust it, how it can be fixed, McFarland 2017

[2] Horace Freeland Judson, The Great Betrayal, Harcourt 2004

[3]  John Ziman, Prometheus Bound, Cambridge University Press 1994

[4]  I. L. Janis, Victims of Groupthink, 1972; Groupthink, 1982, Houghton Mifflin.

[5]  Christopher Booker, GLOBAL WARMING: A case study in groupthink, Global Warming Policy Foundation, Report 28; Human-caused global warming as Groupthink

[6]  Henry H. Bauer, Scientific Literacy and Myth of the Scientific Method, University of Illinois Press 1992

[7]  Henry H. Bauer, The Origin, Persistence and Failings of HIV/AIDS Theory, McFarland 2007

Posted in conflicts of interest, consensus, fraud in science, funding research, global warming, media flaws, science is not truth, science policy, scientific culture, scientific literacy, scientism, scientists are human, the scientific method, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

 
%d bloggers like this: