Skepticism about science and medicine

In search of disinterested science

Archive for the ‘media flaws’ Category

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

Advertisements

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

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.

Posted in conflicts of interest, consensus, media flaws, medical practices, peer review, prescription drugs, scientific culture, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Climate-change orthodoxy: alternative facts, uncertainty equals certainty, projections are not predictions, and other absurdities of the “scientific consensus”

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2017/05/10

G. K. Chesterton once suggested that the best argument for accepting the Christian faith lies in the reasons offered by atheists and skeptics against doing so. That interesting slant sprang to mind as I was trying to summarize the reasons for not believing the “scientific consensus” that blames carbon dioxide for climate change.

Of course the very best reason for not believing that CO2 causes climate change are the data, as summarized in an earlier post

–>      Global temperatures have often been high while CO2 levels were low, and vice versa

–>     CO2 levels rise or fall after temperatures have risen or fallen

–>     Temperatures decreased between the 1940s and 1970s, and since about 1998 there has been a pause in warming, perhaps even cooling, while CO2 levels have risen steadily.

But disbelieving the official propaganda becomes much easier when one recognizes the sheer absurdities and illogicalities and self-contradictions committed unceasingly by defenders of the mainstream view.

1940s-1970s cooling
Mainstream official climate science is centered on models: computer programs that strive to simulate real-world phenomena. Any reasonably detailed description of such models soon reveals that there are far too many variables and interactions to make that feasible; and moreover that a host of assumptions are incorporated in all the models (1). In any case, the official models do not simulate the cooling trend of these three decades.
“Dr. James Hansen suspects the relatively sudden, massive output of aerosols from industries and power plants contributed to the global cooling trend from 1940-1970” (2).
But the models do not take aerosols into account; they are so flawed that they are unable to simulate a thirty-year period in which carbon emissions were increasing and temperatures decreasing. An obvious conclusion is that no forecast based on those models deserves to be given any credence.

One of the innumerable science-groupie web-sites expands on the aerosol speculation:
“40’s to 70’s cooling, CO2 rising?
This is a fascinating denialist argument. If CO2 is rising, as it was in the 40’s through the 70’s, why would there be cooling?
It’s important to understand that the climate has warmed and cooled naturally without human influence in the past. Natural cycle, or natural variability need to be understood if you wish to understand what modern climate forcing means. In other words modern or current forcing is caused by human industrial output to the atmosphere. This human-induced forcing is both positive (greenhouse gases) and negative (sulfates and aerosols).”

Fair enough; but the models fail to take account of natural cycles.

Rewriting history
The Soviet Union had an official encyclopedia that was revised as needed, for example by rewriting history to delete or insert people and events to correspond with a given day’s political correctness. Some climate-change enthusiasts also try to rewrite history: “There was no scientific consensus in the 1970s that the Earth was headed into an imminent ice age. Indeed, the possibility of anthropogenic warming dominated the peer-reviewed literature even then” (3). Compare that with a host of reproductions and citations of headlines from those cold times when media alarms were set off by what the “scientific consensus” indeed then was (4). And the cooling itself was, of course, real, as is universally acknowledged nowadays.

The media faithfully report what officialdom disseminates. Routinely, any “extreme” weather event is ascribed to climate change — anything worth featuring as “breaking news”, say tsunamis, hurricanes, bushfires in Australia and elsewhere. But the actual data reveal no increase in extreme events in recent decades: not Atlantic storms, nor Australian cyclones, nor US tornadoes, nor “global tropical cyclone accumulated energy”, nor extremely dry periods in the USA, in the last 150 years during which atmospheric carbon dioxide increased by 40% (pp. 46-51 in (1)). Nor have sea levels been rising in any unusual manner (Chapter 6 in (1)).

Defenders of climate-change dogma tie themselves in knots about whether carbon dioxide has already affected climate, whether its influence is to be seen in short-term changes or only over the long term. For instance, the attempt to explain 1940s-70s cooling presupposes that CO2 is only to be indicted for changes over much longer time-scales than mere decades. Perhaps the ultimate demonstration of wanting to have it both ways — only long-term, but also short-term — is illustrated by a pamphlet issued jointly by the Royal Society of London and the National Academy of Science of the USA (5, 6).

No warming since about 1998
Some official sources deny that there has been any cessation of warming in the new century or millennium. Others admit it indirectly by attempting to explain it away or dismiss it as irrelevant, for instance “slowdowns and accelerations in warming lasting a decade or more will continue to occur. However, long- term climate change over many decades will depend mainly on the total amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases emitted as a result of human   activities” (p. 2 in (5)); “shorter-term variations are mostly due to natural causes, and do not contradict our fundamental understanding that the long-term warming trend is primarily due to human-induced changes in the atmospheric levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases” (p. 11 in (5)).

Obfuscating and misdirecting
The Met Office, the UK’s National Meteorological Service, is very deceptive about the recent lack of warming:

“Should climate models have predicted the pause?
Media coverage … of the launch of the 5th Assessment Report of the IPCC has again said that global warming is ‘unequivocal’ and that the pause in warming over the past 15 years is too short to reflect long-term trends.

[No one disputes the reality of long-term global warming — the issue is whether natural forces are responsible as opposed to human-generated carbon dioxide]

… some commentators have criticised climate models for not predicting the pause. …
We should not confuse climate prediction with climate change projection. Climate prediction is about saying what the state of the climate will be in the next few years, and it depends absolutely on knowing what the state of the climate is today. And that requires a vast number of high quality observations, of the atmosphere and especially of the ocean.
On the other hand, climate change projections are concerned with the long view; the impact of the large and powerful influences on our climate, such as greenhouse gases.

[Implying sneakily and without warrant that natural forces are not “large and powerful”. That is quite wrong and it is misdirection, the technique used by magicians to divert attention from what is really going on. By far the most powerful force affecting climate is the energy coming from the sun.]

Projections capture the role of these overwhelming influences on climate and its variability, rather than predict the current state of the variability itself.
The IPCC model simulations are projections and not predictions; in other words the models do not start from the state of the climate system today or even 10 years ago. There is no mileage in a story about models being ‘flawed’ because they did not predict the pause; it’s merely a misunderstanding of the science and the difference between a prediction and a projection.
[Misdirection again. The IPCC models failed to project or predict the lack of warming since 1998, and also the cooling of three decades after 1940. The point is that the models are inadequate, so neither predictions nor projections should be believed.]

… the deep ocean is likely a key player in the current pause, effectively ‘hiding’ heat from the surface. Climate model projections simulate such pauses, a few every hundred years lasting a decade or more; and they replicate the influence of the modes of natural climate variability, like the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) that we think is at the centre of the current pause.
[Here is perhaps the worst instance of misleading. The “Climate model projections” that are claimed to “simulate such pauses, a few every hundred years lasting a decade or more” are not made with the models that project alarming human-caused global warming, they are ad hoc models that explore the possible effects of variables not taken into account in the overall climate models.]”

The projections — which the media (as well as people familiar with the English language) fail to distinguish from predictions — that indict carbon dioxide as cause of climate change are based on models that do not incorporate possible effects of deep-ocean “hidden heat” or such natural cycles as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. Those and other such factors as aerosols are considered only in trying to explain why the climate models are wrong, which is the crux of the matter. The climate models are wrong.

Asserting that uncertainty equals certainty
The popular media disseminated faithfully and uncritically from the most recent official report that “Scientists are 95% certain that human are responsible for the ‘unprecedented’ warming experienced by the Earth over the last few decades

Leave aside that the warming cannot be known to be “unprecedented” — global temperatures have been much higher in the past, and historical data are not fine-grained enough to compare rates of warming over such short time-spans as mere decades or centuries.

There is no such thing as “95% certainty”.
Certainty means 100%; anything else is a probability, not a certainty.
A probability of 95% may seem very impressive — until it is translated into its corollary: 5% probability of being wrong; and 5% is 1 in 20. I wouldn’t bet on anything that’s really important to me if there’s 1 chance in 20 of losing the bet.
So too with the frequent mantra that 97% or 98% of scientists, or some other superficially impressive percentage, support the “consensus” that global warming is owing to carbon dioxide (7):

 

“Depending on exactly how you measure the expert consensus, it’s somewhere between 90% and 100% that agree humans are responsible for climate change, with most of our studies finding 97% consensus among publishing climate scientists.”

In other words, 3% (“on average”) of “publishing climate scientists” disagree. And the history of science teaches unequivocally that even a 100% scientific consensus has in the past been wrong, most notably on the most consequential matters, those that advanced science spectacularly in what are often called “scientific revolutions” (8).
Furthermore, “publishing climate scientists” biases the scales a great deal, because peer review ensures that dissenting evidence and claims do not easily get published. In any case, those percentages are based on surveys incorporating inevitable flaws (sampling bias as with peer review, for instance). The central question is, “How convinced are you that most recent and near future climate change is, or will be, the result of anthropogenic causes”? On that, the “consensus” was only between 33% and 39%, showing that “the science is NOT settled” (9; emphasis in original).

Science groupies — unquestioning accepters of “the consensus”
The media and countless individuals treat the climate-change consensus dogma as Gospel Truth, leading to such extraordinary proposals as that by Professor of Law, Philippe Sands, QC, that “False claims from climate sceptics that humans are not responsible for global warming and that sea level is not rising should be scotched by an international court ruling”.

I would love to see any court take up the issue, which would allow us to make defenders of the orthodox view attempt to explain away all the data which demonstrate that global warming and climate change are not driven primarily by carbon dioxide.

The central point

Official alarms and established scientific institutions rely not on empirical data, established facts about temperature and CO2, but on computer models that are demonstrably wrong.

Those of us who believe that science should be empirical, that it should follow the data and change theories accordingly, become speechless in the face of climate-change dogma defended in the manner described above. It would be screamingly funny, if only those who do it were not our own “experts” and official representatives (10). Even the Gods are helpless in the face of such determined ignoring of reality (11).

___________________________________

(1)    For example, chapter 10 in Howard Thomas Brady, Mirrors and Mazes, 2016; ISBN 978-1522814689. For a more general argument that models are incapable of accurately simulating complex natural processes, see, O. H. Pilkey & L. Pilkey-Jarvis, Useless Arithmetic: Why Environmental Scientists Can’t Predict the Future, Columbia University Press, 2007
(2)    “40’s to 70’s cooling, CO2 rising?”
(3)    Thomas C. Peterson, William M. Connolley & John Fleck, “The myth of the 1970s global cooling scientific consensus”, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, September 2008, 1325-37
(4)    “History rewritten, Global Cooling from 1940 – 1970, an 83% consensus, 285 papers being ‘erased’”; 1970s Global Cooling Scare; 1970s Global Cooling Alarmism
(5)    Climate Change: Evidence & Causes—An Overview from the Royal   Society and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, National Academies Press; ISBN 978-0-309-30199-2
(6)    Relevant bits of (e) are cited in a review, Henry H. Bauer, “Climate-change science or climate-change propaganda?”, Journal of Scientific Exploration, 29 (2015) 621-36
(7)    The 97% consensus on global warming
(8) Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970; Bernard Barber, “Resistance by scientists to scientific discovery”, Science, 134 (1961) 596–602. Gunther Stent, “Prematurity and uniqueness in   scientific discovery”, Scientific American, December 1972, pp. 84-93. Hook, Ernest B. (ed), Prematurity in Scientific Discovery: On Resistance and Neglect, University of California Press, 2002
(9)    Dennis Bray, “The scientific consensus of climate change revisited”, Environmental Science & Policy, 13 (2010) 340 –50; see also “The myth of the Climate Change ‘97%’”, Wall Street Journal, 27 May 2014, p. A.13, by Joseph Bast & Roy Spencer
(10) My mother’s frequent repetitions engraved in my mind the German folk-saying, “Wenn der Narr nicht mein wär’, lacht’ ich mit”. Google found it in the Deutsches sprichwörter-lexikon edited by Karl Friedrich Wilhelm Wander (#997, p. 922)
(11)  “Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens”; Friedrich Schiller, Die Jungfrau von Orleans.

 

Posted in consensus, denialism, global warming, media flaws, peer review, resistance to discovery, science is not truth, science policy, scientism, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , | 6 Comments »

The banality of evil — Psychiatry and ADHD

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2017/04/25

“The banality of evil” is a phrase coined by Hannah Arendt when writing about the trial of Adolf Eichmann who had supervised much of the Holocaust. The phrase has been much misinterpreted and misunderstood. Arendt was pointing to the banality of Eichmann, who “had no motives at all” other than “an extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement”; he “never realized what he was doing … sheer thoughtlessness … [which] can wreak more havoc than all the evil instincts” (1). There was nothing interesting about Eichmann. Applying Wolfgang Pauli’s phrase, Eichmann was “not even wrong”: one can learn nothing from him other than that evil can result from banality, from thoughtlessness. As Edmund Burke put it, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” — and not thinking is a way of doing nothing.

That train of thought becomes quite uncomfortable with the realization that sheer thoughtlessness nowadays pervades so much of the everyday practices of science, medicine, psychiatry. Research simply — thoughtlessly — accepts contemporary theory as true, and pundits, practitioners, teachers, policy makers all accept the results of research without stopping to think about fundamental issues, about whether the pertinent contemporary theories or paradigms make sense.

Psychiatrists, for example, prescribe Ritalin and other stimulants as treatment for ADHD — Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder — without stopping to think about whether ADHD is even “a thing” that can be defined and diagnosed unambiguously (or even at all).

The official manual, which one presumes psychiatrists and psychologists consult when assigning diagnoses, is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association, now (since 2013) in its 5th edition (DSM-5). DSM-5 has been quite widely criticized, including by such prominent psychiatrists as Allen Frances who led the task force for the previous, fourth, edition (2).

Even casual acquaintance with the contents of this supposedly authoritative DSM-5 makes it obvious that criticism is more than called for. In DSM-5, the Diagnostic Criteria for ADHD are set down in five sections, A-E.

A: “A persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development, as characterized by (1) and/or (2):
     1.   Inattention: Six (or more) of the following symptoms have persisted for at least 6 months to a degree that is inconsistent with developmental level and that negatively impacts directly on social and academic/occupational activities
           Note: The symptoms are not solely a manifestation of oppositional behavior, defiance, hostility, or failure to understand tasks or instructions. For older adolescents and adults (age 17 and older), at least five symptoms are required.
a.     Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or during other activities (e.g., overlooks or misses details, work is inaccurate)
b.     Often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities (e.g., has difficulty remaining focused during lectures, conversations, or lengthy reading).”
and so on through c-i, for a total of nine asserted characteristics of inattention.

Paying even cursory attention to these “criteria” makes plain that they are anything but definitive. Why, for example, are six symptoms required up to age 16 when five are sufficient at 17 years and older? There is nothing clear-cut about “inconsistent with developmental level”, which depends on personal judgment about both the consistency and the level of development. Different people, even different psychiatrists no matter how trained, are likely to judge inconsistently in any given case whether the attention paid (point “a”) is “close” or not. So too with “careless”, “often”, “difficulty”; and so on.

It is if anything even worse with Criteria A(2):

“2.    Hyperactivity and Impulsivity:
Six (or more) of the following symptoms have persisted for at least 6 months to a degree that is inconsistent with developmental level and that negatively impacts directly on social and academic/occupational activities
       Note: The symptoms are not solely a manifestation of oppositional behavior, defiance, hostility, or failure to understand tasks or instructions. For older adolescents and adults (age 17 and older), at least five symptoms are required.
a.    Often fidgets with or taps hands or feet or squirms in seat.”
and so on through b-i, for again a total of nine supposed characteristics of inattention. There is no need to cite any of those since “a” amply reveals the absurdity of designating as the symptom of a mental disorder a type of behavior that is perfectly normal for the majority of young boys. This “criterion” makes self-explanatory the reported finding that boys are three times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ADHD, though experts make heavier weather of it by suggesting that sex hormones may be among the unknown causes of ADHD (3).

A(1) and (2) are followed by
“B. Several inattentive or hyperactivity-impulsivity symptoms were present prior to age 12 years.
C. Several inattentive or hyperactivity-impulsivity symptoms are present in two or more
settings  (e.g., at home, school, or work; with friends or relatives; in other activities).
D. There is clear evidence that the symptoms interfere with, or reduce the quality of, social,
academic, or occupational functioning.
E. The symptoms do not occur exclusively during the course of schizophrenia or another
psychotic disorder and are not better explained by another mental disorder (e.g., mood
disorder, anxiety disorder, dissociative disorder, personality disorder, substance
intoxication or withdrawal).”

It should be plain enough that this set of so-called criteria is not based on any definitive empirical data, as a simple thought experiment shows: What clinical (or any other sort of) trial could establish by observation that six symptoms are diagnostic up to age 17 whereas five can be decisive from that age on? What if the decisive symptoms were apparent for only 5 months rather than six; or five-and-three-quarters months? How remarkable, too, that “inattention” and hyperactivity and impulsivity” are both characterized by exactly nine possible symptoms.

Leaving aside the deplorable thoughtlessness of the substantive content of DSM-5, it is also saddening that something published by an authoritative medical society should reflect such carelessness or thoughtlessness in presentation. Competent copy-editing would have helped, for example by eliminating the many instances of “and/or”: “this ungraceful phrase … has no right to intrude in ordinary prose” (4) since just “or” would do nicely; if, for instance, I tell you that I’ll be happy with A or with B, obviously I’ll be perfectly happy also if I get both.
Good writing and proper syntax are not mere niceties; their absence indicates a lack of clear substantive thought in what is being written about, as Richard Mitchell ( “The Underground Grammarian”), liked to illustrate by quoting Ben Jonson: “Neither can his Mind be thought to be in Tune, whose words do jarre; nor his reason in frame, whose sentence is preposterous”.

At any rate, ADHD is obviously an invented condition that has no clearly measurable characteristics. Assigning that diagnosis to any given individual is an entirely subjective, personal judgment. That this has been done for some large number of individuals strikes me as an illustration of the banality of evil. Countless parents have been told that their children have a mental illness when they are behaving just as children naturally do. Countless children have been fed mind-altering drugs as a consequence of such a diagnosis. Some number have been sent to special schools like Eagle Hill, where annual tuition and fees can add up to $80,000 or more.

Websites claim to give information that is patently unfounded or wrong, for example:

“Researchers still don’t know the exact cause, but they do know that genes, differences in brain development and some outside factors like prenatal exposure to smoking might play a role. … Researchers looking into the role of genetics in ADHD say it can run in families. If your biological child has ADHD, there’s a one in four chance you have ADHD too, whether it’s been diagnosed or not. … Some external factors affecting brain development have also been linked to ADHD. Prenatal exposure to smoke may increase your child’s risk of developing ADHD. Exposure to high levels of lead as a toddler and preschooler is another possible contributor. … . It’s a brain-based biological condition”.

Those who establish such websites simply follow thoughtlessly, banally, what the professional literature says; and some number of academics strive assiduously to ensure the persistence of this misguided parent-scaring and children-harming. For example, by claiming that certain portions of the brains of ADHD individuals are characteristically smaller:

“Subcortical brain volume differences in participants with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and adults: a cross-sectional mega-analysis” by Martine Hoogman et al., published in Lancet Psychiatry (2017, vol. 4, pp. 310–19). The “et al.” stands for 81 co-authors, 11 of whom declared conflicts of interest with pharmaceutical companies. The conclusions are stated dogmatically: “The data from our highly powered analysis confirm that patients with ADHD do have altered brains and therefore that ADHD is a disorder of the brain. This message is clear for clinicians to convey to parents and patients, which can help to reduce the stigma that ADHD is just a label for difficult children and caused by incompetent parenting. We hope this work will contribute to a better understanding of ADHD in the general public”.

An extensive detailed critique of this article has been submitted to the journal as a basis for retracting that article: “Lancet Psychiatry Needs to Retract the ADHD-Enigma Study” by Michael Corrigan & Robert Whitaker. The critique points to a large number of failings in methodology, including that the data were accumulated from a variety of other studies with no evidence that diagnoses of ADHD were consistent or that controls were properly chosen or available — which ought in itself be sufficient reason not to find publication.

Perhaps worst of all: Nowhere in the article is IQ mentioned; yet the Supplementary Material contains a table revealing that the “ADHD” subjects had on average higher IQ scores than the “normal” controls. “Now the usual assumption is that ADHD children, suffering from a ‘brain disorder,’ are less able to concentrate and focus in school, and thus are cognitively impaired in some way. …. But if the mean IQ score of the ADHD cohort is higher than the mean score for the controls, doesn’t this basic assumption need to be reassessed? If the participants with ADHD have smaller brains that are riddled with ‘altered structures,’ then how come they are just as smart as, or even smarter than, the participants in the control group?”

[The Hoogman et al. article in many places refers to “(appendix)” for details, but the article — which costs $31.50 — does not include an appendix; one must get it separately from the author or the journal.]

As usual, the popular media simply parroted the study’s claims, illustrated by headlines cited in the critique:

And so the thoughtless acceptance by the media of anything published in an established, peer-reviewed journal contributes to making this particular evil a banality. The public, including parents of children, are further confirmed in the misguided, unproven, notion that something is wrong with the brains of children who have been designated with a diagnosis that is no more than a highly subjective opinion.

The deficiencies of this article also illustrate why those of us who have published in peer-reviewed journals know how absurd it is to regard “peer review” as any sort of guarantee of quality, or even of minimal standards of competence and honesty. As Richard Horton, himself editor of The Lancet, has noted, “Peer review . . . is simply a way to collect opinions from experts in the field. Peer review tells us about the acceptability, not the credibility, of a new finding” (5).

The critique of the Hoogman article is just one of the valuable pieces at the Mad in America website. I also recommend highly Robert Whitaker’s books, Anatomy of an Epidemic and Mad in America.


(1)  Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem — A Report on the Banality of Evil. Viking Press,
1964 (rev. & enlarged ed.). Quotes are at p. 134 of PDF available at
https://platypus1917.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/arendt_eichmanninjerusalem.pdf
(2)  Henry H. Bauer, “The Troubles With Psychiatry — essay review of Saving Normal by Allen
Frances and The Book Of Woe by Gary Greenberg”, Journal of Scientific Exploration,
29  (2015) 124-30
(3)   Donald W. Pfaff, Man and Woman: An Inside Story, Oxford University Press, 2010: p. 147
(4)   Modern American Usage (edited & completed by Jacques Barzun et al. from the work of
Wilson Follett), Hill & Wang 1966
(5)    Health Wars: On the Global Front Lines of Modern Medicine, New York Review Books,
2003, p. 306

 

Posted in conflicts of interest, consensus, media flaws, medical practices, peer review, prescription drugs, science is not truth, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Predatory publishers and fake rankings of journals

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2017/04/06

I get invitations to submit articles to a variety of journals that I have never heard of and whose supposed field of interest may bear little relation to my intellectual biography. The invitations come about as often as the notifications of winning lottery tickets or other windfalls.

More than a decade ago, librarian Jeffrey Beall began to compile lists of the “publishers” who put out these “journals” to profit from what authors pay to get published under the widespread need for academics to “publish or perish”. Beall no longer updates the lists and the web site is no longer operative, but a late version is available courtesy of the Wayback Machine.

One recent invitation came to me from the International Organization of Scientific Research (IOSR), which is on Beall’s list and offers some 22 “journals”. I tried sampling them and was not able to access articles from all of them, but did get to the IOSR Journal of Applied Physics and savored the article “Of void (vacuum) energy and quantum field: – a abstraction-subtraction model” by “Dr K N Prasanna Kumar || Prof B S Kiranagi || Prof C S Bagewadi” . At 63 pages, this is quite an article, featuring such insights as “Vacuum energy arises naturally in quantum mechanics due to the uncertainty principle”:
Abstract: A system of quantum field dissipating void and a parallel system of quantum field and void system that contribute to the dissipation of the velocity of void is investigated. It is shown that the time independence of the contributions portrays another system by itself and constitutes the equilibrium solution of the original time independent system. Methodology reinforced with the explanations, we write the governing equations with the nomenclature for the systems in the foregoing. Further papers extensively draw inferences upon such concatenation process, ipsofacto. Significantly consummation and consolidation of this model with that of the Grand Unified Theory is the one that results in the Quantum field giving rise to the basic forces which is purported to have been combined at the high temperatures at the Big Bang Vacuum energy is reported to be the reason for the consummation of the four forces at the scintillatingly high temperature.

It may be obvious why this reminds me of the hoax that Alan Sokal perpetrated on the journal Social Text.

The invitation from IOSR included a wrinkle I had not come across before: it flaunted its high ranking among journals (e-mail, 5 April 2017, from JPBS.journal JOURNALS <jpbs.journal@mail4iosr.org>):

I was tickled by the concept of the African Quality Center for Journals and Googled for it, half expecting that it did not exist. But it does, though its self-description did fit my suspicions:

The academic community has long been demanding more transparency, choice and accuracy in journal assessment. Currently, the majority of academic output is evaluated based on a single ranking of journal impact. African Quality centre [sic] for Journals (AQCJ) perform this job as precisely as possible.

Impact Factor is a measure reflecting the average number of citations to articles published in journals, books, patent document, thesis, project reports, newspapers, conference/ seminar proceedings, documents published in internet, notes and any other approved documents. It is measure the relative importance of a journal within its field, with journals of higher journal impact factors deemed to be more important than those with lower ones.

Evaluation Methodology
AQCJ consider following parameters for calculation Impact factor (AQCJ)
Ø              Citation : The impact factor for a journal is calculated based on a three-year period, and can be considered to be the average number of times published papers are cited up to two years after publication.
Ø             Originality : AQCJ checks random selects published article’s originality and quality. Only citation is not perfect way of Impact factor calculation.
Ø              Time publication : Periodicity of publication should be uniform. If it is not uniform, the quality of particular publication cannot impressible.
Ø              Geographical coverage : Only particular small area based publication cannot get good marks as it is not covering all around world research.
Ø              Editorial Quality : Editor Board of particular Journal gives the direction to any Journal. So it must be good and considerable for evaluation.”

And it does offer a list of “Top 20 Publishers”:

At a cursory glance, noting Nature, Cambridge, Springer, Wiley, this might briefly pass muster as plausible, until one looks more closely and decides to check up on, say, “Barker Deane Publishing” in Australia which is ranked above Taylor & Francis; Barker Deane Publishing specializes in “Self publishing and publishing for health, spirituality, positive living, new age”.

The website of the African Quality Center for Journals did not offer me a way to discover its possible connection to IOSR, but I suspect quite strongly that there is one. The syntax on the two web sites is rather strikingly congruent.

 

Posted in fraud in science, media flaws | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

We are being routinely misled about health and diet

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2017/03/24

Most of what the media make a fuss about over health or diet should not be believed.

It should not be believed even as it cites peer-reviewed articles or official guidelines. All too often the claims made are based on misuse of statistics and are an abuse of common sense.

That little rant was set off by a piece in the august New York Times: “Pollution leads to greater risk of dementia among older women, study says”).

Alarms were triggered:
“Older women”: Only among older and not younger? Women but not men?

The original article did not improve my mood:
The pollution actually studied was “fine particulate matter, P.M. 2.5, 2.5 micrometers or smaller in diameter”: What about 2.5 to 3, say? Or 3 to 4? And so on.
“Women with the genetic variant APOE4, which increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, were more likely to be affected by high levels of air pollution”:
Is this asserting that there’s synergy? That the combined effect is not just the added effects of the two factors? That pollution is not just an independent risk factor but somehow is more effective with APOE4 carriers? So what about APOE3 or APOE2 carriers?

The New York Times piece mentioned some other studies as well:
“[P]renatal exposure to air pollution could result in children with greater anxiety, depression and attention-span disorders”.
“[A]ir pollution caused more than 5.5 million premature deaths in 2013”.

With those sort of assertions, my mind asks, “How on earth could that be known?”
What sort of study could possibly show that? What sort of data, and how much of it, would be required to justify those claims?

So, with the older women and dementia, how were the observational or experimental subjects (those exposed to the pollution) distinguished from the necessary controls that were not exposed to pollution? Controls need to be just like the experimental subjects (in age, state of health, economic circumstances, etc.) with the sole exception that the latter were exposed to pollution and the controls were not.
For the controls not to be exposed to the pollution, obviously the two groups must be geographically separate. Then what other possibly pertinent factors differed between those geographic regions? How was each of those factors controlled for?

In other words, what’s involved is not some “simple” comparison of polluted and not polluted; there is a whole set of possibly influential factors that need somehow to be controlled for.

The more factors, the larger the needed number of experimental subjects and controls; and the required number of data points increases much more than linearly with the number of variables. Even just that realization should stimulate much skepticism about many of the media-hyped stories about diet or health. Still more skepticism is called for when the claim has to do with lifestyle, since the data then depend on how the subjects recall and describe how they have behaved.

The dementia article was published in Translational Psychiatry, an open-access journal from the Nature publishing group. The study had enrolled 3647 women aged between 65 and 79. That is clearly too small a number for all possibly relevant factors to have been controlled for. Many details make that more than a suspicion, for example, “Women in the highest PM2.5 quartile (14.34–22.55 μg m −3) were older (aged ≥75 years); more likely to reside in the South/Midwest and use hormonal treatment; but engage less in physical activities and consume less alcohol, relative to counterparts (all P-values <0.05. . . )” — in other words, the highest exposure to pollution was experiences by subjects who differed from controls and from other subjects in several ways besides pollution exposure.

At about the same time as the media were hyping the dementia study, there was also “breaking news” about how eating enough fruit and vegetables protects against death and disease, based on the peer-reviewed article “Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality — a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies”.

Meta-analysis means combining different studies, the assumption being that the larger amount of primary data can make conclusions stronger and firmer. However, that requires that each of the individual studies being drawn on is sound and that the subjects and circumstances are reasonably comparable in all the different studies. In this case, 95 studies reported in 142 publications were analyzed. Innumerable factors need to be considered — the specific fruit or vegetable (one cannot presume that apples and pears have the same effect, nor cauliflower and carrots); and the effects of different amounts of what is eaten must somehow be taken into account. There are innumerable variables, in other words, permitting considerable skepticism about the claims that “An estimated 5.6 and 7.8 million premature deaths worldwide in 2013 may be attributable to a fruit and vegetable intake below 500 and 800 g/day, respectively, if the observed associations are causal” and that ‘Fruit and vegetable intakes were associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and all-cause mortality. These results support public health recommendations to increase fruit and vegetable intake for the prevention of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and premature mortality.” Skepticism is yet more called for since health and mortality are influenced to a great extent by genetics and geography, which were not controlled for.
The authors deserve credit, though, for the clause, “if the observed associations are causal”. What everyone should know about statistics is that correlations, associations, never prove causation. That law is almost universally ignored as the media disseminate press releases and other spin from researchers and their institutions, implying that associations are meaningful about what causes what.

It is easy enough to understand why considerable skepticism should be exercised with claims like those about mortality and diet or about dementia and pollution, simply because studies to test these claims properly would need to include much larger numbers of subjects. But an even greater reason to doubt such claims, as well as claims about newly approved drugs and treatments, is that the statistical analyses commonly used are inherently flawed, most particularly by a quite inadequate criterion for statistical significance.

Almost universally in social science and in medical science, statistical significance is defined as p≤0.05: the probability that the results are mere coincidence, owing just to random chance, is less than 5%, in other words less than 1 in 20.

Several things are wrong with that. Among the most serious are:

  1. That something is not a coincidence, not owing to random chance, does not tell us what it is owing to, what the cause is. It is not necessarily the experimenter’s hypothesis, yet that is the assumption made universally with this type of statistical analysis.
  2. 1 in 20 is a very weak criterion. It means that 1 in every 20 “statistically significant” conclusions is wrong. Do 20 studies, and on average one of them will be “statistically significant” even though it is wrong.
  3. That something is statistically significant does not mean that the effect is meaningful.
    For example, after I had a TIA (transient ischemic attack, minor stroke), the neurologist automatically prescribed the “blood thinner” Plavix, clopidogrel, as lessening the risk of further strokes. I am wary of all drugs since they all have “side” effects, so later I searched the literature and found that Plavix is statistically significantly better at decreasing risk than is aspirin, p = 0.043, better than p≤0.05. However, the relative efficacies found were just 5.83% compared to 5.32%; to my mind, not at all a significant difference, not enough to compensate for the greater risk of “side” effects from clopidogrel than from aspirin which has been in use for far longer by far more people without discovery of seriously dangerous “side” effects. (Chemicals don’t have two types of effect, main and side, those we want and those we don’t want. “Side” effects are just as real as the intended effects.)

Many statisticians have pointed out for many years what is wrong with the p-value approach to statistics and its use in social science and in medical science. More than two decades ago, an editorial in the British Medical Journal pointed to “The scandal of poor medical research” [i] with incompetent statistical analysis one of the prime culprits. Matthews [ii] has explained clearly point 1 above. Colquhoun [iii] explains that p ≤ 0.05 makes for wrong conclusions even more often than 1 in 20 times: “If you use p=0.05 to suggest that you have made a discovery, you will be wrong at least 30% of the time”. Gigerenzer [iv] has set out in clear detail the troubles with the commonly used p-value analysis.
Nevertheless, this misleading approach continues to be routine, standard, because it is so simple that many researchers who have no real understanding of statistics can use it. Among the consequences is that most published research findings are false [v] and that newly approved drugs have had to be withdrawn sooner and sooner after their initial approval [vi].
Slowly the situation improves as systemic inertia is penetrated by a few initiatives. A newly appointed editor of the journal Basic and Applied Social Psychology (BASP) announced that p-value analyses would no longer be required [vii], and soon after that they were actually banned [viii].

In the meantime, however, tangible damage is being done by continued use of the p-value approach in the testing and approval of prescription drugs, which adds to a variety of deceptive practices routinely employed by the pharmaceutical industry in clinical trials, see for example Ben Goldacre, Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients (Faber & Faber, 2013); Peter C. Gøtzsche, Deadly Medicines and Organised Crime: How Big Pharma Has Corrupted Healthcare (Radcliffe, 2013); David Healy, Pharmageddon (University of California Press, 2012). Gøtzsche and Healy report that prescription drugs, even though “properly” used, are the 3rd or 4th leading cause of death in developed countries.

***************************************************************************

[i] D G Altman, BMJ, 308 [1994] 283

[ii] Matthews, R. A. J. 1998. “Facts versus Factions: The use and abuse of subjectivity in scientific research.” European Science and Environment Forum Working Paper; pp. 247-82 in J. Morris (ed.), Rethinking Risk and the Precautionary Principle, Oxford: Butterworth (2000).

[iii] David Colquhoun, “An investigation of the false discovery rate and the misinterpretation of p-values”, Royal Society Open Science, 1 (2014) 140216; http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.14021

[iv] Gerd Gigerenzer, “Mindless statistics”, Journal of Socio-Economics, 33 [2004] 587-606)

[v] (John P. A. Ioannidis, “Why most published research findings are false”, PLoS Medicine, 2 [#8, 2005] 696-701; e124)

[vi] Henry H. Bauer, Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth, McFarland, 2012, Table 5 (p. 240) and text pp. 238-42

[vii] David Trafimow, Editorial, Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 36 (2014) 1-2

[viii] (David Trafimow & Michael Marks, Editorial, BASP, 37 [2015] 1-2; comments by Royal Statistical sociry[viii] and at https://www.reddit.com/r/statistics/comments/2wy414/social_psychology_journal_bans_null_hypothesis/)

Posted in media flaws, medical practices, peer review, prescription drugs, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The scourge of Wikipedia

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2017/03/07

Searching my files, I see that Wikipedia has featured quite often on my blogs; the article titles illustrate some of the stimuli:

Knowledge, understanding — but then there’s Wikipedia;  The Wiles of WikiHealth, Wikipedia, and Common Sense; Facebook: As bad as Wikipedia, or worse?Lowest common denominator — Wikipedia and its ilkThe unqualified (= without qualifications) gurus of Wikipedia; Another horror story about Wikipedia; The Fairy-Tale Cult of Wikipedia;  Beware the Internet: Amazon.com “reviews”, Wikipedia, and other sources of misinformation.

Four decades ago, as the Internet was coming into general use, the anticipated benefits and drawbacks were being discussed quite assiduously, at least in academe. Enthusiasts pointed to the advantages of low-cost, rapid publication of research; skeptics wondered what would happen to peer review and quality control. But I am not aware of any voices that foresaw just how abominable things would become as the cost of blathering on-line is virtually zero and there is no control of quality, no fact-checking, no ethical standards, and pervasive anonymity. No one seems to have foreseen the spate of predatory publishing of purportedly scientific research.

It has always been almost impossible to undo the consequences of lies, as too many people believe that the presence of smoke always proves the presence of fire; now, in the Internet age, it has become totally impossible to eradicate the influence of lies because of the speed with which they spread. I have too many friends who pass along stuff that strikes me immediately as unlikely to be true, and that snopes.com reveals to be not true, yet this stuff comes to me no matter how often I ask my friends to check snopes first.

I don’t use Twitter, Snapchat, or any other social media, though I am formally listed in LinkedIn and Facebook after I didn’t want to offend friends who asked me to join. Having tried Facebook and found it nothing but time-wasting obsession with trivia, I tried to disconnect from it. It wasn’t straightforward, but eventually I seemed to have succeeded as a screen assured me that I had successfully closed my account. But the next statement undercut that: I was assured that any time I wanted back in, I could log on with my old password and would fine all my material still there. When Facebook boasts of its huge membership, I wonder how many of those they count belong to my group, people who don’t use it at all and tried to get off.

At any rate, I recognize purely as a outsider how the damage done on the Internet is abetted and exacerbated by Twitter, with its encouragement of thought-bites to shorten attention spans even more, or by something like Snapchat where evidence disappears as soon as the alternative fake news has been disseminated. The contemporary political hullabaloo about fake news and alternative facts brings home that a sadly significant portion of the population exercises no skepticism or critical thought when statements are emotionally congenial.

All this is whistling in the wind, so I was pleased to find a large-circulation British newspaper laying out the faults of Wikipedia in considerable detail: “The making of a Wiki-Lie: Chilling story of one twisted oddball and a handful of anonymous activists who appointed themselves as censors to promote their own warped agenda on a website that’s a byword for inaccuracy”.

Admittedly, the Daily Mail is no TIMES, and some of its content competes with tabloids and the ilk of National Enquirer; and its ire was aroused not by the intellectual damage done by Wikipedia but by a smear that labeled the Daily Mail as an unreliable source — shades of pots and kettles.

The Daily Mail story, credited to Guy Adams, deserves wide dissemination for its valuable analysis that includes detailed biographical information about someone who might well be iconic of trouble-making trolls on the Internet; and for its exposure of how Wikipedia is impervious to correction, is controlled by largely anonymous and often self-appointed “editors”, and is rather scandalously dishonest about its finances: the governing Foundation, which advertises itself as non-profit and solicits for donations on many Wiki pages, has about 280 staff with average salaries of ~$110,000, a former executive director having garnered ~$320,000.

The British Guardian did neither itself nor the public a service by covering the Wikipedia dissing of the Daily Mail by treating Wikipedia as though it were more factually reliable and more ethical than it is: Jasper Jackson, “Wikipedia bans Daily Mail as ‘unreliable’ source” (8 February 2017). People who have tried to get errors corrected on Wikipedia are unlikely to agree that “No matter how hard Wikipedia’s volunteers work, wrong and sometimes defamatory entries will inevitably appear, with editors engaged in a game of whack-a-mole to correct them” (Jasper Jackson, “‘We always look for reliability’: why Wikipedia’s editors cut out the Daily Mail”, 12 February 2017). Some of the editors work to preserve the defamatory stuff. See my blog posts cited above for illustrations.

Posted in media flaws, peer review | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Political Correctness in Science

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2017/03/06

Supposedly, science investigates via the scientific method: testing the validity of hunches (hypotheses) against reality and allowing reality to establish beliefs, thereby discarding disproved pre-judgments, hunches, prejudices, biases. Scientific theories. are determined by facts, evidence.   Science is empirical, pragmatic; it does not accept beliefs on authority or from tradition.

Historians, philosophers, sociologists, scholars of Science & Technology Studies have long recognized that this view of science is mythical (i), but it continues to be taught in schools and in social-science texts and it is the conventional wisdom found in the media and in public discourse generally. A corollary of the misconception that scientific theories have been successfully tested against reality is the widespread belief that what science says, what the contemporary scientific consensus is, can safely be accepted as truth for all practical purposes.

So it seems incongruous, paradoxical, that large numbers of scientists should disagree violently, on any given issue, over what science really says. Yet that is the case on a seemingly increasing range of topics (ii), some of them of great public import, for instance whether HIV causes AIDS (iii) or whether human-generated carbon dioxide is the prime cause of global warming and climate change. On those latter matters as well as some others, the difference of opinion within the scientific community parallels political views: left-leaning (“liberal”) opinion regards it as unquestionably true that HIV causes AIDS and that human-generated carbon dioxide is the prime cause of global warming and climate change, whereas right-leaning (“conservative”) opinion denies that those assertions constitute “settled science” or have been proved beyond doubt. Those who harbor these “conservative” views are often labeled “denialists”; it is not to be countenanced that politically liberal individuals should be global warming skeptics (iv).

In other words, it is politically incorrect to doubt that HIV causes AIDS or that human-generated carbon dioxide is the prime cause of global warming. It requires no more than cursory observation of public discourse to recognize this pervasive phenomenon. Governments and Nobel-Prize committees illustrate that those beliefs are officially acted on as though they were established truths. One cadre of mainstream scientists even wants criminal charges laid (v) against those who question that global warming is caused primarily by human-generated carbon dioxide. So political correctness is present within the scientific community in the USA.

I’m of a sufficient age to be able to testify that half a century ago it would not have occurred to any researchers in a democratic society to urge the government to prosecute for criminal conspiracy other researchers who disagreed with them. Declaring certain scientific research programs as politically incorrect and therefore substantively without merit, and persecuting those who perpetrated such research, characterized totalitarian regimes, not free societies. Stalin’s Soviet Union declared wrong the rest of the world’s understanding of genetics and imprisoned exponents of it; it also declared wrong the rest of the world’s understanding of chemical bonding and quantum mechanics. Nazism’s Deutsche Physik banned relativity and other “Jewish” science.

**************************************************************

Political correctness holds that HIV causes AIDS and that human-generated carbon dioxide is the prime cause of global warming. Those beliefs also characterize left-leaning opinion. Why is political correctness a left-wing phenomenon?

In contemporary usage, political correctness means “marked by or adhering to a typically progressive orthodoxy on issues involving especially ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or ecology” (vi) or “conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated” (vii), evidently “progressive” or “liberal” or Left-ish views. But those descriptions fail to capture the degree of fanatical dogmatism that can lead practicing scientists to urge that those of differing views be criminally prosecuted; political correctness includes the wish to control what everyone believes.

Thus political correctness has been appropriately called “liberal fascism”, which also reveals why it is a phenomenon of the ultra-extreme Left. Attempted control of beliefs and corresponding behavior is openly proclaimed, unashamedly, by the extreme Right; it is called, and calls itself, fascism, Nazism, and needs no other name. But the Left, the “liberals”, claim to stand for and to support individual freedom of belief and speech; so a name is needed for the phenomenon by which proclamations of liberal ideals are coupled with attempts to enforce adherence to particular beliefs and social norms. Political correctness is the hypocrisy of self-proclaimed liberals functioning as authoritarian fascists.

That hypocrisy pervades political correctness, I was able to observe at first hand during my years in academic administration. People say things they don’t mean, and that they know everyone knows they don’t mean, and no one dares point to the absence of the Emperor’s clothes. For instance, the Pooh-Bahs assert that affirmative action means goals and not quotas, even as hiring practices and incentives demonstrate that they are quotas. For innumerable examples gathered over the years, see the newsletter I edited from 1993 until my retirement at the end of 1999 (viii).

********************************************

Science had represented for a long time the virtues associated with honest study of reality. Around the 1930s and 1940s, sociologist Robert Merton could describe the norms evidently governing scientific activity as communal sharing of universally valid observations and conclusions obtained by disinterested people deploying organized skepticism. That description does not accommodate researchers urging criminal prosecution of peers who disagree with them about evidence or conclusions. It does not accommodate researchers lobbying publishers to withdraw articles accepted for publication following normal review; and those norms do not describe the now prevalent circumstances in which one viewpoint suppresses others through refusal to allow publication or participation in scientific meetings (ix).

Science, in other words, is not at all what it used to be, and it is not what the popular view of it is, that common view having been based on what scientific activity used to be. It has not yet been widely recognized, how drastically science has changed since about the middle of the 20th century (x). Among the clues indicative of those changes are the spate of books since the 1980s that describe intense self-interested competition in science (xi) and the increasing frequency of fraud, again beginning about in the 1980s, that led to establishment of the federal Office of Research Integrity. That political correctness has surfaced within the scientific community is another illustration of how radically different are the circumstances of scientific activity now compared to a century ago and by contrast to the outdated conventional wisdom about science.

Political correctness began to pervade society as a whole during the same years as science was undergoing drastic change. The roots of political correctness in society at large may be traceable to the rebellious students of the 1960s, but the hegemony of their ideals in the form of political correctness became obvious only in the 1980s, when the term “political correctness” came into common usage:

The origin of the phrase in modern times is generally credited to gallows humor among Communists in the Stalin era (xii):

“Comrade, your statement is factually incorrect.”
“Yes, it is. But it is politically correct.”

That political correctness is in contemporary times a Left-ish phenomenon is therefore true to its modern origin.

How seriously political correctness corrupts science should be obvious, since it more than breaks all the traditional norms. Those norms are often summarized as universalism, communalism, disinterestedness, skepticism — taking for granted as well simple honesty and absence of hypocrisy. Nowadays what was taken for granted no longer applies. It is simply dishonest to assert that something has been proven beyond doubt when strong contrary evidence exists that is taken seriously by competent researchers. One cannot, of course, look into the minds of those who assert certainty where there is none (xiii), but among possible explanations, hypocrisy may be the least culpable.

Science cannot be isolated from the rest of society, so the incursion of political correctness into science is understandable. Moreover, what used to be the supposedly isolated ivory tower of academe is nowadays the very epicenter where political correctness breeds and from where it spreads. Whatever the causes may be, however, it is important to recognize how science has changed and that it can be corrupted by the same influences as the rest of society.

***************************************************************************

i        Henry H. Bauer, Scientific Literacy and Myth of the Scientific Method, University of Illinois Press 1992; http://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/catalog/77xzw7sp9780252064364.html.

ii       Henry H. Bauer, Dogmatism   in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth, McFarland 2012.

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

iv      Henry H. Bauer, “A politically liberal global-warming skeptic?”, 2012/11/25; https://scimedskeptic.wordpress.com/2012/11/25/a-politically-liberal-global-warming-skeptic.

v       Letter to President Obama, Attorney General Lynch, and OSTP Director Holdren, 1 September 2015; http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2015/09/19/letter-to-president-obama-investigate-deniers-under-rico.
The original pdf posted in 2003 at http://www.iges.org/letter/LetterPresidentAG.pdf is no longer there. The Wayback Machine says, “The letter that was inadvertently posted on this web site has been removed. It was decided more than two years ago that the Institute of Global Environment and Society (IGES) would be dissolved when the projects then undertaken by IGES would be completed. All research projects by IGES were completed in July 2015, and the IGES web site is in the process of being decommissioned”.
As of March 2017, however, a Google search for “Institute of Global Environment and Society” led to a website with that header, albeit augmented by “COLA”: http://www.m.monsoondata.org/home.html accessed 4 March 2017. Right-leaning Internet sources offer insight into this seeming mystery: http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2015/09/22/lead-climate-scientist-behind-obamarico-letter-serious-questions-answer/ and http://leftexposed.org/2015/10/institute-of-global-environment-and-society, both accessed 4 March 2017.

vi      http://www.dictionary.com/browse/politically-correct?s=t (accessed 4 March 2017).

vii     https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/politically%20correct (accessed 4 March 2017).

viii    https://web.archive.org/web/20131030115950/http://fbox.vt.edu/faculty/aaup/index4.html.

ix      Ref. ii, especially chapter 3.

x       Henry H. Bauer, “Three stages of modern science”, Journal of Scientific Exploration, 27 (2013) 505-13; https://www.dropbox.com/s/xl6jaldtx3uuz8b/JSE273-3stages.pdf?dl=0.

xi      Natalie Angier, Natural Obsessions: The Search for the Oncogene, Houghton Mifflin 1987; David H. Clark, The Quest for SS433, Viking 1985; Sheldon Glashow with Ben Bova, Interactions: A Journey through the Mind of a Particle Physicist and the Matter of the World, Warner 1988; Jeff Goldberg Anatomy of a Scientific Discovery, Bantam 1988; Stephen S. Hall, Invisible Frontiers: The Race to Synthesize a Human Gene, Atlantic Monthly Press 1987; Robert M. Hazen, The Breakthrough: The Race for the Superconductor, Summit 1988; David L. Hull, Science as a Process: An Evolutionary Account of the Social and Conceptual Development of Science, University of Chicago Press 1988; Robert Kanigel, Apprentice to Genius: The Making of a Scientific Dynasty, Macmillan 1986; Charles E. Levinthal,. Messengers of Paradise: Opiates and the Brain, Anchor/Doubleday 1988; Roger Lewin, Bones of Contention: Controversies in the Search for Human Origins, Simon and Schuster 1987; Ed Regis, Who Got Einstein’s Office: Eccentricity and Genius at the Institute for Advanced Study, Addison-Wesley 1987; Bruce Schechter, The Path of No Resistance: The Story of the Revolution in Superconductivity, Touchstone (Simon and Schuster) 1990; Solomon H. Snyder, Brainstorming: The Science and Politics of Opiate Research, Harvard University Press 1989; Gary Taubes, Nobel Dreams: Power, Deceit, and the Ultimate Experiment, Random House 1986; Robert Teitelman, Gene Dreams: Wall Street, Academia, and the Rise of Biotechnology, Basic Books 1989; Nicholas Wade, The Nobel Duel: Two Scientists’ 21-Year Race to Win the World’s Most Coveted Research Prize, Doubleday 1981.

xii     Jon Miltimore, “The historical origin of ‘political correctness’”, 5 December 2016, http://www.intellectualtakeout.org/blog/historical-origin-political-correctness; Angelo M. Codevilla, “The rise of political correctness”, Claremont Review of Books, Fall 2016, pp. 37-43; http://www.claremont.org/download_pdf.php?file_name=1106Codevilla.pdf.

xiii    Henry H. Bauer , “Shamans of Scientism: Conjuring certainty where there is none”, Journal of Scientific Exploration, 28 (2014) 491-504.

 

Posted in legal considerations, media flaws, politics and science, science is not truth, scientific culture, scientists are human, the scientific method, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Science: A Danger for Public Policy?!

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2017/02/08

Public policies rely on advice and consent from science about an ever wider range of issues (environmental challenges, individual and public health. infrastructure and its safety, military systems). Surely this is unquestionably good, that public policies are increasingly pragmatic through respecting the facts delivered by science?

No. Not necessarily, not always.

The central problem is that science — humankind’s understanding of nature, of the world — doesn’t just deliver facts. Science is perpetually incomplete. On any given question it may not be unequivocal.

The media, the public, policy makers, the legal system all presume that a contemporary consensus in the scientific community can be safely accepted as true for all practical purposes. The trouble is that any contemporary scientific consensus may later prove to have been wrong.

If this assertion seems outlandish —theoretically possible but so unlikely as to be ignorable in practice — it is because the actual history and nature of science are not widely enough understood.

The contemporary scientific consensus has in fact been wrong about many, perhaps even most of the greatest advances in science: Planck and quantums, Wegener and drifting continents, Mendel and quantitative genetic heredity; the scientific consensus and 1976   Nobel Prize for discovering the viral cause of mad-cow diseases was wrong; that stomach ulcers are caused by bacteria had been pooh-poohed by the mainstream consensus for some two decades before adherents of the consensus were willing to examine the evidence and then award a Nobel Prize in 2005.

Historical instances of a mistaken scientific consensus being have seemingly not affected major public policies in catastrophic ways, although one possible precedent for such unhappy influence may be the consensus that supported the eugenics movement around the 1920s, resulting in enforced sterilization of tens of thousands of people in the USA as recently as the latter half of the 20th century.

Nowadays, though, the influence of science is so pervasive that the danger has become quite tangible that major public policies might be based on a scientific consensus that is at best doubtfully valid and at worst demonstrably wrong.

The possibility that significant public actions might be dictated by an unproven scientific consensus was explicitly articulated by President Eisenhower. His warning against the potential influence of the military-industrial complex is quite often cited, but little cited is another warning he gave in the same speech:

“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.”

That can happen when a contemporary scientific consensus is accepted as practical truth, as settled science. The crucial distinction could hardly be explained more clearly than Michael Crichton did in an invited lecture at CalTech:

“Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. . . . It would never occur to anyone to speak that way.”

Crichton had in mind the present-day scientific consensus that human-caused generation of carbon dioxide is chiefly responsible for rising global temperatures and associated major climate-change. The fact that there are highly competent public dissenters — including such winners of Nobel Prizes as Ivar Giaever (Physics 1973), Robert Laughlin (Physics 1998), Kary Mullis (Chemistry 1993) — demonstrates that human-caused global warming is a consensus, not the unanimity associated with such “settled science” as the Periodic Table of the chemical elements or that E=mc2.

The proponents of human-caused global warming constitute an effective elite. Since they represent the contemporary consensus, they largely control peer review, research funding, and which research gets published; and they hold important positions in the halls of power of individual nations as well as in such international organizations as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The history of science is unequivocal: Contemporary scientific consensuses have been wrong on some of the most significant issues. Those who determine public policies would do well to seek an impartial comparison and analysis of the substantive claims made both by proponents of a mainstream consensus and by those who claim that the evidence does not prove that consensus to be unquestionably correct.

In absence of an impartial comparative analysis, public discourse and public actions are determined by ideology and not by evidence. “Liberals” assert that the mainstream consensus on global warming equals “science” and anyone who properly respects the environment is supposed to accept this scientific consensus. On the other side, many “conservatives” beg to differ, as when Senator Inhofe flourishes a snowball. One doubts that most proponents of either side could give an accurate summary of the pertinent evidence. That is not a very good way to discuss or to make public policy.

******************************************************************************

This little essay had been offered as an Op-Ed to the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times. the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Financial Times (London), and USA Today. That it appears here confirms that none of those media stalwarts wanted to use it.

Posted in consensus, global warming, media flaws, politics and science, science is not truth, science policy, scientism, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »