Junior Ganymede
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“Will no one rid me of this turbulent editor?”

December 03rd, 2009 by Vader

Jonah Goldberg comments on the climate research scandal.

In a long string of embarrassing e-mail exchanges, CRU scientists discuss with friendly outside colleagues, including Penn State University’s Michael Mann, how to manipulate the data they want to show the world, and how to hide the often-flawed data they don’t. In one exchange, they discuss the “trick” of how to “hide the decline” in global temperatures since the 1960s. Again and again, the researchers don’t object to just inconvenient truths but also inconvenient truth-tellers. They contemplate and orchestrate efforts to purge scientists and journals who won’t sing from the same global-warming hymnal.

In one instance, Phil Jones, the CRU director, says a scientific journal must “rid (itself) of this troublesome editor,” who happened to publish a problematic paper. In another, Jones says we “will keep them out somehow — even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!”

I am a great advocate of science (with a particular soft spot for weapons science, of course) and groan at the thought of how this will affect the scientific community’s credibility. There will be way too many people who will conclude that, if scientists can fudge climate data, they can fudge the evidence supporting vaccination, or organic evolution, or other areas where the controversity is a bit more artificial. And it will be hard to give them a good answer.

Comments (7)
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December 03rd, 2009 16:33:36
7 comments

Agellius
December 4, 2009

Well of course they can, can’t they? I think science has for too long enjoyed an aura of infallibility, or rather absolute objectivity perhaps, as if the peer-review process eliminates all possibility of human bias, dishonesty, self-interest, etc. It’s great that there are checks and balances in scientific practice, but they are there in government too and no one believes that they eliminate human corruption in that sphere.

I’m not saying that all scientists, or even most, overtly claim to be absolutely objective. But I have encountered a fair amount of smugness from people who take it for granted that science and scientists are accurate and precise in ways in which theologians and philosophers, for example, can never be (Bruce, I am *not* talking about you :), supposedly because the former only deal in facts and never feelings, biases or opinions. I never have believed that the latter can be eliminated from science. Certainly that’s the ideal, and it should be constantly striven for. Nevertheless people are people wherever you go.


Bruce Nielson
December 4, 2009

I resemble that remark! ;)


Bookslinger
December 5, 2009

What other sciences have politically hot topics where personal prejudices might influence the reports based on their studies and observations? Might the psychological sciences also be cooking the books in regards to the nature-versus-nurture debate on homosexuality? Nobody would lie about that subject, would they?

And what about economics and economic policies?


Vader
December 5, 2009

I think hard physics, hard chemistry, electrical engineering, et al. are pretty hard to cook the books on for very long — though I am inclined to agree with Lee Smolin that hard physics has mired itself in an unproductive search for a meaningful string theory.

Biology, climate, and such are a bit easier to cook the books on, because there are so many confounding variables. Still, they are subject to various tests that could potentially disprove any theory offered. In time.

Economics is the same, squared. There are objective tests, but the subject matter is so complex that it’s very hard to apply them.

The social sciences are almost hopeless. I cannot but side with Feynmann on this.


Bookslinger
December 5, 2009

I don’t think the recent scandal justifies the conclusion that liars are limited to climatology or to soft sciences. Lies can creep in whenever money and/or politics make their influence.

Now, the next questions are WHY did these guys lie and who enabled them? What were the driving forces behind this?

Many other “scientific” conclusions have been reversed over the years, breast-feeding, global cooling, oatmeal is good for reducing cholesterol, x-rays to measure foot size for shoe-fitting, thalidamide for morning-sickness.

Why did those guys lie rather than say “Hey, look! Good news here!”

I say let’s look at that “ozone hole” data again.


Vader
December 5, 2009

Breast feeding and oatmeal for cholesterol are, so far as I know, still the conventional wisdom.


Bookslinger
December 5, 2009

Vad: those are examples of scientific flip-flops in the 20th century. The oatmeal thing was disproved a while back, though I’m unsure of its current status. Though the “disproval” may have been in the form of “it’s no better than any other whole grain.”

Even in my lifetime, infant formula was once touted (by doctors even) to be better than mother’s milk since it was “scientifically” formulated.

Lesson: Don’t argue with scientists! They’ve “settled” the issues. At least the ones that the mainstream media tells us that they’ve settled.

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