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Author Topic: The evil of scientific consensus
Mariner
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This topic is, naturally, about global warming, but it's a problem in any scientific field. It's a natural part of human nature to groupthink, and it happens even to scientists. We're supposed to be resistant to it, supposed to be open to criticism, but we're human too. And when people are working towards a common goal and believe what they do is important, then it becomes easier to develop blind spots in one's assumptions.

And when those important ideas are intermixed with political beliefs which have their own blind spots, they become enhanced and enforced. Then science breaks down, and the consensus huddles together and declares anything else to be heresy.

Here's an interesting letter by a professor not working in a field that has any political implications whatsoever: reducing drag. You can read his description at the link, but here's a slightly more simplified explanation of what happened.

So this guy's lab came up with a technique which looked like a good way to reduce drag on an aircraft and published it. Since it looked important, lots of other groups started working on it. Testing the concept out, and it looked like they got good results. Other groups replicated their results. Things were looking good. Then came a few other groups that tried a different method of replicating their results. And they couldn't. So what did they do?

They claimed their results verified it anyway. When in doubt, go with what everybody else says!

Eventually, this guy discovered the problem was with an assumption made during the method that was giving everyone the promising results. Once that was published, everyone stopped working on this method.

So, what does this have to do with global warming?

We can see the parallels. There are assumptions made (regarding the various forcings) that quickly become accepted as facts. Models that have plenty of unknowns in them are taken as automatically accurate. "Independent" studies all use the same techniques and the same data sets, so naturally they end up with the same results. Facts that look squishy are conveniently ignored or conveniently explained.

But most importantly, in this case we have a hostility against contrary thinking. In this drag issue, there was no hostility, because there was no politics. Hence, once the problem was concretely nailed down, it went away. Yet here, those that disagree become heretics, denialists, treasonous, dangerous people that must be shut up for the good of the world. Scientists who should take pride in the fact that other researchers want to examine their work instead insult those who want to look closer. It's the opposite of what science is meant to do. Science is all about questioning oneself and questioning others. If you instead attack the very idea of questioning, what do you have?

(By the way, this behavior is also seen among the "denialists" when anything that seems like it might put a dent in AGW claims is automatically trumpeted as the truth, whole truth, and nothing but the truth.)

This guy also talks about one problem with peer review, which is what supposedly makes science work. Unfortunately, in situations like this, it simply compounds the problems, as the "experts" in the field just end up with their own groupthink. Their blind spots insure that any bad assumptions get missed. And if someone outside their comfort zone submits a paper, the reviewers are more apt to rip it apart regardless of their quality.

I don't think this is malicious or intentional. It's a part of human nature to not want to question yourself. We know that people make a decision about who to support and try to rationalize it later. Everyone does this. It requires constant vigil to insure that you are as unbiased as possible.

But a few bad apples and a political climate encouraging groupthink exacerbate the issue. And we get to the problems we have now.

Things would be much better if people would be willing to accept other opinions here, and if scientists would be more willing to be open about their assumptions. As someone who reads a lot of this stuff, I constantly see complaints about how hard it is to get information out of many climate scientists. If this is how things are going to be, why should we be surprised that animosity exists.

Stop worrying about a consensus. Stop attacking people who criticize. It's clear that there's a lot we don't know about the climate, and so stupid that we claim the "science is settled." The more we do this, the less scientific we are.

[ June 23, 2009, 02:03 PM: Message edited by: OrneryMod ]

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Lina Inverse
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Do you have a link to something about this drag thing? Did they falsify data, incorrectly interpret the data they got, or interpret the data correctly and conclude that their results couldn't disprove this guy's theory?

Also lol@reducing drag not having political implications. There's intra-academic and -scientific politics, the politics of government funding, all the politics related to products that might utilize those techniques, etc. Nothing is non-political.

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Mariner
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Oops! Sorry Lina. Here it is.

Also lol@reducing drag not having political implications. There's intra-academic and -scientific politics, the politics of government funding, all the politics related to products that might utilize those techniques, etc. Nothing is non-political.
Yeah, I know (I hate academics). But it doesn't get in the news, so it doesn't count as much.

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Lina Inverse
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Hm... there's a long confusing article about it here, which I'm pretty sure was written before the issue with the probe was discovered (since they don't mention it AFAICT), but still talked about lots of problems with the methodology of previous experiments and said that more rigorous work needed to be done in order to make firm conclusions. Not exactly groupthink.

Also, there is evidence that suggests that certain compliant coatings can reduce turbulent drag; see the literature review here:
quote:
Over the past 40 yr, there have been intensive investigations into the use of compliant coating to obtain turbulent drag reduction in boundary-layer flows. Although positive results were found in some of the studies carried out in Russia, none of these had been successfully validated by independent researchers elsewhere. Recently, a series of tests were carried out at the University of Nottingham to verify the experimental results of Kulik, V.M. et al, 1991. Experimental investigation of one-layer viscoelastic coatings action on turbulent friction and wall pressure pulsations. In: Choi, K.-S. (Eds.), Recent Developments In Turbulence Management. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, pp. 263–289..Kulik et al. (1991), Semenov (1991) and Kulik and Semenov (1996), who successfully demonstrated the ability of compliant coatings in reducing the skin-friction drag and surface-flow noise by up to 17%. The results obtained by Choi et al. 1994 and Choi et al. 1997a clearly demonstrate that the turbulent skin friction is reduced for one of the compliant coatings tested, indicating a drag reduction of up to 7% within the entire speed range of the tests. The intensities of skin-friction and wall-pressure fluctuations measured immediately downstream from the compliant coating show reductions in the intensities of up to 7% and 19%, respectively. The results also indicate reductions in turbulence intensity by up to 5% across almost the entire boundary layer. Furthermore, an upwards shift of the logarithmic velocity profile is evident, indicating that the thickness of the viscous sublayer is increased as a result of turbulent drag-reduction by the compliant coating.
And then if you do further searching (for example, papers that cite the 1997 paper), you'll find lots of research into the area over the last decade.

So, non-groupthink led people to criticize the initial experiments, and non-groupthink led other researchers to look into the field again even though the previous research proved to be an unfruitful avenue. Not exactly a ringing condemnation of science.

[ June 12, 2009, 02:48 PM: Message edited by: Lina Inverse ]

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The Drake
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The other thing that makes climate work so difficult, is that you can't demonstrate your theory with a repeatable experiment like in the drag example.

There are many fields of inquiry like this. For example, nutrition. For how long did the politicized party line tout the greatness of milk and cheese?

You can't just take a bunch of humans and feed them whatever you like. So you have to mine whatever data you might be able to get your hands on. Nobody can really generate new data, so models are harder to falsify.

I wonder why the vehemence about global warming, and not these many other fields. Sociology, Nutrition, Geology, Archeology, Anthropology... most of them have had their false starts and discarded theories that were accepted as virtual facts at one time. Jared Diamond proposes an entirely different way of looking at early human history, and while a few scientists in his field get ruffled, nobody else seems to care.

Political use of science popularizes it to the point where people care. From what I can see, the only real objection that fuels the "anti-" side are that they are afraid it will cost them money. And yet it is all so unnecessary. There are so many non-global-warming reasons to take the same political actions (alternative fuels, reduction of energy consumption, expanded public transport), I do wonder why their champions fixate so much on the science hardest to demonstrate. And in many ways, the least compelling. Scaring you that the Earth might be a few fractional degrees warmer in 80 years seems like a hard way to sell policy.

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Wayward Son
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quote:
It's a natural part of human nature to groupthink, and it happens even to scientists. We're supposed to be resistant to it, supposed to be open to criticism, but we're human too. And when people are working towards a common goal and believe what they do is important, then it becomes easier to develop blind spots in one's assumptions.

And when those important ideas are intermixed with political beliefs which have their own blind spots, they become enhanced and enforced. Then science breaks down, and the consensus huddles together and declares anything else to be heresy.

While this is true, it is also a two-edged sword. These blind-spots could be affecting the global warming deniers as easily (and I'd say, even more easily) than global warming believers.

So how can you tell which one is right?

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Rallan
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quote:
Originally posted by Wayward Son:
While this is true, it is also a two-edged sword. These blind-spots could be affecting the global warming deniers as easily (and I'd say, even more easily) than global warming believers.

So how can you tell which one is right?

Shhhhh! That's clearly not the conclusion we're supposed to draw from this [Big Grin]
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Daruma28
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How can you tell? Those that believe go "B-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a B-a-a-a-a-a-a" and those that don't see the politically motivated lie exactly for what it is.

[Razz]

Gratuitous insult aside to the AGW faithful....this coincides perfectly with my "politically incorrect nutrition" thread I made in the Ornery U forum.

Just like The Drake just wrote "For how long did the politicized party line tout the greatness of milk and cheese?"

That, my friend, depends on the greatness of the KIND of milk and cheese we're talking about.

Because naturally, organically produced milk and cheese from free-range, 100% grass fed pastured cows is a literal "health" food.

But the factory farmed, hormone and anti-biotic pumped cows fed an unnatural diet of grains, and than the milk obtained from such cows is pasteurized, homogenized and fortified? Well, that milk and the cheese made with that milk is not so good for you.

That being said, the real point I'm bringing up is because of this article:

Diet and Fat: A Severe Case of Mistaken Concensus

It dovetails nicely with the point Mariner initially used to begin this thread.

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scifibum
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Interesting article, Daruma. Thanks for posting it.

(Uninteresting gratuitous insult [Razz] )

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Ikemook
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quote:
Jared Diamond proposes an entirely different way of looking at early human history, and while a few scientists in his field get ruffled, nobody else seems to care.

This is a little off topic, but...

I don't know who you are referring to by "nobody seems to care," but there has been a decent level of discussion concerning Diamond's works. Not terribly public discussion, mind you, but it has occurred (in academia).

If by "nobody seems to care" you mean that nobody in academia seems to take them seriously, then there are three general explanations (these refer to reactions regarding Guns, Germs, and Steel; I haven't read collapse, though I know that there have been similar complaints made against it):

1. It's not a new perspective on human history, not by a long shot. It's actually a very well established perspective. Archaeologists, historians, and anthropologists entertained cultural ecology (and similar perspectives) for quite some time, and a number of them still continue to hold similar research perspectives.

2. "Scientists in his field" aren't the ones ruffled. Diamond is a biologist (ecology and ornithology, to be exact), not a historian, anthropologist, or social geographer. The people that were ruffled were those who actually studied in the fields that produced the research he used. They were ruffled because...

3. There are several notable flaws in his book. In a nutshell, most revolve around his excessive over-generalization, to the point where his lack of concern for details (and evidence which counters his claims) undermines his argument.

To be fair, he seems to me to do a decent job of discussing the various issues surrounding domestication, where it occurred, and why it might or might not have occurred. But beyond that, he generally falls short.

[Edited for word choice, and because "two" does not equal "three"]

[ June 13, 2009, 12:06 PM: Message edited by: Ikemook ]

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RickyB
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So you don't believe domestication had to do with disease resistance, or that the latitudinal expanse of Eurasia vs the narrowness of Africa and the Americas played a role both in expediting the travel of plants and therefore of people and (again) disease resistance? I thought those insights were very valuable.
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Ikemook
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quote:
So you don't believe domestication had to do with disease resistance, or that the latitudinal expanse of Eurasia vs the narrowness of Africa and the Americas played a role both in expediting the travel of plants and therefore of people and (again) disease resistance? I thought those insights were very valuable.
It's difficult to explain exactly what I had issue with without rereading (or at least skimming) the book, because of the nature of his argument. Elements of his argument--especially those concerned with domestication--struck me as fairly accurate with what we know.

Elements that had to do with culture and history tended not to be.

The problem is, because his argument causally linked domestication and ecology to culture and history, it's hard to make generalizations about which claims I had issue with. "Arguments concerning domestication" could easily include those linking domestication to history, since those certainly do concern domestication. However, in such cases, that might not be what I am referring to.

That being said, yes, the specific domesticates of the Europeans certainly had something to do with their resistance to diseases from those domesticates. Since such domesticates were generally not found in the Americas, most indigenous Americans would have had (and in fact did have) little resistance to those diseases.

That the dimensions of landmass played a role in the movement of plants and some domesticates? Sure, if only because certain plants and domesticates can't live in certain regions. That they played as strong a role in the movement of certain people? I'm not so sure I'd agree with that. I'd have to re-read his argument, and I'm not sure where in the book he made it.

[ June 13, 2009, 12:40 PM: Message edited by: Ikemook ]

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Ikemook
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Let me amend my last sentence by saying I'm not sure how much I would agree with that. Is it a factor? Certainly. I'm not sure I'd agree how much of a factor it is, though.
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0Megabyte
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Dang. Now this is fun. I've read Diamond's books, though that was in 2006 or 2007, I believe.

As it is, I'm not an expert in biology or any of those things to any degree, but I've found it interesting to read, for example, Diamond's mentions of Mayan civilization and then reading other books on the subject, such as that 1491 book, which give rather different details on the subject. Or more specifically, details in general, that Diamond didn't seem to look at. Not saying which one of the books had things right, especially since Diamond didnt go into the same detail, but the comparisons are certainly interesting.

And if anyone's read that 1491 book more recently than I have, as well as Guns, Germs and Steel, it'd be interesting to hear their opinion on it.

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0Megabyte
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To be more specific about what I'm talking about, because it was remarkably vague, the book I'm mentioning in contrast is 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus.

It was an interesting book, to me, due to its interesting claims and pieces of information, for example that the civilizations in the Americas were more advanced technologically than many people assume, that the populations of the Americas could have been as high as a hundred million, in comparison to common arguments of much smaller populations, that the Northeast was covered in farmland even before the Europeans came and that the common stereotype of North America as a fairly lightly populated landmass with hunter/gatherers and very little farming was erroneous, that many of the agricultural techniques used in the Amazon and in the Aztec regions were in some ways more sustainable and carefully planned out than the current use of the land, and that much of the annihilation of the population came directly from the lack of resistance to European diseases.

Well, anyway, carry on.

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RickyB
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"Sure, if only because certain plants and domesticates can't live in certain regions. That they played as strong a role in the movement of certain people? I'm not so sure I'd agree with that. I'd have to re-read his argument, and I'm not sure where in the book he made it."

Same chapter he talks about the X/Y axis thing. Physically speaking, and as supported by history, it was far, far easier to traverse 1,000 miles horizontally in Eurasia, at least from Spain to Afghanistan, than it was vertically anywhere south of the Rio Grande. That's why the Inca didn't make it to Central America and the Maya didn't make it down south.

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Ikemook
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Just reread that chapter, and that's not precisely what he's saying. He's talking about the spread of domesticated crops, not the spread of people.

I don't doubt that the geography of South America made it difficult to spread, especially between South and Central America. I'm hesitant to attribute that lack of spreading entirely to geography.

Bear in mind as well that the Inca were heading in that direction. They got stopped due in part to the unfortunate coincidence of a major civil war, with European contact right afterward.

quote:
It was an interesting book, to me, due to its interesting claims and pieces of information, for example that the civilizations in the Americas were more advanced technologically than many people assume, that the populations of the Americas could have been as high as a hundred million, in comparison to common arguments of much smaller populations, that the Northeast was covered in farmland even before the Europeans came and that the common stereotype of North America as a fairly lightly populated landmass with hunter/gatherers and very little farming was erroneous, that many of the agricultural techniques used in the Amazon and in the Aztec regions were in some ways more sustainable and carefully planned out than the current use of the land, and that much of the annihilation of the population came directly from the lack of resistance to European diseases.

Well, it's hard not to be impressed with the agricultural practices of various indigenous American populations. The Inca, for example, terraced the living crap out of the mountains they lived in; thousands upon thousands of hectares were terraced to allow them to grow quinoa and some 60 varieties of potatoes. Most of these areas are now covered in forest; I had a professor who told a story about them. There was some huge forest fire near where he was staying. When he went out to investigate the damage it might have caused to his dig, he saw that the fire had cleared all the trees on the surrounding mountains. This revealed that every mountain was literally covered in terraces that had once been used to grow food.

That's a huge amount of effort and labor to create, and these terraces were extremely common from the beginning of the Incan empire.

As for common beliefs about North America, it's important to realize that the label "hunter-gatherers" is a bit confusing. One particular culture or group was not limited solely to one subsistence pattern; there are groups in Africa that spend most of their time farming, while keeping alive wilder, less domesticated strains of their crops elsewhere. When droughts occur, they switch to a hunting/gathering lifestyle, only to switch back to farming again when the drought is over (from what I've been told, the wilder strains of grain they gather during droughts don't taste as good).

So it may be that North America was populated by people that did both farming and hunting and gathering, depending on varying environmental conditions.

[ June 13, 2009, 04:04 PM: Message edited by: Ikemook ]

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RickyB
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Mississippi valley cultures were pretty advanced compared to what was being taught 2 decades and more ago. About Diamond - I haven't re-read it (books are a mess since a forced move 2 months ago) but I believe he says or strongly implies that much of the traveling of plants was not done just by wind, but by the fact that travelers bringing back plants and seeds from excursions east or west found they could grow them at home.

Oh, and about pre-columbian agricultural technology - the Maya (or Aztecs?) had this amazing technique of forming these floating reed mats upon which they heaped the rich soil from the river bed and grew stuff.

[ June 13, 2009, 04:46 PM: Message edited by: RickyB ]

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hobsen
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The global warming controversy involves more than science. If someone claims that a planet with a higher concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will be warmer than an otherwise identical planet with a lower concentration, that is so far as I know scientific fact. But if someone claims that the observed rise in temperatures over the last two hundred years is caused by the increased level of atmospheric carbon dioxide, that is a theory of history, which can not be confirmed or denied by experiments done in any laboratory. And if someone claims that the increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide will make global temperatures intolerable for humans in 2300, that is a prediction concerning future social conditions - in the most obvious refutation, if the human race is completely destroyed before 2300 for one reason or another, global temperatures will not matter at all. In addition proposed measures for slowing or eliminating the rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide may or may not work depending upon what happens in the future; in the past the planet has had high levels of carbon dioxide at times because a lot of volcanoes became active, and no one so far as I know has proposed any method of preventing that. In the United States religious belief also enters into the matter, as a significant fraction of the population belongs to apocalyptic sects which teach that the world will radically change or be abandoned within the next century. For someone who believes that, any attempt at all to modify future conditions is a waste of effort.

So far as I have found out, all proposed methods of preventing the rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide would be extremely expensive if of sufficient magnitude to be expected to work. And the diplomatic possibility of getting any of them adopted by enough nations of the world to be effective seems to me negligible. Recycling glass bottles is a fine idea in itself, but expecting it to prevent global warming is like expecting putting lipstick on a pig to make the animal a serious contender as Miss America.

[ June 13, 2009, 06:07 PM: Message edited by: hobsen ]

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Ikemook
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quote:
Mississippi valley cultures were pretty advanced compared to what was being taught 2 decades and more ago. About Diamond - I haven't re-read it (books are a mess since a forced move 2 months ago) but I believe he says or strongly implies that much of the traveling of plants was not done just by wind, but by the fact that travelers bringing back plants and seeds from excursions east or west found they could grow them at home.
*nod* He definitely implies that, and its something I give him credit for. Many people don't realize just how vastly interconnected the world has been in the course of humanity's existence; globalization is sometimes touted as being something new, but really, it's an extension of a deep time trend in human history.

This is actually what makes me hesitate; the examples he cites for areas of the world that could have grown predomesticated crops but didn't are areas that seem to me to likely have had contact through trade. "Likely" is the operative word here, since they are mostly in regions of the world that I don't have much knowledge of. If they did have extensive trade contact, then I'd have to wonder why they didn't just adopt the crops like everyone else. It would be a blow to his hypothesis.

I didn't have the time (still don't) to look up how much evidence there was for trade in those regions; because I don't have that information to evaluate his claim, I'm hesitant to entire support it.

[ June 13, 2009, 07:32 PM: Message edited by: Ikemook ]

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Mariner
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Shhhhh! That's clearly not the conclusion we're supposed to draw from this
See Rallan, it's statements like that that are part of the reason Ornery's going downhill. It's a condescending remark that assumes I wrote this as a partisan attack rather than to promote discussion, which not only is a wee bit insulting to me but also works to derail the conversation as well (although fortunately it didn't in this case).

So just in case you didn't notice, I explicitly stated that this works both ways, and that the "denialist" group is just as susceptible to this. Here it is again: By the way, this behavior is also seen among the "denialists" when anything that seems like it might put a dent in AGW claims is automatically trumpeted as the truth, whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Fair enough?

Moving on, Wayward asks how you can know which side is right when both sides could have a major blind spot due to the politics of the situation. My solution? Let them fight it out. If the problem is the politics, then remove the politics from the equation.

Conveniently, this works out to limited government too [Smile]

But seriously, it's a lot easier to be willing to have an open mind when you have less invested in it. So if a scientist like, say, James Hansen ends up at GW protests and rallies and claims that climate skeptics should be arrested for crimes against humanity, then clearly he's going to have a major resistance to changing his mind. Keeping scientists from getting involved in politics on anything other than advisory roles helps a lot. And have political leaders stop claiming then know anything about science when they don't. When you create a culture that the science is settled when it's not, then you create blind spots before people even get involved in the research. It also creates pressure on the bureaucracies to pursue the party line when it comes to handing out research funding (to be fair, I recently read about ongoing efforts at CERN to look into a possible link between cloud formation and cosmic rays, which is a legitamite hypothesis and warrants further research. So clearly some funding exists outside of the AGW realm).

Since you can't completely remove science from politics and vice versa, the next solution is to be as aggressively non-partisan as possible. The DoD uses a "red team" approach when analyzing potential military applications and the like. Basically, they fund an independent group to try to poke all the holes in a new concept that they can. In the realm of climate change, all the information is gathered by a single group sponsored by the United Nations (not exaclty known for its track record of brilliant governance). Yes, they talk on and on about peer review and compiling all the data and the sheer number of scientists working on it and everything, but it's still just one compilation. Sins of omission and sins of organization can be used to create a picture that may not accurately reflect all views. Why isn't there a Red Team in the science debate? Why do we have to take everything the IPCC says as gospel?

Finally, the last option is, as always, to improve the understanding of what science is in the general populace. And I'm going to expand this specifically to journalism. Science in the news is absolute crap, and that's not even taking into account the biased liberal media [Smile] If we can get journalists to understand the rigors of science a bit more, they may be able to ask more pointed questions and be more skeptical of all scientific press releases regardless of what policies they support (oops, there's that biased media thing again. I guess we'll have to fix that too...). There was recently a news article hyping up that global warming was killing wind! Of course, reading the news, the article contradicts itself a dozen times over. And it's not surprising, seeing as the journal article doesn't make any conclusions of the sort. It's interesting work that should be pursued, but doesn't say anything concrete that's worth anything news-wise. But since journalists are clueless, it's not hard to put the phrase "climate change" in a press release and get your 15 minutes of fame. And then distorting the public's perception of reality based on that.

It may also prevent scientists from writing press releases solely for political gain, which would be nice too. If journalists applied their skeptical side to these press releases, then the news articles wouldn't create as much political brouhaha, and thus we wouldn't need as many press releases.

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Gaoics79
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quote:
But seriously, it's a lot easier to be willing to have an open mind when you have less invested in it. So if a scientist like, say, James Hansen ends up at GW protests and rallies and claims that climate skeptics should be arrested for crimes against humanity, then clearly he's going to have a major resistance to changing his mind.
This is my major concern. Many people have invested themselves so irrevocably in AGW that they have pretty much staked their personal and scientific reputations on it being true. Even the credibility of "science" itself has been put on the line, thanks to this ubiquitous talk of the allmighty "consensus". If there's a 1% chance that AGW is wrong, or even just overstated, then it's just too much to risk.

As you stated, when people have everything on the line and can't turn back without massive personal embarrassment and ruination, objectivity goes out the window. Very very dangerous.

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Doug64
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Another problem that scientists often have is a refusal to accept facts if those facts don't have a decent theory to back them up. A good example is continental drift. IIRC, the scientist that originally proposed continental drift had solid evidence that it was taking place, but his theory for how it happened was crap. So he was dismissed as a crank, and it took decades of work by follow-on scientists to finally get it accepted, when they came up with a decent theory to support it.
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hobsen
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Scientists change their minds as reluctantly as anyone else. But they do eventually die. The fact that most important scientific results come from men under 35 mean that there is a constant turnover of those who perform significant work.
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The Drake
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So, nice to see some good discussions on several points. In bringing up Diamond, we heard a number of people challenging him, but nobody calling him a tool of liberals or conservatives. [Smile]

I accept without challenge the distinction of who argues against diamond. Simply call them "other scientific researchers and authors".

Mariner, I doubt that the DoD red team approach is all that effective. Look at the number of lousy dead-end weapons systems that have been given a green light. With respect to independent or challenge research, the fossil fuel companies have mustered mass resources, but never unearthed any compelling cross evidence.

It is all fine and good to poke holes in a theory, but what really grabs the public's attention is when you also advance your own theory. This challenge group went from denying that there was a rise in temperature to denying that humans are responsible. Regardless of one's stance at either point, it does lower credibility when your group points out false refutations. I think this is related to what Doug64 is saying. You must have a coherent alternate theory (much like in a courtroom!) in order for the public (jury) to overturn a scientific consensus (convict).

One of the latest challenges has been that solar cycles are pushing temperatures up. I find this one of the more interesting challenges to anthropogenic (human-cause) global warming. In this alternate theory, the sun is having a more dominant effect than greenhouse gas levels. I won't try to argue the merits, since I'm not a true believer. I believe that most or all of the political remedies for global warming / climate change have sound reasons even if global warming is not anthropogenic.

Now this tendency is NOT SO BAD. If we use the most accurate models available, even if they fail to predict everything accurately, we are still better off - even if it does not give us complete truth. Newton's law of universal gravitation has been proven "false" or limited to certain circumstances.

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Doug64
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quote:
Originally posted by The Drake:
... I think this is related to what Doug64 is saying. You must have a coherent alternate theory (much like in a courtroom!) in order for the public (jury) to overturn a scientific consensus (convict)....

Actually, it was other scientists that refused to take continental drift seriously without a theory to back up the facts. AFAIK, most ordinary citizens never even heard about it, though I have heard one story, perhaps an urban myth, that one businessman trusted the theory enough to check it out and got rich as a result (something about diamonds on two continents).
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TommySama
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"Jared Diamond proposes an entirely different way of looking at early human history, and while a few scientists in his field get ruffled, nobody else seems to care."

I've taken at least 4 classes in high school and college so far which have parts of his work as required reading.

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Badvok
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On reading the above posts I notice a certain tendency to use terms like 'truth' or 'belief' which I feel, in a discussion on science, to be out of place.

'Belief' is something that politicians are uncannily adept at manipulating and will do so without conscience to further their own ends. In my opinion the term 'belief' generally refers to a position obtained by unsubstantiated or non-evidential means.

The 'Truth' is the unobtainable nirvana that the pursuit of scientific discovery will always seek but never attain. All we really have is evidence from which we can postulate theories about how such evidence might have arisen.

Much of the discussion of global warming in the eyes of the general public (so far as I have seen) has been taking some of those postulated theories as hard facts and attempting to instil a belief in the general population that this is the truth of the way things are. This is perpetrated by both sides in the debate in an attempt to bolster support for their position. I have witnessed very little in the press of any details of the underlying evidence. If you actually want evidential details you have to dive into the scientific journals - not something many people are willing or able to do.

Once a postulated theory gains a significant scientific consensus other scientists are often bulldozed into agreeing and hence bolstering the consensus due to much of their funding being politically derived. Any scientist finding evidence that contradicts the consensus/belief held by those who provide that scientist's funding would require balls of steel to publish it.

Scientists are funded by politicians who are in turn funded by a public whose beliefs are manipulated by those same politicians. What a sorry state we are in!

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PSRT
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quote:
Once a postulated theory gains a significant scientific consensus other scientists are often bulldozed into agreeing and hence bolstering the consensus due to much of their funding being politically derived. Any scientist finding evidence that contradicts the consensus/belief held by those who provide that scientist's funding would require balls of steel to publish it.
ANd yet, there is significant publishing of scientific papers in peer reviewed journals that go against the consensus, in many different fields.
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Badvok
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quote:
Originally posted by PSRT:
quote:
Once a postulated theory gains a significant scientific consensus other scientists are often bulldozed into agreeing and hence bolstering the consensus due to much of their funding being politically derived. Any scientist finding evidence that contradicts the consensus/belief held by those who provide that scientist's funding would require balls of steel to publish it.
ANd yet, there is significant publishing of scientific papers in peer reviewed journals that go against the consensus, in many different fields.
Which consensus? In the GW debate there are at least two that have become well enough established to have an impact. It would be interesting to see how many papers are published that go against the consensus backed by those who provide the funding. I certainly don't have any details and I'd imagine that to unravel the funding behind every individual paper would be quite difficult.

[ June 16, 2009, 07:04 AM: Message edited by: Badvok ]

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Jordan
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I think sonoluminescence might qualify as a phenomenon for which we have a lot of hypotheses, but no clear leader. No one is exactly sure what causes it yet, which is surprising for something that can be caused by a pistol shrimp and has been known of for three quarters of a century!

[ June 16, 2009, 08:49 AM: Message edited by: Jordan ]

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Wayward Son
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quote:
Which consensus? In the GW debate there are at least two that have become well enough established to have an impact. It would be interesting to see how many papers are published that go against the consensus backed by those who provide the funding. I certainly don't have any details and I'd imagine that to unravel the funding behind every individual paper would be quite difficult.
Lack of papers that go against the consensus does not indicate that scientists are afraid to publish them. It could be that there simply are no results to support such papers. [Smile]

The latest example of papers/hypothesis that went against scientific consensus was the discovery of bateria that cause stomach ulcers. This hypothesis went directly against the consensus, but was finally accepted as consistent results were amassed and published in scientific journals.

It can be done. It just requires results. [Smile]

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Ron Lambert
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I am glad to see that many people here recognize that even scientists are not immune to "groupthink." This is noted in the context of the debate about global warming.

I would just like to note that the same thing has been true for many years in the challenge of Creation/Intelligent Design to the evolutionary paradigm. As Ben Stein documented in his recent documentary movie, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, responsible and respected scientists who even suggest that there might be something to Intelligent Design suffer loss of their tenure, being forced out of their positions, and outright persecution.

This is not the result of an organized, conscious conspiracy. It is the result of the very same kind of "groupthink."

If you want real science, science that is concerned above all with what is true, then it will be necessary to work a little harder to get it. True science does not arbitrarily ignore the clear implications of the fact that our universe, down to the incredibly information-dense DNA within our own cells, is highly organized. True science does not reject out of hand the possibility that there could be a Creator, who is reponsible enough to tell us about His creation of our world and His purpose in creating us, and at what point things went wrong among us, and what He is doing about it to fix it. Let no one say this is not science. If it is true, then it is science. Anything that denies it could not be science. Science is knowledge that is true. False knowledge cannot be science.

[ June 16, 2009, 09:38 AM: Message edited by: Ron Lambert ]

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TomDavidson
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quote:
True science does not reject out of hand the possibility that there could be a Creator, who is reponsible enough to tell us about His creation of our world and His purpose in creating us, and at what point things went wrong among us, and what He is doing about it to fix it.
Question: is this your definition of True Science, or is it an example of the sort of conclusion one might draw by applying True Science?

(Science, by the way, is not "knowledge that is true." If that's what you've been meaning by it all these years, you've been using the word incorrectly. Science is an epistemology.)

[ June 16, 2009, 09:52 AM: Message edited by: TomDavidson ]

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Wayward Son
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quote:
Moving on, Wayward asks how you can know which side is right when both sides could have a major blind spot due to the politics of the situation. My solution? Let them fight it out. If the problem is the politics, then remove the politics from the equation.
Fortunately, there are such places. They are called scientific journals, where results are published and discussed in basically a political-free environment. Critiques of works and ideas rarely, if ever, mention the political ramifications of the papers, but rather the measureable and mathematical aspects of them.

Yes, they are first vetted to ensure they are reasonably well done and consider what is all ready known about a subject. But papers are not normally rejected because they go against the consensus. Scientists are more interested in those results that seem to go against consensus—that have unexpected results—because that is where new discoveries are found. But they have to make sure that the results can be reasonably expected to be real. Badly-performed tests and observations can just lead one down useless paths.

What you have to remember about global warming is that the consensus is not derived from politics, but from the preponderance of data. A few years ago, someone did a survey of global warming papers from the past few years. He recorded 900 papers that touched the topic. He did not find one of them that seriously contested the consensus.

Global warming deniers argue that this data is skewed, by politics, by fear, by funding, and by error. Although each of these can and do influence the data, the fact that they would have to happen again and again and again, repeatedly, consistently, almost without fail, make them less and less likely to be the only reasons for the consistent results. Especially when you consider how many different fields it would have to touch.

The indications that the Earth has been warming for the past century does not come merely from climatology computer models. There is evidence from land measurements, ocean measurements, and atmospheric measurements. There is evidence from the range of animal and plant species changing, from ancient glaciers melting, and from Arctic and Antarctic ice depletions. Deniers argue that these measurements are in error or purposefully skewed, but the fact that the preponderance all point in the same direction makes error unlikely, and conspiracy far too complex to keep quiet.

A personal example is from a lecture I heard from a gal studying small pools of water up in the Arctic. These pools are frozen most of the year, but thaw out during the summer, when microscopic organisms grow until the next freeze. They die, and fall to the bottom of these pools that appear year in and year out, leaving layers of their remains. She studied these tiny bodies, spending hours each day looking at them under the microscope, categorizing them.

What she and others discovered is that the types of organisms have changed over the decades. The organisms have gone from those which thrive in extremely cold temperatures to those who thrive in more moderate temperatures. These small pools, scattered across the Arctic, and warming up.

They also discovered that some of these pools, that have layers of micro-organisms going back hundreds of years, are drying up.

How can errors be so systematic that it affects scientists studying small pools in the Arctic? How can funding or politic influence be so persuasive that is touches scientists who stare in a microscope eight hours a day? Does anyone seriously believe funding would dry up if these scientists didn’t find that the pools were warming up? Does anyone seriously believe that it has increased significantly because of the finding?

Too many indications from too many fields.

Carbon dioxide has measureably increased in our atmosphere to unprecedented levels. CO2 is a greenhouse gas, which means it increases the heat trapped in our atmosphere. How has that affected global temperatures? Saying no one knows answers nothing. We know it does; what are the best estimates of how much? Consensus is the best estimate.

What I’m trying to say is that consensus in science is not typically borne out of politics and need for funding. You can’t mathematically defend politics, and typically the funding is to gather actual data and come to results that reflect the data, not the politics of the funder. If funding had a significant effect, we should have seen many anti-AGW papers come out in the last 8 years, during a time when the major funder disliked the hypothesis. We should have seen at least one climate computer simulation that showed there was no human-induced increase in global temperatures, instead of ten that all showed that there is, to one extent or another.

The DoD “red team” approach can be useful when designing systems using established engineering principles. But science, by definition, is not completely established. There are always questions and unexplored avenues. Otherwise, it would be engineering, not science. [Smile] So a “red team,” whether from the DoD or some political organization that hates the results, can always find some objection to a consensus.

What needs to be examined is the preponderance of data. How many good studies indicate a conclusion? How good are those studies? How consistent are the results? When over the years, the data consistently points in a general direction, it’s a fairly good bet that direction is the correct one, or at least the direction worth pursuing.

For the last two to three decades, a vast majority of the evidence has pointed toward the idea that humans have been influencing the world’s climate, making it warmer than it normally would be. Consensus built on evidence is not irrational groupthink, but rather common sense.

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Wayward Son
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quote:
I would just like to note that the same thing has been true for many years in the challenge of Creation/Intelligent Design to the evolutionary paradigm. As Ben Stein documented in his recent documentary movie, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, responsible and respected scientists who even suggest that there might be something to Intelligent Design suffer loss of their tenure, being forced out of their positions, and outright persecution.
Which is precisely why global warming denial is so troublesome, since evolution deniers like the movie [/i]Expelled[/i] typically have questionable data behind them. Persecution is exactly what they want you to believe, and they will manipulate the facts to try to make it appear so.

You have to look very carefully at all claims from every side.

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Ron Lambert
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Tom, the word science means knowledge. Any other meaning you are trying to give to the word is your own attempt to add something arbitarily to the meaning. Anything that is true has to be science, by definition. Science cannot be anything other than knowledge of what is true. Various methods of seeking this knowledge are not science, per se, and their validity or usefulness can only be measured by whether the knowledge they produce is true.

Sometimes I get the impression that you regard science as a kind of religion, and anyone who does not buy into your prior assumed preferred paradigm is a heretic deserving to be burned at the stake.

Wayward Son, what you say is certainly true: "You have to look very carefully at all claims from every side." That was part of what I meant when I said: "If you want real science...then it will be necessary to work a little harder to get it."

I have given the link to the Creation Research Society Quarterly many times. Have you ever looked it up, and read a few articles? I believe this is the most responsible source of science from the Creationist perspective available anywhere. Here again is the link: http://www.creationresearch.org/crsq.html

[ June 16, 2009, 01:05 PM: Message edited by: Ron Lambert ]

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IrishTD
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quote:
Mariner, I doubt that the DoD red team approach is all that effective. Look at the number of lousy dead-end weapons systems that have been given a green light.
Drake, I'd guess this is as as much a function of Congress as the DoD. Not really relevant for this discussion, but just a guess on my part.
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IrishTD
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quote:
Fortunately, there are such places. They are called scientific journals, where results are published and discussed in basically a political-free environment. Critiques of works and ideas rarely, if ever, mention the political ramifications of the papers, but rather the measurable and mathematical aspects of them.

Yes, they are first vetted to ensure they are reasonably well done and consider what is all ready known about a subject. But papers are not normally rejected because they go against the consensus. Scientists are more interested in those results that seem to go against consensus—that have unexpected results—because that is where new discoveries are found. But they have to make sure that the results can be reasonably expected to be real. Badly-performed tests and observations can just lead one down useless paths.

To me, this quote sums up one of the major challenges in addressing the potential for science 'groupthink.' There seems to be this strong belief, typically from outside of the science community, that science journals and the peer review process tend to produce infallible results (infallible is probably too strong of a term, but it's the best I can come up with). I think it's important to note that the peer review process is similar to Churchill's quote on democracy: "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

One of the challenges when depending on the peer review process and the use of journals to advance the state of the art, is that a wide range of experimental results and work is not duplicated before (and in no shortage of cases, after) a paper is published. Part of the reason for this is that a scientist does not enhance his/her reputation in the field nor does the scientist receive additional funding for replicating a previous result. As such, it is not unusual for a result to go unchallenged for a period of time. A secondary challenge is that, in many fields, there is such an abundance of journals (many of varying quality) that it is probably nearly impossible for a scientist NOT to have their work published -- however, if a scientist can't get his/her ideas published in one of the higher quality journals, their ideas are unlikely to ever gain traction.

Because of the peer review process, I would say that its nearly impossible to have a "politics-free" journal. Generally, the number of people that can competently review any given paper submission is so small that the process can be heavily skewed to publish papers showing a specific result (or class of results). An editor can easily ensure that papers are not published by asking the right set of reviewers to look at the paper. This can then produce a self-sustaining cycle because to be an editor a scientist will have generally attained a certain level of success in the field (as measured by high-quality publications). (As an anecdote, I have had an editor apologize to me for sending one of my papers to a heavily biased reviewer.)

The final major challenge with the whole process then is the quality of the reviews generated by other scientists. This may be the hardest part of the process to "correct" because there is no system of incentives/punishments to ensure a high quality review of each paper. While this is only anecdotal evidence, I have seen/heard of numerous cases where the quality of reviews ranges wildly (the message boards at phdcomics.com have numerous tales). The most egregious cases occur when different reviews seem to be directed at different papers (I've seen this occur both as an author and as a reviewer). Overall, improving review quality is something the scientific community must do.

So, while the peer review and publishing process in place today is an adequate solution, it still has its limitations. As a result, it is generally prudent to remain somewhat skeptical of the results and consensus that result (esp. because the consensus can heavily be skewed by who is paying for the research and what they want to see).

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The Drake
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I'd say that there is a certain amount of scientific inertia. Even a mind as great as Albert Einstein's found it incredibly difficult to accept an expanding universe from a singular event - the now accepted consensus view of the history of the Universe. The longer the view is held, the greater the body of evidence and the harder the course correction.

Even the word science has gone through transformation. From "knowledge acquired by study" in 1300 to "body of regular or methodical observations or propositions... concerning any subject or speculation" in 1725 to the current most common usage:

quote:
#

1 The observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena.


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