Friday, September 09, 2011

Science pursued by the Lord's lynch mob

Last night’s ABCTV Catalyst program said Australian CLIMATE SCIENTISTS are receiving death threats in emails from strangers. They accuse the scientists of being communists and- in the vilest terms – declare that they will die a gruesome death. Fringe loonies? It’s a big fringe. The Catalyst program showed Lord Christopher Monckton telling a howling crowd:To the bogus scientists who have used the bogus science that invented this bogus scare, I say, we are coming after you, we are going to prosecute you, and we are going to lock you up.” Science is bewildered by the loss of trust in science among ordinary Australians. While the mob is baying for their blood, the scientific community has launched a campaign called “Respect the Science” which involves explaining to people how peer-review works. This is the mechanism by which the scientific community decides what is true and what is false. Scientists assume the role of gatekeepers of knowledge because of it. But it doesn't always work. The editor-in-chief of a climate science journal has resigned because of the failure of the peer review process. A ‘fundamentally flawed’ paper by prominent sceptic Fred Spencer was published in the journal Remote Sensing after it was peer-reviewed by three scientists who shared Spenser’s sceptical views and who overlooked the fact that Spencer’s arguments had already been refuted in comparable studies. The peer-review editorial staff "unintentionally" handed the job to three of Spenser's fellow sceptics. How did that happen? Peer review has many weaknesses (See below), too many to sustain the air of infallibility some scientists assume. The erosion of faith in climate science will infect other politically-sensitive fields. Suddenly Science feels the need to explain itself. But it's too late to try to turn the tide with explanations of scientific method. The horse has bolted. AS one of the protesters on the Catalyst program said, "It's not science, its religion." What we are seeing is the scientific equivalent of the Protestant Reformation. Everyman can be his own climate scientist. Science is following the failed strategy of the Catholic Church - appealing to its Infallibility. It's a classic 'wicked problem'.

Peer review reviewed

“It has been suggested that peer review is an inherently conservative process, that encourages the emergence of self-serving cliques of reviewers, who are more likely to review each others’ grant proposals and publications favourably than those submitted by researchers from outside the group. This could have a number of consequences. For instance, it may result in the funding/publication of ‘safe’ research that fits neatly into the conventional wisdom and work against innovative, ‘risky’ or unconventional ideas.” )” - Harvey, L., 2004–9, Analytic Quality Glossary, Quality Research International,

“So we have little evidence on the effectiveness of peer review, but we have considerable evidence on its defects. In addition to being poor at detecting gross defects and almost useless for detecting fraud it is slow, expensive, profligate of academic time, highly subjective, something of a lottery, prone to bias, and easily abused.” - Richard Smith, Peer review: a flawed process at the heart of science and journals, J R Soc Med. 2006 April; 99(4): 178–182

Richard Horton, editor of the British medical journal The Lancet, has said that “The mistake, of course, is to have thought that peer review was any more than a crude means of discovering the acceptability — not the validity — of a new finding. Editors and scientists alike insist on the pivotal importance of peer review. We portray peer review to the public as a quasi-sacred process that helps to make science our most objective truth teller. But we know that the system of peer review is biased, unjust, unaccountable, incomplete, easily fixed, often insulting, usually ignorant, occasionally foolish, and frequently wrong.” - Horton, Richard (2000). "Genetically modified food: consternation, confusion, and crack-up". MJA 172 (4):

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