A blast of fresh air from the new Editor-in-Chief of Science. “Science editor-in-chief sounds alarm over falling public trust. Jeremy Berg warns scientists are straying into policy commentator roles.”
You may recall my previous article that bemoaned what was going on with the journal Science — Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt’s op-ed that was published in Science : Beyond the two-degree inferno. If you read my post on this (at the link), I can’t recall much that has disturbed me more than McNutt’s overt alarmisn and advocacy in the context of her role as Editor-in-Chief of Science.
A summary of my concerns:
… my main concern is this – the editorial was published in Science and written by McNutt who is the CHIEF EDITOR for Science. Science, along with Nature, has far and away the highest impact factor of any scientific journals on the planet – Science matters. Like Nature, Science sends out for review only a small fraction of the submitted papers. Apart from the role the Chief Editor may have in selecting which papers go out for review or eventually get published, this essay sends a message to the other editors and reviewers that papers challenging the consensus are not to be published in Science. Not to mention giving favored status to papers by activist authors that sound the ‘alarm’ – pal review and all that. After all, ‘the time for debate has ended.’
Well, Marcia McNutt has moved on, she is now President of the National Academy of Sciences. I have a separate set of concerns about that one, but at least she is no longer involved in the arbitration of published scientific research in the U.S.’s premier science journal.
There is a new Editor-in-Chief at Science: Jeremy Berg. See the press release from Science [link]. Excerpts:
Jeremy Berg, a biochemist and administrator at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) in Pennsylvania, will become the next editor-in-chief of Science magazine on 1 July. A former director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) who has a longstanding interest in science policy.
Times Higher Education has a new article on this: Science Editor-in-Chief Sounds Alarm Over Falling Public Trust.
Well the title certainly caught my attention. Lets take a look at what Jeremy Berg has to say about his new position. Excerpts from the Times article:
As the new editor-in-chief of Science, a highly selective journal that still has the controversial power to make scientific careers, the biochemist and former University of Pittsburgh senior manager is worried about an apparent rejection of science by some parts of the public – and thinks that academics should look closely at how their own behaviour may have contributed.
“One of the things that drew me to this position… is there’s a crisis in public trust in science. I don’t pretend to have answers to that question but it is something that I care deeply about.”
Berg acknowledges that society’s confidence in science does “wax and wane” over time but thinks that, this time, things are different.
In the US, “scientists have been labelled as another special interest group”, he says.
Part of this is down to the polarisation of American politics and the rise of an anti-intellectual spirit, Berg thinks. His fears echo Atul Gawande, an American health writer, who earlier this year told graduating students at the California Institute of Technology that “we are experiencing a significant decline in trust in scientific authorities”.
But researchers are not entirely blameless for this rising hostility, thinks Berg. Too often they have gone beyond explaining the scientific situation and ventured into policy prescriptions, notably in the case of climate change, he thinks. “The policy issues should be informed by science, but they are separate questions,” he says. “Scientists to some degree, intentionally or otherwise, have been mashing the two together,” he adds, and urges scientists to be more “transparent” about “where the firmness of your conclusions end”.
But some in the scientific community argue that high-profile journals such as Science are partly to blame for the very overhyping of results that Berg decries.
A paper published in 2011 made waves after it found that there was a correlation between journal impact factors (JIFs) – which measure average paper citation rates over the past two years and are highest for prestigious journals such as Science, Nature and Cell – and the rate of retractions. Science had the second highest rate of retractions among the journals studied, below only the New England Journal of Medicine.
Wow. I haven’t been so heartened by statements from ‘establishment’ science in a long time. What is really astonishing is that Science chose Berg, who represents a marked change from the advocacy/activism of McNutt.
Berg gives me some optimism that ‘establishment’ science may move in the direction to address some of the issues raised in my recent post The Troubled Institution of Science.
I look forward to reading Jeremy Berg’s future op-eds in Science.
The party platform adopted at the Democratic National Convention, on page 45, calls for a national mobilization on the scale of World War II. What enemy deserves the wrath endured by Hirohito and Hitler? Climate change! Democrats want to declare a war on climate.
Here is the amazing declaration: “We believe the United States must lead in forging a robust global solution to the climate crisis. We are committed to a national mobilization, and to leading a global effort to mobilize nations to address this threat on a scale not seen since World War II.”
This scale of mobilization is incredibly expensive and disruptive to people’s lives, something to which the Democrats seem oblivious. Great sacrifices by average Americans were required for mobilization during the Second World War, enforced by massively intrusive government authority. Is this what the Democrats want, the supreme government control that comes with a wartime effort?
To begin, there was widespread government rationing of essential products. For most families, driving was limited to just three gallons of gas a week. If the Democrat’s war on climate is designed to curtail fossil fuel use then will gasoline again be rationed, in spite of longer commutes due to massive post-war suburbanization? What about natural gas and coal-fired electric power? Meat and clothing were also rationed. Will this be repeated?
Even worse, many consumer products were simply not produced; their production prohibited in favor of war materials. These included most appliances, including refrigerators, plus cars, of course. Today’s banned appliance list might well include computers, smart phones and televisions, and again cars, as well as air conditioners and refrigerators. Will all these technologies be stopped in favor of building climate war materials like windmills, batteries and solar panels?
Not only is mobilization horrendous, there is no scientific justification for it. It is now clear that what is called “lukewarming” is probably the correct scientific view. Human activity may be causing a modest global warming that is actually beneficial. Beyond that climate change is natural and so beyond human control.
The only purpose for which a war on climate makes sense is justifying a massive increase in government power. Mobilization means controlling both production and consumption, as well as wage and price controls, all of which require detailed central planning of economic activity. This in turn requires a host of new agencies, programs, boards, etc. We have seen it all before.
Of course we have had so-called “war” policies before, such as the war on drugs. But these were mostly metaphorical policy names, typically just a shift in focus with a modest budget increase. The Democratic platform is very different because it specifies that the scale of the war on climate will be comparable to the Second World War mobilization, which entailed wrenching lifestyle changes.
If the Democrats are in fact serious, then we are talking about central economic planning on a massive scale, imposing great sacrifices on Americans, all in the futile name of stopping climate change. Sacrifice is harmful in its own right so this raises a host of moral issues. Which immediate harms will be deemed less harmful than speculative future climate change? Medical care is now a major sector of the economy, will it be curtailed? Will poverty be left to languish, or even encouraged via wage controls? Will travel be forbidden? Unfortunately the platform gives no clue, so this should be a major election issue.
In fact the specter of a WWII-scale mobilization to fight climate change dwarfs everything else proposed in the Democrats’ platform combined. It is also contrary to most of these other proposals, given the widespread restrictions that mobilization requires. Perhaps they do not understand what they are calling for, but if they do then they need to tell us what it is. Clarifying and justifying this outrageous mobilization declaration is essential to the election process.
Voting for mobilization without knowing what it means would be incredibly foolish.
David Wojick is a former consultant with the Office of Scientific and Technical Information at the U.S. Department of Energy in the area of information and communication science. He has a Ph.D. in the philosophy of science and mathematical logic from the University of Pittsburgh and a B.S. in civil engineering from Carnegie Tech. He has been on the faculty of Carnegie Mellon and the staffs of the U.S. Office of Naval Research and the Naval Research Lab.
Welcome to the latest barrage of lies and misinformation from the BBC:
This week I went to the scene of terrible tragedy.
A river, swollen by raging monsoon floodwaters, had torn down a bridge on the main road between Mumbai and Goa.
More than 30 people are thought to have died when the great stone structure crashed into the torrent, taking with it two buses and a number of cars.
Some of the bodies were swept more than 60 miles downriver in two days.
We produced a short news report.
In the heart-wrenchingly brutal calculus of the newsroom, this isn’t a major story. But zoom out, and you begin to see the outlines of a much bigger and more worrying picture.
India, indeed the whole South Asia region, has been riding a rollercoaster of extreme weather.
The summer monsoon is the most productive rain system in the world, and this year the region is experiencing a strong one. The floods it caused have affected more than 8.5 million people; more than a million are living in temporary shelters; some 300 people have been killed.
Though what really caught people’s interest was the three baby rhinos rescued from the waters in the north Indian state of Assam.
The fact that 17 adult rhinos drowned got rather less attention.
But the important point is that the region is awash with water. Just a few months ago, it was a very different story. The previous two monsoons were unusually weak. The result was a terrible drought in northern India, and parts of Pakistan and Bangladesh.
And it was exacerbated by another extreme weather event – record heat.
India experienced its highest temperature ever this summer, a blistering 51C.
Rivers ran dry; water holes evaporated; reservoirs became dusty plains. And, once again, the statistics were staggering.
More than 300 million people were affected by water shortages – the equivalent of the entire population of the US. A city of half a million people was left completely dry. It had to rely on supplies brought in by train.
As if that weren’t bad enough, in spite of the drought, the country was hit by a series of unseasonal rain and hailstorms. They caused such terrible damage to crops that some farmers were driven to suicide.
All these examples of extreme weather were widely reported, rightly so. What tended not to be discussed was the underlying cause.
We are all interested in weather; few of us want to be told – once again – that our lifestyles are disrupting the global climate. Yet the truth is that many climatologists believe the monsoon, always fickle, is becoming even more erratic as a result of global warming.
The picture in the last couple of years is complicated by the fact that the world has been experiencing a particularly strong El Nino, the periodic weather variation caused by warming of the sea in the Pacific.
But a series of long-term studies have shown the number of extreme rainfall events in South Asia increasing while low-to-moderate events are decreasing. And increasingly erratic and extreme weather is precisely what scientists expect climate change will bring.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has predicted “rainfall patterns in peninsular India will become more and more erratic, with a possible decrease in overall rainfall, but an increase in extreme weather events”.
Since the monsoon accounts for as much as three-quarters of rainfall in some areas, any change is a huge issue. The more extreme the storms, the more likely we are to see more tragedies like the shattered bridge I visited this week.
Now, since you’ve read this far, I hope you’ll excuse me if I take a moment to ram my point home a little harder because there is growing evidence that climate change isn’t just restricted to South Asia.
Ask anyone who follows the issue and they’ll tell you that this year is already well on the way towards becoming the hottest ever. The previous record was last year; before that it was 2014. In fact, the 11 warmest years have occurred since 1998.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t talk about the weather, just that we need to talk about the climate too.
This is all too typical BBC fare – pick a weather event, hype it up as something unusual, connect it to climate change and say they are going to get worse!
So let’s do a bit deconstruction.
1) Far from the floods being a “terrible tragedy”, the Indians themselves regard heavy monsoon rainfall as being extremely benevolent. Indeed, the reporter Justin Rowlatt’s opening comment reveals the BBC’s metro liberal outlook on the world.
If he had bothered talking to the Indian authorities, he might have discovered that the Indian economy benefits in all sorts of ways, not just agricultural production, for instance here.
As Gaurav Kapur, senior economist at the RBS, Mumbai, stated earlier in the year:
The forecast of a better-than-normal monsoon is a welcome development coming after two years of drought and considering the state of the rural economy and the impact on food inflation. If indeed we end up having a better-than-normal monsoon, and spatial distribution of monsoon and production indicators point to a normal year, then RBI’s comfort for another rate cut will increase.
“Monsoon has a big linkage effect on not only rural income but overall growth and inflation and if we have another sub-par monsoon, then contribution of farm sector to GDP will be near zero.”
The Indians accept that floods are an unfortunate, but necessary evil. It is drought that they really fear.
2) You may have noticed that nowhere is there any input from the India Meteorological Dept, or for that matter any other local experts.
If Rowlatt had bothered to check with the IMD, they would have told him that, so far, this year’s monsoon has been perfectly normal:
3) They might also have told him that, historically, big swings from year to year are the norm. Quite simply, there is nothing “extreme”, “erratic”, or otherwise unusual about recent monsoons, despite Rowlatt’s claims.
The consistently wettest period was from the 1930s to 50s, when the world was warming up. By contrast, global cooling after 1960, brought a succession of droughts. HH Lamb described this period:
In the first quarter of the century, there was a severe drought in N and NW India every 3rd or 4th year. Then, as the Earth warmed up and the circumpolar vortex contracted, the monsoon rains penetrated regularly into Northern India, and drought frequency declined to 2 in 36 years, from 1925-60. But since 1960, with the cooling of the Earth and the southern movement of the subtropical high pressure areas, drought frequency has been increasing again and the probability may be now more than once a decade.
4) It is well established that monsoon rainfall tends to be below normal during El Nino years, hence the the dryness of the last two years.
5) Rowlatt refers to a record temperature set earlier this year, clearly in an attempt to link this with the floods. However, long term temperature trends in India are notoriously unreliable, given the massive urban expansion across the country.
Indian monsoons are the result of land warming up faster then the sea in summer, thus drawing in moist air from the ocean.
Significantly, a study by Dr. Roxy Mathew Koll of the Centre for Climate Change Research, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology last year found that the opposite had been happening, and that the landmass has actually been cooling as The Hindu reported:
The summer monsoon has been showing a weakening trend over the past century with decreasing rainfall over large regions of the Indian subcontinent. The monsoon occurs because the land heats up much more than the ocean and the warm air over the land rises and results in low pressure. This causes the rain-bearing winds from the relatively cooler ocean to blow on to the land and cause rainfall. That is, it is the strong thermal contrast between land and ocean that results in a strong monsoon.
However, a recent study by Dr. Roxy Mathew Koll of the Centre for Climate Change Research, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune and others, and published recently in the journal Nature Communications contends that this thermal contrast has been decreasing in the past decades, i.e., the land has been cooling and the ocean warming and the monsoon has shown a decreasing trend during the past century.
Recent research by a scientist has suggested that there could be an imminent 35-year period of low solar activity that could lead to cooler global temperatures.
If new models of the inner workings of the sun published by Professor Valentina Zharkova and her colleagues at Northumbria University on Tuesday are correct, then future variations in solar activity will be able to be predicted more accurately.
The sun is already known to have 11-year cycles of sunspots coming and going on the surface. But models that rely on looking at external features of the stars have only had mixed success in predicting the solar cycles.
Zharkova’s team found that the sun’s magnetic fields come from two components from two different layers of its body, and suggests that looking at the interactions between these two magnetic waves either magnifies or diminishes the sun’s intensity.
Perhaps most startlingly, observations made by the team using this method suggest that we may be entering a period of reduced solar activity, meaning that a period of lower global temperatures could be on the way. These conditions could be similar to those seen during the “Little Ice Age” of the 1600s, the peak of which was called the “Maunder Minimum,” a 70-year period when sunspots became extremely rare.
“In the Northern Hemisphere … the rivers were frozen, there were winters and no summers, and so on,” Zharkova said of the Little Ice Age, adding that she estimated the new predicted sunspot minimum to last for 35 years.
Whether future cycles actually match the scientists’ predictions will put their model to the test, but some climate scientists were not accepting of the new research, with some even trying to suppress it.
“Some of them were welcoming and discussing. But some of them were quite – I would say – pushy,” she told The Global Warming Policy Forum in an interview. “They were trying to actually silence us. Some of them contacted the Royal Astronomical Society demanding, behind out back, to withdraw our press release.”
The Little Ice Age is a controversial topic among scientist, with some arguing that low solar activity contributed to cooler temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere and others contending atmospheric effects of volcanic eruptions pushed temperatures lower.
A report on the issue, published in Nature this May, found that about 90% of some 1,576 researchers surveyed now believe there is a reproducibility crisis in science.
While this rightly tarnishes the public belief in science, it also has serious consequences for governments and philanthropic agencies that fund research, as well as the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors. It means they could be wasting billions of dollars on research each year.
One contributing factor is easily identified. It is the high rate of so-called false discoveries in the literature. They are false-positive findings and lead to the erroneous perception that a definitive scientific discovery has been made.
This high rate occurs because the studies that are published often have low statistical power to identify a genuine discovery when it is there, and the effects being sought are often small.
Further, dubious scientific practices boost the chance of finding a statistically significant result, usually at a probability of less than one in 20. In fact, our probability threshold for acceptance of a discovery should be more stringent, just as it is for discoveries of new particles in physics.
The English mathematician and the father of computing Charles Babbage noted the problem in his 1830 book Reflections on the Decline of Science in England, and on Some of Its Causes. He formally split these practices into “hoaxing, forging, trimming and cooking”.
‘Trimming and cooking’ the data today
In the current jargon, trimming and cooking include failing to report all the data, all the experimental conditions, all the statistics and reworking the probabilities until they appear significant.
Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true.
Deep-seated cognitive biases, consciously and unconsciously, drive scientific corner-cutting in the name of discovery.
This includes fiddling the primary hypothesis being tested after knowing the actual results or fiddling the statistical tests, the data or both until a statistically significant result is found. Such practices are common.
Even large randomised controlled clinical trials published in the leading medical journals are affected (see compare-trials.org) – despite research plans being specified and registered before the trial starts.
Researchers rarely stick exactly to the plans (about 15% do). Instead, they commonly remove registered planned outcomes (which are presumably negative) and add unregistered ones (which are presumably positive).
Publish or perish
We do not need to look far to expose the fundamental cause for the problematic practices pervading many of the sciences. The “publish or perish” mantra says it all.
Academic progression is hindered by failure to publish in the journals controlled by peers, while it is enhanced by frequent publication of, nearly always positive, research findings. Does this sort of competitive selection sound familiar?
It is a form of cultural natural selection – natural, in that it is embedded in the modern culture of science, and selective in that only survivors progress. The parallels between biological natural selection and selection related to culture have long been accepted. Charles Darwin even described its role in development of language in his The Descent of Man (1871).
Starkly put, the rate of publication varies between scientists. Scientists who publish at a higher rate are preferentially selected for positions and promotions. Such scientists have “children” who establish new laboratories and continue the publication practices of the parent.
Good science suffers
In another study published in May, researchers modelled the intuitive but complex interactions between the pressure and effort to publish new findings and the need to replicate them to nail down true discoveries. It is a well-argued simulation of the operation and culture of modern science.
They also conclude that there is natural selection for bad scientific practice because of incentives that simply reward “publication quantity”:
Scrupulous research on difficult problems may require years of intense work before yielding coherent, publishable results. If shallower work generating more publications is favored, then researchers interested in pursuing complex questions may find themselves without jobs, perhaps to the detriment of the scientific community more broadly.
The authors also reiterate the low power of many studies to find a phenomenon if it was truly there. Despite entreaties to increase statistical power, for example by collection of more observations, it has remained consistently low for the last 50 years.
In some fields, it averages only 20% to 30%. Natural academic selection has favoured publication of a result, rather than generation of new knowledge.
The impact of Darwinian selection among scientists is amplified when government support for science is low, growth in the scientific literature continues unabated, and universities produce an increasing number of PhD graduates in science.
We hold an idealised view that science is rarely fallible, particularly biology and medicine. Yet many fields are filled with publications of low-powered studies with perhaps the majority being wrong.
This problem requires action from scientists, their teachers, their institutions and governments. We will not turn natural selection around but we need to put in place selection pressures for getting the right answer rather than simply published.
Simon Gandevia is Deputy Director of Neuroscience Research Australia.
More fraud from Climate Central.
The Washington Post reports:
By Jason Samenow July 14
The temperature Thursday in Washington soared to 98 degrees, the hottest so far this summer. The heat index, which factors in humidity, registered 104 degrees.
Get used to it.
An analysis released Wednesday by Climate Central, a nonprofit science communication group based in Princeton, N.J., says these kinds of brutally hot and humid days are becoming more common.
Climate Central’s States at Risk project, featuring an interactive website, not only analyzed historical heat and humidity data to document observed trends but also, using climate models, projected how hot and humid days will evolve into the future.
All data point toward steamier times ahead.
Hot and humid days up substantially since 1970
The District is now sweltering in 95-degree heat on 7.5 more days per year than it did in 1970, Climate Central says. In 1970, D.C. averaged seven or eight 95-degree (or hotter) days in a typical year. Now the number is closer to 15. In the scorching summer of 2012, we had a record-tying 28 such days.
The nearest long running station to Washington is Laurel, in Maryland, just 17 miles away.
The USHCN whisker plot of daily maximum temperatures shows that daily temperatures are not increasing, and were actually highest in the 1930s.
It is easy to see why Climate Central used 1970 as their starting point.
As CDIAC show below, most daily summer temperature records in Maryland were set prior to 1960, while the cold 1970s is plainly evident. (Bear in mind, these daily records include ties, so the probability of a record should be the same in every decade, assuming an unchanged climate).
This carefully constructed deception is all designed to convince us that summers will become increasingly hot in the future, as the article goes on to state:
D.C.’s summer climate to resemble South Texas?
Using projections of summer warming by 2100, Climate Central says D.C.’s climate will, by then, most resemble today’s typical summer environs in Pharr, Texas — a Mexico border town. That is, it projects D.C.’s average summer high temperature to rise from roughly 87 degrees to 97 degrees.
Of course, such projections are based on climate models which assume the emissions of greenhouse gases will continue unabated through the end of the century. If the global community finds ways to cut emissions, the warming would not be this steep. Also, if the climate is less sensitive to increases in greenhouse gases than assumed by these models, the warming would be less.
But, observed data make it clear the D.C. area is on a warming trajectory.
Climate Central’s analysis documents similar trends in hundreds of metro areas across the Lower 48. “Using several measures, our findings show that most U.S. cities have already experienced large increases in extreme summer heat and absolute humidity, which together can cause serious heat-related health problems,” the analysis states.
The Washington Post article is written by Jason Samenow, their weather editor and chief meteorologist of the Capital Weather Gang. He should be ashamed of himself for publishing such blatant propaganda from the politically motivated Climate Central.
Indeed, his failure to carry out even the most basic checks on their grossly misleading analysis surely raises questions about whether he has the ability and objectivity to do his job properly.
Tony Heller of http://realclimatescience.com/ presents at the 34th Annual Meeting of Doctors for Disaster Preparedness, on July 9, 2016
“Is the point of research to make other professional academics happy, or is it to learn more about the world?” —Noah Grand, sociology professor, UCLA
“Science, I had come to learn, is as political, competitive, and fierce a career as you can find, full of the temptation to find easy paths.” — Paul Kalanithi, neurosurgeon and writer (1977–2015)
Vox has conducted a very interesting study and has written a long, insightful article: The 7 biggest problems facing science, according to 270 researchers. Excerpts:
In the past several years, many scientists have become afflicted with a serious case of doubt — doubt in the very institution of science.
As reporters covering medicine, psychology, climate change, and other areas of research, we wanted to understand this epidemic of doubt. So we sent scientists a survey asking this simple question: If you could change one thing about how science works today, what would it be and why?
We heard back from 270 scientists all over the world, including graduate students, senior professors, laboratory heads, and Fields Medalists. They told us that, in a variety of ways, their careers are being hijacked by perverse incentives. The result is bad science.
The scientific process, in its ideal form, is elegant: Ask a question, set up an objective test, and get an answer. Repeat.
But nowadays, our respondents told us, the process is riddled with conflict. Scientists say they’re forced to prioritize self-preservation over pursuing the best questions and uncovering meaningful truths.
Today, scientists’ success often isn’t measured by the quality of their questions or the rigor of their methods. It’s instead measured by how much grant money they win, the number of studies they publish, and how they spin their findings to appeal to the public.
“As long as things like publication quantity, and publishing flashy results in fancy journals are incentivized, and people who can do that are rewarded … they’ll be successful, and pass on their successful methods to others.”
Many scientists have had enough. They want to break this cycle of perverse incentives and rewards. They are going through a period of introspection, hopeful that the end result will yield stronger scientific institutions. In our survey and interviews, they offered a wide variety of ideas for improving the scientific process and bringing it closer to its ideal form.
Academia has a huge money problem
Their gripe isn’t just with the quantity, which, in many fields, is shrinking. It’s the way money is handed out that puts pressure on labs to publish a lot of papers, breeds conflicts of interest, and encourages scientists to overhype their work.
Grants also usually expire after three or so years, which pushes scientists away from long-term projects. Yet as John Pooley, a neurobiology postdoc at the University of Bristol, points out, the biggest discoveries usually take decades to uncover and are unlikely to occur under short-term funding schemes.
Some of our respondents said that this vicious competition for funds can influence their work. Funding “affects what we study, what we publish, the risks we (frequently don’t) take,” explains Gary Bennett a neuroscientist at Duke University. It “nudges us to emphasize safe, predictable (read: fundable) science.”
Finally, all of this grant writing is a huge time suck, taking resources away from the actual scientific work.
Too many studies are poorly designed. Blame bad incentives.
Scientists are ultimately judged by the research they publish. And the pressure to publish pushes scientists to come up with splashy results, of the sort that get them into prestigious journals.
Some of this bias can creep into decisions that are made early on. Many of our survey respondents noted that perverse incentives can also push scientists to cut corners in how they analyze their data.
“I have incredible amounts of stress that maybe once I finish analyzing the data, it will not look significant enough for me to defend,” writes Jess Kautz, a PhD student at the University of Arizona. “And if I get back mediocre results, there’s going to be incredible pressure to present it as a good result so they can get me out the door. At this moment, with all this in my mind, it is making me wonder whether I could give an intellectually honest assessment of my own work.”
Increasingly, meta-researchers (who conduct research on research) are realizing that scientists often do find little ways to hype up their own results — and they’re not always doing it consciously.
“The current system has done too much to reward results,” says Joseph Hilgard, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Annenberg Public Policy Center. “This causes a conflict of interest: The scientist is in charge of evaluating the hypothesis, but the scientist also desperately wants the hypothesis to be true.”
“I would make rewards based on the rigor of the research methods, rather than the outcome of the research,” writes Simine Vazire, a journal editor and a social psychology professor at UC Davis. “Grants, publications, jobs, awards, and even media coverage should be based more on how good the study design and methods were, rather than whether the result was significant or surprising.”
“We’ve gotten used to working away in private and then producing a sort of polished document in the form of a journal article,” Gowers said. “This tends to hide a lot of the thought process that went into making the discoveries. I’d like attitudes to change so people focus less on the race to be first to prove a particular theorem, or in science to make a particular discovery, and more on other ways of contributing to the furthering of the subject.”
“I think the one thing that would have the biggest impact is removing publication bias: judging papers by the quality of questions, quality of method, and soundness of analyses, but not on the results themselves,” writes Michael Inzlicht, a University of Toronto psychology and neuroscience professor.
Judith Curry note: New Scientist just published a relevant article Evolutionary forces are causing a boom in bad science. … continue
The “Opium Wars” were fought by the British Government to legalize their control of the opium trade to China in the mid 17th Century. Reports estimated that 25% of the Chinese people were addicted to opium by 1905. That same year in the US, heroin addiction had risen to alarming rates, and the US Congress passed a ban on opium. Another American heroin epidemic began again in 1967 in Chicago and New York, and then spread widely through the early 1980’s. The son of the US Attorney General, Robert Kennedy, died of a heroin overdose in New York City on April 24, 1984. Physicians in medical school were taught that opioids were dangerously addicting substances that should be used only for short term severe pain and terminal cancer.
Despite this teaching and the raging Heroin epidemic in America, a letter was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1980. The author reported that of the patients in their hospital who were treated with narcotics, less than one percent became addicted. In 1986 the journal Pain, reported on a study of only 38 patients who were treated with narcotics for several years. The authors concluded that there was little risk of addiction. There were no other significant addiction studies reported. Shortly after the study in Pain, one of the co-authors went on to head the American Pain Society. This organization was one of several similar nonprofit groups funded by the Pharmaceutical Industry like Purdue Pharma the producers of the narcotic Oxycontin.
These opioid producers also funded medical education programs and advocacy groups. Within a short time the pharmaceutical companies began an aggressive nationwide campaign to market opioids for long term non cancer pains such as back and neck pain. During the 1990’s the incidence of opioid misuse rose markedly, fueled by the number of opioid prescriptions written by many physicians and nurses. Where were the Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) and the American Medical Association (A.M.A.) when they were presented with blatant disregard for the truth about opioid addiction? What evidence did they demand before they abandoned 150 years of knowledge about the dangers of opioids? Where were the evidence based studies needed to refute what was known around the world about the risks of opioids?
As of February 2009, Dr Zee, writing in the Journal of Public Health, revealed that “we lack any large…rigorous prospective study addressing the issue of … addiction, during long term opioid use for chronic non cancer pain.”
The medical schools and physician training programs did not publicly denounce this unscientific pharmaceutical propaganda. Why? The F.D.A., the organization responsible for ensuring that prescription drug promotion is truthful, continued to authorize more and more forms of opioids over the years. Why? To this day, the F.D.A. and the A.M.A., have refused to demand mandatory education for opioid prescribers. Why? Furthermore, the Federation of State Medical Boards accepted money from pharmaceutical firms to produce prescribing guidelines. Why did physicians not sound the alarm to expose the fact that the pharmaceutical industry was establishing treatment guidelines for the medical profession?
Dr David A Kessler, the past commissioner of the F.D.A., from 1990-1997, the very years the epidemic was accelerating, stated in an article in the New York Times on May 7, 2016: “It has proved to be one of the biggest mistakes in modern medicine”. Doctors, regulators and drug makers “missed one fundamental: The more opioids prescribed, the more opioid abuse there will be.”
We beg to differ. This was no mistake. The reality is that physicians in the leadership of the F.D.A., A.M.A., and The Federation of State Medical Boards, willfully abandoned their scientific integrity and over 150 years of wisdom regarding the dangers of opioids. This was simply a catastrophic violation of their duty to “do no harm”.
In their complicity with the Pharmaceutical Companies, many physicians and nurses abandoned their responsibility to their patients by writing prescriptions for addiction. The consequences are now staring us in the face. Well over a hundred thousand people have overdosed and died, and there are now 3 million addicts as the epidemic continues to devastate families across the nation.
Let’s set the record straight.
The AAAS and affiliated professional societies just shot themselves in the foot with the letter to U.S. policy makers.
Last week, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) issued a press release entitled Thirty-One Top Scientific Societies Speak With One Voice on Global Climate Change. Punchline:
In a consensus letter to U.S. policymakers, a partnership of 31 leading nonpartisan scientific societies today reaffirmed the reality of human-caused climate change, noting that greenhouse gas emissions “must be substantially reduced” to minimize negative impacts on the global economy, natural resources, and human health.
The text of letter to Congress can be found here [link]. The main text of the letter:
Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research concludes that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver. This conclusion is based on multiple independent lines of evidence and the vast body of peer-reviewed science.
There is strong evidence that ongoing climate change is having broad negative impacts on society, including the global economy, natural resources, and human health. For the United States, climate change impacts include greater threats of extreme weather events, sea level rise, and increased risk of regional water scarcity, heat waves, wildfires, and the disturbance of biological systems. The severity of climate change impacts is increasing and is expected to increase substantially in the coming decades.
To reduce the risk of the most severe impacts of climate change, greenhouse gas emissions must be substantially reduced. In addition, adaptation is necessary to address unavoidable consequences for human health and safety, food security, water availability, and national security, among others.
We, in the scientific community, are prepared to work with you on the scientific issues important to your deliberations as you seek to address the challenges of our changing climate.
The 28 June letter was signed by leaders of the following organizations: AAAS; American Chemical Society; American Geophysical Union; American Institute of Biological Sciences; American Meteorological Society; American Public Health Association; American Society of Agronomy; American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists; American Society of Naturalists; American Society of Plant Biologists; American Statistical Association; Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography; Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation; Association of Ecosystem Research Centers; BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium; Botanical Society of America; Consortium for Ocean Leadership; Crop Science Society of America; Ecological Society of America; Entomological Society of America; Geological Society of America; National Association of Marine Laboratories; Natural Science Collections Alliance; Organization of Biological Field Stations; Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics; Society for Mathematical Biology; Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles; Society of Nematologists; Society of Systematic Biologists; Soil Science Society of America; University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.
Whats wrong with this picture? Where to start is the main challenge.
This statement is a blatant misuse of scientific authority to advocate for specific socioeconomic policies. National security and economics (specifically called out in the letter) is well outside the wheelhouse of all of these organizations. Note the American Economics Association is not among the signatories; according to an email from Ross McKitrick, the constitution of the AEA forbids issuing such statements. In fact, climate science is well outside the wheelhouse of most of these organizations (what the heck is with the statisticians and mathematicians in signing this?)
The link between adverse impacts such as more wildfires, ecosystem changes, extreme weather events etc. and their mitigation by reducing greenhouse gas emissions hinges on detecting unusual events for at least the past century and then actually attributing them to human caused warming. This is highly uncertain territory – even within the overconfident world of the IPCC. And the majority of the signatories to this letter have no expertise in the detection and attribution of human caused climate change.
The signatories whose membership has some expertise on the detection and attribution of climate change are only a few: American Geophysical Union, American Meteorological Society, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, Geological Society of America. The rest are professional societies who are not involved with the physics of climate but explicitly profit from the alarm.
Many professional societies have issued their own policy statements on climate change. One notable absence on the list of signatories is the American Physical Society. While I am not a fan of the APS statement on climate change (see my previous post here), their response as to why they did not sign the AAAS letter is interesting (see this WaPo article):
Of prominent U.S. scientific organizations, only the American Physical Society (APS) abstained from participating in both the 2009 and 2016 letter efforts.
“The American Physical Society did not sign the  letter because it was presented as a fait accompli, and there are significant differences between the letter and the APS Statement on Earth’s Changing Climate,” it said in a statement. “The APS statement went through a two-year vetting process involving multiple committees, the society’s 53,000-plus membership and the board of directors.”
Though the APS statement about climate change is more nuanced than the AAAS letter, stating — for example — “scientific challenges remain in our abilities to observe, interpret, and project climate change,” it in no way disputes the scientific consensus on climate change or the risks it poses.
Well, score half a point for the APS. At least they are thinking for themselves, and not mindlessly joining in the overt advocacy of the AAAS.
‘Scientists speaking with one voice’ on an issue as complex and poorly understood as climate change, its impacts and solutions is something that I find rather frightening. Well, I am somewhat reassured that this is not the population of scientists speaking, but rather the leadership of the professional societies speaking. How many members of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists have an educated opinion, or even care very much, about climate change? And many of these society leaders (who were responsible for signing on behalf of their organization) are not scientists themselves, e.g. Chris McEntee, Executive Director of the AGU, whose background is in nursing (Masters in Health Administration). She is quoted in the AAAS press release:
“Climate change is one of the most profound challenges facing our society. Consensus on this matter is evident in the diversity of organizations that have signed this letter. Science can be a powerful tool in our efforts to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change, and we stand ready to work with policymakers as they deliberate various options for action.”
So, is this letter going to change the minds of ~50% of Congressional members who do not support President Obama’s climate change plan, either because they don’t like the proposed solutions, or don’t think climate change is dangerous, or don’t think humans are the dominant cause of recent climate change?
Those in Congress that disagree with Obama’s plan have clearly shown themselves not to be susceptible to pressures from scientist/advocates and their consensus enforcement. Further, by broadening the list of signatories to include societies that have little or no expertise in the physics of climate, this whole exercise reinforces the public distrust of these scientific organizations.
It seems that the primary motivation of this is for the leaders of these professional societies to be called to the big table to engage in the Congressional policy deliberations about climate change. So, if you are Lamar Smith or Ted Cruz, would you be calling any of these people to participate in Congressional hearings?
The AAAS and the affiliated professional societies blew it with that letter. They claim the science is settled; in that case, they are no longer needed at the table. If they had written a letter instead that emphasized the complexities and uncertainties of both the problem and the solutions, they might have made a case for their participation in the deliberations.
Instead, by their dogmatic statements about climate change and their policy advocacy, they have become just another group of lobbyists, having ceded the privilege traditionally afforded to dispassionate scientific reasoning to political activists in the scientific professional societies. With a major side effect of damaging the process and institutions of science, along with the public trust in science.
The AAAS et al. have shot themselves in the foot with this one.