Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Writing at First Things, William Wilson argues
Press) quite convincingly that "so much of [today's] science
isn't." Wilson expands upon and weaves together many things I have
noticed in the past, including frequently
overturned findings and the (almost always overlooked) danger
funding compromising the scientific process. The entire article is
thought-provoking, but I find the following particularly
What they do not mention is that once an entire field has been created -- with careers, funding, appointments, and prestige all premised upon an experimental result which was utterly false due either to fraud or to plain bad luck -- pointing this fact out is not likely to be very popular. Peer review switches from merely useless to actively harmful. It may be ineffective at keeping papers with analytic or methodological flaws from being published, but it can be deadly effective at suppressing criticism of a dominant research paradigm. Even if a critic is able to get his work published, pointing out that the house you've built together is situated over a chasm will not endear him to his colleagues or, more importantly, to his mentors and patrons.Given how frequently leftists intone, "the science says", before presenting the non sequitur that a scientific result implies we have to give up even more of our freedom, allow me to predict utter indifference to this real problem on their part, particularly in the case of global warming alarmism.
Older scientists contribute to the propagation of scientific fields in ways that go beyond educating and mentoring a new generation. In many fields, it's common for an established and respected researcher to serve as "senior author" on a bright young star's first few publications, lending his prestige and credibility to the result, and signaling to reviewers that he stands behind it. In the natural sciences and medicine, senior scientists are frequently the controllers of laboratory resources -- which these days include not just scientific instruments, but dedicated staffs of grant proposal writers and regulatory compliance experts -- without which a young scientist has no hope of accomplishing significant research. Older scientists control access to scientific prestige by serving on the editorial boards of major journals and on university tenure-review committees. Finally, the government bodies that award the vast majority of scientific funding are either staffed or advised by distinguished practitioners in the field. [bold added]
The same people who are going after dissenters like criminals on the grounds that they might have received private funding for their research are quite happy to perpetuate the fiction that the only way to have unbiased research is to have it funded by the government. It is as if curiosity on the part of a scientist (or self-interest on the part of a private funder) could not inspire any respect for the truth. Or that someone hoping to run the economy by force wouldn't pervert science in order to gain credibility. It clearly behooves us to take such anti-capitalist bigotry as a warning about those who hold it, and question not just what they claim to be "science."