Yeah, so the Volgi sends the Czar a link to a New York Times blog post by Nicholas Wade; within Mr. Wade repeats a comment by a psychologist who claims that scientists are humans, and therefore are subject to GroupThink; as a result, there is pressure to conform within the scientific world. By conformity, he means that scientists may suppress controversial findings if they go against the flow of popular scientific interpretation.
He provides the example of Dr. Shiller, an economist who was concerned as early as 2004 that the housing market was a bubble subject to severe collapse, yet he kept quiet. The Czar believes this example is doubtful: remember that “anecdote” does not equal data. Any other economists who were concerned? Wade does not provide another, but the Czar could, easily: given any economic topic, it is not difficult to find an economist who disagrees with popular interpretation. Whether or not anyone listens is the media’s fault, not the economist’s. Of course, finding economists who disagree with popular convention upsets Wade’s argument that conformity is omnipresent, so let us drop it. Otherwise, a scientist might accuse Mr. Wade of confirmation bias, in which you only count the examples that make you look right, and discount those that disprove your claim.
Any other example? Certainly: Wade discusses how genetic researchers blindly followed conventional thinking rather than do what Dr. Yamanaka did: prove that 4 genes, rather than 100 genes, could revert adult animal tissues back to embryonic cells. Okay…except, that Dr. Yamanaka demonstrates the opposite: that he challenged conformity and proved to be innovative. Unless Mr. Wade defines “conformity” as “failure to nail a landmark discovery,” his second of two examples fails as well.
The Czar has seen this sort of statement before: that good science is suppressed by the scientific bureaucracy, who maintains order. He has seen it from the Discovery Institute—the front lumps who keep trying to prove that evolution is wrong and that imaginary software engineers write DNA code. Or God does it. Someone does it, but not chance. Anyway, they or their members have made the conspiratorial claim that the science which disproves evolution is suppressed by the scientific establishment…whatever that would be, and for whatever reason…perhaps so that Science, Inc., can maintain their lucrative patents on reason. Cui bono, guys? How about basic bullговно?
The Czar has also seen the claim that the science against global warming is being suppressed by Science, Inc. Not true: in fact, a collection of scientists has demanded to see the data, and is finding government suppression. After all, there is money to be made with global warming, and politicians with personal investments in carbon credits need to suppress the scientific method. Unfortunately for that plan, scientists are by nature a curious bunch, and like to review data to see if their conclusions match the evidence.
Conformity exists in science as it does with every human endeavor. But a conspiratorial sense that there is widespread, active peer pressure to go along with accepted theories? Unfounded, and here are three reasons why:
1. Fame and fortune—basically every reason a scientist might be tempted to ignore evidence in favor of a desired result—tends to go to those who buck the trend. Was Newton a conformist? Galileo? Copernicus? Einstein? Hubbell? Goodall? Penrose? Hawking? Planck? Heisenberg? Curie? No: all the big names—that includes Darwin and even Yamanaka—became reknowned because they looked at conventional thinking differently. Those who took shortcuts and faked data (Pons and Fleischmann) did so not out of conformity but because they deeply desired to be non-conformist earth-shakers. And we know this because they got busted for it. Funny thing with logic: other people will follow it to the correct conclusions.
2. Do scientists hold back on releasing data? You bet, just as Dr. Shiller did. And the reason he did was not because he feared a visit from the Men in Black Labcoats, but because he wasn’t 100% clear he had the data to support his suspicion. Good science can be triggered by a hunch, but it can never be supported by one: there must be evidence. And many scientists withdraw or redact their pet hypotheses if the data isn’t checking out. Peer review happens, and if you aren’t perfectly sure your data supports your claim, you’re sunk. This is what is happening with Global Warming right now: scientists have reviewed a lot of the data and declared it junk or flawed. Now they want to see the rest of it, and it is “disappearing.”
3. The best scientific conformity is conformance to the scientific method. If you follow the method correctly, you either prove your hypothesis or you disprove it. If you go off the reservation, bad stuff happens. Homeopathic medicine, for example, rejects the scientific method; as a result, they cannot produce any proof it works; conversely, those who follow the scientific method discover it’s quack science. Similarly, psychology dismissed the idea of repressed memories when its proponents failed to follow the scientific method; its opponents did follow the method, and proved the concept as fraudulent. So if we want to discuss some umbrella-like conformity in science, then yes: we should start (and stop) with the scientific method. If you do not follow it, you are not credible. Done and done.
The Volgi brought up a concern that so many scientists, for example, have jumped onto the global warming bandwagon. He wondered if this is indeed an example of GroupThink conformity. The Czar disagrees: most of the concerned scientists do not work in the field of climatology or meteorology and therefore are rendering a gut opinion. Their opinions mean as much as anyone’s, really. The experts, as we know, are divided into a variety of different camps. Some say yes, some say no, the vast majority place themselves into a dizzying array of various opinions and alternative accounts. As scientists should.
The bottom line on that: if there was conformity, there would be signs of suppression from within (either active or passive). The fact that a growing body of scientists are raising serious questions about global warming and wondering what happened to the original data is a sign that the method is working well.
By the way, the Czar accepts the proposition that economists are scientists with some reservation. Economics is a science, perhaps, but often economists : scientists :: three-card monty hustlers : magicians.
Божію Поспѣшествующею Милостію Мы, Дима Грозный Императоръ и Самодержецъ Всероссiйскiй, цѣсарь Московскiй. The Czar was born in the steppes of Russia in 1267, and was cheated out of total control of all Russia upon the death of Boris Mikhailovich, who replaced Alexander Yaroslav Nevsky in 1263. However, in 1283, our Czar was passed over due to a clerical error and the rule of all Russia went to his second cousin Daniil (Даниил Александрович), whom Czar still resents. As a half-hearted apology, the Czar was awarded control over Muscovy, inconveniently located 5,000 miles away just outside Chicago. He now spends his time seething about this and writing about other stuff that bothers him.