Archive for the ‘Non-Science’ Category

Misconduct at Harvard or is it scientific fraud?

August 11, 2010

Harvard does not want to say very much but the story was broken by the Boston Globe.

Harvard University psychologist Marc Hauser — a well-known scientist and author of the book “Moral Minds’’ — is taking a year-long leave after a lengthy internal investigation found evidence of scientific misconduct in his laboratory.

Scientist Marc Hauser’s studies include work on the cognitive and evolutionary underpinnings of language.

As reported in Nature:

A 3-year investigation has found evidence of scientific misconduct in publications by prominent Harvard University psychologist Marc Hauser, the Boston Globe reports today.

Hauser’s research, which has frequently been highlighted in newspapers and on television, has addressed the evolutionary roots of human language, mathematical ability, and morality. His 2006 book, Moral Minds, argued that the human brain is programmed to embrace certain moral principles. Earlier this year, Hauser co-authored a study that found no impact of religion on how humans respond to moral dilemmas (for more, see ‘Morals don’t come from God’).

But by then, Hauser’s lab was already the subject of a Harvard University investigation. According to the Globe article, the trouble centers on a 2002 paper published in the journal Cognition (subscription required). Hauser was the first author on the paper, which found that cotton-top tamarins are able to learn patterns – previously thought to be an important step in language acquisition. The paper has been retracted, for reasons which are reportedly unclear even to the journal’s editor, Gerry Altmann.

Two other papers, a 2007 article in Proceedings of the Royal Society B and a 2007 Science paper, were also flagged for investigation. A correction has been published on the first, and Science is now looking into concerns about the second. And the Globe article highlights other controversies, including a 2001 paper in the American Journal of Primatology, which has not been retracted although Hauser himself later said he was unable to replicate the results. Findings in a 1995 PNAS paper were also questioned by an outside researcher, Gordon Gallup of the State University of New York at Albany, who reviewed the original data and said he found “not a thread of compelling evidence” to support the paper’s conclusions.

This sounds more like fraud.

Not for the first time at Harvard and surely not the last.

How many “peers” have been duped along the way?


When “models” and fudge factors are touted as evidence

August 6, 2010

Doomsday scenarios are taken to be evidence!!

Dr. Nepstad is at it again but he has a great deal of money to protect.

The same actors, the same advocacy and the same techniques to forecast DOOM.

Only this time drought, land use, illegal logging and climate change  are taken together to provide the necessary forcings to provide the catastrophe. It is called a “study” and implies some objectivity but the models use a variety of fudge factors to decide on the impact of the various variables. It might be more accurate to call it The Doomsday Scenarios since the “study” is no more than the generation of scenarios to come to a pre-determined conclusion. The conclusion is of course that we must immediately reduce greenhouse gas emissions drastically!

The Daily Telegraph reports today that

Rainforest loss may have been overstated, scientists

Climate change and illegal logging could wipe out rainforest wildlife by 2100

Daniel Nepstad, an ecologist at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, said only a cut in greenhouse gases can save the world’s wildlife.

“This study is the strongest evidence yet that the world’s natural ecosystems will undergo profound changes — including severe alterations in their species composition — through the combined influence of climate change and land use,” he said.

Unfortunately Dr. Nepstad is already rather tainted. He works for the Woods Hole Research Centre which is associated in Brazil with the Instituto de Pesquiza Ambiental da Amazonia (IPAM).  IPAM is a Brazilian advocacy group. He appears to have a vested interest in magnifying the value of carbon contained within the Rain Forests.

He is entitled to advocate for his point of view of course and to advocate for getting even more funding but his advocacy is not science.

Booker had this to say about 3 weeks ago:

This curious episode may also point to another reason why WWF and Woods Hole have been so active in recent years to promote concern over the danger of global warming for the Amazon rainforest. As I revealed here on March 20, they have been closely allied in support of a scheme known as REDD (Reduction in Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation of Tropical Forests). Its aim is to turn the CO2 in forest trees into “carbon credits”, saleable on the world market to allow firms to continue emitting CO2. Backed by $80 million from the World Bank, WWF, Woods Hole and IPAM are partners in a consortium, supported by the Brazilian government, to protect and manage a vast area of forest in the Tumucumaque region, in return for which they would have the right to sell its carbon credits. In 2007 Dr Nepstad published a formula which would allow the carbon contained in the entire forest to be valued at $60 billion.

Global warming – science versus political correctness

August 3, 2010

When a scientific question diverges from a treatment of evidence, facts or theories it is often based on beliefs (and a belief by definition comes into play only when facts are lacking). Hypotheses and theories necessarily must rely – to some extent – on belief.

As soon a question regarding facts becomes instead a question regarding beliefs it leads to a political label (right wing, left wing, capitalist, communist, liberal, fascist). A political label generally assumes an adherence to a particular set of beliefs on many diverse topics. A scientific discussion then becomes a political argument. Positions on any topic under the umbrella of the political label – whether or not relevant to the topic under discussion – are then used to “discredit” or “support” a particular belief.

But I note that the “tools” used in political argument are the same whichever side of the political divide one is. These “tools” are used to reinforce the views of those already in agreement or to “convert” those on the fence.  They are only rarely used to “convert” those on the other side of the divide. These tools are for the manipulation of belief and have nothing whatever to do with science or the scientific method. The “tools” commonly used are

  • Alarmism (or the pseudo-science precautionary principle which permits common-sense to be ignored)
  • Claiming to be the “majority” view (and this is resorted to because a “majority” in a democracy is ascribed the “right” to summarily over-rule and oppress a minority)
  • Guilt, wrongness, injustice or immorality  – all by association
  • Ridicule
  • Distortion, misrepresentation and even fraud
  • Inquistions against heretics and witch hunts

The entire AGW argument – for it  has degenerated into a political argument and is no longer a scientific discussion (if it ever was one) – is permeated by the use of such tools. The sound and fury mask the underlying question which remains:

What is the magnitude and significance of man-made effects on the global climate?

My position is that I don’t know.

I believe that it is not of any great significance – but not that it is absent. I believe that whatever effect man has pales into insignificance compared to what the sun does primarily through the oceans and – only then – through and to the atmosphere.

There are those who believe – note “believe” – that posing the question is itself a matter of belief and denies the obvious. For posing the question I have been given various political labels. But the simple fact is that the answer is not obvious and not a settled science for me.

It is entirely a political matter – and perfectly valid as a political matter but it is not a matter of science – when the belief in something so dreadful in the future – but which cannot be proven – is used as a vehicle for satisfying greed (carbon trading, so-called environmental subsidies or research funding) or a political agenda.

There is nothing wrong with having a political agenda. But it cannot be labelled science.

NonScience — not even Pseudo-Science

July 31, 2010

No doubt it is the quest for funding for what are “fashionable” projects which leads to this kind of rubbish. This is not even worthy of being called pseudo science – this is just nonscience (pun intended).

We find that an increase in a state’s unemployment rate decreases Google searches for “global warming” and increases searches for “unemployment,” and that the effect differs according to a state’s political ideology.

This is is what passes for science for University of California economists Matthew Kahn and Matthew Kotchen in their peer-reviewed paper (abstract here)Environmental Concern and the Business Cycle: The Chilling Effect of Recession”.

Apparently this is funded by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Clearly they have surplus funds to disseminate, or was it the trigger words “Environmental Concern” which loosened the purse strings.


Does it really take two University economists to come to the conclusion that

Finally, in California, we find that an increase in a county’s unemployment rate is associated with a significant decrease in county residents choosing the environment as the most important policy issue.

One wonders who the peers who reviewed this article and recommended publication could be — and are they getting any funding from the NBER?

Silly Season continues……

July 23, 2010

The New Scientist today carries (at least ) two  Silly Season articles:


1. In one, Clive Hamilton, a self-proclaimed “public intellectual” (whatever that is ) is concerned that evil is abroad and fanatics are planning to inject sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere to counter global warming. “An evil atmosphere is forming around geoengineering”

2. The second article by Stephen Battersby, a self-chartered environmental health practitioner (whatever that is) is worried that the oxygen content is decreasing to dangerously low levels. “Physical labour would become harder, for instance, and infant mortality would increase”. Fortunately he also finds that this will not matter too much because we would first encounter “the vastly greater peril of extreme climate change caused by burning all that carbon. With the ice caps rapidly melting, today’s coasts being inundated and the tropics turning into desert, the least of the world’s worries will be a few wheezing yaks”.

The silly season continues for at least another month.

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