Posts Tagged ‘Science Policy’

Has “peer review” failed??

August 7, 2010

An interesting, provocative and thought provoking post by Nigel Calder here.

It would seem that “peer review” which was intended to improve the quality of scientific papers has actually been a hindrance to new discoveries rather than a help. As Climategate has shown very clearly the “peer review” process is easily perverted by the ruling clique preventing anything opposing their views to be published and the prevailing group-think ensuring that anything “heretical” is suppressed.

“As there is not the slightest sign of any end to science, as a process of discovery, a moment’s reflection tells you that this means that the top experts are usually wrong. One of these days, what each of them now teaches to students and tells the public will be faulted, or be proved grossly inadequate, by a major discovery. If not, the subject must be moribund.”

Back in 1989, James Lovelock had this to say about “peer review”: ‘Before a scientist can be funded to do a research, and before he can publish the results of his work, it must be examined and approved by an anonymous group of so-called peers. This inquisition can’t hang or burn heretics yet, but it can deny them the ability to publish their research, or to receive grants to pay for it. It has the full power to destroy the career of any scientist who rebels.’

Galileo facing the inquisition

Calder continues:This month the life sciences magazine The Scientist has interesting articles on peer review.

One, entitled “Breakthroughs from the Second Tier”, describes five “high-impact” papers that should have been published in more prestigious journals than they were. You can see it here

Also in The Scientist is “I Hate Your Article” by Jef Akst, who quotes David Kaplan, professor of pathology at Case Western Reserve University:

Theoretically, peer review should “help [authors] make their manuscript better,” [Kaplan] says, but in reality, the cut-throat attitude that pervades the system results in ludicrous rejections for personal reasons—if the reviewer feels that the paper threatens his or her own research or contradicts his or her beliefs, for example—or simply for convenience, since top journals get too many submissions and it’s easier to just reject a paper than spend the time to improve it. Regardless of the motivation, the result is the same, and it’s a “problem,” Kaplan says, “that can very quickly become censorship.”

Akst’s full article is here: . It goes on to discuss some of the ideas on offer for easing the peer review problem. That’s the basis for this brief update to be added to Magic Universe.

Amid growing recognition of problems with peer review, a few scientific journals tested various remedies. As reported by The Scientist magazine, by 2010 they included ending the anonymity of reviewers, so that they could both be held responsible for their comments and be acknowledged for their work, which was time-consuming. Another policy was to insist that reviewers should concern themselves only with the rigour and proper reporting of the work, not with its impact or scope. And to speed up publication, reviewers’ comments made for one journal might be passed on to others. Some journals went so far as to publish preliminary versions of papers before the peer-review process was complete.

Peer review has to get back to being strictly a review of the quality of the work done and not a commentary on or a review of the conclusions to be drawn.

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.

Global Warming: “The science is terrible but—perhaps the psychology is good.”

July 10, 2010

Anthony Watts has a post revisiting the late Michael Crichton‘s 2003 lecture at Caltech which I had not seen before.

A lucid and eloquent exposition which I reproduce below. Reading it now in 2010 it is still fresh, applicable and apposite. It should be required reading for any young scientist of the dangers of religion or politics masquerading as science.

“Aliens Cause Global Warming”

A lecture by Michael Crichton
Caltech Michelin Lecture
January 17, 2003

My topic today sounds humorous but unfortunately I am serious. I am going to argue that extraterrestrials lie behind global warming. Or to speak more precisely, I will argue that a belief in extraterrestrials has paved the way, in a progression of steps, to a belief in global warming.

Charting this progression of belief will be my task today.

Let me say at once that I have no desire to discourage anyone from believing in either extraterrestrials or global warming. That would be quite impossible to do. Rather, I want to discuss the history of several widely-publicized beliefs and to point to what I consider an emerging crisis in the whole enterprise of science-namely the increasingly uneasy relationship between hard science and public policy.

I have a special interest in this because of my own upbringing. I was born in the midst of World War II, and passed my formative years at the height of the Cold War. In school drills, I dutifully crawled under my desk in preparation for a nuclear attack.

It was a time of widespread fear and uncertainty, but even as a child I believed that science represented the best and greatest hope for mankind. Even to a child, the contrast was clear between the world of politics-a world of hate and danger, of irrational beliefs and fears, of mass manipulation and disgraceful blots on human history. In contrast, science held different values-international in scope, forging friendships and working relationships across national boundaries and political systems, encouraging a dispassionate habit of thought, and ultimately leading to fresh knowledge and technology that would benefit all mankind. The world might not be avery good place, but science would make it better. And it did. In my lifetime, science has largely fulfilled its promise. Science has been the great intellectual adventure of our age, and a great hope for our troubled and restless world.

But I did not expect science merely to extend lifespan, feed the hungry, cure disease, and shrink the world with jets and cell phones. I also expected science to banish the evils of human thought—prejudice and superstition, irrational beliefs and false fears. I expected science to be, in Carl Sagan’s memorable phrase, “a candle in a demon haunted world.” And here, I am not so pleased with the impact of science. Rather than serving as a cleansing force, science has in some instances been seduced by the more ancient lures of politics and publicity. Some of the demons that haunt our world in recent years are invented by scientists. The world has not benefited from permitting these demons to escape free.

But let’s look at how it came to pass.


McCarthyism returns to the NAS

June 22, 2010

It seems that the high priests of global warming now believe that science is determined by who is more “authoritative”.

We have had “consensus science” and “settled science” and now we have “authoritative science”.

Perhaps we should just have a poll.

Climate change sceptic scientists ‘less prominent and authoritative’

The research indicates that scientists who blame human activity for global warming have published more relevant and influential papers than those who question man’s impact.

But the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has been dismissed as misleading by critics.

Opponents said that the paper divided scientists into artificial groups and did not consider a balanced spectrum of scientists.

They also pointed out that climate sceptics often struggled to get their papers accepted by journals, as they must first be reviewed and approved by climate change “believers”.

Judith Curry, a climate expert at the Georgia Institute of Technology – who was not part of the analysis – called the study “completely unconvincing” while John Christy of University of Alabama claimed he and other climate sceptics included in the survey were simply “being blacklisted” by colleagues.

Wind stops wind power…..

June 20, 2010

It is sometimes overlooked that the difficulty to store electric energy can make wind and solar power – even if they were competitive enough not to be subsidised – impractical.  Energy storage is still a major barrier to be overcome in the use of renewable power.

The economics of the subsidy mechanisms can lead to strange distortions which in turn can lead to extremely lucrative but ridiculous situations such as:

  1. solar plants using electricity from the grid to produce electricity for the grid since the subsidy makes it worth-while
  2. the intermittent nature of the power leading to inter-connection instabilities which lead to owners being paid not to produce power
  3. wind power – as in this article today – having to shut down when there is insufficient load
  4. solar plants using natural gas at night to heat up the heat transfer medium (oils or molten salts) which then generates steam and runs the steam turbine to produce electricity.

Firms paid to shut down wind farms when the wind is blowing.

A general view of Europe's biggest onshore wind farm, Whitelee Windfarm on the outskirts of Glasgow

Energy firms will receive thousands of pounds a day per wind farm to turn off their turbines because the National Grid cannot use the power they are producing. Critics of wind farms have seized on the revelation as evidence of the unsuitability of turbines to meet the UK’s energy needs in the future. They claim that the ‘intermittent’ nature of wind makes such farms unreliable providers of electricity.

Solar and Wind power have still some way to go before they are anywhere near commercial.

But the area of research which could probably do with more funding is that of energy storage but it is probably not fashionable enough. Instead of subsidising the owners of renewable energy plants (note that the subsidy rarely reaches the consumer), it might be better to conduct more R & D for the storage and recovery of electrical energy.

Circular Arguments and Speculation masquerading as Science

June 18, 2010

It is still fashionable – and probably profitable – to connect whatever you are working with to Global Warming.

Artist's impression of mammoths in North America

“The inception of a strong carbon dioxide–greenhouse gas feedback and amplification of orbital forcing at ~2.7 million years ago connected the fate of Northern Hemisphere ice sheets with global ocean temperatures since that time.” So says Timothy Herbert of Brown University in a new paper in Science.

His speculations are less than convincing but no doubt he brings in CO2 forcing either to get funding or to facilitate publication.

Completely circular arguments !!

1. Start by assuming that CO2 induced forcing mechanisms cause global temperature change.

2. Analyse the composition of mud cores from 4 regions in the tropics laid down millions of years ago.

3. Find a temperature “fingerprint” ({delta}18O) in the tropical samples showing an increase of temperature of 1° to 3°C some 2.7 Million years ago. Assume that this is unique and exclusive to temperature.

4.Since the “patterns are similar”  the common mechanism must be via the atmosphere.

5. Voila !! This proves that a forcing mechanism induced by CO2 must have been the common cause of the temperature pattern !!!!!

A so-called science reporter  – a Victoria Gill – at the BBC then proclaims “Ancient climate change ‘link’ to CO2”.

IPCC is to Science what Mussolini was to Democracy

June 15, 2010

Pachauri’s back!!

The BBC reports that “The head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra Pachauri, says he welcomes “the development of a vigorous debate” on climate science”.

It would seem that he has changed his tune such that what he once considered “voodoo science” is now elevated to  “vigorous debate”. I am afraid his credibility has evaporated completely and whatever credit he once had when simply running TERI has been fatally contaminated by his mixing of science with greed and advocacy while at the IPCC.

As Der Spiegel reported in April

Also at issue is the position of IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri, who is praised as a “leading global thinker” in his official biography. A railroad engineer by trade, Pachauri wrote an erotic novel and recommended that people reduce their meat consumption while traveling around the world to save the climate. He has cut a miserable figure during the current crisis. The climate guru summarily dismissed justified objections to the IPCC report as “voodoo science.”

After the Climategate circus and the discrediting of the IPCC the UN has established its own inquiry (which is a long way from being independent and seems slightly incestuous) to contemplate its own navel. An “expert” review panel convened by the InterAcademy Council (IAC) – a network of science academies across the world, such as the UK’s Royal Society – will hear testimony from four expert witnesses at the session in Montreal.

Pachauri’s new found respect for scientific dissent and openness is in marked contrast to his wish in February 2010 that skeptics would “apply asbestos to their faces every day.”

Birds or People: Environmental Hypocrisy and Double Standards

June 11, 2010

Bhopal vs. The Gulf of Mexico or Union Carbide vs. BP

The oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico is creating hysterical headlines, slide show after slide show of birds in oily distress and diatribes against BP which can only be described as a witch-hunt. The hysteria is – quite naturally – mainly in the US and it seems to be compounded by the fact that BP is a non-US conglomerate.

I have no idea of how culpable or negligent BP employees were.

But I note the contrast with the apologist and protective attitudes taken in the US when Union Carbide – a US Corporation – outsourced its production of the highly toxic methyl isocyanate to Bhopal in India. The gas leak in 1985 has killed close to 25000 people.The U.S. Supreme Court on October 4th, 1993 declined to review a U.S. Appeals Court decision that reaffirmed that the victims of the Bhopal tragedy lacked  legal standing to seek damages in the United States court system.  In 2001, Dow Chemical acquired Union Carbide. This week, 25 years after the tragedy, the Indian courts sentenced eight Indian employees to 2 years imprisonment. None of the US executives of Union Carbide has been brought to trial let alone faced any sanctions.

But Bhopal is far away from the Gulf of Mexico and the beaches of Florida.

Government Doubles Earlier Gulf Flow Estimate, But Still Lowballing

The Bhopal tragedy

Alarmism and the perversion of science

June 6, 2010

Alarmism clearly pays.

The use of inflated fears of catastrophe to extract vast amounts of funding  is not perhaps a new phenomenon but in recent times has become so prevalent that it has led to the perversion of the scientific method, the utterly meaningless and false „precautionary principle“ and the prostitution of the peer-review process.

The Y2K hype surrounding doomsday scenarios of computers crashing around the world led to vast amounts of money  being spent by governments, industry and individuals for totally unnecessary activities and preparations. The experiences in those countries (such as Ukraine or Romania) where virtually nothing was done and nothing happened clearly demonstrate that the fears had been grossly exaggerated.The „precautionary principle“ replaced common sense and was used to justify the doing of even useless things to avoid catastrophe. I doubt there was any real conspiracy but I am convinced that the realisation that exagerrated fears of catastrophe could be used to extract large sums of money from those unable or unwilling to apply common sense led to a global wave of opportunism from the IT and related consultants. I too was caught up in the hype and hindsight is wonderful but I never did come across an IT professional who could clearly explain what would happen though each one had a different version of what could happen.

The arrogance of the Global Warming brigade and the prostitution of the peer review process by a select few (the Hockey Stick Team) has been used by pseudo-scientists, a few genuine scientists and innumerable politicians to extract huge sums of money for funding so-called „Climate Science“ projects – though no such science exists. Whole departments of „Climate Science“ have been established, the now infamous IPCC was established by the UN, results from poor and mediocre mathematical models have been taken as Gospel and the scientific method has been perverted. The sun and its overwhelming influence has been ignored. Carbon dioxide has become the villain and data has been fudged. The effects of clouds and water vapour –though having a dominating influence – have been too difficult to model and have been ignored. „Greenhouse gas“ has become a dirty word though we continue to expand our use of greenhouses to nurture life. No doubt the amount of money involved has provided an irresistable temptation.

But Global Warming has run its course and the new alarmism surrounding Global Cooling is gaining momentum.We may be entering a new Maunder minimum (perhaps to be called the Landscheidt minimum) which portends a new mini-ice-age. There is money to be made and the more the alarm the greater the funding that can be extracted.

The exagerrated fear of a swine-flu pandemic has led to the useless and unnecessary production and stockpiling of drugs and mass vaccinations. Whether this was a concerted effort by the pharmaceutical companies and their hired helpers in the medical world can never be proven, but it is another example of alarmism and the replacement of common sense by the „precautionary principle“ generating the flow of huge sums of money.

The WHO’s response caused widespread, unnecessary fear and prompted countries to waste millions of dollars, according to one report. At the same time, the Geneva-based arm of the United Nations relied on advice from experts with ties to drug makers in developing the guidelines it used to encourage countries to stockpile millions of doses of antiviral medication, according to the second report.”

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