ATTENTION: You are viewing a page formatted for mobile devices; to view the full web page, click HERE.

Main Area and Open Discussion > Living Room

Peer Review and the Scientific Process

<< < (40/47) > >>

Bravo to IainB for the above discussion. I'd like to extend it a bit farther, if I might.

Some factions in our culture take the position that scientific results should directly drive public policy. So, for example, a finding that income inequality has increased, or that obesity is a health threat, should automatically lead us to institute policy to combat that problem.

But this belief is mistaken. Identifying a problem, or finding a correlation, is science. Determining whether something ought to be done, and indeed, whether that action should be executed by the government, is another question entirely, and one that cannot be answered by that same science. Before we can make that determination, we need to consider (I don't mean to argue on either side of these issues, I just mean to show that there are questions that must be answered before action is appropriate):

* Is it actually a problem that society as a whole should have any say in? This generally is determined by personal values, and so reasonable people are likely to have different opinions. For example, given that obesity threatens my health, is it not my personal decision whether I prefer to have a shorter life of gustatory pleasure, or a longer ascetic life? Thus, the scientific outcome doesn't automatically mean that something *must* be done.
* Would the costs of doing something exceed the costs of the problem itself? In the climate change debate, for example, we hear a lot of bickering about the evidence. But I don't see so much cost/benefit discussion about the likelihood of various outcomes, and the actual human cost of each, especially discussions that directly compare the cost of implementing greenhouse gas reductions.
* Is the government the right agent to affect the change? Forcing everyone to act a certain way is a very blunt tool to use, and thus possibly ineffective. Even when the government can do something, it may be that the best approach is just to set up an appropriate system of incentives so that the private sector can work out the details.
Thus, a statement of the form "scientific studies show X, therefore the government must implement regulation Y" are flawed.

And I'd like to take that a step farther, too. In political discussions we frequently hear things like "candidate X isn't intelligent enough to be President", or even outright name-calling intended to disparage a candidate's intelligence (e.g., "dumbya"). I submit that science is the job of the scientists, and not the job of the President. There's no need for the President to understand biochemistry or chaos theory or orbital mechanics; as the country's Chief Executive, the holder of that office needs to be able to execute, and that involves being a good manager: knowing how to find the best people to handle an issue, and delegating to them. Beyond a basic threshold, raw IQ points aren't what we need in our Chief Exec, we need a specific management skillset, one that has nothing to do with the sciences.

@IainB - Regarding this post:

What I have realised is that it's not just the FDA, but also a system of other government-directed organisations that have been established as the authoritative sources of science on some aspect or other of controlling our lives - and this has implications that I probably had not fully appreciated before.
-IainB (July 09, 2015, 10:17 AM)
--- End quote ---

Very well organised and articulated for the whole post.

To dive down the rabbit hole just a bit further... Many of the implications have already been made explicitly clear by many different voices among the world's elite. Here's one:


Another threat, less overt but no less basic, confronts liberal democracy. More directly linked to the impact of technology, it involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled and directed society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite whose claim to political power would rest on allegedly superior scientific know-how. Unhindered by the restraints of traditional liberal values, this elite would not hesitate to achieve its political ends by using the latest modern techniques for influencing public behavior and keeping society under close surveillance and control. Under such circumstances, the scientific and technological momentum of the country would not be reversed but would actually feed on the situation it exploits.

--- End quote ---

i.e. The technetronic era is one of a scientific, totalitarian dictatorship.


Unlike the industrial age, when complexity and historical discontinuity induced ideological flights of the mind into atavism or futuristic Utopias, in the technetronic age the greater availability of means permits the definition of more attainable ends, thus making for a less doctrinaire and a more effective relationship between "what is" and "what ought to be."
--- End quote ---

In there we can see a clear leading towards a blatant logical fallacy and logical impossibility being pushed - is vs. ought.

If anyone thought that the dystopian nightmare of "Brave New World" was simply a novel... I would urge them to look around. If you are in the US, the next time you're watching TV, count how many ads there are for pharmaceuticals. Then read this:

The transformation that is now taking place, especially in America, is already creating a society increasingly unlike its industrial predecessor. 1 The post-industrial society is becoming a "technetronic" society: a society that is shaped culturally, psychologically, socially, and economically by the impact of technology and electronics — particularly in the area of computers and communications. The industrial process is no longer the principal determinant of social change, altering the mores, the social structure, and the values of society. In the industrial society technical knowledge was applied primarily to one specific end: the acceleration and improvement of production techniques. Social consequences were a later by-product of this paramount concern. In the technetronic society scientific and technical knowledge, in addition to enhancing production capabilities, quickly spills over to affect almost all aspects of life directly. Accordingly, both the growing capacity for the instant calculation of the most complex interactions and the increasing availability of biochemical means of human control augment the potential scope of consciously chosen direction, and thereby also the pressures to direct, to choose, and to change.
--- End quote ---

What are universities for?

In the technetronic society the university becomes an intensely involved "think tank," the source of much sustained political planning and social innovation.
--- End quote ---

Political planning is education? Whoops. I guess I didn't properly understand what higher "education" was for. ;)

Regarding the "technetronic society", another unarguably brilliant thinker penned a piece that I believe most people here have heard of, though it is doubtful that many have read it. Its original title is "INDUSTRIAL SOCIETY AND ITS FUTURE", though few probably know it by that. Here's a link for it:

In it the author walks through many of the same kinds of concerns as Zbigniew Brzezinski outlines in "BETWEEN TWO AGES - America's Role in the Technetronic Era".

It is well worth the read.

Back on topic...

The sorts of concerns expressed regarding peer review and the scientific process can be seen in existing literature, although they are often less direct.

Different policy papers from ostensibly "non-government" organisations are readily available, but they exist in such volume that it is near impossible for mere mortals to plow through. Still, the dangers posed have been articulated and are available. An excellent example is "Agenda 21" published by the UN. It's a sprawling monstrosity with its roots in the UN, but much of the implementation is outside of the auspices of the UN. Again, it uses the typical kinds of pseudo-scientific babble we commonly see to mask religio-political agendas.

It is difficult to face the literature and then look at the world and try to claim that what we see is accidental. There are mountains of evidence screaming that it is by design. The failures of the FDA (and other organisations) are not "failures" -- they are intentional and deliberate. Why would you want a "health care" industry when healthy people don't make money for you? No... we have a "sickness monitoring" industry where a toxic food supply feeds sicknesses in the population for a large pharmaceutical industry to sell drugs that alleviate symptoms, but never cure.

The cure for cancer? That's a complete and total hoax. There is no research for a "cure for cancer". There *is* research for a "patent" though.

When you set up perverse incentives, you get perverse results.

I'm starting to blather. :P

Looks like the clean-up of false, published "science" is still underway: Peer review is broken – Springer announces 64 papers retracted due to fake reviews | Watts Up With That?

I'm impressed.    :Thmbsup:

Some time back, in the interests of promoting truth and independent critical thinking in this thread, I put quite a bit of effort into correcting some logical fallacies and uncritical thinking that appeared in comments arguing against the truth of a presentation that had been made to a US senate scientific committee - the reality being that the presenter (a scientist) had been called to make the presentation and had essentially put forward a summary of what was all solid, properly peer-reviewed and repeatable research that was not (and had not been) refuted and which thus stood on its own two feet, as it were. It was a good example of how to objectively communicate repeatable peer-reviewed research.

At the time, the problem seemed to be that the somewhat absurd comments in question were apparently (and admittedly) made from a position of relative ignorance. There's nothing wrong with being ignorant - we all are (it's the human condition) - but it is up to us to choose not to remain ignorant where a knowledge gap has been identified.
I used to teach as a lecturer, but the audience usually consisted of maths and computer science graduates and post-graduates who were expected to work on - and who were used to - filling-in the knowledge gaps for themselves when they were required to reduce their relative ignorance on a particular subject. So it wasn't as though one had to spoon-feed them or anything.

However, I was still left with the puzzle as to how one could could explain in simple terms, to someone who was ignorant of the pertinent facts, what the overall background to the apparent MMGW (Man-Made Global Warming, aka Climate Change™) fallacy was, and how it seemed to arise from a necessary dichotomy between the historic political drivers and the current science involved, and how one could verify these matters for oneself.

Well, I didn't have an easy answer, but the puzzle resurfaced anew as my 13½ y/o daughter started to study science and is interested in the environment and how it could potentially be affected by any climate changes.
So, I started to hunt around for readily available and substantiated background information that would enable her to "find out for herself". (I do not tell her what to think, but encourage her to think critically for herself and to always question the truth of things.)
Through most of my adult life to date, and more so latterly since I perceived the principle in operation, it has been a serendipitous case of:
"Ask, and it will be given unto you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it will be opened unto you."
 - New Testament, Matthew 7:7

--- End quote ---

So I am posting in this thread the links to two potentially very useful posts in the DCF Basement on the matter, for those who - like me - might be interested in closing some of their knowledge gaps in this area:

* Re: Thermageddon? Postponed! Climate Forecasting epistemology for an 8yo.
* Re: Thermageddon? Postponed! 3 Things Scientists Need to Know About the IPCC.
I found them both illuminating.
I hope this helps, or is of use.

I'm not sure whether it was intended as a joke, but I found this news item hugely entertaining: Fusion reactors ‘economically viable’ say experts
Apparently "scientists": Durham University and Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Oxfordshire, have re-examined the economics of fusion, taking account of recent advances in superconductor technology for the first time. Their analysis of building, running and decommissioning a fusion power station shows the financial feasibility of fusion energy in comparison to traditional fission nuclear power.

--- End quote ---

I idly wondered whether this announcement could have come from bona fide research that had all been properly peer reviewed. I suspect it could not.
What amused me was the apparent side-stepping of what must surely be an inconvenient truth - that fusion energy is an infeasible hypothesis (or, generously, at best, theory) - i.e., no-one seems to have actually demonstrated experimentally that it can be done. To paraphrase Feynman: "Observation trumps theory."
Notwithstanding, the eager "scientists" have apparently "re-examined the economics" of this myth infeasible hypothesis, and to top it off they will next year report on research into the principles of physics behind the operation of the looking glass in "Alice Through the Looking Glass".

Admittedly, as one commenter pointed out regarding the fusion "research", the researchers did note that they had to make "assumptions". Quite a few, I would expect.
As a science-fiction addict, I reckon it's a great study, but for scientific purposes it would seem to be meaningless as it is a study of something that does not actually exist. (though we might wish it did).

I'm not sure whether Durham University still have a chair in Alchemy - I mean, why not? After all, Newton was apparently a self-declared alchemist, or something.


[0] Message Index

[#] Next page

[*] Previous page

Go to full version