Monday, June 16, 2014

The gates have fallen and the gatekeepers are panicking.

Article: When science gets it wrong: Let the light shine in

The article is about two recent discoveries that have been questioned: one about pluripotent stem cells that has since been withdrawn and the other one about a possible discovery of gravity waves in background radiation.

The title is wrong. The scientists may have gotten it wrong, but science got it right. Science was doing what it should be doing: making data and methods transparent and opening up the research to criticism. As the article highlights, "peer review" cannot catch all the problems. Only by attempting to duplicate the results by others can the authors' research be confirmed and science add to its considerable edifice of knowledge.

However, the real issue here is that the gates have fallen and the gatekeepers are panicking. With the advent of computers and the internet, everything the scientist does can be posted, and reviewed, by anyone. The gates are down. It is scary for people who are used to talking to like-minded researchers to have some "outsider" critique their research, methods, data, and conclusions.  Even their hypotheses might be subject to questioning. Generally, groups of scientists operate inside the paradigms of their individual fields.  Given the correct circumstances, and if you want to be insulting, you could call it group-think or a clique.

The subtext of the article (and openly discussed in the comments) is the global warming hypothesis. Top tier researchers like Michael Mann of the Pennsylvania State University, James Hanson formerly the head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and well-known climatologist, and the researchers at the University of East Anglia in the UK have routinely "adjusted" their raw data. [That is, in the case of the latter two, the actual temperature measurements made at actual weather stations around the world havr been adjusted. Reasons have never been given, nor methodology.] They have then refused to, or been unable to, release their raw data. They have also refused to release the computer models used to analyze the adjusted data. Data and/or methods that have been released have been analyzed and numerous issues have been found [see the Watts Up With That and Climate Audit websites].

The lack of transparency is telling. If their conclusions were actually justified by their research, they would be trumpeting their data and methods rather than hiding them.

The problem with the "top tier" is that they are trying to portray themselves both as dispassionate scientists going wherever their research leads and to be the gatekeepers to that research. They can no longer be both; and they are panicking.

Oddly enough, the same thing is happening in publishing and the current "panic" is being called "Amazon vs Hachette." The real issue is that traditional publishing (represented here by Hachette) is losing their gatekeeping function to the internet in general, and to and other forms of independent publishing in particular. Authors can now avoid the group-think of the big publishing houses and find success via other avenues. The publishing industry and their supporters are often on the left (follow this link and then follow some of the links on that site). The new authors are often on the right. This is a particularly pungent example.

In both cases, the gates have fallen and the gatekeepers are panicking.

UPDATE: More on gatekeeper panic: Mad Duck Publishing

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