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Science vs. Science™!

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article that warrants posting here.  I have seen a recent proliferation of articles in respected publications pointing out, bemoaning, and/or highlighting increasing problems with the trustworthiness of the alleged findings of the contemporary scientific community.  I find these articles to be particularly interesting given how our society looks to science as a (the?) source of ultimate truths (often as a mutually exclusive alternative to spirituality).  This sort of scientism may be misplaced, and these articles delve into the pitfalls that come with such an approach.

Here are the links the other articles I posted on this subject:

Be edified.

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Who needs experiments and proof when your zeal is religious?

On Saturday, leftists around the nation took to the streets to sound off about their new religion: Science™! No, not testable hypotheses and well-constructed experiments. Science™! You know, like gay rights and abortion and global redistributionism and dying polar bears ’n’ stuff.

Leading the charge was eminent scientific revolutionary Bill Nye the Science Guy, a mechanical-engineering-degree holder who got famous as a children’s television presenter. Nye was a keynoter at the March for Science, where he stated, “We are marching today to remind people everywhere, our lawmakers especially, of the significance of science for our health and prosperity.” What sort of science was Nye standing up to defend? Budget increases for the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institutes of Health, of course! He explained how all of this was scientific and not political: “Somewhere along the way, there has developed this idea that if you believe something hard enough, it’s as true as things discovered through the process of science. And I will say that’s objectively wrong.”

Belief isn’t science. This is a good point.

Unfortunately, Nye followed up his widely praised appearance at the March for Science by unleashing a video that destroyed the Internet, from his new show Bill Nye Saves the World. He trotted out Crazy Ex-Girlfriend actress Rachel Bloom to sing a “very special” song (Nye’s words). She warbled:

My vagina has its own voice / Not vocal cords, a metaphorical voice / Sometimes I do a voice for my vagina . . . / ’Cause my sex junk is so oh, oh, oh / Much more than either or, or or / Power bottom or power top / Versatile love may have some butt stuff / It’s evolution, ain’t nothing new / There’s nothing taboo about a sex stew . . . If they’re alive, I’ll date ’em / Channing or Jenna Tatum / I’m down for anything / Don’t box in my box.

Science™!

If this seems rather unscientific to you — if you wonder why a talking vagina with obvious self-control problems is being trotted out by the self-proclaimed Science Guy — you’re not alone. You’re rational. You might even be using some scientific thinking. But this is demonstrative of the Left’s take on science: Science is actually just the name for anything the Left likes. Worried about the humanity of an unborn child? Concerned that fetuses have their own blood types and their own DNA? Stop it! You’re quoting science, not Science™! Wondering how it is that a genetic male is actually a woman? You’re worrying about science, not Science™!

This is the dirty little secret of the Left’s sudden embrace of Science™ — it’s not science they support, but religion. They support that which they believe but cannot prove and do not care about proving. Bill Nye isn’t interested in a scientific debate about global warming — how much is occurring, the measurement techniques at issue, the sensitivity of the climate to carbon emissions, the range of factors that affect the climate. He wants you to accept his version of the truth — not just that global warming is happening, but that massive government intervention is necessary in order to avert imminent global catastrophe.

Such government solutions aren’t verifiably scientific. They are speculative. But that speculation has costs, particularly to the most impoverished people on the planet, who benefit from cheap carbon-based fuels. Even if you accept the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimate that sea levels will rise by two feet over the course of the rest of the century and the temperature will rise about 7 degrees Fahrenheit, there is reason to question, as Oren Cass points out, whether or not massive government intervention is necessary or even justifiable.

But the Left refuses to acknowledge such questions. It makes you a “denier” to disagree with the Left’s conclusions, just as it makes you a cruel person to wonder whether gun control will actually lower the American murder rate. Science, in other words, is just a baton for the Left.

A decade ago, the Left declared President Bush anti-science for his restrictions on the use of new federally funded fetal-stem-cell lines. They claimed that Bush hated science, that fetal stem cells were the wave of the future, that Bush was a “moral ayatollah,” in the words of Senator Tom Harkin (D., Iowa). Democrats ran on the promise that if Bush were thrown out of office in 2004, they’d make Christopher Reeve walk again using fetal stem cells. But it turned out that fetal stem cells were unnecessary to scientific research — scientists came up with an embryo-free process to produce genetically matched stem cells. As Charles Krauthammer, no religious fundamentalist, wrote at the time: “Rarely has a president — so vilified for a moral stance — been so thoroughly vindicated. Why? Precisely because he took a moral stance.”

In other words, Bush didn’t rely on science to give him his values. Nor should he have. Science is incapable of making value-laden decisions. There are plenty of ob-gyns who know better than the most pro-life conservative just how complex life is in the womb, yet they will perform abortions — science hasn’t dictated their behavior. The Nazis were famously pro-science, declaring that science itself mandated the killing of the “unfit” for the strengthening of the race; their racism was supposedly scientific.

That’s why the March for Science is such foolishness. If the march were simply focused on advocacy for increased EPA funding, that would be political, not scientific; if the marchers were demanding more funding for the NIH, that too would be political, but with a stronger scientific component. But the March for Science was actually a march for Science™: The Leftist Religion — and that leftist religion isn’t interested in science in the slightest. It’s simplistic and simple-minded virtue signaling.

By Ben Shapiro in the National Review on April 26, 2017 and can be seen here.

Politics Disguised as Science: When to Doubt a Scientific ‘Consensus’

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article that warrants posting here.  I have seen a recent proliferation of articles in respected publications pointing out, bemoaning, and/or highlighting increasing problems with the trustworthiness of the alleged findings of the contemporary scientific community.  I find these articles to be particularly interesting given how our society looks to science as a (the?) source of ultimate truths (often as a mutually exclusive alternative to spirituality).  This sort of scientism may be misplaced, and these articles delve into the pitfalls that come with such an approach.

Here are the links the other articles I posted on this subject:

Be edified.

___________

Anyone who has studied the history of science knows that scientists are not immune to the non-rational dynamics of the herd.

This week’s March for Science is odd. Marches are usually held to defend something that’s in peril. Does anyone really think big science is in danger? The mere fact that the March was scheduled for Earth Day betrays what the event is really about: politics. The organizers admitted as much early on, though they’re now busy trying to cover the event in sciencey camouflage.

If past is prologue, expect to hear a lot about the supposed “consensus” on catastrophic climate change this week. The purpose of this claim is to shut up skeptical non-scientists.

How should non-scientists respond when told about this consensus? We can’t all study climate science. But since politics often masquerades as science, we need a way to tell one from the other.

“Consensus,” according to Merriam-Webster, means both “general agreement” and “group solidarity in sentiment and belief.” That sums up the problem. Is this consensus based on solid evidence and sound logic, or social pressure and groupthink?

When can you doubt a consensus? Your best bet is to look at the process that produced, defends and transmits the supposed consensus.

Anyone who has studied the history of science knows that scientists are prone to herd instincts. Many false ideas once enjoyed consensus. Indeed, the “power of the paradigm” often blinds scientists to alternatives to their view. Question the paradigm, and some respond with anger.

We shouldn’t, of course, forget the other side of the coin. There are cranks and conspiracy theorists. No matter how well founded a scientific consensus, there’s someone who thinks it’s all hokum. Sometimes these folks turn out to be right. But often, they’re just cranks whose counsel is best ignored.

So how do we distinguish, as Andrew Coyne puts it, “between genuine authority and mere received wisdom? And how do we tell crankish imperviousness to evidence from legitimate skepticism?” Do we have to trust whatever we’re told is based on a scientific consensus unless we can study the science ourselves? When can you doubt a consensus? When should you doubt it?

Your best bet is to look at the process that produced, defends and transmits the supposed consensus. I don’t know of any complete list of signs of suspicion. But here’s a checklist to decide when you can, even should, doubt a scientific “consensus,” whatever the subject. One of these signs may be enough to give pause. If they start to pile up, then it’s wise to be leery.

(1) When different claims get bundled together

Usually, in scientific disputes, there’s more than one claim at issue. With global warming, there’s the claim that our planet, on average, is getting warmer. There’s also the claim that we are the main cause of it, that it’s going to be catastrophic, and that we must transform civilization to deal with it. These are all different claims based on different evidence.

Evidence for warming, for instance, isn’t evidence for the cause of that warming. All the polar bears could drown, the glaciers melt, the sea levels rise 20 feet and Newfoundland become a popular place to tan: That wouldn’t tell us a thing about what caused the warming. This is a matter of logic, not scientific evidence. The effect is not the same as the cause.

There’s a lot more agreement about (1) a modest warming trend since about 1850 than there is about (2) the cause of that trend. There’s even less agreement about (3) the dangers of that trend, or of (4) what to do about it. But these four claims are often bundled together. So, if you doubt one, you’re labeled a climate change “skeptic” or “denier.” That’s dishonest. When well-established claims are tied with other, more controversial claims, and the entire bundle is labeled “consensus,” you have reason for doubt.

(2) When ad hominem attacks against dissenters predominate

Personal attacks are common in any dispute. It’s easier to insult than to the follow the thread of an argument. And just because someone makes an ad hominem argument, it doesn’t mean that their conclusion is wrong. But when the personal attacks are the first out of the gate, don your skeptic’s cap and look more closely at the data.

When it comes to climate change, ad hominems are everywhere. They’re even smuggled into the way the debate is described. The common label “denier” is one example. This label is supposed to call to mind the charge of columnist Ellen Goodman: “I would like to say we’re at a point where global warming is impossible to deny. Let’s just say that global warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers.”

There’s an old legal proverb: If you have the facts on your side, argue the facts. If you have the law on your side, argue the law. If you have neither, attack the witness. When proponents of a scientific consensus lead with an attack on the witness, rather than on the arguments and evidence, be suspicious.

(3) When scientists are pressured to toe the party line

The famous Lysenko affair in the former Soviet Union is example of politics trumping good science. But it’s not the only way politics can override science. There’s also a conspiracy of agreement, in which assumptions and interests combine to give the appearance of objectivity where none exists. This is even more forceful than a literal conspiracy enforced by a dictator. Why? Because it looks like the agreement reflects a fair and independent weighing of the evidence.

Tenure, job promotions, government grants, media accolades, social respectability, Wikipedia entries, and vanity can do what gulags do, only more subtly. Alexis de Tocqueville warned of this almost two centuries ago. The power of the majority in American society, he wrote, could erect “formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion; within these barriers an author may write what he pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them.” He could have been writing about climate science.

Indeed, the quickest way for scientists to put their careers at risk is to raise even modest questions about climate doom (see here, here and here). Scientists are under pressure to toe the party line on climate change and receive many benefits for doing so. That’s another reason for suspicion.

(4) When publishing and peer review in the discipline is cliquish

Though it has its limits, the peer-review process is meant to provide checks and balances. At its best, it helps weed out bad and misleading work, and make scientific research more objective. But when the same few people review and approve each other’s work, you get conflicts of interest. This weakens the case for the supposed consensus. It becomes, instead, another reason for doubt. Those who follow the climate debate have known for years about the cliquish nature of publishing and peer review in climate science (see here for example).

(5) When dissenters are excluded from the peer-reviewed journals not because of weak evidence or bad arguments but to marginalize them.

Besides mere cliquishness, the “peer review” process in climate science has, in some cases, been subverted to prevent dissenters from being published. Again, those who follow the debate have known about these problems for years. But the Climategate debacle in 2009 revealed some of the gory details for the broader public. And again, this gives the lay public a reason to doubt the consensus.

(6) When the actual peer-reviewed literature is misrepresented

We’ve been told for years that the peer-reviewed literature is unanimous in its support for human-induced climate change. In Science, Naomi Oreskes even produced a “study” of the literature supposedly showing “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change.”

In fact, there are plenty of dissenting papers in the literature. This is despite mounting evidence that the peer-review deck was stacked against them. The 2009 Climategate scandal underscored this: The climate scientists at the center of the controversy complained in their emails about dissenting papers that survived the peer-review booby traps they put in place. They even fantasized about torpedoing a climate science journal that dared to publish a dissenting article.

(7) When consensus is declared before it even exists

A well-rooted scientific consensus, like a mature oak, needs time to grow. Scientists have to do research, publish articles, read about other research, and repeat experiments (where possible). They need to reveal their data and methods, have open debates, evaluate arguments, look at the trends, and so forth, before they can come to agreement. When scientists rush to declare a consensus — when they claim a consensus that has yet to form — this should give everyone pause.

In 1992, former Vice President Al Gore reassured his listeners, “Only an insignificant fraction of scientists deny the global warming crisis. The time for debate is over. The science is settled.” In the real 1992, however, Gallup “reported that 53% of scientists actively involved in global climate research did not believe global warming had occurred; 30% weren’t sure; and only 17% believed global warming had begun. Even a Greenpeace poll showed 47% of climatologists didn’t think a runaway greenhouse effect was imminent; only 36% thought it possible and a mere 13% thought it probable.”

Seventeen years later, in 2009, Gore revised his own fake history. He claimed that the debate over human-induced climate change had raged until as late as 1999, but now there was true consensus. Of course, 2009 is when Climategate broke, reminding us that what had smelled funny was indeed rotten.

(8) When the subject matter seems, by its nature, to resist consensus

It makes sense that chemists over time may come to agree about the results of some chemical reaction, since they can repeat the results over and over in their own labs. They’re easy to test. But much of climate science is not like that. The evidence is scattered and hard to track. It’s often indirect, imbedded in history and laden with theory. You can’t rerun past climate to test it. And the headline-grabbing claims of climate scientists are based on complex computer models that don’t match reality. These models get their input, not from the data, but from the scientists who interpret the data. This isn’t the sort of evidence that can provide the basis for a well-founded consensus. In fact, if there really were a consensus on the many claims around climate science, that would be suspicious. Thus, the claim of consensus is a bit suspect as well.

(9) When “scientists say” or “science says” is a common locution

In Newsweek’s April 28, 1975, issue, science editor Peter Gwynne claimed that “scientists are almost unanimous” that global cooling was underway. Now we are told, “Scientists say global warming will lead to the extinction of plant and animal species, the flooding of coastal areas from rising seas, more extreme weather, more drought and diseases spreading more widely.” “Scientists say” is ambiguous. You should wonder: “Which ones?”

Other times this vague company of scientists becomes “SCIENCE.” As when we’re told “what science says is required to avoid catastrophic climate change.” “Science says” is a weasely claim. “Science,” after all, is an abstract noun. It can’t speak. Whenever you see these phrases used to imply a consensus, it should trigger your baloney detector.

(10) When it is being used to justify dramatic political or economic policies

Imagine hundreds of world leaders and NGOS, science groups, and UN functionaries gathered for a meeting. It’s heralded as the most important conference since World War II, in which “the future of the world is being decided.” These officials seem to agree that institutions of “global governance” need to be set up to reorder the world economy and restrict energy use. Large numbers of them applaud wildly when socialist dictators denounce capitalism. Strange activism surrounds the gathering. And we are told by our president that all of this is based, not on fiction, but on science — that is, a scientific consensus that our greenhouse gas emissions are leading to climate catastrophe.

We don’t have to imagine that scenario, of course. It happened at the UN climate meeting in Copenhagen, in December 2009. It happened again in Paris, in December 2015. Expect something at least as zany at the March for Science.

Now, none of this disproves climate doom. But it does describe a setting in which truth need not appear. And at the least, when policy effects are so profound, the evidence should be rock solid. “Extraordinary claims,” the late Carl Sagan often said, “require extraordinary evidence.” When the megaphones of consensus insist that there’s no time, that we have to move, MOVE, MOVE!, you have a right to be wary.

(11) When the “consensus” is maintained by an army of water-carrying journalists who defend it with partisan zeal, and seem intent on helping certain scientists with their messaging rather than reporting on the field as fairly as possible

Do I really need to elaborate on this point?

(12) When we keep being told that there’s a scientific consensus

A consensus should be based on solid evidence. But a consensus is not itself the evidence. And with well-established scientific theories, you never hear about consensus. No one talks about the consensus that the planets orbit the sun, that the hydrogen molecule is lighter than the oxygen molecule, that salt is sodium chloride, that bacteria sometimes cause illness, or that blood carries oxygen to our organs. The very fact that we hear so much about a consensus on climate change may be enough to justify suspicion.

To adapt that old legal rule, when you’ve got solid scientific evidence on your side, you argue the evidence. When you’ve got great arguments, you make the arguments. When you don’t have solid evidence or great arguments, you claim consensus.

Adapted from THE AMERICAN. This piece has been updated since its original publication.

By Jay Richards and published on April 19, 2017 in The Stream and can be found here.

 

The Miracle of Science

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in Splice Today by my old philosophy professor Dr. Crispin Sartwell from back in my Penn State days which, I thought, was pretty insightful. Be edified.

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Can it save us from itself?

“Science” is a good thing for traumatized progressives to march for, allowing them to express their commitment simultaneously to truth itself and to the epistemic and cash-money hierarchy recognized by their kind. There were no anti-science counter-demonstrations, partly because almost everyone recognizes science as having a kind of overwhelming credibility; no one explicitly opposes it in general, even if they haven’t quite accepted human-caused climate change. Many purport to think of it as the only source of truth.

“How did America rise up from a backwoods country to be one of the greatest nations the world has ever known?” asks Neil de Grasse Tyson in a video which he describes as containing “the most important words I have ever spoken.” It’s technology, man, which he folds effortlessly into science. As the video unspools, it shows an inspiring montage of extreme carbon-emitting activities: rockets rising into the sky, steam power from coal plants, cities aglow with incandescent light. All that’s missing is the mushroom cloud… of science!

Indeed, even on Tyson’s conception, science has had some really terrifying results, such as industrial agriculture and ever-new generations of weaponry. According to his view, science is now the only hope for ameliorating the conditions it has itself ushered in. As to how science stands today in relation to the objective truth, I wouldn’t assume that this time around the results will stand up permanently or the effects wind up being benign. Every time they tell you what’s true, take it seriously and cock a skeptical eyebrow. Any other attitude is not compatible with science.

Tyson says that, in the 21st century, people other than himself “have lost the ability to judge what is true and what is not.” The question is easy for people like Tyson: “science” is what is true, denying it or even quibbling with some particular result, is a sign not only that you probably didn’t do that well on the SAT’s, but that you’re irrational and evil. And since few of us are in a position to check the results of any particular research project, we must accept the deliverances of science on authority. For Tyson, the distinction between what’s true and what’s not is identical to the distinction between what people like him agree on and what they agree against. If someone “doesn’t believe in science,” they’re questioning his authority and that of his ilk.

This dogmatism is incompatible with science’s own self-understanding as producing provisional, challengeable knowledge. And it’s incompatible with the history of science. Think for just a moment what you would’ve been accepting if you had “accepted science” 50 years ago: what you would’ve believed about the nature of the universe (for example, that it’s in a steady state, rather than expanding), or about what food or pharmaceuticals could be safely consumed. What you’re urged today to accept without question as a badge of your goodness and rationality and your social status will quite likely be revised tomorrow. That’s what is good about science, actually.

But science was presented in those marches not only as consisting of thousands of specific assertions you’re called upon to accept, but as a token of identity. A defense of science is a defense, among other things, of academic institutions as being arbiters of knowledge and ignorance. More to the point, academics and scientists feel their funding to be under threat by the Trump administration.

I don’t think the “science wars” are wars about truth. They’re wars about class, identity, and the shape of history. The real avatars of the science march were Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ms. Frizzle, the cartoon teacher from The Magic School Bus. These figures, along with Sesame Street and Barney, helped shape the consciousness of, let’s say, middle-class white American kids. Nye and Frizzle spent half their time instructing and the other half enthusing about the wonders of science itself. Now they’re figures of preternatural power, battling the forces of ignorance in the streets.

It strikes me that it’d behoove us to do whatever the scientists tell us to do. They have access to biological, chemical, and nuclear agents, which they developed themselves, and the expertise to weaponize them. Watch these people bring down the Internet, if they want, or seize control of the grid. Perhaps we have focused too much on the threat of radical Islamism, and too little on the threat of rigorous scientism.

Originally published on April 24, 2017 and can be found here.

Tactical Retreat: The Bequest

My friend and co-worker Brian M. Lambert has founded an online sketch comedy project called Tactical Retreat which you can find here on Facebook and here on Youtube.

As Tactical Retreat releases new videos, I will post them here.  So far, I have found them rather funny and clever and they seem to get better with each release.

Here are the links to Tactical Retreat‘s previously released sketches:

Tactical Retreat‘s latest sketch is entitled “The Bequest” can be viewed below.

Tactical Retreat: Frequent Flyer

My friend and co-worker Brian M. Lambert has founded an online sketch comedy project called Tactical Retreat which you can find here on Facebook and here on Youtube.

As Tactical Retreat releases new videos, I will post them here.  So far, I have found them rather funny and clever and they seem to get better with each release.

Here are the links to Tactical Retreat‘s previously released sketches:

Tactical Retreat‘s latest sketch is entitled “Frequent Flyer” can be viewed below.

Tactical Retreat: Guilty Pleasures

My friend and co-worker Brian M. Lambert has founded an online sketch comedy project called Tactical Retreat which you can find here on Facebook and here on Youtube.

As Tactical Retreat releases new videos, I will post them here.  So far, I have found them rather funny and clever and they seem to get better with each release.

Here are the links to Tactical Retreat‘s previously released sketches:

Tactical Retreat‘s latest sketch is entitled “Guilty Pleasures” can be viewed below.

Putting nature on the rack

This is from edwardfeser.blogspot.com which you can find here.  This blog is written by Edward Feser who is a Christian philosopher who I have been recently introduced to who I think provides effective clear, sobering, and direct responses to the advance of secular culture.

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What was it that distinguished the modern scientific method inaugurated by Bacon, Galileo, Descartes, and Co. from the science of the medievals?  One common answer is that the moderns required empirical evidence, whereas the medievals contented themselves with appeals to the authority of Aristotle.  The famous story about Galileo’s Scholastic critics’ refusing to look through his telescope is supposed to illustrate this difference in attitudes.

 

The problem with this answer, of course, is that it is false.  For one thing, the telescope story is (like so many other things everyone “knows” about the Scholastics and about the Galileo affair) a legend.  For another, part of the reason Galileo’s position was resisted was precisely because there were a number of respects in which it appeared to conflict with the empirical evidence.  (For example, the Copernican theory predicted that Venus should sometimes appear six times larger than it does at other times, but at first the empirical evidence seemed not to confirm this, until telescopes were developed which could detect the difference; the predicted stellar parallax did not receive empirical confirmation for a long time; and so forth.)

Then there is the fact that the medievals were simply by no means hostile to the idea that empirical evidence is the foundation of knowledge; on the contrary, it was a standard Scholastic slogan that “there is nothing in the intellect that was not first in the senses.”  Indeed, Bacon regarded his Scholastic predecessors as if anything too quick to believe the evidence of the senses.  The first of the “Idols of the Mind” that he famously critiques, namely the “Idols of the Tribe,” included a tendency to take the deliverances of sensory experience for granted.  The senses could, in Bacon’s view, too readily be deceived, and needed to be corrected by carefully controlling the conditions of observation and developing scientific instruments.  And in general, the early moderns regarded much of what the senses tell us about the natural world — such as what they tell us about secondary qualities like color and temperature — to be false.
So, it is simply not the case that the difference between the medievals and the early moderns was that the latter were more inclined to trust empirical evidence.  On the contrary, there is a sense in which that is precisely the reverse of the truth.

 

Where empirical evidence is concerned, the real difference might, to oversimplify, be put as follows.  Both the medievals and the early moderns regarded sensory experience as a crucial witness to the truth about the natural world.  But whereas the medievals regarded it as a more or less friendly witness, the moderns regarded it as a more or less hostile witness.  You can, from both sorts of witness, derive the truth.  But the methods will be different.

 

Hence, a friendly witness can more or less be asked directly for the information you want.  That doesn’t mean he might not sometimes need to be prodded to answer.  Even if he is honest, he might be shy, or reluctant to divulge something embarrassing, or just not very articulate.  It also doesn’t mean that everything he says can be taken at face value.  He may be forgetful, or confused, or just mistaken now and again.  A hostile witness, by contrast, though he has the information you want, cannot with confidence be asked directly.  Even if he is articulate, has a crystal clear memory, etc., he may simply refuse to answer, or may persistently beat around the bush, or may flat-out lie, seriously and repeatedly.  Thus, he may have to be tricked into giving you the information you want, like the Jack Nicholson character in A Few Good Men.  Or you may be tempted to threaten or beat it out of him, like one of the cops in L.A. Confidential would.  So, you might say that whereas the medieval Aristotelian scientist has a conversation with nature, the early modern Baconian scientist waterboards nature.  Hence the notorious Baconian talk about putting nature to the rack, torturing her for her secrets, etc.

 

Of course, this is melodramatic.  And to be fair, Bacon himself seems not to have put things quite the way commonly attributed to him (i.e. the stuff about torture and the rack).  All the same, the medievals and moderns do disagree about the degree to which the world of ordinary experience and the world that science reveals — what Wilfrid Sellars called “the manifest image” and “the scientific image” — correspond.  For the Aristotelian, philosophy and science are largely in harmony with common sense and ordinary experience.  To be sure, they get at much deeper levels of reality, and they correct common sense and ordinary experience around the edges, but they don’t overthrow common sense and ordinary experience wholesale.  For the moderns, by contrast, philosophy and science are likely radically to conflict with common sense and ordinary experience, and may indeed end up overthrowing them wholesale.

 

(This is not a difference concerning whether to accept the results of modern science, by the way.  It is a difference about how to interpret those results.  For example, it is a difference over whether to regard modern science as giving us a correct but merely partial description of nature — a description which needs to be supplemented by and embedded within an Aristotelian metaphysics and philosophy of nature — or whether to regard modern science instead as an exhaustive description of nature, and a complete metaphysics in its own right.)

 

The early moderns’ attitude of treating nature as a hostile witness — of thinking that the truth about nature is largely contrary to what ordinary experience would indicate — is one of the sources of the modern tendency to suppose that “things are never what they seem,” that traditional ideas are typically mere prejudices, that authorities and official stories of every kind need to be “unmasked,” and so forth.  Michael Levin has called this the “skim milk fallacy,” and I’ve often noted some of its social and moral consequences (e.g. here, here and here).  But these are merely byproducts of a much deeper metaphysical and epistemological revolution.

Gödel’s Incompleteness: The #1 Mathematical Breakthrough of the 20th Century

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one CosmicFingerprints.com which, I thought, was pretty insightful.  Be edified.

“Faith and Reason are not enemies. In fact, the exact opposite is true! One is absolutely necessary for the other to exist. All reasoning ultimately traces back to faith in something that you cannot prove.”

In 1931, the young mathematician Kurt Gödel made a landmark discovery, as powerful as anything Albert Einstein developed.

In one salvo, he completely demolished an entire class of scientific theories.

Gödel’s discovery not only applies to mathematics but literally all branches of science, logic and human knowledge. It has earth-shattering implications.

Oddly, few people know anything about it.

Allow me to tell you the story.

Mathematicians love proofs. They were hot and bothered for centuries, because they were unable to PROVE some of the things they knew were true.

So for example if you studied high school Geometry, you’ve done the exercises where you prove all kinds of things about triangles based on a set of theorems.

That high school geometry book is built on Euclid’s five postulates. Everyone knows the postulates are true, but in 2500 years nobody’s figured out a way to prove them.

Yes, it does seem perfectly “obvious” that a line can be extended infinitely in both directions, but no one has been able to PROVE that. We can only demonstrate that Euclid’s postulates are a reasonable, and in fact necessary, set of 5 assumptions.

Towering mathematical geniuses were frustrated for 2000+ years because they couldn’t prove all their theorems. There were so many things that were “obviously true,” but nobody could find a way to prove them.

In the early 1900’s, however, a tremendous wave of optimism swept through mathematical circles. The most brilliant mathematicians in the world (like Bertrand Russell, David Hilbert and Ludwig Wittgenstein) became convinced that they were rapidly closing in on a final synthesis.

A unifying “Theory of Everything” that would finally nail down all the loose ends. Mathematics would be complete, bulletproof, airtight, triumphant.

In 1931 this young Austrian mathematician, Kurt Gödel, published a paper that once and for all PROVED that a single Theory Of Everything is actually impossible. He proved they would never prove everything. (Yeah I know, it sounds a little odd, doesn’t it?)

Gödel’s discovery was called “The Incompleteness Theorem.”

If you’ll give me just a few minutes, I’ll explain what it says, how Gödel proved it, and what it means – in plain, simple English that anyone can understand.

Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem says:

“Anything you can draw a circle around cannot explain itself without referring to something outside the circle – something you have to assume but cannot prove.”

You can draw a circle around all of the concepts in your high school geometry book. But they’re all built on Euclid’s 5 postulates which we know are true but cannot be proven. Those 5 postulates are outside the book, outside the circle.

Stated in Formal Language:
Gödel’s theorem says: “Any effectively generated theory capable of expressing elementary arithmetic cannot be both consistent and complete. In particular, for any consistent, effectively generated formal theory that proves certain basic arithmetic truths, there is an arithmetical statement that is true, but not provable in the theory.”The Church-Turing thesis says that a physical system can express elementary arithmetic just as a human can, and that the arithmetic of a Turing Machine (computer) is not provable within the system and is likewise subject to incompleteness.

Any physical system subjected to measurement is capable of expressing elementary arithmetic. (In other words, children can do math by counting their fingers, water flowing into a bucket does integration, and physical systems always give the right answer.)

Therefore the universe is capable of expressing elementary arithmetic and like both mathematics itself and a Turing machine, is incomplete.

Syllogism:

1. All non-trivial computational systems are incomplete

2. The universe is a non-trivial computational system

3. Therefore the universe is incomplete

You can draw a circle around a bicycle. But the existence of that bicycle relies on a factory that is outside that circle. The bicycle cannot explain itself.

You can draw the circle around a bicycle factory. But that factory likewise relies on other things outside the factory.

Gödel proved that there are ALWAYS more things that are true than you can prove. Any system of logic or numbers that mathematicians ever came up with will always rest on at least a few unprovable assumptions.

Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem applies not just to math, but to everything that is subject to the laws of logic. Everything that you can count or calculate. Incompleteness is true in math; it’s equally true in science or language and philosophy.

Gödel created his proof by starting with “The Liar’s Paradox” — which is the statement

“I am lying.”

“I am lying” is self-contradictory, since if it’s true, I’m not a liar, and it’s false; and if it’s false, I am a liar, so it’s true.

Gödel, in one of the most ingenious moves in the history of math, converted this Liar’s Paradox into a mathematical formula. He proved that no statement can prove its own truth.

You always need an outside reference point.

The Incompleteness Theorem was a devastating blow to the “positivists” of the time. They insisted that literally anything you could not measure or prove was nonsense. He showed that their positivism was nonsense.

Gödel proved his theorem in black and white and nobody could argue with his logic. Yet some of his fellow mathematicians went to their graves in denial, believing that somehow or another Gödel must surely be wrong.

He wasn’t wrong. It was really true. There are more things that are true than you can prove.

A “theory of everything” – whether in math, or physics, or philosophy – will never be found.  Because it is mathematically impossible.

OK, so what does this really mean? Why is this super-important, and not just an interesting geek factoid?

Here’s what it means:

  • Faith and Reason are not enemies. In fact, the exact opposite is true! One is absolutely necessary for the other to exist. All reasoning ultimately traces back to faith in something that you cannot prove.
  • All closed systems depend on something outside the system.
  • You can always draw a bigger circle but there will still be something outside the circle.

Reasoning inward from a larger circle to a smaller circle (from “all things” to “some things”) is deductive reasoning.

Example of a deductive reasoning:

1.    All men are mortal
2.    Socrates is a man
3.    Therefore Socrates is mortal

Reasoning outward from a smaller circle to a larger circle (from “some things” to “all things”) is inductive reasoning.

Examples of inductive reasoning:

1. All the men I know are mortal
2. Therefore all men are mortal

1. When I let go of objects, they fall
2. Therefore there is a law of gravity that governs all falling objects

Notice than when you move from the smaller circle to the larger circle, you have to make assumptions that you cannot 100% prove.

For example you cannot PROVE gravity will always be consistent at all times. You can only observe that it’s consistently true every time.

Nearly all scientific laws are based on inductive reasoning. All of science rests on an assumption that the universe is orderly, logical and mathematical based on fixed discoverable laws.

You cannot PROVE this. (You can’t prove that the sun will come up tomorrow morning either.) You literally have to take it on faith. In fact most people don’t know that outside the science circle is a philosophy circle. Science is based on philosophical assumptions that you cannot scientifically prove. Actually, the scientific method cannot prove, it can only infer.

(Science originally came from the idea that God made an orderly universe which obeys fixed, discoverable laws – and because of those laws, He would not have to constantly tinker with it in order for it to operate.)

Now please consider what happens when we draw the biggest circle possibly can – around the whole universe.
(If there are multiple universes, we’re drawing a circle around all of them too):

  • There has to be something outside that circle. Something which we have to assume but cannot prove
  • The universe as we know it is finite – finite matter, finite energy, finite space and 13.8 billion years time
  • The universe (all matter, energy, space and time) cannot explain itself
  • Whatever is outside the biggest circle is boundless. So by definition it is not possible to draw a circle around it.
  • If we draw a circle around all matter, energy, space and time and apply Gödel’s theorem, then we know what is outside that circle is not matter, is not energy, is not space and is not time. Because all the matter and energy are inside the circle. It’s immaterial.
  • Whatever is outside the biggest circle is not a system – i.e. is not an assemblage of parts. Otherwise we could draw a circle around them. The thing outside the biggest circle is indivisible.
  • Whatever is outside the biggest circle is an uncaused cause, because you can always draw a circle around an effect.

We can apply the same inductive reasoning to the origin of information:

  • In the history of the universe we also see the introduction of information, some 3.8 billion years ago. It came in the form of the Genetic code, which is symbolic and immaterial.
  • The information had to come from the outside, since information is not known to be an inherent property of matter, energy, space or time.
  • All codes we know the origin of are designed by conscious beings.
  • Therefore whatever is outside the largest circle is a conscious being.

When we add information to the equation, we conclude that not only is the thing outside the biggest circle infinite and immaterial, it is also self-aware.

Isn’t it interesting how all these conclusions sound suspiciously similar to how theologians have described God for thousands of years?

Maybe that’s why it’s hardly surprising that 80-90% of the people in the world believe in some concept of God. Yes, it’s intuitive to most folks. But Gödel’s theorem indicates it’s also supremely logical. In fact it’s the only position one can take and stay in the realm of reason and logic.

The person who proudly proclaims, “You’re a man of faith, but I’m a man of science” doesn’t understand the roots of science or the nature of knowledge!

Interesting aside…

If you visit the world’s largest atheist website, Infidels, on the home page you will find the following statement:

“Naturalism is the hypothesis that the natural world is a closed system, which means that nothing that is not part of the natural world affects it.”

If you know Gödel’s theorem, you know all systems rely on something outside the system. So according to Gödel’s Incompleteness theorem, the folks at Infidels cannot be correct. Because the universe is a system, it has to have an outside cause.

Therefore Atheism violates the laws mathematics.

The Incompleteness of the universe isn’t proof that God exists. But… it IS proof that in order to construct a consistent model of the universe, belief in God is not just 100% logical… it’s necessary.

Euclid’s 5 postulates aren’t formally provable and God is not formally provable either. But… just as you cannot build a coherent system of geometry without Euclid’s 5 postulates, neither can you build a coherent description of the universe without a First Cause and a Source of order.

Thus faith and science are not enemies, but allies. They are two sides of the same coin. It had been true for hundreds of years, but in 1931 this skinny young Austrian mathematician named Kurt Gödel proved it.

No time in the history of mankind has faith in God been more reasonable, more logical, or more thoroughly supported by rational thought, science and mathematics.

Perry Marshall

“Math is the language God wrote the universe in.” –Galileo Galile, 1623

Further reading:

Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel” by Rebecca Goldstein – fantastic biography and a great read

A collection of quotes and notes about Gödel’s proof from Miskatonic University Press

Formal description of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem and links to his original papers on Wikipedia

Science vs. Faith on CoffeehouseTheology.com

Originally published on cosmicfingerprints.com and can be found here.

The 7 Biggest Problems Facing Science, According to 270 Scientists

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article that warrants posting here.  I have seen a recent proliferation of articles in respected publications pointing out, bemoaning, and/or highlighting increasing problems with the trustworthiness of the alleged findings of the contemporary scientific community.  I find these articles to be particularly interesting given how our society looks to science as a (the?) source of ultimate truths (often as a mutually exclusive alternative to spirituality).  This sort of scientism may be misplaced, and these articles delve into the pitfalls that come with such an approach.

Here are the links the other articles I posted on this subject:

Be edified.

_______________

“Science, I had come to learn, is as political, competitive, and fierce a career as you can find, full of the temptation to find easy paths.” — Paul Kalanithi, neurosurgeon and writer (1977–2015)

Science is in big trouble. Or so we’re told.

In the past several years, many scientists have become afflicted with a serious case of doubt — doubt in the very institution of science.

As reporters covering medicine, psychology, climate change, and other areas of research, we wanted to understand this epidemic of doubt. So we sent scientists a survey asking this simple question: If you could change one thing about how science works today, what would it be and why?

We heard back from 270 scientists all over the world, including graduate students, senior professors, laboratory heads, and Fields Medalists. They told us that, in a variety of ways, their careers are being hijacked by perverse incentives. The result is bad science.

The scientific process, in its ideal form, is elegant: Ask a question, set up an objective test, and get an answer. Repeat. Science is rarely practiced to that ideal. But Copernicus believed in that ideal. So did the rocket scientists behind the moon landing.

But nowadays, our respondents told us, the process is riddled with conflict. Scientists say they’re forced to prioritize self-preservation over pursuing the best questions and uncovering meaningful truths.

“I feel torn between asking questions that I know will lead to statistical significance and asking questions that matter,” says Kathryn Bradshaw, a 27-year-old graduate student of counseling at the University of North Dakota.

Today, scientists’ success often isn’t measured by the quality of their questions or the rigor of their methods. It’s instead measured by how much grant money they win, the number of studies they publish, and how they spin their findings to appeal to the public.

Scientists often learn more from studies that fail. But failed studies can mean career death. So instead, they’re incentivized to generate positive results they can publish. And the phrase “publish or perish” hangs over nearly every decision. It’s a nagging whisper, like a Jedi’s path to the dark side.

“Over time the most successful people will be those who can best exploit the system,” Paul Smaldino, a cognitive science professor at University of California Merced, says.

To Smaldino, the selection pressures in science have favored less-than-ideal research: “As long as things like publication quantity, and publishing flashy results in fancy journals are incentivized, and people who can do that are rewarded … they’ll be successful, and pass on their successful methods to others.”

Many scientists have had enough. They want to break this cycle of perverse incentives and rewards. They are going through a period of introspection, hopeful that the end result will yield stronger scientific institutions. In our survey and interviews, they offered a wide variety of ideas for improving the scientific process and bringing it closer to its ideal form.

Before we jump in, some caveats to keep in mind: Our survey was not a scientific poll. For one, the respondents disproportionately hailed from the biomedical and social sciences and English-speaking communities.

Many of the responses did, however, vividly illustrate the challenges and perverse incentives that scientists across fields face. And they are a valuable starting point for a deeper look at dysfunction in science today.

The place to begin is right where the perverse incentives first start to creep in: the money.

Academia has a huge money problem

To do most any kind of research, scientists need money: to run studies, to subsidize lab equipment, to pay their assistants and even their own salaries. Our respondents told us that getting — and sustaining — that funding is a perennial obstacle.

Their gripe isn’t just with the quantity, which, in many fields, is shrinking. It’s the way money is handed out that puts pressure on labs to publish a lot of papers, breeds conflicts of interest, and encourages scientists to overhype their work.

In the United States, academic researchers in the sciences generally cannot rely on university funding alone to pay for their salaries, assistants, and lab costs. Instead, they have to seek outside grants. “In many cases the expectations were and often still are that faculty should cover at least 75 percent of the salary on grants,” writes John Chatham, a professor of medicine studying cardiovascular disease at University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Grants also usually expire after three or so years, which pushes scientists away from long-term projects. Yet as John Pooley, a neurobiology postdoc at the University of Bristol, points out, the biggest discoveries usually take decades to uncover and are unlikely to occur under short-term funding schemes.

Outside grants are also in increasingly short supply. In the US, the largest source of funding is the federal government, and that pool of money has been plateauing for years, while young scientists enter the workforce at a faster rate than older scientists retire.

Take the National Institutes of Health, a major funding source. Its budget rose at a fast clip through the 1990s, stalled in the 2000s, and then dipped with sequestration budget cuts in 2013. All the while, rising costs for conducting science meant that each NIH dollar purchased less and less. Last year, Congress approved the biggest NIH spending hike in a decade. But it won’t erase the shortfall.

The consequences are striking: In 2000, more than 30 percent of NIH grant applications got approved. Today, it’s closer to 17 percent. “It’s because of what’s happened in the last 12 years that young scientists in particular are feeling such a squeeze,” NIH Director Francis Collins said at the Milken Global Conference in May.

Some of our respondents said that this vicious competition for funds can influence their work. Funding “affects what we study, what we publish, the risks we (frequently don’t) take,” explains Gary Bennett a neuroscientist at Duke University. It “nudges us to emphasize safe, predictable (read: fundable) science.”

Truly novel research takes longer to produce, and it doesn’t always pay off. A National Bureau of Economic Research working paper found that, on the whole, truly unconventional papers tend to be less consistently cited in the literature. So scientists and funders increasingly shy away from them, preferring short-turnaround, safer papers. But everyone suffers from that: the NBER report found that novel papers also occasionally lead to big hits that inspire high-impact, follow-up studies.

“I think because you have to publish to keep your job and keep funding agencies happy, there are a lot of (mediocre) scientific papers out there … with not much new science presented,” writes Kaitlyn Suski, a chemistry and atmospheric science postdoc at Colorado State University.

Another worry: When independent, government, or university funding sources dry up, scientists may feel compelled to turn to industry or interest groups eager to generate studies to support their agendas.

Finally, all of this grant writing is a huge time suck, taking resources away from the actual scientific work. Tyler Josephson, an engineering graduate student at the University of Delaware, writes that many professors he knows spend 50 percent of their time writing grant proposals. “Imagine,” he asks, “what they could do with more time to devote to teaching and research?”

It’s easy to see how these problems in funding kick off a vicious cycle. To be more competitive for grants, scientists have to have published work. To have published work, they need positive (i.e., statistically significant) results. That puts pressure on scientists to pick “safe” topics that will yield a publishable conclusion — or, worse, may bias their research toward significant results.

“When funding and pay structures are stacked against academic scientists,” writes Alison Bernstein, a neuroscience postdoc at Emory University, “these problems are all exacerbated.”

Fixes for science’s funding woes

Right now there are arguably too many researchers chasing too few grants. Or, as a 2014 piece in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences put it: “The current system is in perpetual disequilibrium, because it will inevitably generate an ever-increasing supply of scientists vying for a finite set of research resources and employment opportunities.”

“As it stands, too much of the research funding is going to too few of the researchers,” writes Gordon Pennycook, a PhD candidate in cognitive psychology at the University of Waterloo. “This creates a culture that rewards fast, sexy (and probably wrong) results.”

One straightforward way to ameliorate these problems would be for governments to simply increase the amount of money available for science. (Or, more controversially, decrease the number of PhDs, but we’ll get to that later.) If Congress boosted funding for the NIH and National Science Foundation, that would take some of the competitive pressure off researchers.

But that only goes so far. Funding will always be finite, and researchers will never get blank checks to fund the risky science projects of their dreams. So other reforms will also prove necessary.

One suggestion: Bring more stability and predictability into the funding process. “The NIH and NSF budgets are subject to changing congressional whims that make it impossible for agencies (and researchers) to make long term plans and commitments,” M. Paul Murphy, a neurobiology professor at the University of Kentucky, writes. “The obvious solution is to simply make [scientific funding] a stable program, with an annual rate of increase tied in some manner to inflation.”

Another idea would be to change how grants are awarded: Foundations and agencies could fund specific people and labs for a period of time rather than individual project proposals. (The Howard Hughes Medical Institute already does this.) A system like this would give scientists greater freedom to take risks with their work.

Alternatively, researchers in the journal mBio recently called for a lottery-style system. Proposals would be measured on their merits, but then a computer would randomly choose which get funded.

“Although we recognize that some scientists will cringe at the thought of allocating funds by lottery,” the authors of the mBio piece write, “the available evidence suggests that the system is already in essence a lottery without the benefits of being random.” Pure randomness would at least reduce some of the perverse incentives at play in jockeying for money.

There are also some ideas out there to minimize conflicts of interest from industry funding. Recently, in PLOS Medicine, Stanford epidemiologist John Ioannidis suggested that pharmaceutical companies ought to pool the money they use to fund drug research, to be allocated to scientists who then have no exchange with industry during study design and execution. This way, scientists could still get funding for work crucial for drug approvals — but without the pressures that can skew results.

These solutions are by no means complete, and they may not make sense for every scientific discipline. The daily incentives facing biomedical scientists to bring new drugs to market are different from the incentives facing geologists trying to map out new rock layers. But based on our survey, funding appears to be at the root of many of the problems facing scientists, and it’s one that deserves more careful discussion.

Too many studies are poorly designed. Blame bad incentives.

Scientists are ultimately judged by the research they publish. And the pressure to publish pushes scientists to come up with splashy results, of the sort that get them into prestigious journals. “Exciting, novel results are more publishable than other kinds,” says Brian Nosek, who co-founded the Center for Open Science at the University of Virginia.

The problem here is that truly groundbreaking findings simply don’t occur very often, which means scientists face pressure to game their studies so they turn out to be a little more “revolutionary.” (Caveat: Many of the respondents who focused on this particular issue hailed from the biomedical and social sciences.)

Some of this bias can creep into decisions that are made early on: choosing whether or not to randomize participants, including a control group for comparison, or controlling for certain confounding factors but not others. (Read more on study design particulars here.)

Many of our survey respondents noted that perverse incentives can also push scientists to cut corners in how they analyze their data.

“I have incredible amounts of stress that maybe once I finish analyzing the data, it will not look significant enough for me to defend,” writes Jess Kautz, a PhD student at the University of Arizona. “And if I get back mediocre results, there’s going to be incredible pressure to present it as a good result so they can get me out the door. At this moment, with all this in my mind, it is making me wonder whether I could give an intellectually honest assessment of my own work.”

Increasingly, meta-researchers (who conduct research on research) are realizing that scientists often do find little ways to hype up their own results — and they’re not always doing it consciously. Among the most famous examples is a technique called “p-hacking,” in which researchers test their data against many hypotheses and only report those that have statistically significant results.

In a recent study, which tracked the misuse of p-values in biomedical journals, meta-researchers found “an epidemic” of statistical significance: 96 percent of the papers that included a p-value in their abstracts boasted statistically significant results.

That seems awfully suspicious. It suggests the biomedical community has been chasing statistical significance, potentially giving dubious results the appearance of validity through techniques like p-hacking — or simply suppressing important results that don’t look significant enough. Fewer studies share effect sizes (which arguably gives a better indication of how meaningful a result might be) or discuss measures of uncertainty.

“The current system has done too much to reward results,” says Joseph Hilgard, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Annenberg Public Policy Center. “This causes a conflict of interest: The scientist is in charge of evaluating the hypothesis, but the scientist also desperately wants the hypothesis to be true.”

The consequences are staggering. An estimated $200 billion — or the equivalent of 85 percent of global spending on research — is routinely wasted on poorly designed and redundant studies, according to meta-researchers who have analyzed inefficiencies in research. We know that as much as 30 percent of the most influential original medical research papers later turn out to be wrong or exaggerated.

Fixes for poor study design

Our respondents suggested that the two key ways to encourage stronger study design — and discourage positive results chasing — would involve rethinking the rewards system and building more transparency into the research process.

“I would make rewards based on the rigor of the research methods, rather than the outcome of the research,” writes Simine Vazire, a journal editor and a social psychology professor at UC Davis. “Grants, publications, jobs, awards, and even media coverage should be based more on how good the study design and methods were, rather than whether the result was significant or surprising.”

Likewise, Cambridge mathematician Tim Gowers argues that researchers should get recognition for advancing science broadly through informal idea sharing — rather than only getting credit for what they publish.

“We’ve gotten used to working away in private and then producing a sort of polished document in the form of a journal article,” Gowers said. “This tends to hide a lot of the thought process that went into making the discoveries. I’d like attitudes to change so people focus less on the race to be first to prove a particular theorem, or in science to make a particular discovery, and more on other ways of contributing to the furthering of the subject.”

When it comes to published results, meanwhile, many of our respondents wanted to see more journals put a greater emphasis on rigorous methods and processes rather than splashy results.

“I think the one thing that would have the biggest impact is removing publication bias: judging papers by the quality of questions, quality of method, and soundness of analyses, but not on the results themselves,” writes Michael Inzlicht, a University of Toronto psychology and neuroscience professor.

Some journals are already embracing this sort of research. PLOS One, for example, makes a point of accepting negative studies (in which a scientist conducts a careful experiment and finds nothing) for publication, as does the aptly named Journal of Negative Results in Biomedicine.

More transparency would also help, writes Daniel Simons, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois. Here’s one example: ClinicalTrials.gov, a site run by the NIH, allows researchers to register their study design and methods ahead of time and then publicly record their progress. That makes it more difficult for scientists to hide experiments that didn’t produce the results they wanted. (The site now holds information for more than 180,000 studies in 180 countries.)

Similarly, the AllTrials campaign is pushing for every clinical trial (past, present, and future) around the world to be registered, with the full methods and results reported. Some drug companies and universities have created portals that allow researchers to access raw data from their trials.

The key is for this sort of transparency to become the norm rather than a laudable outlier.

Replicating results is crucial. But scientists rarely do it.

Replication is another foundational concept in science. Researchers take an older study that they want to test and then try to reproduce it to see if the findings hold up.

Testing, validating, retesting — it’s all part of a slow and grinding process to arrive at some semblance of scientific truth. But this doesn’t happen as often as it should, our respondents said. Scientists face few incentives to engage in the slog of replication. And even when they attempt to replicate a study, they often find they can’t do so. Increasingly it’s being called a “crisis of irreproducibility.”

The stats bear this out: A 2015 study looked at 83 highly cited studies that claimed to feature effective psychiatric treatments. Only 16 had ever been successfully replicated. Another 16 were contradicted by follow-up attempts, and 11 were found to have substantially smaller effects the second time around. Meanwhile, nearly half of the studies (40) had never been subject to replication at all.

More recently, a landmark study published in the journal Science demonstrated that only a fraction of recent findings in top psychology journals could be replicated. This is happening in other fields too, says Ivan Oransky, one of the founders of the blog Retraction Watch, which tracks scientific retractions.

As for the underlying causes, our survey respondents pointed to a couple of problems. First, scientists have very few incentives to even try replication. Jon-Patrick Allem, a social scientist at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, noted that funding agencies prefer to support projects that find new information instead of confirming old results.

Journals are also reluctant to publish replication studies unless “they contradict earlier findings or conclusions,” Allem writes. The result is to discourage scientists from checking each other’s work. “Novel information trumps stronger evidence, which sets the parameters for working scientists.”

The second problem is that many studies can be difficult to replicate. Sometimes their methods are too opaque. Sometimes the original studies had too few participants to produce a replicable answer. And sometimes, as we saw in the previous section, the study is simply poorly designed or outright wrong.

Again, this goes back to incentives: When researchers have to publish frequently and chase positive results, there’s less time to conduct high-quality studies with well-articulated methods.

Fixes for underreplication

Scientists need more carrots to entice them to pursue replication in the first place. As it stands, researchers are encouraged to publish new and positive results and to allow negative results to linger in their laptops or file drawers.

This has plagued science with a problem called “publication bias” — not all studies that are conducted actually get published in journals, and the ones that do tend to have positive and dramatic conclusions.

If institutions started to reward tenure positions or make hires based on the quality of a researcher’s body of work, instead of quantity, this might encourage more replication and discourage positive results chasing.

“The key that needs to change is performance review,” writes Christopher Wynder, a former assistant professor at McMaster University. “It affects reproducibility because there is little value in confirming another lab’s results and trying to publish the findings.”

The next step would be to make replication of studies easier. This could include more robust sharing of methods in published research papers. “It would be great to have stronger norms about being more detailed with the methods,” says University of Virginia’s Brian Nosek.

He also suggested more regularly adding supplements at the end of papers that get into the procedural nitty-gritty, to help anyone wanting to repeat an experiment. “If I can rapidly get up to speed, I have a much better chance of approximating the results,” he said.

Nosek has detailed other potential fixes that might help with replication — all part of his work at the Center for Open Science.

A greater degree of transparency and data sharing would enable replications, said Stanford’s John Ioannidis. Too often, anyone trying to replicate a study must chase down the original investigators for details about how the experiment was conducted.

“It is better to do this in an organized fashion with buy-in from all leading investigators in a scientific discipline,” he explained, “rather than have to try to find the investigator in each case and ask him or her in detective-work fashion about details, data, and methods that are otherwise unavailable.”

Researchers could also make use of new tools, such as open source software that tracks every version of a data set, so that they can share their data more easily and have transparency built into their workflow.

Some of our respondents suggested that scientists engage in replication prior to publication. “Before you put an exploratory idea out in the literature and have people take the time to read it, you owe it to the field to try to replicate your own findings,” says John Sakaluk, a social psychologist at the University of Victoria.

For example, he has argued, psychologists could conduct small experiments with a handful of participants to form ideas and generate hypotheses. But they would then need to conduct bigger experiments, with more participants, to replicate and confirm those hypotheses before releasing them into the world. “In doing so,” Sakaluk says, “the rest of us can have more confidence that this is something we might want to [incorporate] into our own research.”

Peer review is broken

Peer review is meant to weed out junk science before it reaches publication. Yet over and over again in our survey, respondents told us this process fails. It was one of the parts of the scientific machinery to elicit the most rage among the researchers we heard from.

Normally, peer review works like this: A researcher submits an article for publication in a journal. If the journal accepts the article for review, it’s sent off to peers in the same field for constructive criticism and eventual publication — or rejection. (The level of anonymity varies; some journals have double-blind reviews, while others have moved to triple-blind review, where the authors, editors, and reviewers don’t know who one another are.)

It sounds like a reasonable system. But numerous studies and systematic reviews have shown that peer review doesn’t reliably prevent poor-quality science from being published.

The process frequently fails to detect fraud or other problems with manuscripts, which isn’t all that surprising when you consider researchers aren’t paid or otherwise rewarded for the time they spend reviewing manuscripts. They do it out of a sense of duty — to contribute to their area of research and help advance science.

But this means it’s not always easy to find the best people to peer-review manuscripts in their field, that harried researchers delay doing the work (leading to publication delays of up to two years), and that when they finally do sit down to peer-review an article they might be rushed and miss errors in studies.

“The issue is that most referees simply don’t review papers carefully enough, which results in the publishing of incorrect papers, papers with gaps, and simply unreadable papers,” says Joel Fish, an assistant professor of mathematics at the University of Massachusetts Boston. “This ends up being a large problem for younger researchers to enter the field, since that means they have to ask around to figure out which papers are solid and which are not.”

That’s not to mention the problem of peer review bullying. Since the default in the process is that editors and peer reviewers know who the authors are (but authors don’t know who the reviews are), biases against researchers or institutions can creep in, opening the opportunity for rude, rushed, and otherwise unhelpful comments. (Just check out the popular #SixWordPeerReview hashtag on Twitter).

These issues were not lost on our survey respondents, who said peer review amounts to a broken system, which punishes scientists and diminishes the quality of publications. They want to not only overhaul the peer review process but also change how it’s conceptualized.

Fixes for peer review

On the question of editorial bias and transparency, our respondents were surprisingly divided. Several suggested that all journals should move toward double-blinded peer review, whereby reviewers can’t see the names or affiliations of the person they’re reviewing and publication authors don’t know who reviewed them. The main goal here was to reduce bias.

“We know that scientists make biased decisions based on unconscious stereotyping,” writes Pacific Northwest National University postdoc Timothy Duignan. “So rather than judging a paper by the gender, ethnicity, country, or institutional status of an author — which I believe happens a lot at the moment — it should be judged by its quality independent of those things.”

Yet others thought that more transparency, rather than less, was the answer: “While we correctly advocate for the highest level of transparency in publishing, we still have most reviews that are blinded, and I cannot know who is reviewing me,” writes Lamberto Manzoli, a professor of epidemiology and public health at the University of Chieti, in Italy. “Too many times we see very low quality reviews, and we cannot understand whether it is a problem of scarce knowledge or conflict of interest.”

Perhaps there is a middle ground. For example, eLife, a new open access journal that is rapidly rising in impact factor, runs a collaborative peer review process. Editors and peer reviewers work together on each submission to create a consolidated list of comments about a paper. The author can then reply to what the group saw as the most important issues, rather than facing the biases and whims of individual reviewers. (Oddly, this process is faster — eLife takes less time to accept papers than Nature or Cell.)

Still, those are mostly incremental fixes. Other respondents argued that we might need to radically rethink the entire process of peer review from the ground up.

“The current peer review process embraces a concept that a paper is final,” says Nosek. “The review process is [a form of] certification, and that a paper is done.” But science doesn’t work that way. Science is an evolving process, and truth is provisional. So, Nosek said, science must “move away from the embrace of definitiveness of publication.”

Some respondents wanted to think of peer review as more of a continuous process, in which studies are repeatedly and transparently updated and republished as new feedback changes them — much like Wikipedia entries. This would require some sort of expert crowdsourcing.

“The scientific publishing field — particularly in the biological sciences — acts like there is no internet,” says Lakshmi Jayashankar, a senior scientific reviewer with the federal government. “The paper peer review takes forever, and this hurts the scientists who are trying to put their results quickly into the public domain.”

One possible model already exists in mathematics and physics, where there is a long tradition of “pre-printing” articles. Studies are posted on an open website called arXiv.org, often before being peer-reviewed and published in journals. There, the articles are sorted and commented on by a community of moderators, providing another chance to filter problems before they make it to peer review.

“Posting preprints would allow scientific crowdsourcing to increase the number of errors that are caught, since traditional peer-reviewers cannot be expected to be experts in every sub-discipline,” writes Scott Hartman, a paleobiology PhD student at the University of Wisconsin.

And even after an article is published, researchers think the peer review process shouldn’t stop. They want to see more “post-publication” peer review on the web, so that academics can critique and comment on articles after they’ve been published. Sites like PubPeer and F1000Research have already popped up to facilitate that kind of post-publication feedback.

“We do this a couple of times a year at conferences,” writes Becky Clarkson, a geriatric medicine researcher at the University of Pittsburgh. “We could do this every day on the internet.”

The bottom line is that traditional peer review has never worked as well as we imagine it to — and it’s ripe for serious disruption.

Too much science is locked behind paywalls

After a study has been funded, conducted, and peer-reviewed, there’s still the question of getting it out so that others can read and understand its results.

Over and over, our respondents expressed dissatisfaction with how scientific research gets disseminated. Too much is locked away in paywalled journals, difficult and costly to access, they said. Some respondents also criticized the publication process itself for being too slow, bogging down the pace of research.

On the access question, a number of scientists argued that academic research should be free for all to read. They chafed against the current model, in which for-profit publishers put journals behind pricey paywalls.

A single article in Science will set you back $30; a year-long subscription to Cell will cost $279. Elsevier publishes 2,000 journals that can cost up to $10,000 or $20,000 a year for a subscription.

Many US institutions pay those journal fees for their employees, but not all scientists (or other curious readers) are so lucky. In a recent issue of Science, journalist John Bohannon described the plight of a PhD candidate at a top university in Iran. He calculated that the student would have to spend $1,000 a week just to read the papers he needed.

As Michael Eisen, a biologist at UC Berkeley and co-founder of the Public Library of Science (or PLOS), put it, scientific journals are trying to hold on to the profits of the print era in the age of the internet. Subscription prices have continued to climb, as a handful of big publishers (like Elsevier) have bought up more and more journals, creating mini knowledge fiefdoms.

“Large, publicly owned publishing companies make huge profits off of scientists by publishing our science and then selling it back to the university libraries at a massive profit (which primarily benefits stockholders),” Corina Logan, an animal behavior researcher at the University of Cambridge, noted. “It is not in the best interest of the society, the scientists, the public, or the research.” (In 2014, Elsevier reported a profit margin of nearly 40 percent and revenues close to $3 billion.)

“It seems wrong to me that taxpayers pay for research at government labs and universities but do not usually have access to the results of these studies, since they are behind paywalls of peer-reviewed journals,” added Melinda Simon, a postdoc microfluidics researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Lab.

Fixes for closed science

Many of our respondents urged their peers to publish in open access journals (along the lines of PeerJ or PLOS Biology). But there’s an inherent tension here. Career advancement can often depend on publishing in the most prestigious journals, like Science or Nature, which still have paywalls.

There’s also the question of how best to finance a wholesale transition to open access. After all, journals can never be entirely free. Someone has to pay for the editorial staff, maintaining the website, and so on. Right now, open access journals typically charge fees to those submitting papers, putting the burden on scientists who are already struggling for funding.

One radical step would be to abolish for-profit publishers altogether and move toward a nonprofit model. “For journals I could imagine that scientific associations run those themselves,” suggested Johannes Breuer, a postdoctoral researcher in media psychology at the University of Cologne. “If they go for online only, the costs for web hosting, copy-editing, and advertising (if needed) can be easily paid out of membership fees.”

As a model, Cambridge’s Tim Gowers has launched an online mathematics journal called Discrete Analysis. The nonprofit venture is owned and published by a team of scholars, it has no publisher middlemen, and access will be completely free for all.

Until wholesale reform happens, however, many scientists are going a much simpler route: illegally pirating papers.

Bohannon reported that millions of researchers around the world now use Sci-Hub, a site set up by Alexandra Elbakyan, a Russia-based neuroscientist, that illegally hosts more than 50 million academic papers. “As a devout pirate,” Elbakyan told us, “I think that copyright should be abolished.”

One respondent had an even more radical suggestion: that we abolish the existing peer-reviewed journal system altogether and simply publish everything online as soon as it’s done.

“Research should be made available online immediately, and be judged by peers online rather than having to go through the whole formatting, submitting, reviewing, rewriting, reformatting, resubmitting, etc etc etc that can takes years,” writes Bruno Dagnino, formerly of the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience. “One format, one platform. Judge by the whole community, with no delays.”

A few scientists have been taking steps in this direction. Rachel Harding, a genetic researcher at the University of Toronto, has set up a website called Lab Scribbles, where she publishes her lab notes on the structure of huntingtin proteins in real time, posting data as well as summaries of her breakthroughs and failures. The idea is to help share information with other researchers working on similar issues, so that labs can avoid needless overlap and learn from each other’s mistakes.

Not everyone might agree with approaches this radical; critics worry that too much sharing might encourage scientific free riding. Still, the common theme in our survey was transparency. Science is currently too opaque, research too difficult to share. That needs to change.

Science is poorly communicated to the public

“If I could change one thing about science, I would change the way it is communicated to the public by scientists, by journalists, and by celebrities,” writes Clare Malone, a postdoctoral researcher in a cancer genetics lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

She wasn’t alone. Quite a few respondents in our survey expressed frustration at how science gets relayed to the public. They were distressed by the fact that so many laypeople hold on to completely unscientific ideas or have a crude view of how science works.

They griped that misinformed celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow have an outsize influence over public perceptions about health and nutrition. (As the University of Alberta’s Timothy Caulfield once told us, “It’s incredible how much she is wrong about.”)

They have a point. Science journalism is often full of exaggerated, conflicting, or outright misleading claims. If you ever want to see a perfect example of this, check out “Kill or Cure,” a site where Paul Battley meticulously documents all the times the Daily Mail reported that various items — from antacids to yogurt — either cause cancer, prevent cancer, or sometimes do both.

Sometimes bad stories are peddled by university press shops. In 2015, the University of Maryland issued a press release claiming that a single brand of chocolate milk could improve concussion recovery. It was an absurd case of science hype.

Indeed, one review in BMJ found that one-third of university press releases contained either exaggerated claims of causation (when the study itself only suggested correlation), unwarranted implications about animal studies for people, or unfounded health advice.

But not everyone blamed the media and publicists alone. Other respondents pointed out that scientists themselves often oversell their work, even if it’s preliminary, because funding is competitive and everyone wants to portray their work as big and important and game-changing.

“You have this toxic dynamic where journalists and scientists enable each other in a way that massively inflates the certainty and generality of how scientific findings are communicated and the promises that are made to the public,” writes Daniel Molden, an associate professor of psychology at Northwestern University. “When these findings prove to be less certain and the promises are not realized, this just further erodes the respect that scientists get and further fuels scientists desire for appreciation.”

Fixes for better science communication

Opinions differed on how to improve this sorry state of affairs — some pointed to the media, some to press offices, others to scientists themselves.

Plenty of our respondents wished that more science journalists would move away from hyping single studies. Instead, they said, reporters ought to put new research findings in context, and pay more attention to the rigor of a study’s methodology than to the splashiness of the end results.

“On a given subject, there are often dozens of studies that examine the issue,” writes Brian Stacy of the US Department of Agriculture. “It is very rare for a single study to conclusively resolve an important research question, but many times the results of a study are reported as if they do.”

But it’s not just reporters who will need to shape up. The “toxic dynamic” of journalists, academic press offices, and scientists enabling one another to hype research can be tough to change, and many of our respondents pointed out that there were no easy fixes — though recognition was an important first step.

Some suggested the creation of credible referees that could rigorously distill the strengths and weaknesses of research. (Some variations of this are starting to pop up: The Genetic Expert News Service solicits outside experts to weigh in on big new studies in genetics and biotechnology.) Other respondents suggested that making research free to all might help tamp down media misrepresentations.

Still other respondents noted that scientists themselves should spend more time learning how to communicate with the public — a skill that tends to be under-rewarded in the current system.

“Being able to explain your work to a non-scientific audience is just as important as publishing in a peer-reviewed journal, in my opinion, but currently the incentive structure has no place for engaging the public,” writes Crystal Steltenpohl, a graduate assistant at DePaul University.

Reducing the perverse incentives around scientific research itself could also help reduce overhype. “If we reward research based on how noteworthy the results are, this will create pressure to exaggerate the results (through exploiting flexibility in data analysis, misrepresenting results, or outright fraud),” writes UC Davis’s Simine Vazire. “We should reward research based on how rigorous the methods and design are.”

Or perhaps we should focus on improving science literacy. Jeremy Johnson, a project coordinator at the Broad Institute, argued that bolstering science education could help ameliorate a lot of these problems. “Science literacy should be a top priority for our educational policy,” he said, “not an elective.

Life as a young academic is incredibly stressful

When we asked researchers what they’d fix about science, many talked about the scientific process itself, about study design or peer review. These responses often came from tenured scientists who loved their jobs but wanted to make the broader scientific project even better.

But on the flip side, we heard from a number of researchers — many of them graduate students or postdocs — who were genuinely passionate about research but found the day-to-day experience of being a scientist grueling and unrewarding. Their comments deserve a section of their own.

Today, many tenured scientists and research labs depend on small armies of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to perform their experiments and conduct data analysis.

These grad students and postdocs are often the primary authors on many studies. In a number of fields, such as the biomedical sciences, a postdoc position is a prerequisite before a researcher can get a faculty-level position at a university.

This entire system sits at the heart of modern-day science. (A new card game called Lab Wars pokes fun at these dynamics.)

But these low-level research jobs can be a grind. Postdocs typically work long hours and are relatively low-paid for their level of education — salaries are frequently pegged to stipends set by NIH National Research Service Award grants, which start at $43,692 and rise to $47,268 in year three.

Postdocs tend to be hired on for one to three years at a time, and in many institutions they are considered contractors, limiting their workplace protections. We heard repeatedly about extremely long hours and limited family leave benefits.

“Oftentimes this is problematic for individuals in their late 20s and early to mid-30s who have PhDs and who may be starting families while also balancing a demanding job that pays poorly,” wrote one postdoc, who asked for anonymity.

This lack of flexibility tends to disproportionately affect women — especially women planning to have families — which helps contribute to gender inequalities in research. (A 2012 paper found that female job applicants in academia are judged more harshly and are offered less money than males.) “There is very little support for female scientists and early-career scientists,” noted another postdoc.

“There is very little long-term financial security in today’s climate, very little assurance where the next paycheck will come from,” wrote William Kenkel, a postdoctoral researcher in neuroendocrinology at Indiana University. “Since receiving my PhD in 2012, I left Chicago and moved to Boston for a post-doc, then in 2015 I left Boston for a second post-doc in Indiana. In a year or two, I will move again for a faculty job, and that’s if I’m lucky. Imagine trying to build a life like that.”

This strain can also adversely affect the research that young scientists do. “Contracts are too short term,” noted another researcher. “It discourages rigorous research as it is difficult to obtain enough results for a paper (and hence progress) in two to three years. The constant stress drives otherwise talented and intelligent people out of science also.”

Because universities produce so many PhDs but have way fewer faculty jobs available, many of these postdoc researchers have limited career prospects. Some of them end up staying stuck in postdoc positions for five or 10 years or more.

“In the biomedical sciences,” wrote the first postdoc quoted above, “each available faculty position receives applications from hundreds or thousands of applicants, putting immense pressure on postdocs to publish frequently and in high impact journals to be competitive enough to attain those positions.”

Many young researchers pointed out that PhD programs do fairly little to train people for careers outside of academia. “Too many [PhD] students are graduating for a limited number of professor positions with minimal training for careers outside of academic research,” noted Don Gibson, a PhD candidate studying plant genetics at UC Davis.

Laura Weingartner, a graduate researcher in evolutionary ecology at Indiana University, agreed: “Few universities (specifically the faculty advisors) know how to train students for anything other than academia, which leaves many students hopeless when, inevitably, there are no jobs in academia for them.”

Add it up and it’s not surprising that we heard plenty of comments about anxiety and depression among both graduate students and postdocs. “There is a high level of depression among PhD students,” writes Gibson. “Long hours, limited career prospects, and low wages contribute to this emotion.”

A 2015 study at the University of California Berkeley found that 47 percent of PhD students surveyed could be considered depressed. The reasons for this are complex and can’t be solved overnight. Pursuing academic research is already an arduous, anxiety-ridden task that’s bound to take a toll on mental health.

But as Jennifer Walker explored recently at Quartz, many PhD students also feel isolated and unsupported, exacerbating those issues.

Fixes to keep young scientists in science

We heard plenty of concrete suggestions. Graduate schools could offer more generous family leave policies and child care for graduate students. They could also increase the number of female applicants they accept in order to balance out the gender disparity.

But some respondents also noted that workplace issues for grad students and postdocs were inseparable from some of the fundamental issues facing science that we discussed earlier. The fact that university faculty and research labs face immense pressure to publish — but have limited funding — makes it highly attractive to rely on low-paid postdocs.

“There is little incentive for universities to create jobs for their graduates or to cap the number of PhDs that are produced,” writes Weingartner. “Young researchers are highly trained but relatively inexpensive sources of labor for faculty.”

Some respondents also pointed to the mismatch between the number of PhDs produced each year and the number of academic jobs available.

A recent feature by Julie Gould in Nature explored a number of ideas for revamping the PhD system. One idea is to split the PhD into two programs: one for vocational careers and one for academic careers. The former would better train and equip graduates to find jobs outside academia.

This is hardly an exhaustive list. The core point underlying all these suggestions, however, was that universities and research labs need to do a better job of supporting the next generation of researchers. Indeed, that’s arguably just as important as addressing problems with the scientific process itself. Young scientists, after all, are by definition the future of science.

Weingartner concluded with a sentiment we saw all too frequently: “Many creative, hard-working, and/or underrepresented scientists are edged out of science because of these issues. Not every student or university will have all of these unfortunate experiences, but they’re pretty common. There are a lot of young, disillusioned scientists out there now who are expecting to leave research.”

Science is not doomed.

For better or worse, it still works. Look no further than the novel vaccines to prevent Ebola, the discovery of gravitational waves, or new treatments for stubborn diseases. And it’s getting better in many ways. See the work of meta-researchers who study and evaluate research — a field that has gained prominence over the past 20 years.

But science is conducted by fallible humans, and it hasn’t been human-proofed to protect against all our foibles. The scientific revolution began just 500 years ago. Only over the past 100 has science become professionalized. There is still room to figure out how best to remove biases and align incentives.

To that end, here are some broad suggestions:

One: Science has to acknowledge and address its money problem. Science is enormously valuable and deserves ample funding. But the way incentives are set up can distort research.

Right now, small studies with bold results that can be quickly turned around and published in journals are disproportionately rewarded. By contrast, there are fewer incentives to conduct research that tackles important questions with robustly designed studies over long periods of time. Solving this won’t be easy, but it is at the root of many of the issues discussed above.

Two: Science needs to celebrate and reward failure. Accepting that we can learn more from dead ends in research and studies that failed would alleviate the “publish or perish” cycle. It would make scientists more confident in designing robust tests and not just convenient ones, in sharing their data and explaining their failed tests to peers, and in using those null results to form the basis of a career (instead of chasing those all-too-rare breakthroughs).

Three: Science has to be more transparent. Scientists need to publish the methods and findings more fully, and share their raw data in ways that are easily accessible and digestible for those who may want to reanalyze or replicate their findings.

There will always be waste and mediocre research, but as Stanford’s Ioannidis explains in a recent paper, a lack of transparency creates excess waste and diminishes the usefulness of too much research.

Again and again, we also heard from researchers, particularly in social sciences, who felt that their cognitive biases in their own work, influenced by pressures to publish and advance their careers, caused science to go off the rails. If more human-proofing and de-biasing were built into the process — through stronger peer review, cleaner and more consistent funding, and more transparency and data sharing — some of these biases could be mitigated.

These fixes will take time, grinding along incrementally — much like the scientific process itself. But the gains humans have made so far using even imperfect scientific methods would have been unimaginable 500 years ago. The gains from improving the process could prove just as staggering, if not more so.

By, Julia Belluz, Brad Plumer, and Brian Resnick and originally published on July 14, 2016 on vox.comand can be seen here.

Why Neil deGrasse Tyson is a Philistine

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article that warrants posting here.  I have seen a recent proliferation of articles in respected publications pointing out, bemoaning, and/or highlighting increasing problems with the trustworthiness of the alleged findings of the contemporary scientific community.  I find these articles to be particularly interesting given how our society looks to science as a (the?) source of ultimate truths (often as a mutually exclusive alternative to spirituality).  This sort of scientism may be misplaced, and these articles delve into the pitfalls that come with such an approach.

Here are the links the other articles I posted on this subject:

Be edified.

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Neil deGrasse Tyson may be a gifted popularizer of science, but when it comes to humanistic learning more generally, he is a philistine. Some of us suspected this on the basis of the historically and theologically inept portrayal of Giordano Bruno in the opening episode of Tyson’s reboot of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos.

But now it’s been definitively demonstrated by a recent interview in which Tyson sweepingly dismisses the entire history of philosophy. Actually, he doesn’t just dismiss it. He goes much further — to argue that undergraduates should actively avoid studying philosophy at all. Because, apparently, asking too many questions “can really mess you up.”

Yes, he really did say that. Go ahead, listen for yourself, beginning at 20:19 — and behold the spectacle of an otherwise intelligent man and gifted teacher sounding every bit as anti-intellectual as a corporate middle manager or used-car salesman. He proudly proclaims his irritation with “asking deep questions” that lead to a “pointless delay in your progress” in tackling “this whole big world of unknowns out there.” When a scientist encounters someone inclined to think philosophically, his response should be to say, “I’m moving on, I’m leaving you behind, and you can’t even cross the street because you’re distracted by deep questions you’ve asked of yourself. I don’t have time for that.”

“I don’t have time for that.”

With these words, Tyson shows he’s very much a 21st-century American, living in a perpetual state of irritated impatience and anxious agitation. Don’t waste your time with philosophy! (And, one presumes, literature, history, the arts, or religion.) Only science will get you where you want to go! It gets results! Go for it! Hurry up! Don’t be left behind! Progress awaits!

There are many ways to respond to this indictment. One is to make the case for progress in philosophical knowledge. This would show that Tyson is wrong because he fails to recognize the real advances that happen in the discipline of philosophy over time.

I’ll leave this for others to do, since I don’t buy such progress myself. I very seriously believe that Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, or Wittgenstein may have gotten just about everything right all those decades, centuries, and even millennia ago — and I know of no professional philosophers writing today who come anywhere close to rivaling the brilliance and depth of these thinkers.

Tyson is right about one thing: Philosophy is primarily about posing questions. But he’s wrong to view such questioning as a pernicious waste of time. If Socrates is to be believed, it may actually be the best way of life for a human being — and quite possibly the only way to avoid the dogmatism to which all thinking is prone, and to which Tyson himself certainly has fallen prey.

Allow me to explain.

Philosophy arose in the West when a handful of ancient Greeks began to question the truth of received (dogmatic) explanations for various occurrences. Whereas it was commonly presumed that the gods were responsible for the weather, crop yields, and a city’s success or failure on the battlefield, these early philosophers proposed, instead, that something called “nature,” which operates according to regular and necessary laws, might be the true cause.

These early philosophers were forerunners of today’s natural scientists, in other words, and one imagines that Tyson would treat them with the kind of condescending respect that scientists often reserve for their forerunners in the history of science. This is especially likely in the case of Democritus, who made an uncannily good guess when he proposed at some point late in the fifth century B.C. that all matter is composed of indivisible particles called “atoms.”

Socrates appears to have been one of these natural philosophers in his youth. But at some point he became convinced that the anti-dogmatism of his fellow philosophers concealed an even deeper dogmatism. Like the poets, politicians, and craftsmen he regularly talked to on the streets of Athens, the natural philosophers were incapable of giving a coherent account of their own activity and why it was good. They couldn’t explain the nature and origins of the concepts they presupposed in their own thinking. They couldn’t consistently define what they meant by such fundamental ideas as truth, goodness, nobility, beauty, and justice. Neither could they consistently explain what they hoped for from the knowledge they so passionately pursued.

If the natural philosophers truly wished to liberate themselves from dogma in all of its forms and live lives of complete intellectual wakefulness and self-awareness, they would need to pose far more searching questions. They would need to begin reflecting on human nature as both a part of and distinct from the wider natural world. They would need to begin examining their own minds and motives, very much including their motives in taking up the pursuit of philosophical knowledge in the first place.

Philosophy rightly understood is the mind’s rigorous, open-ended, radically undogmatic pursuit of this self-knowledge.

If what you crave is answers, the study of philosophy in this sense can be hugely frustrating and unsatisfying. But if you want to understand yourself as well as the world around you — including why you’re so impatient for answers, and progress, in the first place — then there’s nothing more thrilling and gratifying than training in philosophy and engaging with its tumultuous, indeterminate history.

Not that many young people today recognize its value. There are always an abundance of reasons to resist raising the peskiest, most difficult questions of oneself and the world. To that list, our time has added several more: technological distractions, economic imperatives, cultural prejudices, ideological commitments.

And now Neil deGrasse Tyson has added another — one specially aimed at persuading scientifically minded young people to reject self-examination and the self-knowledge that goes along with it.

He should be ashamed of himself.

By Damon Linker and originally published in The Week on May 6, 2014 and can be found here.

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