Sunday, March 07, 2010

RSC Gate

Stoat is all over IOP gate and got sucked into Svenskagata, so Eli went looking for fresh meat in the submissions to the Parliamentary Committee looking into the CRU affair. Being an immigrant to chemistry, the Bunny thought he would look at the Royal Society of Chemistry submission, and found some interesting things there that actually contribute rather than vent. The RSC has clearly thought about the changing nature of communication and the attacks on science and scientists that have brought us to this pass. As usual, go read the whole thing, but the important parts of the submission are below. (Emphases added by Eli)

8. With the increased use of electronic media, access to information is widespread for scientists and the public alike. While this is a great benefit to society, the quality and validity of information available raises complex problems as valid scientific information and general opinion are presented side by side. The inability to decipher which information is legitimate, results in confusion, misinterpretation and may lead to mistrust of 'science'. There needs to be a clearer understanding in the public domain of what constitutes a reliable source, including an appreciation for the process that is used for disseminating research and the advantages of peer review.

9. The peer review system is central to the credibility of science: its purpose to prevent the dissemination of unwarranted claims and unacceptable interpretations. Formally published scientific research is subject to this authoritative process whereby a community of qualified, impartial experts examine the information and possess the ability to prevent publication. Authors generally protect their data until it has been peer-reviewed and published in a formal publication due to the competitive nature of research.

10. The issue of misinformation in the public domain must also be tackled. Just as the scientific community must be open with regard to their evidence base, those who disagree must also provide a clear and verifiable backing for their argument, if they wish their opinions to be given weight. When disagreements occur, the validity of the analysis must be established before credence can be given to any opinion. Increased understanding of the process of scientific research, firstly in the government, but also within the media and general public, is vital in order to foster a more open sharing of information.

11. Support from the scientific community is needed to provide context and to explain the process by which conclusions are reached. Encouraging scientists to openly engage with the public can only be achieved if researchers are given the necessary backing in the face of any unfounded arguments against their work. This support must come from the highest levels, sending out a strong message on the importance of scientific methodology and research and promoting open sharing of information between scientists and the wider community.

Comments?

9 comments:

Marco said...

Plenty of comments. At least a professional organisation willing to say what is obvious for so many scientists: people are being lied to, and the liars are getting a free pass. Don't dare to get pissed in public, or they'll go all Calimero on you:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calimero (especially note the Dutch interpretation of the word).

John Mashey said...

The *real* British scientific establishment has lots of good people.

Donald Broatch said...

Bravo RSC!

And what Marco said too.

Alex said...

Hmm, the Royal Society of Chemistry? Good show, I say.

Anonymous said...

So true. Little Mouse has a good surface knowledge of the science, but scratch a little and the lack of depth becomes apparent. Scratch a little and it becomes apparent that Prof Rabett does know his stuff. How are the silly mices supposed to know the difference?

For a long time Little Mouse believed the attacks on Michael Mann, because the defence of his work was so wishy washy.

Institutions must agressively back the scientists; otherwise silly mices will believe the thoroughly malicious attacks.

One day Little Mouse might understand what heteropotaxy actually means. The word; no chance of understanding the process.

Martin said...

Elakhet och oförstånd. Good somebody stands up.

Antiquated Tory said...

Pardon me, but what the heck is heteropotaxy?

B. Kalafut said...

"necessary backing in the face of any unfounded arguments against their work"

Up to and including institutional or other support for libel suits against those who accuse researchers of engaging in a "hoax" or "fraud".

Neal said...

There are two roots to this breakdown in the communication of science:

- The WWW has made it easy for any fool to publicize his/her opinion on any topic

- The WWW has eviscerated the business model of the news world, so real journalism, especially scientific journalism, has been following the trail of the dodo.

The result: There is no "Walter Cronkite", who would be accepted as telling things the way they are.

Maybe we need a champion, who could publicly take on the denialists: Someone who would be accepted by the mass media as a first-class scientist, and who also has good PR skills, and can argue on his feet.

My candidate: Steve Chu, U.S. Secretary of Energy; Nobel Prize in Physics, 1997.