Thursday, May 14, 2015

Sites of Seepage Infection

Stephan Lewandowsky, Naomi Oreskes, James S. Risbey, Ben R. Newell, and Michael Smithson have published  “Seepage: Climate change denial and its effect on the scientific community” in Global Environmental Change (open access, but link is not live yet.  Email Stephan for copies), the thesis of which is that

Climate scientists have done an admirable job pursuing their science under great political pressure, and they have tirelessly rebutted pseudoscientific arguments against their work. Nonetheless, being human, scientists’ operate with the same cognitive apparatus and limitations as every other person. In consequence, it is important to be aware of the factors that may cause scientists to take positions that they would be less likely to take in the absence of outspoken public opposition. We refer to this phenomenon as seepage.
This thesis, that denialist mems have been forced into the literature by their ubiquity in the public sphere, a ubiquity induced by a well funded political and public relations effort from a small number of sources, is well explored in the paper (RTFR).  The short form can be found at Shaping Tomorrow's World.

There has been unhappiness with this paper.  The bunnies admire Stephan's touch.  Eli thinks it was John Mashey who pointed out that if we are conducting an experiment in atmospheric physics that everyone is part of, everything that everybunny does is test tube fodder for a social psychologist.

Sou started to dissect the response, when Richard Betts walked into the room at ATTP, so Sou took him apart and Richard Tol let on that he was color blind, which explains a few gremlins and there are various comments worth reading or not all over the place.  However, and there is always a however at Rabett Run, Eli has a thought about the agents of seepage.

While a bunny can always find a journal to hand over her or his publication charge money to, and arXiv exists, entry to CNS journals (the holey trinity of biomed, Cell Nature Science) is controlled by the nomenklatura and novelty is the password, that and being a member of the tribe.  CNS, etc., Eli will grant Cell an honorary membership here, journals are controlled by a small number of editors and function on both public and a professional levels.

These editors are both always look for "what's happening now" papers, and the papers that get published there get looked at by a broad variety of folk, especially if the editors pick one out for a brief, less technical, explication by a BSD (go ask Drug Monkey what that means, this is a family blog).  Taken together that makes CNS articles subject to retractions more than the rest.

Yes, there are ignorable rate journals like JPANDs or E&E or Modern Physics B where anything and everything is published, and specialty journals which will take anything that makes their specialty look important, like Solar Physics, which will take anything that makes solar cycles or cosmic rays look more important than they are, but you have to push the meme into the top journals before it seeps over into general scientific discourse.  Scientists as a group are politically oblivious.  Eli remembers sitting with a British top rate scientist at lunch and pointing out to him that Britain does not have a written constitution.  This surprised him.  Ms. Rabett would say Eli is generally oblivious.

OTOH, it also makes CNS the prime sites for seepage injection and once CNS start to leak, than other journals will join in.  The same argument can be made for funding agencies, program managers look for novelty to justify their programs.  One of the hardest things on a panel (and Eli has done this many times) is to argue for "number gathering".  That everybunny needs the numbers cuts little ice, that the mission of the funding agency is to number gather, cuts even less (well the Rabett team succeeds on occasion, but never enough).  Witness last year's problems keeping the Scripps Mauna Loa measurement program running.


Bernard J. said...

"We refer to this phenomenon as seepage."

I rather like the phrase 'racket creep' as an homage to the taxing effect of the squawking hawkers of weasle words, thimble-rigs, and sundry bastardisations of a system in which they cannot themselves work with any competency.

Whatever the term, the phenomenon is a psychological reflection of the danger of using eyechrometers to assess one's data, rather than cold*, impartial statistics. It's a lesson that scientists, politicians, the media, the general public and especially the Denialati should carefully reflect on, and if anybunny can't grasp the knowledge nettle themselves they should hope over to Tamino's for some leather-on-the-haunch reminding.

[*See what I did there... ;-) ]

Fernando Leanme said...

Seepage is roughly proportional to the natural logarithm of the radius of the scientist's head to the radius of the circle it wants to influence, multiplied by the difference between the knowledge in the scientist's head and the knowledge in the audience located at the circle of influence, divided by the degree of difficulty of the scientist's vocabulary multiplied by the efficiency of the communication means.

I wonder if they will quote me or insist on publishing this paper using simple psychobabble like they are prone to do?

Russell Seitz said...

Though many university libraries have tretrenched , there are still tens of thousands of B-,C-,D-,E-, and F- list science journals to choose from.

One unexplored metric is the number of journals in which proponents from each side of a controversy publish.

There's an unsubtle distinction between normative arguments, in which each of many hundreds of scientists publish in almost as many journals on both sides of an issue, and the sort of ersatz controversy in which the contrarian side is not only outnumbered by the number of relevant journals, but reduced to publishing in a subset so small that the journal to author ratio falls below unity.

Fernando Leanme said...

Russell, maybe there's a need to classify scientists and economists before the publication and citation statistics can be used.

I propose a cooperative effort to develop a very complicated equation of the type x = f(a,b,c,d) where x is the degree of heresy, a et al are parameters such as the number of times the individual uses "denier" or "warmist" on Twitter. We could also run a survey, asking the population targeted for segregation or binning, the most likely values for TCR and the expected sea level rise by 2100.

We could bin the target population into deciles, and prepare a really nice bar graph. To make it look a little more sophisticated we could discuss the herodotusity and parthenogenesis of the data caused by seepage.

John said...

I'd suggest that for "scientists to take positions that they would be less likely to take in the absence of outspoken public opposition"
(aka "seepage") much more gravely threatens scientific integrity than does making predictions based on sound/accepted data and analysis.

John Puma

Russell Seitz said...

How many journals did you say you'ver published in , Fernando ?