Saturday, January 29, 2011

Exploding the Italian Flag

Gavin Schmidt provides a two page review of Merchants of Doubt by Oreskes and Conway in C&E News (behind the paywall, out in the open thnx 2 Tim Chase) the house organ of the American Chemical Society. Interesting for several reasons, a two full page review of a book being long for C&E News, pointing out what is obvious and

The pattern of antiscientific tactics by the merchants of doubt is often constant across many different topics, the authors write. Frequently, personal attacks against individual scientists are used in lieu of addressing the substance of their conclusions. cherry picking of single outliers to counter well supported general results is common. The elevation of caricatures of the real science as straw men to knock over is ubiquitous.
elegantly nailing Judith Curry to a exploding Italian flag without naming her
But one of the strongest methods to deflect attention away from what the science has actually concluded is to find ways to exaggerate the mount of uncertainty. since there is always uncertainty in science - scientists work at the boundary between known and unknown - any strongly supported result can be politically "countered" by reference to uncertainty in an assumption, a piece of data, or an experimental procedure regardless of how well characterized that uncertainty is or how robust the original result. This tactic implicitly constructs the logical fallacy of suggesting that because we do not know everything, we therefore know nothing.
For some time, Eli has been screaming that teh science denial lives in a funhouse of cards, while the coherence of science provides strong support for its conclusions.
Denialism is reduced to throwing spaghetti against the wall and hoping that something sticks which leads to claiming that every one of a set of mutually contradictory papers are just wonderful.
In painting a picture of the world, a scientists look for support and contributions from many observations, not just a single point. As Gavin points out any single point has an uncertainty, which is why wise Rabetts look at the entire structure. While the so called statistical "gold standard" of two standard deviations is often invoked as being dispositive, experience tells us that it alone is neither necessary nor sufficient. First, there is that other 5%, which though small is not zero, and has hidden some real dross. Second, a statistical result without theoretical underpinning is number gathering. It is an alert to the bunny brigade to generate new experimental and laboratory work to test the numerology. Third, there are the twp cherry picking effects, direct (someone in love with their new toy) and indirect (journals love to publish bombshells)

Honest reports that challenge established structure are useful because in an honest world (which, alas, outside of the nurturing burrow is not any more) they are points of attack for the next study, and often, almost always, and those words cannot be repeated too often, if there is a coherent (a very important word) picture contradicted by a new report, it is the new report that gets shot down. Sometimes, building the gun generates new tools and new science. But there is another game in town, with really bad papers being used to stir up the naive. Ethon has been known to comment on the tasty liver sandwiches, but they do take time to (p)repair and in the meanwhile the shrews run wild. Bunnies observe this almost without having to look in the fish wrap of the week appearing in neon lights at Tony Watts' bar and grill. True, this keeps Tamino, SoD and others employed, but it also is getting old.

For the most part the way science has dealt with stuff no one believes or cares about (pick one) is to ignore it, but given the blog megaphone and financial support both direct and channeled through such as AEI, CEI and other places, this is no longer sufficient. As Eli predicted, the lasting effect of stealing the UEA CRU Emails is as a wake up call to scientists. While there is still back and froth about what bad communicators scientists are, one sees less and less stand along nonsense without contradiction both in journals, paper, blogs and discussion groups. There are signs that this is having an effect, but, as with atmospheric carbon contamination, there is a lag between cause and effect.


Timothy Chase said...

C&E made the article available outside the paywall:

Sowing Seeds Of Doubt
How some scientists can twist the facts to suit ends other than scientific truth
Reviewed by Gavin Schmidt

Now that I found it I'll give the essay a read.

Horatio Algeranon said...

Not knowing everything is not knowing nothing

Lazar said...

I believe the post-normal post-modern touchy feely equal opportunities approach is 'reconciliation'. All opinions are assumed to be 'equal'. Science is done by committee.

pointer said...

Who was it said that if repeat a Big Lie enough times, then enough people will believe it for it to become truth(y)?

chek said...

Hey - Judy C's the Climatalologist of teh Year!
(With the emphasis on 'lol')
And she won a T-shirt to prove it!

Tom said...

Mucoid Enteritis or bloat or scours is one of the main causes of death in rabbits. The symptoms are apathy, grinding of the teeth, squinting eyes and a loss of weight. Usually there is terrible diarrhea with a clear mucoid substance. (See this post for examples of all symptoms.)

Steve Bloom said...

Fuller posting drunk again. Pity his wife.

EliRabett said...

Let us not be too hard on Tommy, at least this is not the usual stream of profanities, however, Eli will start moving this sort of stuff into the hole.