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Yes there are some deep and severe problems with the way Science is done.  I venture to say I could "see you and raise" having spent most of the last 35 years specifically working on the practicals of What, When, and Why of Knowledge -- call it Applied Epistemology -- in the sciences, mathematics, and technology with a whip-around the Humanities.

Very few people have the ability to grasp a subject and put both their perceived importance of that subject and the actual and relevant importance of that subject to "Reality."  One reoccurring epistemological dysfunction stems from a person's acknowledgment, in some way, of their tenuous, in terms of depth, and ambiguous, in terms of width, Knowledge leading to an strenuous effort to support their own psycho-epistemology concurrent with a same or greater effort to suppress The Other.  In this instance the luxury the "hard" sciences normally have by using empirical verification and validation techniques (experiments) goes away.  Remove this luxury and they are forced into unfamiliar problems accepted as par-for-the-course by the "soft" sciences.  One of which being a mammoth increase in Uncertainty in both premise and proof.  An Uncertainty they are neither trained nor equipped to handle.  Thus, reverting to "non-scientific" conflict resolution.

Also it is, or should be, accepted that any scientist or researcher acting, on some level, outside their expertise is "just another person" with all the conclusions and implications that implies.  

One can wish for people to not be people and not to do nasty people-like things.  Never going to happen.  Expecting otherwise is merely going to end in (various shades of) despair.  

So far I've been talking about people who have, at a minimum, a small degree of commitment to The Truth.  

Outside of the Sciences, were most people live, there are people who don't care about The Truth but who deeply care, and fight for, things like money, power, influence, domination, & etc.  People who do nasty people-like things because they like it, they want to, they derive something from it as well as people who do nasty people-like things not because they get something from it but because it is their nature to do nasty people-like things.

The two examples in this post do share certain Qualities.  However they share more, and deeper, dissimilarities.  One important difference is the first cares, to some degree, about Reason.  The second could give a flying-fart.  This difference is crucial enough, IMO, to segregate the first from the second.  This by no means implies "Scientists" nor the scientific process nor even the Enlightenment philosophies from whence both spring are immune to criticism.  Far from it.  But it does mean the critical stance one takes to "Science" needs to be very different from the stance one uses for the Nasty People.  


She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 05:16:40 PM EST
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Most scientists that I know of, would have some problems in discussing "Enlightenment", because they really know very little about it, or some of the issues that you raise here. I am doing a course on epistemology of science and my supervisor (one of the brightest and most honest persons I know. The top scientist in his field) asked me what is that.

You are fetishizing scientists: They are normal persons: some are concerned about the truth. Other about power and that stuff. They are morally not any better (or worse) than politicians, fire-fighters,  businessman, priests, bankers, factory workers, whatever.

But even the ones that are honest and intelligent: they live in a very competitive, closed and ego-centered world. They have to adapt and make concessions. People have kids to feed, and morality and integrity sometimes take the back-row. This with the good ones. Lets not discuss the egocentered ones.

by t-------------- on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 05:31:14 PM EST
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I've worked with and alongside too many scientists to have any illusions about 'em.  

I ... simplified ... for purposes of categorization.  


She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sat Nov 21st, 2009 at 05:38:46 PM EST
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One can wish for people to not be people and not to do nasty people-like things.  Never going to happen.  Expecting otherwise is merely going to end in (various shades of) despair.

This is why political utopias fail. What makes them utopian is the constraints they place on the human behaviours they are designed to accommodate. The behaviours not accounted for tend to sink the system if implemented.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 07:17:54 AM EST
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But you can mitigate bad behavior... And a good way to do that is simply by shedding light and increasing public transparency.

Public accountability makes for a good control in many cases.

I always thought that what scientists need is just that the public is just as skeptical with them as it is with e.g., politicians.

As scientists (especially in Europe) were portrayed as angels, they had no need to show good behavior. So things became extremely lax (not in all fields).

Guess what: scientists behave as human beings, which they are!

by t-------------- on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 07:33:40 AM EST
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Transparency is important. The problem is that the public doesn't like nuance and any half-cooked scientific work is going to contain lots of handles for populist critics. So the scientific community gets defensive.

As soon as a branch of science intersects policy, scientific integrity goes out of the window, if nothing else due to the outside pressures. the usual status jockeying within a scientific community is bad enough without politically motivated intrusions.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 07:43:56 AM EST
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Does it get defensive because of that, or because some of them know that if they would make things public the stench would be unbearable?
by t-------------- on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 07:48:38 AM EST
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The problem is that a lot of what's published is half-cooked if not drivel. There is no allowance for the time needed to achieve something that really warrants publishing.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 07:51:28 AM EST
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To be honest the root of the problem is also philosophical end epistemological.

I once found a very serious problem in the work of colleagues. Serious, honest people. Really (I am not being sarcastic in any way).

They took 10 minutes to ack the problem and added that it had no consequence on published results. Well, I know it had to had.

But think about it: they spend lots of time doing the best they can and know. Large months of a big team. The psychological cost of assuming the error would have been too big. And, in some sense it was undeserved as we are talking of serious people that did their best.

My larger point is: extremely complex systems are difficult to model (mathematically and computationally), prone to massive numbers of errors. Human beings are smarter than baboons but they are not omniscient. Tackling the complex is... too complex.

I don't believe we can (as a species) do predicative science (with exceptions for some physics/chemistry/engineering which are SIMPLE in comparison to real life problems).

Relating to the global warming problem. I don't know if is exists as a problem, if humans are causing it. I really dont even care (me thinks peak resources will hit first and very hard. And proper peak preparation is actually compatible with tackling GW). But one thing I say: these complex predicative models are bonkers.

And I am not adding what I know about the pragmatics of the problem (I know a few things that I cannot write)

by t-------------- on Sun Nov 22nd, 2009 at 08:08:01 AM EST
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