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Newtongate: the final nail in the coffin of Renaissance and Enlightenment `thinking'

If you own any shares in companies that produce reflecting telescopes, use differential and integral calculus, or rely on the laws of motion, I should start dumping them NOW. The conspiracy behind the calculus myth has been suddenly, brutally and quite deliciously exposed after volumes of Newton's private correspondence were compiled and published.

When you read some of these letters, you realise just why Newton and his collaborators might have preferred to keep them confidential. This scandal could well be the biggest in Renaissance science. These alleged letters - supposedly exchanged by some of the most prominent scientists behind really hard math lessons - suggest:

Conspiracy, collusion in covering up the truth, manipulation of data, private admissions of flaws in their public claims and much more.

But perhaps the most damaging revelations are those concerning the way these math nerd scientists may variously have manipulated or suppressed evidence to support their cause.

Here are a few tasters.

 (...)[go read them at the link!]

Gravity does not extend so far from Earth that it can be the force holding the moon to its orbit; school students are increasingly reluctant to practice differential equations, that will only lead to the practice of more oppressive forms of higher math; the tide is turning against over-regulation, like Newton's "laws" of motion and Universal Gravitation. The so called `Cartesian', `skeptical' view is now also the majority view.

Unfortunately we've a long way to go before the public mood (and scientific truth) is reflected by our policy makers. There are too many vested interests in classical mechanics, with far too much to lose either in terms of reputation or money, for this to end without a bitter fight.

But if the Newton / Royal Society mail scandal is true, it is a blow to the Renaissance lobby's credibility which is never likely to recover.




In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 05:43:04 AM EST
Amusing but boring - same reason why I didn't quote the rest of Monbiot. Reaction of climate change deniers is far too predictable, and so is this.

At the core lies ethics in executing science, not the entire science body of climate change, and I strive to keep that the focus of my posts here.

by Nomad on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 06:29:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree. But reactions from both sides have been utterly predictable and boring.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 07:30:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you think that there is something in these emails that is less aggressive than what would surface had any other controversial field's private correspondence been outed?

Would even cosmology or evolutionary biology, say, prove "faultless" if hit with similar exposures? At the core of this IMHO, lies the fact that science goes to great pains to project an image of detached impartiality in its inner workings, while the reality is that, as in any other human endeavour, it is a product of great and often violent clash of egos, personalities, convictions and interests. To pretend otherwise, in climate science, quantum mechanics, entomology, or surface chemistry is inviting public disenchantment. This holds even more strongly for issues that are politicized. Think "heritability of intelligence". Think "peak oil".

The amazing thing is that despite all this egregious human fallibility and occasional pettiness, science works. I think that this is important to stress especially since the forces of obscurantism, especially in the US, will use such incidents not just to slander climate science, but Science in general. In this context the answer to the "scandal" is "yeah people occasionally behave badly (although I personally would protest strongly to my being judged publicly on the base of private, often casual, email exchanges), but the damn system works".

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom - William Blake

by talos (mihalis at gmail dot com) on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 08:35:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
talos:
Would even cosmology or evolutionary biology, say, prove "faultless" if hit with similar exposures?

Is the wrong question.

Why is no one asking if the climate deniers fake their evidence, lie, manipulate the public, whore for their rich benefactors, and other questions that might be of passing interest?

This is how you do a certain kind of PR - not by looking at the evidence, but by smearing the character of those involved.

It's completely predictable, and it's disappointing, but not entirely surprising, that the climate science camp has been put on the defensive, when there are so many possible offensive moves that could mitigate the impact of this.

But we won't get the offensive moves, because the climate scientists still think it's about the quality of the science - when it very much isn't.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 09:43:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, good point. And the extra advantage the other side has is that, generally speaking, serious academics wouldn't strike back by, say, hacking the anti-climate change camp's emails. Lack of principle is a great PR weapon.

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom - William Blake
by talos (mihalis at gmail dot com) on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 10:09:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you think that:

attempts to prevent scientific data from being released(2,3), and even to destroy material that was subject to a freedom of information request(4).
Worse still, some of the emails suggest efforts to prevent the publication of work by climate sceptics(5,6), or to keep it out of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(7).

occurs in other controversial science branches? Would it excuse the above, even when considering "violent clash of egos, personalities, convictions and interests"?

by Nomad on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 10:33:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That is the real question: How much bad science was going on at the CRU?

People exercising their pettiness, ire and general jerk-ness in online media is not what I, at any rate, would call an earth-shaking revelation. If there is nothing else, that part will blow over.

And if you know something is crap you would try to keep it out of a serious journal out of professional courtesy alone, so the "suppression" part is not a big deal.

But if they were doing tainted science...

How much substance do you see in these allegations?

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 10:59:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Monbiot references all allegations with links to the contents of the emails. It's easy enough for anyone to decide for oneself how substantial these allegations are.

Personally, I note that there is significant vindication for the problems and speculations Steve McIntyre has continuously posed about major publications of these scientists.

by Nomad on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 06:01:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well:

  • I suppose yes. Especially the "efforts to prevent publication of opposing work" and keeping stuff out of official reports.
  • It's not a question of excusing. It happens. It is unfortunate that it happens, but it happens. If any sort of illegal activity occurred it should be punished. I'm not convinced that it's happening more so in Climate Science than in other areas, however. But we will never know because it is unlikely that many other fields of inquiry provide very strong incentives for hacking personal email accounts.

So I could ask: Do you think that standards of scientific conduct are more lax in climate science than in most other fields? Is legitimate research that runs counter to the reigning paradigm being silenced on a large scale? If not what else does this whole debacle teach us?

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom - William Blake
by talos (mihalis at gmail dot com) on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 11:33:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not exactly the type of phrase I'd pick.

I'd question if holds up to science, as it has simply not been possible to reproduce or test some of the work published by the scientists mentioned in the emails. I hold reproducibility as of the key pillars of scientific method.

Even before the emails were exposed, there was no "science". The emails simply confirm this.

by Nomad on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 06:04:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
To provide perspective, has the body of problematic findings reached even 1% of what we know happened in US Government agencies under GWB? Non-technical administrators directing scientific personnel to omit specific findings, to revise specific recommendations and to deny funding for critical investigations that might lead to the "wrong" conclusions. It must be borne in mind that that sort of intellectual climate in the USA was part of the context that led to some of the abuses found here. This is not justification but merely context. Fortunately, that seems to largely be a thing of the past in the US, for the time being.  

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Nov 25th, 2009 at 08:11:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is a horribly bad analogy that allows the author, among other things, to believe this is about science.

And mixing up the difficultly level of presenting the physical sciences vs the natural sciences to the public makes me stabby.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 01:28:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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