May 3, 2015 | David F. Coppedge

Big Science in Crisis of Trust

A flurry of recent articles underscore the absolute necessity for integrity in science.

America is having a crisis of faith in science, worries Science Magazine in its May 1, 2015 issue. Todd L. Pitensky of Stony Brook University offers six suggestions to restore confidence, including transparency, humility, righteous indignation at misconduct, and other character qualities.

Numerous psychological experiments published in journals fail reproducibility tests, says Nature. Only 39% of results could be reproduced.

The American Psychological Association is being hit with charges about collusion with the CIA on “torture” of Gitmo prisoners, says Science Magazine, which takes a left-leaning position on this controversial issue.

A fierce debate is going on right now about the ethics of editing human embryos, reports Nature. NIH director Francis Collins reiterated America’s ban on the practice, Nature says—at least for now, as western societies fret over the ramifications of China’s frontier experiments on genetic manipulation of embryos.

Science Magazine reports that a House panel is holding hearings about “politically driven science.” The AAAS, as expected, justifies all science and is finger-pointing at flaws in the investigation, but are they not an interested party as recipients of major funding?

The bar graph, that very common way of displaying data, is being criticized as potentially misleading, reports Nature (see Statistics in the Baloney Detector). For continuous data, it gives a false impression of discrete values. But P-values (widely-used measures of statistical significance) have also come under fire lately. They are just the “tip of the iceberg,” Nature says, of “shoddy statistics” in scientific papers.

Rachel Bernstein of Science Insider announces, “PLOS ONE ousts reviewer, editor after sexist peer-review storm.” How about double-blind peer review? Would that help? Nature says that actually poses a double risk.

Electronic media have created another ethical quandary: transparency vs harassment. Michael Halpern and Michael Mann (yes, the NASA climate change guy) at Science Magazine worry over the issues involved, such as disclosure, privacy, reputations getting threatened, chilling of free speech, and other bad behavior.

Japan is still struggling to recoup its reputation after the STAP stem cell debacle, Nature reports.

But why worry? It’s all just evolution, a paper in Current Biology says. Even “social amoebas” (yes, the microbes) have cheaters and cooperators. Two authors claim that “slimy cheats pay a price,” but maybe cooperation is in the eye of the beholder. Like the moral equivalence some relativists claim, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

Look, why don’t scientists just adopt the Ten Commandments? (see Prager University course). Then all would be well. Nobody would knowingly give false witness. Nobody would curse. Nobody would covet someone else’s data. If they all took Jesus’s summation of the law (to love God and love thy neighbor), every scientist would be eager for truth to prevail, regardless of who gets the credit. It would be a scientific utopia.

Instead, you have this crisis of trust. Scientists have God-given consciences which they deny, but they wring their hands over all these ethical questions, knowing deep inside that truth and integrity matter. On they one hand, they claim that social cooperation is an evolutionary artifact (therefore subjective), but then they go running to Judeo-Christian theological presuppositions for implicit moral support (i.e., we must punish research misconduct, we must stop plagiarism, we must do better than “shoddy statistics” and such).

Let’s laugh at Nature and Science. Force them to use their own presuppositions. “You’re evolutionists, aren’t you?” (Well, but of course.) Then cheating is an evolutionary game. It’s not wrong. We’re just like social amoebas. In fact, if I get enough cheaters to join me, we’ll become the norm and you guys will be the cheaters.” (But that’s not right!) “Oh, so you believe in objective morality? Let’s see you evolve that without God!” (You must be one of those stupid, ignorant, lying creationist dodo heads.) “Is it wrong to be one of those?” (Yes!) “Is it evil?” (Yes, it’s not right!) “OK, so you believe in objective morality? Let’s see you evolve that without God.” (Aaargh!)

 

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