Big Science Pops its Zits
If you think institutional science has a smooth complexion, look closer. From every angle, serious blemishes are coming to light.
There are five times more urban foxes in England than we thought (New Scientist). Some biologists think red foxes are multiplying in cities and vanishing from the countryside. This article puts the blame on scientists’ methods of counting them. “It is also possible that foxes haven’t become much more numerous in cities – we just didn’t realise they were there before,” Aisling Irwin writes. And it’s not just foxes. “Older figures for bird and mammal populations have often turned out to be gross underestimates” too, one conservationist points out. What might this mean for published numbers of endangered species and other population estimates? Scientists have been outfoxed by animals they didn’t even know where there.
Ancient human disturbances may be skewing our understanding of Amazonian forests (PNAS). Whoops; the plots of ground scientists have been using to monitor rainforest ecology, called “forest inventory plots,” are not natural. “New spatial analyses show that plots significantly oversample areas with high abundances of archaeological evidence of past human activities,” this paper warns forlornly. “This suggests that our interpretations of the Amazon’s structure, composition, and function are based disproportionately on forests still reflecting the legacies of past human disturbances.” CEH reported earlier that scientists were unaware of the extent of historical human alteration of Amazonia (9/02/08). They were astonished to find evidence of vast civilizations that they knew nothing about. “It’s only been 400 years since they vanished,” one scientist said. “Why does nobody here know anything about them? They were living here for such a long time, and nobody knows who they were.” Clarification: nobody = scientists who were supposed to know, and thought they knew all about the rainforest.
Publishing: Journals, agree on manuscript format (Nature). In a letter to Nature, Quanmin Guo complains that different journals have different standards for formatting manuscripts. Because of this human procedural inconsistency, important work can be overlooked. “An ‘incorrectly’ formatted manuscript submission risks immediate bounceback by the authors’ chosen journal, irrespective of the value of its content.”
Does ‘publication bias’ affect the ‘canonization’ of facts in science? (University of Washington UW Today). Talk about fake news! Four researchers publishing in eLife Sciences consider cases where false claims can become “canonized” merely because of the habit of publishing positive results but failing to publish negative results. One example is how the consensus all believed that stress causes stomach ulcers. A maverick later had difficulty proving to his peers that they were caused by a microbe; the mistaken belief went on for half a century. The authors say that science “can” self-correct, but they cannot establish that it always does. Indeed, some errors have persisted for centuries or millennia because of trust in expert opinion.
“Science is a process of revealing facts through experimentation,” said Bergstrom. “But science is also a human endeavor, built on human institutions. Scientists seek status and respond to incentives just like anyone else does. So it is worth asking — with precise, answerable questions — if, when and how these incentives affect the practice of science.”
In an article published Dec. 20 in the journal eLife, Bergstrom and co-authors present a mathematical model that explores whether “publication bias” — the tendency of journals to publish mostly positive experimental results — influences how scientists canonize facts. Their results offer a warning that sharing positive results comes with the risk that a false claim could be canonized as fact. But their findings also offer hope by suggesting that simple changes to publication practices can minimize the risk of false canonization.
—Minimize, perhaps, but not eliminate. The authors reveal their own bias in the following paragraph, wherein they feel it necessary to assure their peers that they are loyal defenders of the consensus. Why do they feel it necessary to affirm two controversial claims? Are they afraid of losing status among their peers?
“We’re modeling the chances of ‘false canonization’ of facts on lower levels of the scientific method,” said Bergstrom. “Evolution happens, and explains the diversity of life. Climate change is real. But we wanted to model if publication bias increases the risk of false canonization at the lowest levels of fact acquisition.”
The end of their paper claims that evolution and anthropogenic climate change are supported by “massive volumes of research”. Then they affirm their faith in scientism: “Of all the institutions and methods that humankind have developed to make sense of our universe, science has proven unparalleled in its power to generate useful models of physical phenomena,” they say. “Nothing that we have written here changes this.” Now read our 12/30/16 critique of scientism.
Nevertheless, they do ask many hard questions about scientific methodology that make it hard to believe the problems could be easily fixed. “In the model of scientific inquiry that we have developed here, publication bias creates serious problems,” they conclude. And “at present, publication bias appears to be strong, given that only a small fraction of the published scientific literature presents negative results.”
They define “canonized” facts as those that “can be taken for granted rather than treated as an open hypothesis in the subsequent primary literature.” We have reported many of them in the pages of CEH over the years, especially in regards to Darwinian evolution: unquestioned repetition of the ideas that peppered moths, finch beaks and Lucy provide incontrovertible support for evolution, for just a few examples. A scientific paper will often just assert such things and include a reference to someone else’s publication. That’s how falsehoods can be canonized for decades; researchers just take them for granted as gospel truth.
What makes influential science? Telling a good story (University of Washington UW Today). After the previous revelations from UW, this idea stinks. What worse way to canonize false facts than to engage in storytelling? A grad student and two profs at UW praise scientists and journals that engage in “narrative” writing instead proving facts using technical details. The ending sentences of this press release should cause gasps from anyone who values truth over just-so stories:
The researchers used a crowdsourcing website to evaluate the narrative content of the journal articles. Online contributors were asked a series of questions about each abstract to measure whether papers had a narrative style, including elements like language that appeals to one’s senses and emotions.
The researchers hope this work might lead to advances in scientific communication, improving the odds that science might lead the way to better decisions in the policy realm.
Open peer review finds more takers (Nature). How many years have science students heard sermons that scientific peer review guarantees validity better than any other form of inquiry? How many know that peer review in its modern form has only been around since World War II? And how many know that today, peer review is under attack by scientists? In this article, Ewen Callaway points to a trending revolution in peer review, called open peer review, where scientists can critique papers online instead of in back rooms by secretive reviewers. Journal editors are hesitating, but there are “open peer review evangelists” pushing for the transparency provided by the new method. Yet open peer review presents its own set of problems – demonstrating once again that science is fundamentally a fallible human enterprise.
In Canada, case spurs concern over misconduct secrecy (Science Magazine). Here’s another example of a persistent problem we have reported for years (e.g., 9/08/16): scientific misconduct. You can’t have a scientific enterprise without trust in the moral integrity of scientists. But often trust is assumed, not taught. Like other humans, scientists can be tempted to cheat. In this example, researchers in Canada published tainted work involving “serious” misconduct and failed to correct it. The fallout is enormous. It includes the UW’s concern (above) that false facts can become canonized:
To the dismay of some scientists familiar with the case, however, UBC never publicly released the damning report or named the researcher, who has since left the institution. And critics say the case highlights a troubling lack of transparency in Canada’s system for policing scientific misconduct. Some believe the secrecy allows unreliable papers to remain in circulation, and could enable researchers to continue to raise funds from donors and investors who may not be aware of misconduct findings.
The biggest mistake in the history of science (The Conversation). As pointed out January 3, Darren Curnoe argues that science made a colossal mistake assigning people to different races. But in his article, he puts the blame at only one end of the political spectrum:
But race theory stands out among all of them because it has wreaked untold misery and been used to justify barbaric acts of colonialism, slavery and even genocide. Even today it’s still used to explain social inequality, and continues to inspire the rise of the far right across the globe.
In this, Curnoe fails to point out the far left’s role in these crimes against humanity. There’s plenty of racism on the whole political spectrum, but he fails to recognize that it was Democrats who endorsed the KKK (video), American slavery, Jim Crow laws and segregation (see Dinesh D’Souza’s interview with Vanderbilt professor Carol Swain). He fails to point out that Darwin’s half-cousin Francis Galton took Darwin’s theory and founded the pseudoscience of eugenics, which ended up killing hundreds of thousands of “defectives” in Nazi Germany and led to American politicians forcibly sterilizing tens of thousands of American citizens deemed “imbeciles” (see Darwin Day in America by John West). He fails to finger the Social Darwinists (primarily atheists and political leftists) for promoting “scientific” racism that led to genocides, such as those against Australian aborigines and the Herero of Africa (ENV). He fails to exonerate creationists like Ken Ham who use the Bible to promote the truth that all human beings are members of one single race, the human race (AiG). So as a scientist, how well is Curnoe performing in terms of unbiased research integrity?
Are we living in a Matrix-style simulation? (Phys.org). Many scientists fail to see how their claims can be self-refuting. In this example, Jason Kornwitz criticizes TV astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson and engineer Elon Musk for failing to recognize that their proposal we are all living in a simulation is self-defeating.
In principle, the strong version of the hypothesis cannot be tested. It is entirely unverifiable, unfalsifiable, irrefutable, and thus unscientific. This impasse illustrates the point that once we take one step along this dead-end path, its solipsistic end is just a few steps away.
Kornwitz similarly criticizes the Boltzmann Brain hypothesis (5/17/14). He knows this, too, is self-defeating, but doesn’t admit that it is a logical consequence of the leading scientific theory of cosmology: the big bang (see volume III of Spike Psarris’s DVD series, What You Aren’t Being Told About Astronomy).
A viscous solvent enables information transfer from gene-length nucleic acids in a model prebiotic replication cycle (Nature Chemistry). Is this proposition logical? A team from Georgia Institute of Technology thinks they are making progress understanding the origin of life by unguided material causes simply because they concocted a solvent that slows down DNA and RNA from locking up (strand inhibition). When they put artificially-constructed DNA and RNA into the solvent, they were able to demonstrate a primitive sort of “information transfer” by base pairing, provided they added in lots of free activated homochiral nucleotides. Their claims from this are grandiose:
These results suggest that viscous environments on the prebiotic Earth, generated periodically by water evaporation, could have facilitated nucleic acid replication—particularly of long, structured sequences such as ribozymes. Our approach works with DNA and RNA, suggesting that viscosity-mediated replication is possible for a range of genetic polymers, perhaps even for informational polymers that may have preceded RNA.
The PCI (perhapsimaybecouldness index) for this claim is astronomical. Did they demonstrate unguided formation of ribozymes? No. Did they get RNA to form naturally? No; that is an enormous problem for materialists. Did they get ribose to form naturally? Again, that’s an enormous hurdle. Did they demonstrate a natural solution to the homochirality problem? No, they used only homochiral ingredients. Worst of all, did they demonstrate the spontaneous generation of genetic information worth replicating? Absolutely not. The chance of that happening is staggeringly improbable (see “The Amoeba’s Journey” video clip from Illustra Media’s film Origin). This irrelevant paper contains more assumption than demonstration at every stage, but it got published the world’s leading science journal, Nature. What does that reveal about the logical expertise in Big Science these days?
Galaxy formation through cosmic recycling (Science Magazine). Check the logic in this article (again from one of the world’s leading science journals). It claims to explain galaxy formation, but it requires previous galaxies to work. Nina Hatch tests the reader’s logical reasoning:
Extremely massive galaxies are seen in the young universe, but their presence is puzzling because we do not yet understand how they became so massive so quickly. How do they get enough fuel to form stars so rapidly? The raw fuel for forming stars is cold molecular gas, and although this gas is common within young galaxies, we do not know how it is replenished once the first reservoirs are converted into stars. On page 1128 of this issue, Emonts et al. report observations that may provide our first clue to this fueling problem. They have detected a giant reservoir of recycled molecular gas that is replenishing the fuel supply of one of the most massive galaxies in the young universe.
Hold on just a cotton-pickin’ minute. “Recycled” molecular gas? Where did that come from? Why, from a previous generation of stars. OK, next logical question: where did the previous generation of stars come from? You can’t keep up this recycling explanation forever. You can’t assume stars to explain stars, and you can’t assume galaxies to explain galaxies. It never seems to occur to Nina that this is a logical problem. Big bang cosmologists have no primary evidence that big-bang-era gas can make a star; no zero-metal (Population III) stars have ever been found.
Please notice that all the zits pointed out in this article are revealed in the scientific literature by secular scientists. Big Science presents itself as the beauty queen of the knowledge parade, but underneath the caked-on makeup we find a lot of ugly sores leaking sour pus. That’s because scientists are only human. Isaiah indicted the human race, saying “From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.” Patting face powder over sores is as worthless as whitewashing a tottering fence. Science needs regeneration from the inside out. That can only happen when each individual (scientist or not) submits to radical remake by their Creator (i.e., becoming born again). Christ Jesus has provided full healing through his death and resurrection, fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy (1:18), “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” The Creator God champions reason, because He made a reasonable universe approachable through creatures He made in His image. But when human reason is fallen, it needs to be regenerated. That’s why the gospel must precede science.
Regenerate scientists can never gain exhaustive knowledge, because humans are not omniscient. They can, however, be Spirit-led to value honesty, consistent logic, and humility—moral traits Big Science drastically needs (5/24/15, 2/21/16), having repeatedly shown itself deficient in those essential qualities.