August 8, 2017 | David F. Coppedge

Dishonesty Undermines Trust in Big Science

Before they can tell the public what is true about the world, scientists had better get a handle on honesty.

You can trust a scientist – to be fallible. Science is not entirely ‘out there’ in the world. Its findings are always mediated through fallible humans. And lately, there has been a flurry of concerns about their trustworthiness.

Bringing a ‘trust but verify’ model to journal peer review (Phys.org). As we have reported before, peer review is under fire (e.g., 7/09/16). This seeming gold standard of scientific superiority that sets it above all other forms of inquiry (according to proponents of the triumphal march of scientific progress) is itself in need of review. “Science would be better off if journals allowed for and participated in the empirical study and quality assurance of their peer review processes,” a philosopher and a practicing scientist said in Science Magazine.

Ethics: More research won’t crack misconduct (Nature). Two scientists from Columbia University wrote Nature, complaining that we don’t need more do-nothing studies. “US National Academy of Sciences has issued 5 reports in the past 28 years on research misconduct and detrimental research practices,” they say. “Each concluded with a strikingly similar set of recommendations.” Yet nothing ever gets done. And yet these academics’ own ideas seem unlikely to change matters, either. Their five recommendations all use the “should” word – a word reliant on ethical behavior.

Our obsession with eminence warps research (Nature). In a Worldview opinion piece, Simine Vazire complains that scientific establishments play favorites to the detriment of science. Should the Olympics give Usain Bolt a head-start in a race? Then neither should journals favor ’eminent’ researchers. So much for the objectivity on which Big Science prides itself:

Scientists are human, and thus susceptible to biases. One of the most powerful is status bias. Here, recognition is awarded partly on the basis of past recognition (so a scientist is more likely to get a publication accepted if he or she has a track record of good publications)….

When eminence begets eminence, noise in the system gets amplified. There’s an element of luck to who ends up having the most success, and that luck will build on itself.

Scopes Trial illustrated what science can’t do (WND). Bill Federer looks back at warnings about science made by William Jennings Bryan in 1925 in his summary of the trial: “Science is a magnificent force, but it is not a teacher of morals,” Bryan said. “It can perfect machinery, but it adds no moral restraints to protect society from the misuse of the machine.” In the hands of evil men, science can become an “evil genius,’ making war more hellish than ever. Federer also quotes Winston Churchill who warned of the dangers of “perverted science.”

Science is nothing more than the current consensus about how to do research in disparate fields, with methods for storing that information in external memories that others can use. In that sense, it is not different from any other kind of scholarly research except for its subject matter. And like any other kind of human-conducted research, science can never rise above the character of its practitioners. Undermine the justification for honesty, as Darwinian evolution does, and don’t be surprised when science turns fraudulent, corrupt, and evil.

Recommended Resources: Two books investigate the views of C. S. Lewis on science. The Magician’s Twin (ed. John West) contains information about Lewis’s fears of scientism run amok, and also explicates his views on the argument from reason for the existence of God. Jerry Bergman’s book C. S. Lewis: Anti-Darwinist puts to rest the notion that Lewis was a theistic evolutionist. Bergman shows the progression of Lewis’s thought from the early days after his conversion to Christianity, when he was less informed about evolution, to his later writings that were strongly opposed to Darwinian philosophy. He, too, documents Lewis’s passionate warnings about science turned toward evil ends.

 

 

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