We are regularly told in the news that Scientists have discovered this or that. Usually something that means we’ll suffer a terrible fate unless lots of money is spent RIGHT NOW.
But who are the scientists?
Whenever people mention “the Scientists” it makes me think of the Who.
The truth is that there are no scientists there are just people, apart from the odd gallifreyan, and as such are occasionally vain deceitfully charlatan lazy heroic brilliant honest depending on – well all sorts of things really.
Human beings have this strange habit which is called nominalization.
Making up long words.
Alright it doesn’t mean that.
Nominalization is the name of the strange habit people have for taking something you do and turning it into something you are. Taking verbs and turning them into nouns.
Science isn’t a thing it’s something that is done.
People do science but that doesn’t mean they are scientists. They are just people doing science, later on they might be dancing or singing or sailing. They’re still the same people just doing different things.
When people label other people scientists they seem to ascribe them mystical power, a bit like Tom Wolfe’s “Masters of the Universe”.
They also fall into the trap of thinking there is A Thing Called Science and, by implication, all scientists understand every part of science once they have been initiated.
There is a vast body of knowledge and very few people understand or even know about more than a small part of it, hopefully what they are working on.
There is one particular issue that turns up repeatedly scientists have to make sense of their data and to do this they turn to statistics and programming.
But how many of have any knowledge or training in statistics or programming?
One of the files that escaped from CRU was called HARRY_README.TXT
One part of this 15000 line moan is:
So, once again I don’t understand statistics
Quel surprise, given that I haven’t had any
training in stats in my entire life, unless you count A-level maths.
But Harry’s data and analysis are part of what is being used to influence the future spending of billions.
Would you be happy to fly in a plane if you read that this was an extract from the designer’s log.?
How about if he wrote that he didn’t understand engineering either.
The Scientific Method, as I understand it is just a poncy way for
Someone saying “ere I did this and this is wot I found”
And someone else saying “that’s pretty cool, I get that too”
Or more usually “you’re doing it all wrong”
Thomas Kuhn has written about the scientific method and how people (sorry scientists) do not accept new ideas but defend their position to the death. In fact Planck put it more succinctly “science advances a funeral at a time”
I strongly recommend Alternative Science by Richard Milton. This is a wonderful book, practically every page has a story of some sort of blindness.
My personal favorite is about Edison. By the time he invented the light bulb he was already a very famous inventor, and rich. He had a science park in New Jersey. To celebrate he had the park lit up at night, which was sensational as nothing like it (literally!) had been seen before. But professors, without going to see for themselves, wrote articles in newspapers saying this wasn’t possible and what a cruel deception was being played on the working man.
By the way Edison didn’t invent the light bulb, Joseph Swan from Newcastle had a patent for a light bulb a year before Edison, and electric lights had existed for around 50 years before this.
Edison did come up with an improved practical version of the light bulb. More importantly he came up with a means of generating electricity. Generating equipment and power cables are very expensive. Edison wanted to find ways for electricity to be used during the day time so that he could earn money from his generating equipment all through through the day and not just when it was dark. It is sometimes said that Edison also invented marketing to persuade people to buy and use the electric gadgets he invented.
The sort of group think blindness that stopped the professors actually going to look at Edison’s electric lights is still going on in every field of science.
2 books came out about the same time in 2007 describing the “success” (or rather then lack of it) of String Theory, a branch of theoretical particle physics, “Not Even Wrong” and “The Trouble With Physics”.
Amusingly when string theory first started you could not get funded if that was your area of research. Later when the String Theory bandwagon started rolling you could not get funded if you area of research wasn’t String Theory (in theoretical particle physics that is).
For a scientist to have a career they need to write papers and get them published. Getting published involves the editor of the journal and some peer reviewers agreeing the paper is worth being published. Being published is just the first step, what a scientist really needs is for other people to reference or cite his work. The more citations the more fame and success. Obviously papers that are already well cited tend to be cited even more.
As a digression any internet marketers might have noticed that citations are extremely like back links. This is no accident as Google’s page rank algorithm was inspired by academic journals citations.
What do you think increases your chances of being published and being cited?
Could it be writing what everyone agrees with?
Look at it a different way what happens when someone submits a paper that no one agrees with?
You can see how strong the pressure for conformity, for group think is.
Group think is that it doesn’t work when the accepted view is wrong. Everyone knows at least some stories about how “expert” predictions were hopelessly wrong. For example, trains not being able to go faster than 40mph as all the air would be sucked out and the passengers would die.
The great change that was ushered in by the Reformation and the age of enlightenment was doubt. People began to feel free to question and challenge what they were told.
Prior to this to much questioning might lead you to being labelled a heretic and burnt at the stake or worse.
Sadly it seems today many people have surrendered their right to doubt.
In some areas (String Theory for example) it can be hard to get involved. In others (rising sea levels) it is extremely easy requiring nothing more than a ruler, division and the willingness to look. Ok you might a pencil and paper too.
The price of not doubting, not challenging can be extremely high as we can fall victim to any scam to part us from our money. That might be a snake oil salesman or a government looking for ways to tax us more.
Would you like to buy your electricity at half price? This shouldn’t be too hard as over the last few years the price of electricity has raised to subsidise renewable energy. But its been done covertly. It is reckoned that the 2008 Climate Change Act will double electricity prices.
You can learn more by reading The Wind Farm Scam by John Etherington.
Or by visiting repealtheact.co.uk where you there is a link to an epetition to repeal the Climate Change Act.
If you prefer you can go straight to the petition