THE Science, Ideology, and 'Disruptive' Research

Sorry for the long title, but the forum insisted that I have more characters in the title. And you know about INTJs and rules… :sunglasses: Bonus points if you know the reference without looking it up [Mod Edit: Original Subtitle - How I Stopped Worrying and Loved the Bomb]

I have wanted to have this discussion on this forum for a while. It’s different than the other thread on science that’s going on right now. I want this discussion to focus on Science, but I do have to make a couple political references to do that. I hope that is okay.

The author of the article is conservative, which may be anathema for some here, but he brings up some good discussion points. He also illustrates the problem that intellectual oriented conservatives like me have with how science is presented nowadays. I can think of no better way to start making science credible for all again than to discuss it here with people of good character with varying viewpoints.

I almost forgot to add. This has a huge faith and science implication. I think most YECs are conservative and because of the seeming hostility of science toward conservatives in general, it simply reinforces their idea that that can’t get a fair hearing. If we can finally make science seem to be fair and not against conservatives, we can eliminate a big roadblock for YECs. Realize this is more about perceptions than actuality…

It does raise an important question, and one that needs to be addressed. But it needs to be addressed carefully.

How vulnerable is the scientific consensus to groupthink, cultural and political pressure, and the like?

One would have to be pretty naive and misguided to say that it isn’t affected by it at all. But at the same time, you’d have to be just as naive and misguided to think that you could cite groupthink and cultural and political pressure as a get-out-of-jail-free card to let you dismiss any and every scientific finding that you don’t like.

For that reason, I tend to look for factors over and above the scientific consensus when considering why something should be considered “settled science.” For example:

  • Does the science in question have any practical or commercial applications? In other words, does its ability to Get Things Done depend on it being correct rather than ideologically convenient? For example, old earth geology has proven itself time and time again in its ability to find oil.
  • Does the science in question have any other scientific theories that depend on it? If foundational scientific theories, such as gravity, electromagnetism, or evolution, turned out to be wrong, then all the other scientific theories that depend on them would also have to be wrong as well.
  • Which side has the more obvious conflict of interest? For example, the reality of man made climate change poses a trillion dollar threat to the profitability of oil companies if people take it seriously.
  • How detailed and mature is the scientific consensus? Could it be reasonably accounted for by political bias in the publication process (selecting which papers get published and which ones do not) or would it require vast numbers of scientists to be falsifying data in a tightly coordinated manner on an industrial scale over many decades if it were wrong?
  • Which side has the higher quality arguments? Real science backs up its claims with graphs, charts, maps, data, measurements, computer simulations and practical demonstrations. If I’m faced with data and hands-on practical demonstrations on the one hand, and quotes from experts-for-hire and appeals to authority on the other, then I will go with the data and hands-on practical demonstrations.
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I guess I’m not really sure how to respond. I think the author of the article is a fool. I don’t think the article even remotely consists of intelligence. I think at best it’s pseudo intelligence or maybe it’s just another person who should know better and is good at school that is still completely absorbed by conspiracy theories.

Science is not against conservatives or even young earth creationist. Science is not for liberals. It just happens that the bulk of those that make up conservative theology and right wing policies are against science.

For example the article mentions Dr. Scott Atlas as someone attacked over being a political outsider. He was not. He was discredited as a medical expert because he’s not one. He went against what actual experts and scientists were stating.

The article though is not making a case for martyrs of intelligent, free thinking people being na usher over their lack of liberalism, but are self victimizing cry babies over irrational, and often harmful positions that are not supported by science.

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I have some idea why the general impact of scientific papers have dropped. This is a long post - no need to waste your time reading if you are not interested about the topic.

As a background, I worked in biology and during my career, the way how science was done and evaluated changed in my country, towards the style that has been the norm in much of Europe and North America. There may be differences between branches of science and countries, so my experiences may represent a small part of the whole.

Up to the end of 1970’s and early 1980’s, people appreciated influential original papers that presented an understandable and as complete as possible picture about a topic/question, with hypotheses that explained the patterns observed. The number of papers published was fairly low because researchers wanted to gather a sufficient understanding about the matter before publishing and publish the whole story in one paper.

In doctoral studies, students invested much time and energy to understand something and dissertated at a point when they were experts of the field - a Finnish-style doctoral thesis included usually 5-7 articles and the doctoral studies lasted typically >5 years.

Then came the ‘Bologna process’ where the studies were harmonized to the system used in western European countries. The length of doctoral studies dropped to 3-4 years, the quantity of articles in a PhD thesis dropped to 3-4 and the quality of articles dropped because there was less time to collect data and prepare the articles. One reason for the drop of impact in those articles was that supervisors only accepted topics that would give answers and produce the needed papers within the given time (3-4 years). Only low-risk questions/topics.

Simultaneously, the evaluation of success in the research track changed from quality to quantity. It is much easier to count the number of papers than evaluate the quality of papers. In universities, the evaluation of the research done in the units became connected to the number of papers published in certain type of journals. As this indicator affected the fate and funding of units, the units started to hire staff that produced many and short papers - short because it is easier to get a short than long manuscript accepted to a high-impact journal. Local universities adopted a tenure track system that put new recruits to a loose hangman’s noose - you have to publish a lot during the first 5-10 years to get a permanent staff position. When the old-style staff typically published 2-5 quality-oriented papers per year, for new recruits the demand became 10+ papers added to the publication list per year, as long as you get a permanent position. To get that many papers published per year demanded another type of publication strategy.

The new advice is to split the results of a research project to as many short papers as possible (maximizing the quantity) and try to get the results published in high-impact journals that publish short letter-type articles. Old-style manuscripts could be >5000 words, new-style articles aim to <2500 words. Anyone who has tried to publish in high-impact journals know that getting a 1000-word article published is much easier than getting a 5000-word article published. A shorter article = less information, so the general impact of a single paper drops.
A key part of the strategy is also international cooperation. When a network of researchers publish papers with the names of all participants as authors, that increases the length of publication lists of participants maybe ten-fold compared to what a single researcher can publish. International cooperation does not necessarily lead to less influential papers, often the opposite, but the influential papers produced by such networks are often global overviews rather than something groundbreaking or seminal.

Some funding sources give funding for ‘high-risk’ topics, projects that have a potential to make breakthroughs and findings that really change thinking. Most of these projects (maybe >90%) fail in the sense that the project does not produce anything seminal. To take the risk, the researcher should be in a position where 2-3 years of no production does not threaten the career. Most researchers do not have that priviledge, so they rather play a safe strategy: focus on projects that are likely to produce many decent papers, even if the general interest in those results is low.

A general justification for quantity instead of quality -thinking is that you never know which papers become much-cited papers. If you publish hundreds, it is likely that some of those papers will be much cited (influential).

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Strangelove.

Social conservatives deserve a fair hearing out of politeness and inclusion, particularly as we are all socially conservative in some regard, i.e. in to group loyalty and revere authority figures and common senses of the sacred, and partly because liberals are a genetic minority of about 20%, whose social conservatism is swamped by care and fairness. Liberals need desperately to learn how to manipulate conservatives, with honey not vinegar, showing that we have enemies and needs in common, only talking about what we have in common. In commons. The ruling class. The trouble is the liberal intelligentsia are part of the three sigma privileged class.

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I found the article to be very anti-science. For example, it dismisses Dr. Fauci and climate science. The picture of the Nazis burning books was over the top.

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True. I also found the article problematic in many aspects as it illustrated by example why “conservative science” views are lightly regarded. However, the question raised regarding whether political leanings influences scientific studies is valid to examine.
I wonder is perhaps it is a “chicken and egg” type problem, in that conservative politics tends to be that which attracts those with a conservation mindset, which is to be content with the status quo, and to be hesitant to accept change. With that mindset, how many would be interested in cutting edge research? In my experience, most with that mindset who enter science related fields tend to be engineers or make application based career choices like medicine, rather than primary research. It is also my experience, that within those groups, dentists and orthopedists and surgeons in general tend to be more politically and theologically conservative than the more cerebral specialties.
So. Is the relative lack of science coming out from conservative researchers due to lack of opportunity, or does it reflect a lack of production due to the lack of desire to enter those fields?

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What on Earth is conservative science? is this synonymous with Evangelical science? Transubstantiation science?

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Let’s see all those requests for funding (grants) from “conservative researchers” that were turned down.

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I see one of the categories is ‘science-as-christian-vocation’. What about plumbing? Social work? Car sales?

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Whoa! I was expecting the article to be bad(after reading comments, not because the author is conservative) but it has exceeded my expectations.
Two things stood out for me. First the mention of the British MP. This is what Andrew Bridgen tweeted about the COVID vaccines:

“As one consultant cardiologist said to me, this is the biggest crime against humanity since the Holocaust.”

The outrage is more about the Holocaust comparison (does he even know what it is?) than the anti-vax sentiment(I think… probably depends who you ask). He remains unrepentant, but it’s worth noting that he actually kept his job despite all this

And then this…

“The tiny number of graduate students in the social sciences who might be interested in researching racial questions that dissent from the “anti-racist” party line of the moment are strongly discouraged from doing to, and often can’t find a faculty adviser for such work”

How am I to interpret this? Can any genuine research be ‘dissenting’? I thought it was meant to be impartial. What would ‘such work’ entail? Perhaps best I don’t attempt to answer that here.

Ok, going back to the OP.

Not to me, not if they have interesting/valuable things to say

I didn’t notice, what were they?

The hostility is towards pseudo-science, if it even can be called that as mostly it’s just misinformation, anti-vax being the prime example. So unless one equals conservativism with anti-vax, climate change denial etc.
And this hostility doesn’t even have to come from scientists, ordinary people who can’t stand lies don’t take to kindly to it either.

And how exactly would we do that? Start acknowledging anti-vax, climate deniers…what else?

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Excellent points!

Probably Intelligent Design.

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Thank you to those who read the article. I appreciate it. And kudos to @Klax for knowing Strangelove! Somehow I knew he would and I don’t even know him…

Interesting replies. I am closely aligned with @jammycakes list. I would have picked a different example for point three. I would have said: climate catastrophism has been badly wrong for 50+ years, but admitting that poses a trillion dollar threat to the green energy industry, politicians, and activists if people were to take that idea seriously.

@SkovandOfMitaze. I apologize. I guess the article pushed some buttons and that was not my intent.

I really appreciate the detailed response of @knor, and I think that was the main thrust of the article.

@Klax has a very different view of liberals than I, but I agree that both sides need to cut each other slack and listen to each other vs immediately reacting in accordance with our respective meme-wrapped bubbles. As to the categories, I had to pick something and is almost always the case with me, what I want to do doesn’t usually fit with a pre-programmed category.

I find the response of @beaglelady interesting. Objectively, both Fauci and Climate Science (as presented by the media and activists) deserve much criticism. Of course conservatives are going to ridicule both, just as liberals ridicule conservatives for questioning experts and the orthodoxy. Again, the correct approach would be to listen to each other, and perhaps out of that would come better solutions.

I appreciate the response of @jpm. Science shouldn’t be either conservative or liberal, just evidenced based. However, it does appear to be heavily influenced by politics and culture, at least in how it’s reported.

Now I personally have a low opinion of almost all news reporting, and it’s lowest with mainstream sources. My reason is simple. Every time I am part of an event or have detailed knowledge of an event, the reporting is in error. So when I see some “science” claim in the news, my first thought is “I wonder what the scientists really said or found.” I dig deeper if I can. Those who don’t take my approach usually just decide based on confirmation bias.

As a conservative, I am certainly NOT content with the status quo and am not hesitant to accept change. The core of conservatism is individual accountability, personal freedom, and creating a society where all are encouraged to seek excellence. I think that idea that conservatives are resistant to change and want to preserve the status quo is based on the original view of conservatives and liberals, but many years ago that changed.

Now if we treat each other as individuals instead of groups, the labels don’t matter so much anymore.

@marta. People use hyperbole all the time. It wasn’t a big deal before it become fashionable to be easily offended. I think Mr Hayward’s point on dissenting research is that nowadays, certain questions just aren’t allowed for fear of being cancelled.

Possible discussion points (for and against) are:

  1. Disruptive science is dwindling
  2. Dissent against the scientific orthodoxy is strongly discouraged
  3. The media works to squelch dissent from scientific orthodoxy
  4. The political leaning of academia is hurting science by lack of diversity in thought, leading to group-think

I disagree that the hostility is only toward pseudo-science, unless you decide that any view dissenting from orthodoxy is pseudo-science and misinformation.

Let’s take the vaccine example. Most anti-vax people I have come across truly are on the fringe. However, there is a massive gulf between being anti-vax and questioning the covid vaccines.

I am very pro-vaccine. I keep up to date on what my Dr recommends. I even made sure to get the first and second covid shots. At that time there was reasonable evidence that they would help against the original strain of covid.

However, the vaccine was a very bad choice for my wife. A short time after the second shot her severe eczema flared. She had previously had it under control–she was one of the very first Dupixent patients. Whenever we would move, her new dermatologists would always comment that my wife had the worse case of eczema they’d ever seen. If you don’t know, severe eczema isn’t just being a little itchy. It’s such severe discomfort that you can’t sleep.

Our MD even told us that they made mistakes with the initial rollout of the covid vax, that it should have never been given to people like my wife. Meaning he was fairly certain the covid vax is what flared my wife’s severe eczema. Why? Because the risk of serious disease even with the original strain of covid for a reasonably healthy woman in her late 50s was low, but the risk of flaring severe eczema was high.

As time has gone on, the variants of covid have produced less and less severe illness, as viruses are often do. Killing the host isn’t a good way to survive. Yet many are still pushing for repeated booster shots, even though the best new studies now seems to suggest that the boosters aren’t effective anymore. Add to that the the newness of mRNA vaccine and the under reported vaccines injuries, the billions of dollars the vaccine companies have made, and the way and dissenting opinion has been censored (as the Twitter file releases show us). Thus it is not a psuedo-science or misinformed view to question covid vaccinations. Its actually smart to be informed and discuss risks/benefit with your doc.

In answer to your last point, the solution is simple. People need to recognize their own biases. The very words you picked show bias. I already covered anti-vax. Climate denier is a reference to Holocaust denier and is inflammatory–you probably just thought it was cute hyperbole. It leaves no room for those like me who accept climate change but reject climate catastrophism. The catastrophists have been wrong for 50 years, as those who pick worse case scenarios usually are.

A good example of an effective approach to dealing with bad science was Kenneth Miller’s take down of Intelligent Design. He took them seriously, didn’t ridicule anyone, and showed them to be wrong–at least to the open-minded. If reasoned debate doesn’t take down the bad science, the answer isn’t to start censoring and cancelling people. I know that is how those in power (from the church to academia) have historically responded, but that really needs to change. We need to be patient in explaining our position and showing evidence–using logic, not emotion–for as long as needed.

Yeah I know, I am fighting a lost cause…

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Thanks for your comments to each post. One interesting part was the claim

The core of conservatism is individual accountability, personal freedom, and creating a society where all are encouraged to seek excellence.

I am not sure this is a good definition of conservatism. Wikipedia defines conservatism as

" Conservatism is a cultural, social, and political philosophy that seeks to promote and to preserve traditional institutions, practices, and values. The central tenets of conservatism may vary in relation to the culture and civilization in which it appears. In Western culture, conservatives seek to preserve a range of institutions such as organized religion, parliamentary government, and property rights. Conservatives tend to favor institutions and practices that guarantee stability and evolved gradually. Adherents of conservatism often oppose modernism and seek a return to traditional values, though different groups of conservatives may choose different traditional values to preserve."

Whatever the definition, true science (hard or semi-hard) should not be dependent on the ideology of the researcher. The ideology may become visible in the interpretation of facts but as long as the research is based on facts, other researchers reading the facts can easily note if the interpretation is skewed.

In ‘soft’ sciences, interpretation may play a stronger role and the worldview or school of thought of the researcher may affect the conclusions more. Theology belongs to this group (‘soft’ or ‘very soft’), schools of thought have an influential role in driving the conclusions of research. Climate change, vaccines etc. are not among these ‘soft’ topics in the sense that the research is (or should be) based on facts. It is of course possible that popular and social media twist the conclusions to something that was never said by the researchers.

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Those definitions of conservatism are synonymous: let the rich get richer.

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@INTJ , greetings. Thanks for the discussion. I am just wondering…to me, this sounds more like libertarianism than straight conservatism. I may be wrong. Thanks.

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Some media does that. A whole lot of other media promotes it, and indeed dwells on it almost as if there is nothing else. In fact the charge that promoting mainstream science talking points gets authors more grants, money, support, etc. --all that works even better in reverse: If you really want to make a lot of money and gather a loyal following around yourself, just start spouting a lot of anti-science nonsense. That has made some people very, very rich. Make sure you follow the money in that direction too.

Regarding an earlier discussion point:

That is a tricky one. And it is probably true of a lot of responsible media a lot of the time. The question is … should it be that way? Any human field or labor will have in it somewhere mistakes, corruption, something that could be found to cast the whole field into doubt if that’s all that was known about it.

One could dwell on how there are car mechanics who will “find” bogus things wrong with your car just so they can make more money off of you. No doubt that happens - and continues to happen. So if in a fit of frustration I launch a huge media campaign to dissuade people from taking auto-mechanics seriously - to stay away from them and just let natural processes have their way with your car instead; will the car-driving world benefit from my message or pay a dear price for listening and heeding? When junkyards begin piling up even faster with prematurely disabled autos, the verdict about such messaging would become quite clear. So thank God for those mainstream sources who encourage people to generally heed experts in relevant fields. Such prudent advice is in no way declaring any sort of war on contrary or challenging research. But it is to (rightly) cast much doubt on those who, for ideologial reasons of their own, want to cast doubt on entire fields of expertise.

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It’s not pushing any buttons. I live in south Alabama saturated with far more conservative hatred than in the article. I was just putting the idea out there that personally I think conservative theology is highly toxic and that science is not pro liberal or pro conservative. It’s just science and it just happens that those who are liberal tend to side a lot more with the scientific consensus and that we don’t really need to meet them half way. We need to keep moving forward as they keep slowly dwindling away.

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Without having read the Nature magazine’s article that the author is drawing from - I’m nonetheless also intrigued with the question of why fewer breakthroughs are happening - and with the phrase of interest for the author … “we don’t know”. It’s hard to think that this mundane speculation wouldn’t have been dealt with, and perhaps they did; but one answer I would at least think about is: Is there an unlimited supply of “low hanging fruit” ready for discovery? Nobody is about to suggest (as people did just before Einstien and Planck) that all the exciting discoveries have already been made. Nonetheless, as regards very fundamental stuff of existence, the frontier of discovery has receded so far from easy comprehension for “the person on the street” that it takes a lot more of one’s life just tryng to climb up to the shoulders of increasingly towering giants before one can get some purchase on productively surveying what can be seen from those lofty airs and where to go next.

All this found some humorous expression from Douglas Adams:

“There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable . There is another theory which states that this has already happened.”

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Not true. Climate denial is just one of many conspiracy theories. Speaking of the Holocaust, your article had a picture of Nazi book-burning.

What studies are we talking about?

The ID people were invited to the American Museum of Natural History to make their case in a debate. I was there. They were treated courteously. They just weren’t persuasive. Who is censoring them?

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