Democratising science

I got into a brief discussion on Twitter about democratising science, which some people seemed to think was a good idea. One thing I was trying to do was simply to work out what people meant. I’m still not sure, so this post is simply some thoughts, that may well change with time. One immediate issue is that science is inherently undemocratic, in the sense that one’s views are meant to be guided by the evidence, not by one’s opinions. I appreciate that those who are arguing that we should democratise science are not arguing that science should be influenced by people’s opinion, but if they are trying to engage with those who undertake scientific research, maybe they should be careful not to use terminology that makes it sound like they are.

Having come across this suggestion to democratise science, Warren Pearce highlighted a couple of articles. One called [t]ime to democratise science and the other called Forget politicising science. Let’s democratize science. I’m still trying to understand quite what is being suggested by the term democratising science, so below are just some semi-random thoughts.

  • As often seems to be the case, there is the sense that those who are promoting these proposed changes to science see science as some kind of homogeneous system where everyone who does science, does so in the same kind of way. Although the scientific method underpins how we undertake research, the details can vary wildly between, and even within, disciplines. Some science is fundamental, other science is much more applied. Some is experimental, other areas can be more observational. The motivations can differ between different fields. The direct impact that some research areas have on society can be quite different to the impact of other areas. Consequently, some of what seems to be driving this democratisation of science are potentially problems in some fields that may not apply to others.
  • Some of what seems to motivate this desire to democratise science seems to be issues with how we fund science, or how the results of science are utilised. These may be valid issues, but they’re not really doing science. In my view, science/research is the process of trying to understand some aspect of the world around us. It clearly needs some kind of funding and the results can clearly be utilised by others, but neither of these is actually doing science. I too have concerns about how science is funded and how the results are used (or, in some cases, not used) but this – in my view – is not something I would regard as democratising science; it’s more to do with the interaction between science and society. An impression I have is that some calling for a democratisation of science are doing so because they dislike our current socio-political-economic order and are trying to find some kind of scapegoat to blame for the problems they perceive, not because they really want to democratise science.
  • In one of the articles I mentioned earlier, it says:

    What democratization does mean, in science as elsewhere, is creating institutions and practices that fully incorporate principles of accessibility, transparency, and accountability. It means considering the societal outcomes of research at least as attentively as the scientific and technological outputs. It means insisting that in addition to being rigorous, science be popular, relevant, and participatory.

    Nothing is ever perfect, but most institutions I’ve been associated with aim for accessibility, transparency and accountability. Most scientists, I think, do consider the societal outcomes of research, but regard it as something that shouldn’t influence their analysis (i.e., our scientific understanding should be driven by the evidence, not by societal/political influences). Most researchers do aim to do their research as rigorously as possible. Popular and relevant is tricky, because sometimes we don’t know – in advance – the relevance of a piece of research, but you do mostly have to convince some people that it is worth undertaking.

    The issue of participation is a tricky one. Most researchers are simply people who followed a path (partly chosen and partly luck) that has allowed them to eventually be involved in science/research. They are participating. Many of those who do become scientists probably do start with some kind of advantage that helps them to follow that path, but there’s not some specific action that prevents others from also participating. We should be aiming (in my view) to widen participation and many institutions are doing their best to do so. However, this doesn’t change that those who are currently participating are simply members of the public who happened to become scientists; they’re not some special group who should now be excluded from being regarded as members of the public.

Okay, this has gotten rather long and it’s not all that coherent; as I said, I’m mostly just presenting some thoughts and don’t yet have strong, or even clear, views about this. My general impression, though, is that democratising science is a buzzword that appears nice and simple but is really a highly complex concept and, in many ways, seems to conflate science with all sorts of things that might be related to science, but that aren’t actually science (at least, not as I understand it). It also fails to recognise (in my view) that much of what it implies is already in place, even if there are many things that we could be doing better. Not only do I think that people who promote these things should try to be clearer about what they are actually suggesting (and why), they should also – in my view – be careful of trying fix what they perceive to be problems, by damaging a system that has proved remarkably successful.

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68 Responses to Democratising science

  1. Andy Skuce says:

    I do think that some democratic control over research is necessary, beyond the issue of which projects to fund. Of course there are ethical issues in which the public has an interest, especially in studies of humans and animals, but also there are physical experiments that perhaps ought not to be done—solar radiation management being one current example.

    One democratization step that I would like to see is open access to scientific publishing. More openness on the review process would be nice, as would better means (and incentives) for scientists and others to rebut published work.

  2. doug1943 says:

    Perhaps what ‘democratizing science’ means to those who propose it is this: scientists shouldn’t work on anythng — or certainly should not produce results which — might make some group of people feel bad. This probably applies to so-called ‘social sciences’, where it’s pretty much enforced anyway.

    Another possibility: science is a high-prestige area. But it’s not a ‘diverse’ area. Something wrong there — must be a result of racism and sexism. So enforce diversity in the composition of scientific communities, the way it has been done in other areas. This could be difficult — racial and sexual quotas for Nobel Prizes in Physics are hard to imagine, but, with enough ingenuity and hypocrisy, it could probably be done.

  3. Andy,

    I do think that some democratic control over research is necessary, beyond the issue of which projects to fund. Of course there are ethical issues in which the public has an interest, especially in studies of humans and animals, but also there are physical experiments that perhaps ought not to be done—solar radiation management being one current example.

    I agree. In fact SRM was the context that started this. I think the public have the right to have views on what research should, or should not, be done and how we should use the results of research. That’s, however, more democraticising decisions about science rather than democratising science itself. Some of this, of course, already happens.

    One democratization step that I would like to see is open access to scientific publishing. More openness on the review process would be nice, as would better means (and incentives) for scientists and others to rebut published work.

    Absolutely. I think publicly funded research should be available to the public. I can see arguments as to why this isn’t necessarily trivially simple, but it should still be the ultimate goal.

    doug,
    I’m not quite sure what’s motivating it. I’m very much in favour of more diversity and widening participation. The problem here, however, is bigger than just science but is a problem we face throughout our societies.

  4. RickA says:

    It would be nice if government funded science was done properly. Data should be provided and computer code (if necessary) to aid in replication. All the trials which produced negative results should be disclosed. Even if something fails, it should be published – perhaps not in a journal, but on a website dedicated towards publication of negative results.

    So tightening up what needs to be reported in government grant based science is a good idea.

    Science is a wonderful technique to learn about the world – but it is clear we have strayed from the path. It should be interesting to see the rest of the replication studies which are planned to be published this year.

    But already, it is clear that many studies cannot be replicated.

    This is not good.

    It is a waste of taxpayer dollars to allow grant money to be used so we don’t get good quality disclosure of the methods, assumptions, positive results and yes – negative results, obtained using that taxpayer money.

    I think that is all that is being referred – transparency and accountability.

  5. RickA,

    It would be nice if government funded science was done properly.

    As far as I’m concerned, a great deal (a majority of) government funded research is done very carefully.

    Data should be provided and computer code (if necessary) to aid in replication

    A lot of it is. There are now rules that require this that are – as far as I’m aware – followed quite closely.

    All the trials which produced negative results should be disclosed.

    This is probably mainly an issue in some areas of medical/pharmaceutical research and, again, there are strong moves to resolve this.

    but it is clear we have strayed from the path.

    No it’s not.

    But already, it is clear that many studies cannot be replicated.

    My understanding is that the evidence for this mainly comes from one research area. Extrapolating this to all research areas, while complaining about how others undertake research, is somewhat ironic.

    I think that is all that is being referred – transparency and accountability.

    I get the impression that you haven’t read this articles, because they seem to discuss a great deal more than simply this.

  6. John Hartz says:

    Here’s a clear example of how to undemocratizescience — straight out of the Nazi playbook I would add…

    As an Arctic researcher, I’m used to gaps in data. Just over 1% of US Arctic waters have been surveyed to modern standards. In truth, some of the maps we use today haven’t been updated since the second world war. Navigating uncharted waters can prove difficult, but it comes with the territory of working in such a remote part of the world.

    Over the past two months though, I’ve been navigating a different type of uncharted territory: the deleting of what little data we have by the Trump administration.

    At first, the distress flare of lost data came as a surge of defunct links on 21 January. The US National Strategy for the Arctic, the Implementation Plan for the Strategy, and the report on our progress all gone within a matter of minutes. As I watched more and more links turned red, I frantically combed the internet for archived versions of our country’s most important polar policies.

    I had no idea then that this disappearing act had just begun.

    I am an Arctic researcher. Donald Trump is deleting my citations by Victoria Hermann, Guardian, March 28, 2017

  7. In these articles (and just about every other article concerning scientific funding), there was a surprisingly unquestioned narrative that scientific funding is not currently carefully managed by scientists. Reading articles, you’d think that the funding agencies would chose projects entirely by industry CEO’s or politicians and not committees of scientists (as is the case). These grants are not easy to win, and existing projects require a good deal of scientific merit AT THE MOMENT.

    That being said, there IS a tendency to fund certain fields of research more than others, and that tendency seems to come from a desire for research to serve a purpose. Democratizing science the way the article in “New Scientist” proposed would yield the exact same results.

    It’s also comical that these authors seem ignorant of the fact that most of science has applications that are unpredictable. Because the results of experiments are somewhat unpredictable themselves.

  8. journeyintopostdoc,
    Your impression was similar to mine, that some of those writing these things don’t actually have a good idea of how things actually work. In some respects, the system already works in a way similar to what they’re suggesting, even if there are many things that we could be doing better.

  9. Windchaser says:

    All the trials which produced negative results should be disclosed.

    This is probably mainly an issue in some areas of medical/pharmaceutical research and, again, there are strong moves to resolve this.

    Nah, nearly every field has research that doesn’t pan out. But you don’t initially know if it’s because your equipment is miscalibrated, you used a reagant from a different supplier, etc., you flipped a sign in your calculations, etc., etc.

    If it’s relevant, then when you figure it out and write up your results, you might add a line in your paper like “using reagants with trace amounts of X reduced the consistency of our results”. But there’s really no need to publish every negative result. It’d be a huge waste of time, too, as writing and publishing already takes quite a bit of effort.

    There’s probably a healthy middle ground.

  10. John Hartz says:

    More bad news from the Turmp Regime…

    Trump has launched a blitzkrieg in the wars on science and Earth’s climate by Dana Nuccitelli, Climate Consensus – the 97%, Guardian, Mar 28, 2017

  11. Vinny Burgoo says:

    John Hartz, Victoria Herrmann is as much an Arctic researcher as I am. She googles stuff, is all.

    She’s quite a good example of ‘democratising science’, though. A good bad example, that is. She’s a noisy arty-farty with no expertise in science of any sort who likes to tell people what to think about scientific matters.

    Have you thought of signing her up for SkS?

  12. Vinny,

    Victoria Herrmann is as much an Arctic researcher as I am. She googles stuff, is all.

    Victoria Herrmann has published a couple of papers about the Arctic. Have you?

  13. Vinny Burgoo says:

    You mean you haven’t read my Googling in Art, Technology and Agency in Arctic Governance & Development?

    I forgive you.

  14. Vinny,

    You mean you haven’t read my Googling in Art, Technology and Agency in Arctic Governance & Development?

    I have to admit that I have not.

  15. Magma says:

    It didn’t take long for the dog-whistles and cheap shots to come out.

    Victoria Herrmann’s bio: http://www.thearcticinstitute.org/experts/victoria-herrmann

    Speaking for myself, I draw the line at personal, public attacks on young researchers and students. I found her record impressive; not all climate research has to be in the natural sciences.

  16. verytallguy says:

    “Democratising science” generally means giving equal weight to scientists and people who talk bollocks.

    It’s bollocks.

  17. William Connolley says:

    > Victoria Herrmann…

    says of herself “Victoria is interested in exploring the nexus of climate change, human development, and public policy in the Arctic. Her PhD research focuses on how images and aesthetic codes construct values, identities, and ideas of power in the Arctic since the Second World War. From a young age Victoria’s grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, has inspired her to…”

    So VB’s “noisy arty-farty” doesn’t seem too far off. More importantly, her claims of “data loss” appear to me to be drivel: http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2017/03/28/i-am-an-arctic-researcher-donald-trump-is-deleting-my-citations/

    > It means insisting that in addition to being rigorous, science be popular, relevant, and participatory.

    That of course is totally stupid.

    (this crossed with yours, sorry, via a laptop reboot)

  18. So VB’s “noisy arty-farty” doesn’t seem too far off.

    Maybe, but I try to avoid describing other people’s work in such a way 🙂

    More importantly, her claims of “data loss” appear to me to be drivel:

    Does seem that way.

  19. I’m not sure I grok what “democratizing science” is supposed to mean. I personally find it neither in the spirit of science nor useful in practice to constrain investigations by any measure of transparency of purpose or utility. By “transparency of purpose” I mean being able to readily explain why a certain line of inquiry is to be pursued compared to others.

    Moreover, it is not at all clear that the decreasing of federal funds for research (and greater decreases by private industry) and focus upon success has really made the process of funded science as successful as it might otherwise have been. I have read, in Science, of how only scientists with “proven track records” win awards, and that this means bright, young, bursting-with-ideas scientists in areas demanding expensive fieldwork or equipment must work under a proven-track-record kind of person, until they can establish themselves. Sure, this is how things used to be done 100 years ago, but taking chances on new areas is what science is supposed to be about.

    I also think the “general public” — rather than those who want to democratize science simply to diminish and dilute it, and I’m sure they are out there — really needs to be willing to work more at the business than have it handed to them as if on a YouTube video. (The dumbing down by video does not work anyway. You get flagrant, offensive, misleading comments, and even opposition-funded counter-videos.) I like to recall stories of Woods Hole, Massachusetts, in the very late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the mysteries of the great ocean deeps were being revealed, and, by accounts, people used to travel by train from Boston in order to attend popular scientific lectures on Sunday afternoons, some arriving earlier to spend the night on nearby Marthas Vineyard. This was part of the lyceum movement.

    Quoting from Rothenberg’s encyclopedic History of Science in the United States (2001), from a section on “Popularization of Science:”

    …Science was seen as having potential utility and, hence, in the national interest. This mood also meant that many individuals perceived science as having potential utility in their own lives. Americans also were by and large strong believers in natural theology and saw science as a potential tool for understanding the work of God by studying the natural world. These two forces — interest in the potential utility of science to individuals and to the natural and belief in natural theology — promoted widespread public interest in science and also shaped the nation’s scientific priorities. Fields like natural history found far greater support than theoretical fields.

    Jacksonian fervor [Oh, the irony!] for education helped to spread this revival. From primary schools through colleges, enrollment was up and science entered the curricula. At the younger levels, primers and readers routinely contained material on science and natural theology. At the secondary level, curricula for both boys and girls incorporated science. Colleges increasingly offered natural history and natural philosophy, as well as natural theology. Less formally, public lecturing also flourished. The lyceum movement brought science lectures to communities big enough to provide an audience. Science lectures were among the most popular, drawing as many as 2,000 listeners in a city like Boston. Books on science sold well. A field guide and textbook allowed any literate American with a little free time to become a naturalist. Those who preferred to read about other’s observations of the natural world have never suffered a shortage of material as writers like Jefferson, Emerson, and Thoreau, and more recently Stephen Jay Gould and Anne Dillard, have been widely published and accessible.

    The Republic also spawned a few journals devoted to science and many others that included science in their pages. Benjamin Silliman’s American Journal of Science, founded in 1818, kept amateurs and professionals alike current on the latest news of science and the scientific community. One Wisconsin land speculator turned naturalist cared so much about his subscription that his biographer uses the periodic lapses in his subscription as an indication of financial hard times. The American Naturalist, Scienific American, and Popular Science Monthly all joined in as the century progressed. Science also found space in the more general periodicals — for example the North American Review — in women’s magazines — for example Godey’s Lady’s Book — periodicals for young people — for example the Youth’s Companion — and agricultural journals — for example the Country Gentleman.

    Americans with shared interest in science naturally formed groups to share knowledge and experience, equipment, libraries, and the fun of doing science. While some of these groups selected members on the basis of expertise, more were open to enthusiasts. Local groups like the Syracuse Botanical Club, founded in 1878 by a group of female enthusiasts, found that pooling resources improved their scientific experience while comradeship improved the social side. Other groups, for example the Torrey Botantical Club, admitted enthusiasts and experts alike but were led by the experts. As science became more professionalized in Amercia, expert support of amateur participation declined. In the clubs and societies, this took the form of the emergence of professionals-only societies and the decreased participation of experts in groups that included enthusiasts. There are, of course, exceptions to this trend even today, primarily in the fields of ornithology and observational astronomy.

    Where did that United States go?

  20. russellseitz says:

    ” Not only do I think that people who promote these things should try to be clearer about what they are actually suggesting (and why), they should also – in my view – be careful of trying fix what they perceive to be problems,”

    Is a statement that seems paradoxical in the light of the long ideological history of attempts to change human nature and behavior to fit imagined political norms, and to use science as a source of new and improved tools for so doing. The efforts of soi-disant scientific socialists to create a “New Socialist Man, and make dialectical materialism the basis of science itself did not die with the Soviet Union or its totalitarian sucessors, and bioscientific behavior modification in the name of social engineeering has an avid and politically militant postmodern following.

    Bernal and Haldane did a lot more than make science education run on time.

  21. John Hartz says:

    Vinny: You ask:

    Have you thought of signing her (Victoria Hermann) up for SkS?

    Nope, I have not.

    BTW, the only person authorized to invite someone to become a member of the all-volunteer SKS author team is John Cook.

    PS – Don’t hold your breathe waiting for an invitation from Cook.

  22. John Hartz says:

    ATTP: Please delete the first of my double post.

  23. lorcanbonda says:

    To me the “democratization” of science is allowing open and honest communications of disagreements. It doesn’t mean “majority rule” or science by vote — rather it means respecting alternative viewpoints as something worthy of understanding.

    This is the way Democracy works. It is not nearly as clean or simple as an autocratic tyranny (as tempting as that seems — as long as I’m the head of the tyranny.) It is an ugly, tenuous process. The result of a true Democracy is an outcome where people feel they have a stake in the issues because their viewpoints have been heard, understood, and addressed (not agreed with.)

    The poorly functioning Democracy is when there are two loud, opposing viewpoints which complain about “the other guys” rather than progressing forward on a shaky, tenuous path.

  24. angech says:

    “democratizing science, which some people seemed to think was a good idea. One thing I was trying to do was simply to work out what people meant.” . Verytallguy sums up one attitude well. The question is why does the question arise?
    The answer is that the people wishing to reform, change,democratize or whatever science are unhappy with where the science is going and want to change it to the direction they feel it should be going in.
    Hmm, democratizing science sounds eerily like Democratizing science rather than republicanising it, must have another meaning I am missing. Thank you for the comments on VH. I think that any reforms [Surely draconian measures the [real] POTUS is trying to put through will get a lot of Attorney General feedback and emasculation.

  25. Wayne Boyd says:

    What a great article and great responses from your readers. The Trump presidency is, in my view, dangerous for science.

  26. izen says:

    Are there any working practical examples of democratised scientific institutions and enterprises that the advocates can cite to illustrate the advantages?
    Or is it all theoretical ideology.

  27. Those of us who live in democratic states, vote representatives to do our bidding, supported by a complex array of institutions. We rarely – except in the case of a referendum – have a popular vote in a specific decision. We in the UK at least vote for a party that publishes a manifesto and the constitution then bestows on the winning party or coalition the right to introduce and implement a programme.

    We the people do not decide directly on whether to build a new hospital in Birmingham, or help fund CERN, or HS2, or to promote funding for any specific initiative or project. So when people speak about democratizing science by increasing transparency or access or whatever, I am puzzled, because we already have a mature and well established institutions and forums for doing exactly this.

    We have research councils who doll out money and get audited by other institutions. We have universities that are scrutinized for the value of the research they do. We have research published openly in journals, usually with open access to source data, with transparency on funding, methods and results; in a way that would be a massive revolution of applied to privately funded research organizations.

    If democracy in science means an architecture of institutions that aims to ensure accountability, then we have that in spades. It mostly succeeds in ensuring that great science gets done and oversight and governance is in place to review quality at every stage. Science does pretty well when compared with most other areas in almost every measure you could consider.

    When needed – as with the ‘three baby’ research and its approval for use clinically – there are public consultations (in that case by the HFEA) that allow for ethical issues to be aired and for public approval to be garnered (it was, and showed the value of an informed debate).

    Democratic? Yes, by all non-trivialised measures.

  28. I agree very much with this assessment.

  29. John Hartz says:

    The US Supreme Court’s asnine decsison, Citizens United, opened the floodgates for corporations and the super rich to replace a “government of the poeple, for the people, and by the people” into a “government of the wealthy, by the wealthy, and for the welathy”. In this context, the push to “democratise science” is trivial at best.

  30. John Hartz says:

    Absent a federal climate change mitigation policy in the US, many state governments intend to fill the void as best they can…

    Donald Trump’s plan to bring an abrupt halt to America’s crusade against climate change will test California and other states like never before as they seek to wrest control of the nation’s energy future from a hostile White House.

    The energy plan Trump unveiled on Tuesday left no doubt that the states are now on their own — and that the White House is already poised to weaken some of their pioneering efforts.

    Left uncertain, though, is whether Trump can unilaterally relinquish the nation’s role as a global leader in the fight to curb emissions, or whether the progressive states — with an assist from legally savvy environmental groups — can preserve that mantle.

    Shortly after Trump signed his energy plan, Gov. Jerry Brown vowed that the president’s “outrageous move will galvanize the contrary force.”

    After Trump’s retreat orders on climate change policies, states scramble to pick up the fight by Evan Halper, Los Angeles Times, Mar 29, 2017

  31. lorcanbonda says:

    Izen writes — “Are there any working practical examples of democratised scientific institutions and enterprises that the advocates can cite to illustrate the advantages?
    Or is it all theoretical ideology.”

    In the pre-internet age, I did one of my master’s thesis on a similar topic. The gist of it is that there is no specific benefit to the science, however, it speeds up the implementation and improves the success of any changes that you want to make — particularly when you need the agreement with a large number of people.

    I was surprised by how much research is done on this subject and how counter-intuitive much of it is. If one person needs to make a decision which affects him, then he is better served by conducting the research in isolation. Adding one person to the decision making process reduces the effectiveness of each individual. In other words, if you double the workload, you gain very little improvement in decision-making.

    However, the reduced effectiveness can be advantageous during implementation of any change where you need the buy-in of many people for success.

  32. Mal Adapted says:

    John Hartz:

    The US Supreme Court’s asnine decsison, Citizens United, opened the floodgates for corporations and the super rich to replace a “government of the poeple, for the people, and by the people” into a “government of the wealthy, by the wealthy, and for the welathy”. In this context, the push to “democratise science” is trivial at best.

    Scrupulosity compels me to point out that Citizens United only opened the floodgates a little farther than they were already open; that is, it can be seen as merely an incremental enhancement of the power that wealth has always wielded, in the USA as in every country. But I agree that until the US is democratized, “democratising science” will be always be an astroturfing slogan, a dog-whistle for science deniers. For scientists themselves, as JH says, trivial at best.

  33. John Hartz says:

    Mal Adapted: I don’t disagree, but the overturning of Citizens United is still high on the list of “must dos” to restore democracy in the U.S.

  34. John Hartz says:

    Like the Energizer Bunny, the Climate Science Denial Spin Machine just keeps churning away…

    Prominent scientists operating outside the scientific consensus on climate change urged Congress on Wednesday to fund “red teams” to investigate “natural” causes of global warming and challenge the findings of the United Nations’ climate science panel.

    The suggestion for a counter-investigative science force — or red team approach — was presented in prepared testimony by scientists known for questioning the influence of human activity on global warming. It comes at a time when President Trump and other members of the administration have expressed doubt about the accepted science of climate change, and are considering drastic cuts to federal funding for scientific research.

    A main mission of red teams would be to challenge the scientific consensus on climate change, including the work of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose reports are widely considered the authority on climate science.

    “One way to aid Congress in understanding more of the climate issue than what is produced by biased ‘official’ panels of the climate establishment is to organize and fund credible ‘red teams’ that look at issues such as natural variability, the failure of climate models and the huge benefits to society from affordable energy, carbon-based and otherwise,” said witness John Christy, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, in his prepared testimony. “I would expect such a team would offer to Congress some very different conclusions regarding the human impacts on climate.”

    These scientists want to create ‘red teams’ to challenge climate research. Congress is listening by Chelsea Harvey, Energy & Environment, Washington Post, Mar 29, 2017

    I suppose what Chrsty has proposed would fit under a big tent denition of science democratization. Especially if they define legitimate climate scientists to be the “Blue Team.” If implemented, would this be an institutionalized form of Climateball?

    PS – Back in the McCarthy era, few Americans would publicly admit to being a member of the “Red Team.” What a difference 60+ years make.

  35. Mitch says:

    I am still trying to understand how science can be democratized. The fundamental problem is that only a few carry the science through to the end, i.e., Michael Faraday’s “Work, Finish, Publish”. A half-done science study has little value and soon disappears into the mists.

    As for having scientific papers be open source and accessible to everyone, I would love it. However, someone needs to cover the $2000-$3000 it costs to publish and archive it. If US grants pay for papers, they compete with salary money, so translates into fewer students.

  36. Pingback: Is the answer to the democratization of Science doing more Citizen Science? | Hypergeometric

  37. The $2000-$3000 cost to publish a paper is a problem, and it is intrinsic to the current model. We need more models like arXiv.org. It’s not like peer reviewers get paid, y’know.

  38. John Hartz says:

    “Democratising science” per the US House of Representatives…

    The House voted Wednesday to restrict the kind of scientific studies and data that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can use to justify new regulations.

    The Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act, or HONEST Act, passed 228-194. It would prohibit the EPA from writing any regulation that uses science that is not publicly available.

    It’s the latest push by House Republicans to clamp down on what they say has turned into an out-of-control administrative state that enforces expensive, unworkable regulations that are not scientifically sound.

    House votes to restrict EPA’s use of science by TImothy Cama, The Hill, Mar 29, 2017

    PS – How this bill will fare in the US Senate is an open question.

  39. izen says:

    @-” It would prohibit the EPA from writing any regulation that uses science that is not publicly available.”

    The cynic in me doubts this principle will be applied to regulating/approving drugs under the FDA given big Pharma invoking ‘commercial confidentiality’.
    The promise is to make that easier, ie accepting industry funded studies carried out in the 3rd world under lax (or no) regulation.

  40. John Hartz says:

    Here’s another way that the Climate Science Denial Spin Machine “democratises science” in the U.S.

    Climate Change-Deniers ‘Spam’ Thousands Of Teachers With Anti-Global Warming Packages by Nick Visser, Huffinton post US, Mar 30, 2017

    Has the GWPF dones somethng similar in the UK?

    Do UK climate scientists understand that they a part of a propaganda war?

  41. Susan Anderson says:

    Those of you not terrified of the horror that is the current Trumpian machine and its Congressional enablers, about to gain a majority in the Supreme Court as well, may have missed a watershed moment in this effort to claim that “democratisation” is what is going on. It’s a propaganda campaign to suppress expertise in favor of political voices that support wealthy and powerful interests. It is not surprising that Putin’s Russia is happy to interfere, with its history of jailing and murdering opponents. We’re not at that point, but dividing the west and breaking up Europe suits Russian power just fine. (Marine le Pen was just observed visiting Moscow – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-39375969 )

    Rep. Lamar Smith, powerful head of the House Space, Science, and Technology Committee, just held a kind of show trial of climate science Monday: “Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications, and the Scientific Method” featuring Christy, Curry, and Pielke Jr. and Mike Mann as the token real scientist. Smith was caught crowing about his progress at a Heartland (Koch group) conference a few days before. I normally prefer not to cite specialist sources, but this is a good review. Scroll down to “Denier Roundup”:
    http://us4.campaign-archive2.com/?u=d1f5797e59060083034310930&id=dccb527249&e=95b355344d

  42. Susan Anderson says:

    Anyone wondering how I got Putin in there, well, it’s a circus over here, but there is no direct connection, except for the potential to suppress dissenting voices and fire the referees. The effort to disqualify expertise as biased is part of the effort to remove people’s trust in facts and hardworking reporters in favor of disgruntled assertions they prefer.

  43. John Hartz says:

    SA: Putin has interjected himself into the discussion…

    Russia President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that climate change doubters “may not be at all silly.”

    In an interview by CNBC at the International Arctic Forum in Arkhangelsk, Russia, Putin was asked about the rollback of environmental regulations from U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration.

    “Those people who are not in agreement with opponents (of climate change) may not be at all silly,” Putin replied via an interpreter.

    Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday to reverse regulations imposed by the Obama administration that had been designed to curb the devastating impact of climate change.

    Trump’s Energy Independence Executive Order effectively suspends over six measures ratified by his predecessor, and though businesses have welcomed the move, environmental campaigners and many world leaders have condemned the action.

    Climate change doubters may not be so silly, says Russia President Putin</strong by Sam Meredith & Geoff Cutmore, CNBC. Mar 30, 2017

    Personally, I believe that Pution’s cyber warfare against Western democracies includes spreading pseudo-science poppycock about climate change.

  44. Eli Rabett says:

    Eli suggest first democratizing surgery and volunteers Vinnie and Warren for the exploration of this new feature.

  45. Susan Anderson says:

    hi John Hartz, I wasn’t apologizing, only making it clear the digression could be used to avoid looking at the rest. For a UK audience, I think the madness that has overtaken our polity is so weird as to be almost incomprehensible, though less off the wall since their Brexit. It seems we open societies are all too open to the theft of reason and takeover by powerful interests. After all, history through the millennia have shown that people are like the frogs who wanted a king. We worship lying certainty over thoughtful openmindedness.

  46. Susan Anderson says:

    Eli, as often, makes the real point: is true expertise irrelevant? Why is our future hostage to the promotion of ignorance for temporary profit?

  47. John Hartz says:

    SA: You have nothing to apologize for. The serendipity of your menitoning Putin in your comment and the CNBC article popping up was rather amazing and amuzing.

  48. JCH says:

    There were a bunch of claims at CargoCult Etc. that a certain Russian climate model was the best model. Also, a bunch of commenters oddly disappeared after election day. Were Russian troll spies commenting there? Word of the day, maybe that’s not a silly question!

  49. “`Those people who are not in agreement with opponents (of climate change) may not be at all silly,’ Putin replied via an interpreter.” Um, check my logic, and assuming the translation is correct, but if one works through the double negatives it sounds like Putin is embracing the reality of climate change: [~(~C)] => ~silly, where “~C” is “opponents of climate change” and “~(.)” is not in agreement. Of course if by “opponents of climate change” he means people who are trying to mitigate it, then the reading everyone seems to be taking of this statement is correct.

  50. russellseitz says:

    Izen,
    Herb York became a culture hero of mine when, as he sat next to the President ruminating on science policy, Ike remarked that he recognized relatively few names on the list of advirsory board nominees.

    Whereupon York said :
    “Why dont’ you know Mister President? All us scientists are Democrats .”

    And Eisenhower replied:

    “I don’t give a damn who they vote for, as long as they check their politics at the White House door.”

  51. John Hartz says:

    Another article on Putin’s statements on manmade climate cbange…

    Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Thursday said climate change was not caused by human activity, as the White House announced that President Donald Trump would decide by May on continued US participation in the landmark Paris Agreement limiting global carbon emissions.

    One day after visiting the Franz Josef Land archipelago in the Arctic, Putin claimed that icebergs had been melting for decades and suggested that global warming was not mankind’s fault.

    “The warming, it had already started by the 1930s,” Putin said in comments broadcast from an Arctic forum held in the northern Russian city of Arkhangelsk. “That’s when there were no such anthropological factors, such emissions, and the warming had already started.”

    The Kremlin strongman added: “The issue is not stopping it… because that’s impossible, since it could be tied to some global cycles on Earth or even of planetary significance. The issue is to somehow adapt to it.”

    Like Trump, Vladimir Putin says climate change not man-made and warming began in the 1930s, AFP/South China Morning Post, Mar 31, 2017

  52. Well that clarifies it. Must have been some complicated Russian.

  53. BBD says:

    Imagine if your country’s economy was ~75% dependent on hydrocarbon exports…

    Tell the truth about CC? Not likely, guv!

  54. Willard says:

    > More importantly, her claims of “data loss” appear to me to be drivel

    “Claims” sound a bit farfetched, just as was our Stoatness’ misreading of the word “citation,” which may mean something a bit more general than ze thinks it means.

  55. John Hartz says:

    Much of the following editorial bears directly on the issue of democratising science as raised in the OP. The edtiorial in its entirety strikes a chord with me. Also note that it was published some 14 months ago.

    NATURE CLIMATE CHANGE | EDITORIAL

    Reading science

    Nature Climate Change 6, 219 (2016) doi:10.1038/nclimate2953
    Published online 24 February 2016

    Scientists are often accused of poorly communicating their findings, but improving scientific literacy is everyone’s responsibility.

    Scientific reports are not very readable. That’s the conclusion of Ralf Barkemeyer and colleagues, who conducted a linguistic analysis of the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) documents that accompanied the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) (page 311). In contrast, they found that most media reports on AR5 scored very well, according to their readability metric.

    Although this finding is perhaps not surprising, it is potentially problematic. The SPM is supposed to translate the IPCC’s headline findings into a usable language for those charged with cutting the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. If they are unusually difficult to read, then they are arguably not performing their principal function — indeed, Barkemeyer et al. found that even seminal physics papers by Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking had considerably higher readability scores.

    The esoteric style of the SPM means that policymakers and the public are likely to go elsewhere for scientific information. That could be dangerous, as information is liable to get lost or be miscommunicated in translation. So, the argument goes, scientists should improve their communication skills, and ensure that documents such as the SPM are written in a manner that most people can understand.

    But such calls for the democratization of science — whereby even the most complex findings are accessible to everyone — cuts both ways. The research by Barkemeyer et al. shows that the established process of scientific reporting is actually functioning reasonably well. Scientists report scientific research, and journalists translate this into digestible findings for the public.

    If the concern is that those findings are miscommunicated, there is a good argument for raising levels of scientific literacy in general, as well as making the reports easier to read.

    Currently, only 2 members of US Congress have natural science PhDs. In the UK, only 6 of 650 Members of Parliament have science degrees. If decision makers had higher levels of scientific literacy, the quality of the translations becomes less important. Likewise, if the public were more scientifically literate, then the readability of the SPM becomes less significant.

    It may be wise to provide communications training for scientists, which is an idea that the IPCC is already exploring. But perhaps journalists and politicians should also be sent to science classes — teaching the skills to read science at its source should be a greater priority across the board. Everyone must take their share of responsibility in the march towards more accessible science

  56. Hyperactive Hydrologist says:

    At least Putin acknowledges that we have to adapt to climate change. Trump removed the requirement that federal officials consider the impact of climate change when making decisions. So currently if the US decides it wants to build a new nuclear power station with a potential design life, including decommissioning, of 150 years plus, they can build it on the coast and ignore future sea level rise.

  57. Regarding language, there is a bigger problem than simply being cute or communal among scientists. The late Richard Feynman mentions this in his report and story about his investigation of the Challenger Space Shuttle accident, where he notes how quickly he could exchange information with Shuttle engineers at KSC (pages 158ff), because they had and shared a common technical mindset and language. Technical papers are written expecting the readership understands this language, so that when someone writes “radiative forcing” it is expected to be understood to be a very specific and mathematical thing. Or, in statistics, if someone states that a 95% credible interval is between 0.3 and 0.7 they aren’t talking about the veracity of the writer or speaker or source. This is not only the case in the sciences or mathematics, but, surely and famously, applies to medicine.

    To change this kind of language, to make it more common, is surely unworkable. There are plenty places where popularization of science like this can be done, such as the levels of presentation used at Skeptical Science, or in Scientific American. That’s a moving target, too, since what amounts to “popular scientific writing” today is a lot thinner than what was written in the late 1960s. That often was far more technical, whether space was covered, or astronomy, and presumed a certain knowledge of maths. The unworkability is because people serious about these subjects (not only professionals) cannot communicate effectively if everything has to be a tutorial. People just need to know what a lapse rate is and, if they don’t, just like any serious student of the subject, they need to know to go and look it up and read up on it.

  58. Chris says:

    Yes, very nicely stated hypergeometric. Your comment has a partly similar theme as the Nature Climate Change (NCC) editorial John Hartz pasted above (i.e. the “Everyone must take their share of responsibility in the march towards more accessible science” part in the NCC editorial) but the point in your first paragraph is well made and to my mind is more realistic than the equivalent focus in the NCC editorial.

    The NCC editorial John pasted above refers to a paper in that issue of NCC titled: “Linguistic analysis of IPCC summaries for policymakers and associated coverage”, by Barkemeyer et al. NCC 6, 311-316. The authors used computational “sentiment” and “readability” tools to analyze IPCC Summaries for Policymakers (SPM) in comparison with quality and tabloid newspaper reports on the launch of the IPCC assessment reports. Since the readability algorithm assesses “readability” in relation to sentence length and word complexity it’s not surprising that the IPCC SPM scores lower on “readability” than the quality press, which in turn is less “readable” than the tabloid press. However, much in the same vein as your Feynman anecdote, a certain level of careful phrasing and technical language is required in a technical report (even a technical summary for policymakers) if the essential meaning is to be retained. It’s the job of a particular set of intermediaries (newspapers and media reporters and scientific advisors to policymakers etc.) to transmit the essential message to their particular audience, although it would be good (as both you and the NCC editorial suggest) if the target individuals (public and policymakers) were more scientifically literate.

    Of course it’s a serious problem if newspapers and media reporters choose not to represent scientific evidence faithfully to their audiences, or if influential policymakers prefer not to engage with the scientific evidence…

  59. Chris says:

    Following on from that, the two sentences in the Nature Climate Change (NCC) editorial John Hartz pasted above:

    “The research by Barkemeyer et al. shows that the established process of scientific reporting is actually functioning reasonably well. Scientists report scientific research, and journalists translate this into digestible findings for the public.”

    …make a rather Pollyannish interpretation, since in fact Barkemeyer conclude that:

    “The need for more effective communication to non-scientific audiences has long been identified as a crucial challenge for the IPCC31. However, it has becomes particularly urgent given the observed trends in newspaper coverage on the topic. Our findings are in line with existing studies observing a distortion of scientific knowledge in the popular media based on various journalistic norms32,33, in turn shaping the social construction of climate change34. Our findings also provide further evidence that the mainstreaming of climate change is likely to exacerbate this mismatch between scientific and wider societal understandings of climate-related knowledge: the more climate change-related news has moved beyond the science niche towards headline news in recent years, the more likely we have been to see increasingly emotive, opinionated coverage in the popular media.”

    …which doesn’t sound very much like “…the established process of scientific reporting is actually functioning reasonably well.” at all!

    Anyway we all know that good democracy requires both a reasonably savvy electorate and their access to faithfully transmitted information upon which to base their electoral preferences. Improving both of these would be good – right now it’s mostly the latter that’s the problem

  60. John Hartz says:

    Chris: Over time, press offices have more and more played the role of an intermediary between the scientists writing the paper and the journalists writing about the paper. If done properly, this development should improve efforts to correctly communicate the science.

  61. Mal Adapted says:

    Susan Anderson asks two fundamental questions:

    is true expertise irrelevant?

    Having just retired as a scientific hewer of wood and drawer of water (training to ABD level in earth and biological sciences, career providing tech support* for scientific computing at multiple federal laboratories), my answer is: “Oh, hell no!”

    Becoming proficient at not fooling yourself is a self-selecting process, a commitment to years of training and discipline. “Theoretically”, nothing irrevocably prevents anyone from selecting themselves for the profession. OTOH, the culture of science, at least in the US, has long left a huge pool of potential talent under-utilized: namely, women and ethnic minorities that have always been disadvantaged in this country. Over four decades I’ve seen progress, albeit slow and halting, on recruiting from those populations, with a long way to go yet. If that’s ‘democratizating’ Science, I’m all for it.

    Now, if Christy, Curry, and Pielke Jr. are proposing that scientists should govern their profession democratically, then I’d be cautiously receptive to discussing it, starting with “in many respects they already do.” Sadly, we all know that’s not what they’re proposing, and that truculent Trumpist calls for “democratizing Science” are a transparent subterfuge to keep fossil fuel profits flowing.

    Why is our future hostage to the promotion of ignorance for temporary profit?

    To this grumpy and cynical old man, the answer is: “t’was ever thus”. The current headlines merely signal a fresh assault by the historical forces of obscurantism. “If we fool you, we rule you.” Yet again, I’m glad I’ve had no offspring.

    * The best advice my doctoral advisor ever gave me was “Decide if you want to be a dead lion or a live jackal.”

  62. John Hartz says:

    The Fake US President has solved his problem of understanding scientists by elimating them from the White House staff…

    On the fourth floor of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, the staff of the White House chief technology officer has been virtually deleted, down from 24 members before the election to, by Friday, only one.

    Scores of departures by scientists and Silicon Valley technology experts who advised President Trump’s predecessor have all but wiped out the larger White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

    Mr. Trump has not yet named his top advisers on technology or science, and so far, has made just one hire: Michael Kratsios, the former chief of staff for Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley investor and one of the president’s wealthiest supporters, as the deputy chief technology officer.

    Neither Mr. Kratsios, who has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Princeton, nor anyone else still working in the science and technology office regularly participates in Mr. Trump’s daily briefings, as they did for President Barack Obama.

    SubmitTrump Leaves Science Jobs Vacant, Troubling Critics by Cecilia Kang & Michael Shear, New York Times, Mar 30, 2017

  63. Bernard J. says:

    Victoria Herrman speaking on the Australian ABC program “The World Today”:

    http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2016/s4647224.htm

  64. russellseitz says:

    John Hartz:
    Depemds on what you mean by “correctly:

    The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that in 1990, UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute found the number of self-identified liberals and leftists in academe was roughly equal to the number of moderates.

    By 2010 there were twice as many liberals as moderates, and almost six times as many liberals as conservatives. Looking at the social sciences and the humanities whence most journalists come, these ratios are even more biased in favor of the left.

  65. John Hartz says:

    Russell: By “correctly” I mean accurately translating scientific findings written in “science-speak” into plain English understandable by the average person. University Press Officers should function in a non-partisan professional manner and their “translations” (press releases) should not be influnced by their personal political beliefs.

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