## We Are Science

After a few days of presentations on (gasp!) science communication, a party was being held in Iceland. Many dignitaries, a few allocutions, among them one by a lady from the banking industry, more exactly a PR big boss from a Canadian bank. (When you hear “Canadian bank,” think serious business.) To this day one of her points stuck with me.

After thanking everyone for their enlightening talks, she said something like this. “You know what attracted me first when I entered this beautiful room? The photos on the piano. Images of people. I like to see people. People like people. It’s you that fascinates me, what you say comes after.”

A story connects characters with events, persons and deeds, agents and topics. A good science piece, to me, is one that allows me to see a scientist in action, trying to solve a mystery, sharing a passion for the object of study, showing what is done, and how. The why or the wherefore comes after.

Equations, data, code, never stand alone. If you want to sell me a theory, first tell me a story in a way I can hear an authentic voice and see the glimmer in your eyes. That last part could be a metaphor, but when “going public,” consider making it as real as possible. Image and presence matter. I’ve heard of conferences offering professional shooting sessions. Performances require preparation. Actors still need directors.

Imagine a scientist in your head. Your image may differ from the silly scientist stereotype. Or not – even scientists entertain it. We got a political problem on our hands, and we want to bring about a set of science based solutions. To paraphrase Wilfrid, the scientists’ image needs to change.

***

This first big step isn’t enough. In an exemplary abstract, Gabriel Lenz argues that scientific practices need to change too:

Political scientists should put aside questions about whether voters are rational or irrational, informed or uninformed, and questions about how flawed democracy is. Although they are interesting, these questions are secondary. Answering them in no way helps people—it does not help them with their violent neighborhoods, their declining incomes, their flooded homes, or their dying crops. Instead, researchers should focus on the first-order question of how to improve democratic accountability.

One radical way to improve democratic accountability and help people would be for scientists to run for office. But change can take tinier steps. Angela Potochnik recalls for instance that scientific practices are shaped not just by the need for the scientific enterprise to connect with the world, but also by the need for the scientific enterprise to connect with its human practitioners and audience. Verena Halsmayer argues that we should be following artifacts in the creation of economic theories. The following suggestion would compel theoricians to concretize their insights:

What I’m suggesting may not cohere with current academic practices. I could not care less.  Academics waste too much energy on stuff nobody reads. We’re past satisfying ourselves with communicatin’  – if what you’re saying doesn’t call for any action, why say it?

Let’s try to cut the empty talk and try to rock the world with our words. It’s OK to be angry, as long as it leads somewhere constructive. It’s OK to be stressed by our predicament. It’s OK to be an advocate too:

> [C]limate scientists who wish to engage in certain forms of advocacy have considerable latitude to do so without risking harm to their credibility, or the credibility of the scientific community.

There is only one time that matters for change – immediately, as Krishnamurti said time and time again. All one needs is to put one foot in front of the other. Collective action can’t wait until all agree on everything. Religion won’t go way and conservatism won’t disappear soon. Disagreeing should make us stronger.

Humanity is the only way out for those stuck in an echo chamber. Eric Holtaus is naming every identified victim of Porto Rico as we speak. Childish Gambino sings the happenstance of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) because he can:

I have no recipe to offer. Anything goes as long as we all agree on the following. The ideals of Open Science entail sharing everything with everyone. We need to show it to people because we’re all in it together, and because it rocks the world. We need to start doing things with our words. We need to accept everyone willing to fight with us, otherwise we will suffer the consequences.

Hence why we are Science.

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### 69 Responses to We Are Science

1. Willard says:

Since it’s becoming a tradition at AT’s, I should add the first comment.

In lieu of an SI, readers can consult my tweeting list:

I shall do as I say in the comments and show you a variety of scientists in action.

2. ecoquant says:

I think Science needs to clean up it’s own house first. I’ve heard geologists put down, as a category, by atmospheric geophysicists, and botanists maligned as inept by ecologists. There are people who advanced the sciences who only belatedly got credit, and still their stories are not widely known. What could be more of human interest than the stories of Marie Tharp? Or Henrietta Leavitt and the other “Harvard computers”? There are plenty of accessible tales about them:

And this isn’t only a story of the sciences: It applies to Mathematics and Statistics as well.

And what about Feynman? He’s a great example. People might love Joking, but how many of them are, when so motivated, going to pick up his The Character of Physical Law in response? Not many, I wager.

3. quite right on almost all of that. I would stress: play the linguistics game on the field of your choosing. When merchants of doubt offer to engage with you to review the science, do not accept the discussion based on their framing. One thing these scientists have perfected is the ability to offer discussion in a framework that is too easily misunderstood by the general public. Start with the big frame, the challenge that AGW poses to our species and many others and only agree to discussion within the big frame. If you allow yourself to be dragged into the weeds with arcane arguments about details, or limited time frames, or emotional appeals (fossil fuel ambulances, anyone?) etc. you have already lost the argument. Insist that the discussion take place based on the right questions.
Be ready to say: Wrong question. Here is what we need to discuss: (pose the right question).
be ready to repeat that formula. If you don’t understand why this is necessary, please take a couple of hours and watch Thank You for Smoking.

4. Willard says:

> I think Science needs to clean up it’s own house first.

It sure does, and I hope we can do both at the same time. One stone, two birds.

Speaking of which, check out this beauty:

5. Willard says:

> please take a couple of hours and watch Thank You for Smoking.

ABC – Always Be Citing, i.e. show something:

6. I like open science, science communication and have no trouble with scientists holding and defending political opinions, but disagree with many of the details of this post.

researchers should focus on the first-order question of how to improve democratic accountability.

Everyone should. Although the social Darwinsts will not. I did not study democratic accountability. In fact can only guess what is meant with that term. I see no special role for scientists who do not study democratic accountability here.

One radical way to improve democratic accountability and help people would be for scientists to run for office.

American scientists did in the primaries of the 2018 midterm elections. They lost at an above average rate. Scientists are generally honest and not motivated by greed, but scientific thinking is very different from political thinking. Scientific problems have an objective solution. Political problems are solved by building coalitions.

Furthermore, most scientists are introverts and not too good at connecting with people, which is important to get elected, especially in a high personalised system like the one in the USA.

Why would I travel to a far away city to waste my precious time talking to people in pubs? I can do that at home just as well if not better.

A scientific conference is an opportunity to talk to the few people in this world thinking about the same problems, a unique opportunity you do not get anywhere else.

Many conferences already have a public talk in the evening. That is a good idea and could be done more, but to spend all your precious time not learning and debating the state-of-the-art in your field of study defeats the purpose of a conference, no matter how many likes the above tweet got.

What I’m suggesting may not cohere with current academic practices. I could not care less. Academics waste too much energy on stuff nobody reads.

This is a much harder question that these two sentences. Science should make sure that what we do as a group is relevant, both morally because there is a societal need and practically because that is important for the public support of science.

However, we are already doing a lot of applied science, and politicians work hard to make science more and more applied as they want to see benefits within their legislative period. Ensuring that applied science is actually useful is also not trivial.

Those applied studies need a foundation of fundamental research. Unfortunately, for fundamental research it is very hard to judge whether it will one day become useful. Furthermore, as the tweet above suggests science is a hard job for relatively little pay. If you want to keep scientists happy with such labor conditions, you need to give them some space to play.

Many papers that are not read/cited much are often an important foundation for science (although most of those could just as well never have been written, especially if they are from the modern publish or perish age). The papers that are much cited and make the news are the tip of the iceberg and build on many less-cited studies.

Collective action can’t wait until all agree on everything. Religion won’t go way and conservatism won’t disappear soon. Disagreeing should make us stronger.

In an American context people may think this makes sense, but this has nothing to do with science. Science is not the enemy of religion or conservatism. There are many religious and conservative scientists.

In America there are hatred campaigns by the Republican party and fundamentalist Christians against science and as a consequence not many scientists identify with their tormentors, but that is not a typical situation.

But I applaud the main sentiment of the post. Let’s call on everyone to step up to make this world a better place.

7. verytallguy says:

how many of them are, when so motivated, going to pick up his The Character of Physical Law in response? Not many, I wager.

apropos of nothing, a book I read just a couple of weeks ago. How did it happen to be in our house? Left by my 18yo, about to part with us to start an undergrad course. In science, naturally.

What does this tell us? The next generation may well be better than ours?

8. What does this tell us? The next generation may well be better than ours?

I certainly hope so.

9. dikranmarsupial says:

One radical way to improve democratic accountability and help people would be for scientists to run for office. YMMV on that particular instance ;o)

“If you want to sell me a theory, first tell me a story in a way I can hear an authentic voice and see the glimmer in your eyes.”

This is fine for public communication of science, as long as we remember that in science the only thing that should “sell” a theory is internal consistency, consilience and support from experiment/observations, which for some of us may be a limitation in our public communication of science.

MMM, I don’t think my research topic (model selection in machine learning methods) would be of much interest to the public. You don’t need to go far from your immediate sub-field for a research level talk to be almost unintelligible. IMHO what we really could do with is something like the open university programs that they used to show on BBC2 when I was young, a bit more advanced than the prime time documentaries, but still accessible.

You can of course be aware of the “Peter Principle” and opt not to go for promotion.

Disagree with lots of that. There is an increasing pressure on scientists to do things of direct societal usefulness (e.g. “impact”), but a lot of useful work goes on that only has an indirect impact on society (for instance a lot of work on statistical methodology) or work that is of interest to society, but not directly useful to it (e.g. I’m fascinated by paleontology and astronomy/cosmology, but neither solves any of the problems of society – at least not today) and also fundamental research that is neither of interest nor use to the public, but incrementally pushes the boundaries of our knowledge forward. I don’t think that is in the best long-term interests of science or society.

Experiences of academia seem somewhat variable ;o)

I agree with a lot of what VV said, especially the last paragraph.

10. Marco says:

“If you must stay, my advice is: Do something useful.”

Like educating young people to critically analyze the information around them and prepare them for the general job market (yep, academics can do that, too;, in short: education, education, education. That this sometimes also leads to great scientific papers is a bonus, but if that’s your only goal…most will fail, and fail spectacularly.

11. Steven Mosher says:

Imagine that open science with a story that sells. who would have ever thought of that?

Some notes from the school of black hat hard knocks

Virtual Spokespeople sometimes work better.

Mr Clean will never be a #metoo causalty
and Betty crocker has no old nude photos that could pop up.

12. ecoquant says:

Seconding @dikranmarsupial,

While not _all_ major developments in methods happen this way, I am impressed by the creativity and productivity of statisticians and data scientists pursuing solutions to problems spawned by rapid genetic sequencing, biostatistics, and pharmacology. I have no direct evidence, but it seems plausible this is in part because funding for such work is plentiful.

Many of these methods have application in other fields, too. Professionally, I get to repeatedly use new results from this field, as well as allied fields like microbial and numerical ecology (e.g., Numerical Ecology with R, D. Borcard, F. Gillet, P. Legendre, 2018, Springer. I apply these to problems like taxonomies of HTTP USER-AGENT headers and their “genetic drift”.

13. Steven Mosher says:

Riding in a limo to graduation with Phillip Handler our selected commencement speaker. 1981
I cant recall why my little commitee had selected him. Mistake.
in the limo

Advisor: And this is our top student, Steven.
Handler: what did you study?
Moshpit: Philosophy and English.
Handler: why in the world would you study something so useless. what can you do with that?
Moshpit: I learned to avoid asking stupid questions, especially those of the rude variety.

Silence

fucker died shortly thereafter. sweet.

That said, the charge of being a useless academic has obviously always stuck with me.
I should probably thank him

14. Willard says:

Thank you for the comments. Will address them later. Before that, in retrospect, the point of my post could be to try to meet this kind of challenge in the middle of Darrell’s rant:

While there are merits in trying to tighten scientific results and that things should get better in the upcoming years, I believe we should embrace crappiness:

https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2018/05/03/the-pursuit-of-crappiness/

The basic incontrovertible point I’m making in my post is that most people trust people. In contrast, scientists are trained to trust ideas. In other words, what matters most is not Science that is trustworthy, but that scientists are. In theory, the distinction should not make any difference. In reality, it makes all the difference in the world.

Another point I’d like to emphasize is that when I say that “we are science,” both the “we” and the “science” should be inclusive. I’d like to bypass any need for a demarcation between science and not science or scientist and non-scientist. In my experience, these questions lead to futile in-fighting. I’d like to focus on the final objective – a scientific worldview that everyone shares.

I’ll follow up that point later as a soup needs to be made and a dog needs to be walked. So I’ll conclude with a shout out to the #actuallivingscientist hashtag and an example:

15. ecoquant says:

@Willard,

The basic incontrovertible point I’m making in my post is that most people trust people. In contrast, scientists are trained to trust ideas. In other words, it is not Science that is trustworthy, but scientists. In theory, the distinction should not make any difference. In reality, it makes all the difference in the world.

Yeah, except that some groups, including both very conservative and very progressive groups, now assess one’s trustworthiness by association. For example — and this is only because I have more experience with progressive groups than conservative groups (I generally belong to them) — scientists who work for corporations are often distrusted by definition. On the far Left of things, I have read and heard “scientific thinking” as maligned as colonialist white people’s dominating enablement. Undoubtedly on the far Right of things, scientific thinking might be associated with schemes for world domination by a central global government. (I wouldn’t really know.) “Problem solving” can be maligned as manipulation.

I don’t buy any of this, but it certainly means the current is getting swifter as we paddle upstream.

16. dikranmarsupial says:

“In contrast, scientists are trained to trust ideas. In other words, what matters most is not Science that is trustworthy, but that scientists are.”

I would have thought that scientists are trained to question ideas, rather than trust them, and definitely not trust scientists (c.f. “nullius in verba”). Scientists only trust ideas to the extent that they have a history of being questioned and having survived and the prospect of new grounds for questioning being currently remote. I absolutely agree with the construction of structures that produce trustworthy science, though, especially for the interface between science and society (which necessarily has to involve trust). It is also useful for scientists moving between fields or collaborating, where they can’t expect to have specialist knowledge of all aspects.

17. Dave_Geologist says:

That’s why I think scientists should be putting massive effort into building systems and structures that produce *trustworthy science*.

Already done. Since before I was an undergraduate. Just because ill-informed people and those suffering from a bad case of motivated reasoning don’t trust something, it doesn’t follow that the thing is untrustworthy. Only that it’s untrusted, by some people. Whose mistrust may well be, and in this case is, misplaced. BTW, don’t surveys consistently show that scientists are trusted more than business, journalists or politicians? So is the supposed trust deficit even real?

18. Willard says:

Not really. And in fact I really hope it’s not the case. For to take a recent example:

In a nutshell, the paper — by Theodore P. Hill and Sergei Tabachnikov — was accepted last year by one journal — The Mathematical Intelligencer — and then that acceptance was rescinded. It was then accepted — and published, on November 6, 2017 — by another journal, The New York Journal of Mathematics.

That status, however, turned out to be short-lived. On November 9, 2017, the paper disappeared, eventually to be replaced by a completely different paper. The story goes on from there, as Hill details in Quillette, and a preprint version of the manuscript is available on arXiv.

https://retractionwatch.com/2018/09/17/what-really-happened-when-two-mathematicians-tried-to-publish-a-paper-on-gender-differences-the-tale-of-the-emails/

There are lots of details that deserve due diligence (see for instance this comment I left at Terry’s or this other one at Tim’s). Perhaps a good review would be at Lior’s:

https://liorpachter.wordpress.com/2018/09/17/mathematics-matters/

And that’s notwithstanding Darren’s own examples in that thread.

The quality control of the current research process rests on a level of trustworthiness those who finance it have every reason to find untrustworthy.

Arguing otherwise is unwinnable. Worse, it can only lead to situation where I pile up examples of bad research. It’s not like I’d run out of examples any time soon.

19. Willard says:

> except that some groups, including both very conservative and very progressive groups, now assess one’s trustworthiness by association.

Everyone does it, Hyper, including you. At least everyone should. For instance, following citations is tried, tested, and trustworthy.

Something like this is developing in this thread as we speak.

20. ecoquant says:

Perhaps related, a book review I just came across, in Ecology:

K. N. Johnson reviews:

 Weber, Edward P., Denise Lach, and Brent S. Steel, editors.2017. New strategies for wicked problems. Oregon State University Press, Corvallis, Oregon. vii + 223 p. \$24.95(paper), ISBN: 978-0-87071-893-9. 

21. Dave_Geologist says:

Willard, the process that’s “already done” doesn’t stop duff papers being published. And even some fraudulent ones. But it is extremely good at weeding them out over subsequent years. Mainly through their lack of consilience. Not through journalists of bloggers trawling through emails, or citizen-scientists checking the arithmetic.

Of course, if we’re going to go down a path where only perfection on day one is good enough, there’s no point even taking the first step. As you say, my position is unwinnable. it’s like a Gish Gallop of paper counts. You just have to post one bad paper per day, and I have to find 100 good ones to prove that yours are a tiny minority and that the bad ones get found out anyway by the process of Science. You can get by on 5 minutes per day, whereas I have to devote a whole eight hour shift. It’s not worth it.

22. ecoquant says:

Sorry, @Dave_Geologist, I need to stand up against the implicit disparagement of citizen-scientists in

… citizen-scientists checking the arithmetic.

Citations:

M. Kosmala, A. Wiggins, A. Swanson, B. Simmons, “Assessing data quality in citizen science”, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 2016, 14(10), 551-560.

http://www.whoi.edu/sbl/liteSite.do?litesiteid=108454

http://www.savebuzzardsbay.org/bay-health/

https://www.biogeosciences.net/13/253/2016/bg-13-253-2016-discussion.html

Click to access bg-13-253-2016.pdf

Click to access bg-13-253-2016-supplement.pdf

Click to access bgd-12-13159-2015.pdf

Click to access bgd-12-13159-2015-supplement.pdf

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmars.2016.00279/full: S. C. Williamson, J. E. Rheuban, J. E. Costa, D. M. Glover, S. C. Doney, “Assessing the impact of local and regional influences on Nitrogen loads to Buzzards Bay, MA”, Frontiers in Marine Science, 06 January 2017.

23. dikranmarsupial says:

“Of course, if we’re going to go down a path where only perfection on day one is good enough, there’s no point even taking the first step.”

I don’t think a perfectly trustworthy structure is possible, and even if it were, it would still be susceptible to adversarial rhetorical attacks e.g. “gatekeepers”, and thus won’t be trusted anyway by those that don’t like the conclusions. There is also the point of cost – someone has to pay for it, and most of the open science activities that I agree are a very good thing (e.g. making source code available) do have non-negligible costs, especially resources that turn out to be useful. I think the effort would be better invested in trustworthy media and politics, where I suspect there is at least plenty of low-hanging fruit as they are starting from a rather lower base,

Anyone that does science is a scientist, which includes citizen and blog scientists, but that doesn’t mean we are all uniformly good scientists. The Consensus paper was citizen science, and so was the WUWT Surface Station Project; the thing that really matters is whether the science is good, not the source.

24. Willard says:

> You can get by on 5 minutes per day, whereas I have to devote a whole eight hour shift. It’s not worth it.

Resources are indeed crucial, Dave, and especially so in ClimateBall. That’s something that will have to wait for another post.

The quality of Ted’s paper isn’t the issue that’s being raised. It’s the horrendous editorial policies that made its publication and ad hoc rejection possible.

As for the “1 out of 100” defense, it’s the other way around:

Simulations show that for most study designs and settings, it is more likely for a research claim to be false than true. Moreover, for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias. In this essay, I discuss the implications of these problems for the conduct and interpretation of research.

In any event, I already accepted the need to embrace crappiness. The problem I’m trying to solve in the post lies elsewhere – even if that process was trustworthy as far as the scientific community is concerned, it may not suffice to make it trustworthy as far as the public is.

One symptom of that problem is the stereotype of the lab coat strange hair white guy scientist. The only solution I see to replace that stereotype is to show real scientists at work. Show the diversity, the plurality, the multitude. One of the main takeaway of the “We Are Science” slogan should be that the “We” is a lot of people. Not the same talking heads, always. The most direct way to multiply the various portraits of scientists in the news is to make sure more scientists are on board in that PR effort.

I’m not suggesting every single scientist should be likeable out of a sudden. I’m suggesting that we stop showing the same dudes over and over again. The best way to reinforce the idea that there’s a consensus over AGW would be to show 97 different scientists for every three contrarians we see.

The We in We Are Science is an inclusive We.

25. dikranmarsupial says:

“One symptom of that problem is the stereotype of the lab coat strange hair white guy scientist.”

It is somewhat ironic that in order to make science (a system based on rational analysis of evidence) trustworthy we have to live up to the irrational cognitive short-cuts on which people (including me) base trustworthiness. I’m afraid if you want to see me being a real scientist at work, then you will see a strange hair (haven’t had a hair cut this millennium) white guy scientist. I don’t have a lab coat, but I do wear essentially the same uniform to work every day (I hope my colleagues and students realize they are not actually the same clothes, but if they didn’t it might be a good vehicle for explaining “aliasing” ;o). But that is entirely irrelevant to the science. It seems to me that the problem isn’t just with science here, but with the public wanting to judge books by their covers and it might be better if both made an effort? Perhaps part of the reason we have that stereotype is that 40/50 years ago it was seen as trustworthy?

There are however excellent reasons for showing the diversity of science (e.g. to promote inclusivity), so I am definitely in favour of that.

26. ecoquant says:

Y’know, maybe people just don’t like to pay attention to Science and scientists, because otherwise (a) it’s work, and (b) they can’t go blissfully along just doing things as they always did instead of reigning in their consumptive impulses. People in Boston liked pirates back in the day, too, despite being Puritans, because they brought in coin, which was rarely supplied from Britain and elsewhere in Europe. While there were official efforts to stop piracy, especially after local merchants were targets, there was a longstanding practice to cooperate and harbor pirate goods and sometimes pirates themselves, particularly on Cape Cod.

27. Willard says:

> It is somewhat ironic that in order to make science (a system based on rational analysis of evidence) trustworthy we have to live up to the irrational cognitive short-cuts on which people (including me) base trustworthiness.

I also find irony in the ideal of rationality scientists often presume, Dikran. These shortcuts have been studied by scientists, and led us to more flexible models of rationality. These shortcuts make lots of sense. The reliability they provide for the workload we save is quite remarkable. Scientists too use them all the time, and they have one another to self-correct if need be.

In fact, some research (often promoted by heterodogmatists such as JonathanH and LeeJ) found that our stereotypes are quite robust. I wouldn’t join them in saying they’re accurate. Nevertheless, an intriguing paradox obtains:

My stereotype about a Psychological Science article is that it is an exercise in noise mining, followed by hype. But this Psychological Science paper says that stereotypes are accurate. So if the article is true, then my stereotype is accurate, and the article is just hype, in which case stereotypes are not accurate, in which case the paper might actually be correct, in which case stereotypes might actually be accurate . . . now I’m getting dizzy!

I believe both Andrew and Lee are wrong – there is no antinomy, but it is strange to consider stereotypes as accurate, since it goes against the very idea of what counts as a stereotype.

***

Whatever the image we may have of scientists, some kind of nerdiness is to be expected. So I’m not suggesting that scientists should stop being themselves. On the contrary. A variety of ways the hair can go in all direction or the eyeglasses could complete an inquisitive mind is a Good Thing.

Many people can do science, and science involves a lot more activities than we may presume at first. There are of course experiments:

So the first step to implement what I’m suggesting is to show science, and not just talk about it. The second one is that we show those who do science. The third is to multiply the examples.

28. Steven Mosher says:

“So the first step to implement what I’m suggesting is to show science, and not just talk about it. The second one is that we show those who do science. The third is to multiply the examples.”

yep.

I am not going to get on my decentralized hobby horse and talk about building trusted systems.
Suffice it to say that there is cultural convergence going on around certain problems.

watch the whole thing

29. Ken Fabian says:

I still want to see documentaries about climate change lifted to new levels of excellence. I still want to see a deep review done by real experts, with documentary makers ‘looking over their shoulders’. I think it would do well to begin with a look at the people doing it – each person as a human being not so different to other human beings, as well as looking at their accomplishments and skills. Humanising them is an excellent way to improve effective communication.

In-person encounters are always going to reach limited audiences but high quality documentaries, using the extraordinary capabilities of modern audio-visual media production to reveal the workings of climate science and complex climate processes can reach every corner of the planet. The imprimatur of our leading scientific organisations is not optional in my view. I think it is essential to making such communications authoritative as well as being the means to provide access to the works it references.

And I have no problems with appeals to (or by) authority – quite the opposite; in passing on to the lay public what is known with high levels of confidence it is essential to present it with high levels of confidence – preferably after having shown how it came to be understood with confidence. Having observing the ways that arguments against appeals to authority are used rhetorically to justify dismissing absolutely any kind of knowledge it gets applied to it is clearly a twisting of valuable guides and tools that turn them into something they were never meant to be.

Using doubt and applying scepticism is a professional scientific skill and arguably is an essential requirement for good science, but for those that have no intention of following through with the application of scepticism part, who urge expert knowledge to be rejected by default, it is a rhetorical tool not a scientific one. Our scientific institutions like the Royal Society and National Academies do scepticism on behalf of policymakers and lay public and it works very well. Building on the high levels of public trust these organisations enjoy to put to rest misunderstandings and misrepresetations of important science seems to entirlely appropriate. If that puts their reputations on the line, that too is entirely appropriate; the stakes are too high to fail to use every advantage and the trust and esteem they are held in is a powerful advantage.

30. dikranmarsupial says:

@ecoquant I’ve not really watched the Big Bang Theory – possibly a bit too close to home ;o) I wonder if it has had a positive or negative on people with autsitic spectrum disorders in science? I suspect academia selects for the “funny hair”/”strange clothes” thing as it is a career that is generally very tolerant about appearances (not judging books by covers).

Willard wrote

“> It is somewhat ironic that in order to make science (a system based on rational analysis of evidence) trustworthy we have to live up to the irrational cognitive short-cuts on which people (including me) base trustworthiness.

I also find irony in the ideal of rationality scientists often presume, Dikran.”

Which I had already noted. Scientists are just as aware of the difference between “is” and “ought” and “ideals” and “reality” as everybody else.

These shortcuts make lots of sense.

In the environment in which we evolved, yes, indeed they do. That doesn’t mean they make equal sense in a modern civilisation or indeed in science. The first step in overcoming the less useful aspects (where there is reason to overcome them) of our evolutionary inheritance is to be aware of them and understand them.

My point is that if we really want to communicate what science is actually about then one of the things that we need to communicate is nullius in verba – it isn’t about trust, and it isn’t about personal stories (there is nothing wrong with personal stories). It is an area where we need to be aware of our shortcuts and know when not to take them.

I couldn’t agree more about showing science. The problem is that science documentaries these days focus far too much on the stories and don’t actually show much in the way of science being done. Prefer arts/history documentaries these days.

31. Dave_Geologist says:

Mainly through their lack of consilience.

I had no intent to disparage citizen-scientists ecoquant. Hence my use of the word mainly. The fact remains that the vast majority of the self-correcting process happens under the radar of citizens, and even of citizen-scientists. Take my point as a caution against believing that just because something was caught by a citizen-scientist, it’s a Wild West out there. Also bear in mind the point I’ve made elsewhere, that scientific publishing is based on a model of “for scientists, by scientists”. It assumes that the readership has “ordinary skill in the Art”. Generally, only stuff that is fraudulent or violates ethics gets retracted. Crap gets left out there to the author’s eternal embarrassment, possibly with a Correction or Comment that can easily be found using Google Scholar. Real, steaming crap doesn’t get retracted, or corrected with a Comment. It gets ignored. Unless you’re practising in the field, it may not be obvious what falls into that category.

Obviously, nowadays people not “ordinarily skilled in the Art” are interested. There are tools to help them develop meta-literacy. The IPCC Reports, for example. Papers in Earth Science Reviews, and similar journals in other disciplines. I’m not convinced that tinkering with the scientific process or publishing process will change the minds of those who are convinced it’s all a fraud. Bear in mind that many of them are numbered among those who claim to believe Donald Trump’s five thousand lies. IMHO they’re a lost cause. You don’t persuade them. Where science intersects policy, you outvote them. If that fails, hunker down and prepare for the worst. Protect you and yours and let the idiots go to Hell. For example, people’s views about climate scientists vary strongly depending on their political orientation, consistent with more than a decade of partisan division over this issue. Does anyone seriously believe that climate science (or that other favourite, evolution) is somehow more in crisis than physics or chemistry? Outside of the domain of politics and PR? Of course it isn’t. The distrust comes from reasons which have nothing to do with the behaviour of scientists and how science is practised. Much of it comes from believing lies. Even if there’s something broken, and you somehow fix it, that won’t stop the liars lying and the believers believing.

Science as a whole seems to be doing pretty well, thank you. Even in the USA. The bits that are less trusted? The plank is in the eye of the body politic, not of the scientists.

32. Dave_Geologist says:

The best way to reinforce the idea that there’s a consensus over AGW would be to show 97 different scientists for every three contrarians we see.

Indeed. But the “We” who control that access are probably not part of your “We”, Willard. How do “We” reach the people who get their information from a Murdoch, Rothermere, Barclay or Desmond owned source? They parade 97 or more deniers for every representative of the consensus. Even the BBC do the stupid false-balance
, “one from each side” stuff. And let an LSE graduate interview a PPE graduate and semi-failed politician (the phrase “Lawson Boom” is not a compliment, it refers to an unsustainable asset-price bubble) as if he was some sort of expert on climate change. And it’s not as if they haven’t been called on it before and promised to clean up their act.

33. Dave_Geologist says:

My stereotype about a Psychological Science article is that it is an exercise in noise mining, followed by hype.

Mine too. Same for social science and economics. And drug trials. But then there’s physics. One reason it works well is that electrons are much better behaved than people. Another is that you don’t just have to rely on statistics, you can demonstrate mechanisms as well. The strength of AGW as a consensus doesn’t come from the R2 of a series of temperature anomalies. It comes from the measured radiative properties of CO2 and water, the consilience of early lab measurements with quantum mechanics and molecular dynamics, the Clausius-Clapeyron relationship, Stefan-Boltzmann, the vertical distribution of CO2 in the atmosphere, measurement of incoming SWR and LWR and outgoing LWR, geology, and a bunch of other stuff I haven’t thought of. The equivalent in most social science, psychology and economics is opinion and arm-waving. In pharmacology, if you’re lucky you have an experiment in a Petri dish, or a lock-and-key relationship between molecules.

34. ecoquant says:

@Dave_Geologist, @Willard,

There’s something organic and endogenous about the problem, too. I mean, despite the great efforts of Professor Robert Young and staff at the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at West Carolina University, the drumpbeats for federal dollars to rebuild-in-place and harden in North Carolina have already begun.

Doesn’t matter if it’s North Carolina or Cape Cod, it’s been declared for a long time that infrastructure needs to be moved. (1994: “The relocation of existing structures, to areas outside of flood hazard and erosion zones, should be required in more places.”) It seems to me that people are going to keep doing this until the money runs out.

35. Willard says:

> the “We” who control that access are probably not part of your “We”,

My “We” should include humanity in general, Dave. Science is for everyone. Everyone should feel implicated by Science. Science is federative – its main mission is to boldly go where no one has gone before.

But you’re right to underline that very few has control over how things are done. Most of “We” do not have control over MSM or scientific megaphones. Very few can say they influence decisions in their own department, let alone their affiliated institution. Heck, I barely have a say in my household…

As George Orwell once observed, life is a defeat witnessed from within. I still won’t go without a fight, even if it’s only with the windmills of my own mind.

36. Willard says:

> The equivalent in most social science, psychology and economics is opinion and arm-waving.

If there’s one thing I’d like to do with my We Are Science slogan, Dave, it’s to kill that kind of crap. It’s corporatist, it’s patronizing, and it’s macho. It’s also self-defeating, because climate science just isn’t physics. The kind of data climate science analyzes is far from giving us the sigmas we can get elsewhere. Sometimes, a mere historian can unearth a smoking gun that a climate scientist will never dream of accessing.

We only have one planet. We share it with everyone. That includes contrarians, the economic establishments, even social scientists.

We need to stick together.

37. Joshua says:

even social scientists….

Not to mention, cockroaches.

38. verytallguy says:

…And drug trials. But then there’s physics. One reason it works well is that electrons are much better behaved than people. Another is that you don’t just have to rely on statistics, you can demonstrate mechanisms as well.

If you think that drug trials have nothing to do with mechanisms, well, teh google can help you

http://lmgtfy.com/?q=proof+of+mechanism

First hit.

And yes, pharmacology is of course imperfect. But so are all sciences, try getting a convincing mechanistic explanation of the Younger Dryas or the faint young sun paradox from a climate scientist. And as for physics, any takers for the mechanism for Dark Energy? No??

Science, somewhat akin to democracy, is the worst system for understanding the world, except for all the others.

39. Willard says:

40. verytallguy says:

Yo ho hannes Brønsted?
I’ll get my coat.

41. Marco says:

VTG, Brønsted never won a Nobelprize.

42. verytallguy says:

Marco, my criteria was merely a chemist whose name i could make dreadful puns with. I didn’t consider the Nobel angle.

That you felt the lack of Nobel for Brønsted was the worst thing about my appalling pun surely tells us something, but I’m not sure what…

43. verytallguy says:

Ok here goes.

“How would pirates punish a Nobel Prize winning chemist?”

“They’d make him John E. Walker* the plank”

*1997 with Boyer “for their elucidation of the enzymatic mechanism underlying the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP)”

44. Joshua says:

Did Albert Ayenstein ever win a Nobel?

45. Steven Mosher says:

“My point is that if we really want to communicate what science is actually about then one of the things that we
need to communicate is nullius in verba – it isn’t about trust, and it isn’t about personal stories (there is nothing wrong with personal stories). ”

when I read a DK paper I have a choice. do I trust that he did the work right OR do I check it for myself. I read his work, his works rests on other turtles. I see his citations. Do I trust that he has cited correctly, or do I go look at every turtle? And those turtles rest on turtles.

since you cant check everything, since you cant simply recompile the science and see if it still runs,
you trust. You reference DK without rechecking him, especially if what he says “makes sense”
you stand on his shoulders.

There is nothing stopping you from checking. But in practice
you do trust, you do take dk at his word. you have to, which is why I dont trust “nullius in verba”. It is perhaps one of the slickest most misleading marketing slogans

46. ecoquant says:

@Steven_Mosher,

I think it depends upon what you like to study and know, and what you care about. If I read a DK paper, doing it carefully, I’ll generally accept it until I come across something to which I say, “Wait. What?” Hopefully this happens a couple of times in most good papers, and they are almost always resolved by going back, doing some independent calculations, and concluding, yes, the result is reasonable.

In more mathematical papers, it’s difficult to understand a theorem without having some idea of the proof, even if that idea is sketchy. So, more calculation is generally needed.

Sometimes a problem with a paper takes weeks to understand or decide it really is a problem with a paper.

An area where I find has problems, is when paper #1 cites paper #2, potentially by someone else, and claims something about it, and paper #2 doesn’t actually substantiate that claim. Alas, you can’t know this unless you actually look at paper #2. I enjoy that kind of thing, and it’s how I amass a deep knowledge of, for example, where the LASSO came from, and it is often a never-ending source of joy, because there’s new stuff found all the time. But it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

47. ecoquant says:

Okay, I admit it, we’re deteriorating …

48. dikranmarsupial says:

SM wrote “since you cant check everything” indeed, you use common sense to decide when you have no serious reason to doubt the turtle you have reached. This isn’t trust, you are still ready to question if you can see plausible grounds for a question. I seriously hope nobody assumes my work is error free, the fact I have had to publish a corrigendum demonstrates that is not a wise assumption!

“You reference DK without rechecking him, especially if what he says “makes sense”
you stand on his shoulders. “

Bad idea. Some level of checking before building on a published paper is always recommended. There are lots of very highly cited papers, written by world-class researchers that nevertheless are wrong (or at least misguided/useless). We do indeed stand on the shoulders of giants (of all sizes), but that doesn’t mean we trust the shoulders we are standing on. I gather in maths it is quite common to work on proofs based on conjectures in the hope that someone will prove the conjecture at some point.

I agree with @ecoquant’s take on this (especially annoying when there is an “it can easily be shown that…”, which turns out to be “if you know where to look in [moderately obscure textbook] it can easily be shown that…” (or maybe I’m just not very good at maths ;o) ). My introduction to the LASSO was Williams (1995), but it wasn’t called that in those days…

An area where I find has problems, is when paper #1 cites paper #2, potentially by someone else, and claims something about it, and paper #2 doesn’t actually substantiate that claim. Alas, you can’t know this unless you actually look at paper #2.

My favourite example is Loehle (2015) citing Cawley et al (2015) thusly:

Cawley et al.[27] developed a model based on the HadCRUT4 data, RCP8.5 forcings, and an ENSO index, obtaining a best-estimate for TCR of 1.662 (95% HPD credible interval 1.31 to 2.02°C). Note that if they used the substantially higher total forcings from the IPCC AR5 report, their TCR value would end up lower, perhaps close to results obtained here. Their claim of
finding an error in Loehle’s[22] model in fact resulted from using a different version of the Hadley data, emphasizing how the underlying data keeps changing.

[emphasis mine]

The last sentence is, shall we say, a “rather nuanced” interpretation! ;o) Cawley et al. finds multiple errors in the Loehle model and criticizes the entire physics-free approach. You would think from that paragraph there was only one error and was due to differences in the data used. That isn’t even factually correct. The model in question was in fact from a 2011 paper by Scafetta and Loehle that used HadCRUT3, and my reproduction of that model gives the same result (to within rounding) as that given by Loehle (taking into account a one-sigma rather than two sigma CI). It’s science Jim, but not as we know it!

49. ecoquant said:

“And what about Feynman? He’s a great example. People might love Joking, but how many of them are, when so motivated, going to pick up his The Character of Physical Law in response? Not many, I wager.”

For me it was reading The Lectures on Physics, Vol.3 ostensibly by Feynman. I say ostensibly because it wasn’t Feynman that really wrote the book but a couple of other CalTech professors (Leighton & Sands) who went through the tapes of the apparently one set of lectures that Feynman gave to undergrads before they tried to write it all up in a textbook format. I only read Vol 3 because that was the one that supposedly had the insight to understanding quantum mechanics. This quote is the most important to remember about Feynman:

“Dick has a wonderful sense of humor about everything else, but he has no sense of humor at all about physics.”

50. izen says:

How much you can trust the science comes down to the bottom line.
Who funds it, and why.

51. ecoquant says:

@izen,

Uhhhhhhh, counterexample? Prof Richard Muller and the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project? http://berkeleyearth.org/

52. Willard says:

The BEST project is the opposite of a counterexample, Hyper – it’s an audit financed in part by the Kochtopus that convinced its leading scientist that AGW was real:

CALL me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.

In that case, the source makes the results even more trustworthy.

***

The very idea of an audit illuminates something about networks of trust and rationality. To that effect, there’s a somewhat formal argument that I’d like to share with you in an upcoming post. For now, it suffices to observe that:

(a) an open scientific process would allow everyone to verify some of its data and some of its inference steps;

(b) the mere fact that we have (a) increases our confidence in it.

There are many things I’d like to add, but it’s better to wait for a post to add them.

53. ecoquant says:

@Willard,

Muller didn’t believe in AGW before BEST began, which is why he and team got funded.

But, using their funds, he changed his mind.

So, to use @izen’s argument, one would never believe the results of BEST because of the funding.

54. izen says:

@-ecoquant
“So, to use @izen’s argument, one would never believe the results of BEST because of the funding.”

It is not common, but sometimes scientists go off message. In drug trials, occasionally the researchers will concede that it does not work. Or has side effects that outweigh the benefits.

They will probably need to find a new source of funding after that…

55. Steven Mosher says:

“An area where I find has problems, is when paper #1 cites paper #2, potentially by someone else, and claims something about it, and paper #2 doesn’t actually substantiate that claim. Alas, you can’t know this unless you actually look at paper #2. I enjoy that kind of thing, and it’s how I amass a deep knowledge of, for example, where the LASSO came from, and it is often a never-ending source of joy, because there’s new stuff found all the time. But it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.”

yes. It is also How I get diverted. Watch the way willard works, Im pretty sure he is a depth first

56. Steven Mosher says:

“SM wrote “since you cant check everything” indeed, you use common sense to decide when you have no serious reason to doubt the turtle you have reached. This isn’t trust, you are still ready to question if you can see plausible grounds for a question. I seriously hope nobody assumes my work is error free, the fact I have had to publish a corrigendum demonstrates that is not a wise assumption!”

Err this IS TRUST. now we are quibbling about the meaning of trust.

DK cites source X. what he cites ( the content) makes common sense or maybe it doesnt.
But I trust that he has cited it correctly. That trust is evident by my decision not to check.
of course I am free to change my mind later and check it. WIth hundreds of claims made in a paper, with dozens of references and references to references, it is imposible to re check every one. If you want to use another word for “not double checking, but taking at face value” please
go ahead. I will use the word “trust”.
of course using common sense aint exactly nullius in verba now is it?

57. Steven Mosher says:

DK

‘We do indeed stand on the shoulders of giants (of all sizes), but that doesn’t mean we trust the shoulders we are standing on. ”

huh.

Abstract
Here we take results produced by X, and show that Y.
I stand on the shoulders of X.
I am trusting X, I depend on X, if X is wrong I may be wrong.

Imagine writing that ” our conclusions are blostered by X, bit we dont trust X”

I think we have a vocabulary difference.

58. Steven Mosher says:

“The very idea of an audit illuminates something about networks of trust and rationality. To that effect, there’s a somewhat formal argument that I’d like to share with you in an upcoming post. For now, it suffices to observe that:

(a) an open scientific process would allow everyone to verify some of its data and some of its inference steps;

(b) the mere fact that we have (a) increases our confidence in it.

There are many things I’d like to add, but it’s better to wait for a post to add them.”

Interested.

59. dikranmarsupial says:

Science is provisional, difficult to trust something that you regard as provisional. Of course there are degrees of provisional. Claims made in papers are always at least implicitly conditional on lots of things. I’d venture that no more than 5% of papers published are both “correct” \emph{and} useful additions to knowledge, so I am always cautious. Perhaps a problem in my own field where the experimental evaluation tends to be very weak (IMHO), which leads me to be rather distrustful of papers.

60. Marco says:

“it’s an audit financed in part by the Kochtopus that convinced its leading scientist that AGW was real:”

From a column in 2003, in the words of Muller himself:
“Let me be clear. My own reading of the literature and study of paleoclimate suggests strongly that carbon dioxide from burning of fossil fuels will prove to be the greatest pollutant of human history. It is likely to have severe and detrimental effects on global climate.”

61. Koch funding of Richard Muller research may have ended after 2010.
http://berkeleyearth.org/funders/
I suspect that Koch funding now going to Judith Curry et al. Mr. Muller science may no longer be useful to the Kochs. As Dr. Mann has stated, at this rate, Richard Muller may get caught up with the current state of climate science within a few years.

62. Muller was also a big fan of natural gas fracking, which probably influenced the Koch’s decision to fund him initially. https://thinkprogress.org/how-the-kochs-are-fracking-america-238ab9984870/
Note that the fracking of oil is turning out to be a boom-bust cycle

63. Steven Mosher says:

“Muller was also a big fan of natural gas fracking, which probably influenced the Koch’s decision to fund him initially.”

err no.

64. Like the Koch bros, we all have access to Muller’s book “Energy for Future Presidents”.
From reading that, I can see how Muller was ultimately interested in solutions to the liquid fossil fuel shortage problem, and I merely suggested that tied in to the Koch’s long term strategy.

“err no.”

Everyone should read Muller’s book to understand his POV

65. jacksmith4tx says:

This item popped up in my Google news filter:
https://letsciencespeak.com/
Trailer here:

It appears to be a 6 part series featuring some well known names in climate science.
Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, Director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University
Dr. Marshall Shepherd, Director of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Georgia
Andy Revkin, environmental journalist

Are these folks just preaching to the choir?

66. Ken Fabian says:

jacksmith4tx – some of those people are recognisable to the choir but they are far short of being widely known to the general public.

We need documentaries that have very highest of high profiles and be made with exceptional production quality, sufficient to get prime time slots on free to air television – because they are compelling and informative and entertaining and people will want to watch them. The sort that almost everyone will hear about if not watch, that can generate wide ranging public discussion, that have every significant point or conclusion backed by accessible references – something exceptional that can reset the bar for basic facts and understanding that politicians and policy makers can be held to. … “But in the latest episode of Understanding Climatic Change they said x and you are on record as saying NOT x – how do you justify that?”

An Inconvenient Truth had the high profile and almost everyone heard about it even if they didn’t watch it – but suffered from perceptions of political partisanship because it came from a high profile partisan political figure and those don’t have the trust that our institutions of science do.
to cut through and be seen and noticed it needs to be something exceptional – perhaps an Attenborough type presenter and definitely “WOW” level visuals and it should have the prominent and unashamed involvement of our leading institutions of science, who do still have a lot of credibility and trust with the public. I have written to The Royal Society suggesting they involve themselves in such a project – but this would be better coming from a group of Fellows or other prominent scientists.

67. jacksmith4tx says:

Ken Fabian,
I’m in the choir. I watch most of them and I thought the updated Cosmos series was the best effort so far but the buzz wears off after a few months.
Because of human’s feeble understanding of the nature of time I am skeptical of any documentary/movie/event is going to break the trance of the past. No matter how dazzling or who does the voice-of-god narration I doubt that it will cause the world to respond to a crisis that is more than one human generation away (credit: izen).
This maybe a situation where a novel approach is needed. What we need is a Oracle or Prophet that can predict the future far enough out that it triggers a subliminal response of trust. I’m not talking GPS precision of floods and hurricanes but if the Oracle says “In 8 months Moscow will have a record breaking drought” or “the Mississippi will have a 500yr flood in 18 months” it will tip the scales to acceptance. Not just one off freak events but a series of evolving climate phenomena coupled with detailed physics based explanations. From there we get adaptation and mitigation. Of course I’m thinking this Oracle is really just a future AI program and projecting future climate states will only be one of it’s many functions.
In case you can’t tell I’m one of those people that think our technology made this problem and technology will have to supply the solutions.

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