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Insights Blaming Government for Teacher and Scientist Failures in Integrity - Comments

  1. Jan 2, 2017 #41
    It's possible. Anyone publishing results that the anti-vax movement could use to bolster their position would be treading on thin ice. I'd have a back-up plan to a tenure-track faculty position if publishing results that were unfavorable to gun control or favorable to fracking.

    There are several politically-charged subjects related to science in the Gulf of Mexico that I have co-authored papers on: red snapper population dynamics, nutrient loading, the purported "dead zone." There are kinds of results in these three areas that it seems like those in academic positions and federal government agencies tend to avoid publishing. Owning a scientific consulting company where 75% of our revenue is in unrelated (Dept of Defense) type consulting gives a lot more freedom to not censor our results with a politically correct filter.

    I've had some colleagues decline invitations to join projects as co-authors. Their expressed reasons are not that the project is not interesting or that the results are not correct, but rather that they were concerned with negative career implications of politically incorrect results.

    At the same time, some students we've mentored have received negative feedback from University officials that the DoD-related projects they worked with on were "too militaristic." So apparently, working on certain DoD projects may also put one in a zone of political incorrectness with potential negative consequences in academia.
  2. Jan 2, 2017 #42


    Staff: Mentor

    In that case, there can be cases where it takes uncommon courage and character to not fake results to avoid violating a taboo.

    The flip side of that coin is that the lay public has some grounds to be suspicious of mainstream science that supports the taboos. Perhaps we shouldn't always be in a hurry to label such people as ignorant or anti-science.
  3. Jan 2, 2017 #43


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    Gold Member

    Tragic. That's long been true I believe in the social sciences. When I was in grad school (engineering), to my mind the only topic that might have been considered politically incorrect in the hard sciences was anything related to nuclear weapons.
  4. Jan 2, 2017 #44

    Mark Harder

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    They might be "politically incorrect" in the opinion of the majority of the public and their colleagues. That doesn't mean they're widely discredited simply because they and their work are politically incorrect. As for career suicide, some cases, like denial of climate warming, are not quite suicidal. If you write a book making your case, and it has an audience among the public, then you have been successful in at least that sense. And yes, you can find publishers who will accept your books, assuming the book is grammatically and stylistically well-written and the author is willing to consider his editor's requests. Some publisher accepted Bell Curve for publication and the book was widely read. If one's thesis isn't popular in academic and government circles and if his/her publication record is considered inferior by one's intellectual community, then one may very well have career difficulties, esp. if they aren't in a tenured position of some sort (This is one reason our universities have tenured positions - tenured faculty can't be fired based on the content of their intellectual output. ) As for the effect of books and other intellectual output on one's career, Herrnstein died while on the faculty of Harvard (1994, age 64). Murray is currently a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, a prominent, conservatively oriented "think tank". He has won many awards and other honors. I think it's safe to assume that with that widespread regard, he's not hurting for money.
    The term 'politically incorrect' bothers me. It's usage is the problem. Taken literally, it should mean any dissent from the prevailing views of politics and society. If that were the case, it would apply to leftists who espouse belief sharply at variance from the mainstream. During the primary campaign this (past) year, Bernard Sanders was subject to ridicule by the MSM for some of his statements, to take one example. Yet, the term 'politically incorrect' was never applied to him (AFAIK). It's a political debating trick: You're politically correct if you are belong to the political center-to-left wing. You're politically incorrect if you are conservative only, and therefore unfairly persecuted by all those PC liberals. I propose we return to 'dissenter', 'dissenting', 'unorthodox' and other thesaurus entries as substitutes for 'PC' and 'P. in-C'.
  5. Jan 3, 2017 #45
    Rather than assign labels, my training and instincts lead me to try and find the most direct path from the assertions to the supporting data. In cases where the issues seem to devolve more into an argument from authority (and ambiguous data), I am skeptical. In cases where there may be alternate explanations for the available data, I am skeptical. In cases where the publications obscure the data, I am skeptical. But it has become popular to label skeptics as "deniers."

    The word "taboo" is probably a good choice for the negative feedback expected for publishing data or possible interpretations that run counter to certain public policy goals. Faking data does seem to happen occasionally, but as I mentioned earlier, other forms of scientific dishonesty seem more common:
    The scientific dishonesty can often be more subtle such as:

    A. publishing data agreeing with a model in journals and with press releases, while keeping data in disagreement under wraps or harder to find.
    B. publishing data supporting desired policy change (or funding) quickly while delaying data not supporting desired policy change (or funding)
    C. careless or willful misuse of sources: making overly broad or different claims than those well supported in citations
    D. Focus on one possible causal factor while ignoring other possibilities
    E. Confusing failing to find support for a competing hypothesis in an experiment with disproof of that hypothesis
    F. Publishing conclusions without a clear path and access to the raw experimental data and analysis that supports those conclusions. Without the data, it is a dishonest appeal to the authors' authority rather than a scientific result.

    Muddying the water in these ways lengthens the effective correction time to as long as 25-50 years in many cases. Insistence on data and repeatable experiment eventually correct scientific mistakes and outright fraud. Censorship, professional consequences, and funding consequences are only effective in the short term. They erode public trust and can lead to bad policy decisions for a time. Many science enthusiasts recognize that the scientific method is self-correcting, but they often forget the many lessons in the history of science that show that it often takes a while for a consensus view to be overthrown with new data.

    There is one field where I have published in where an old guard are reusing to accept that they were wrong based on new data. I suspect that they will continue propagating their views until they retire and pass on. Cases like this often define the longer time constants for scientific error correction.

    Colleagues and I have taken an approach of, "If you see something, say something" in terms of correcting scientific errors. We'll go ahead and publish a comment if we find published errors in the literature. As in the case above where we pointed out the consistent errors in the model predicting the area of hypoxic bottom water each year in the Gulf of Mexico, the mistaken authors are slow to acknowledge why they fixed their model, but in many cases they do work to fix their model.
  6. Jan 3, 2017 #46


    Staff: Mentor

    Thanks for the insightful post #45 @Dr. Courtney. Reading it made me think of the technological singularity.

    I get there by reducing everything you said (forgive me for that) to a simple time constant that we can ascribe to ego, or humanity. Then, I think back to the point kinetics equations that I used in nuclear engineering. Where you have a positive feedback, exponential growth results. But even a modest time constant in the feedback loop greatly moderates the rate of growth.

    So on a broad scale, scientific advancement is moderated by the humanity of scientists. But when AI really gets going in science it will have a much shorter moderating time constant, simply by virtue of objectivity. That would suggest an increase in the rate of ggrowth of science so dramatic that we might describe it as an overnight explosion, That is exactly what the proponents of the singularity claim.

    Note that human-like intelligence or self consciousness of the AI is not necessary. Indeed, inhumanity is its strength.
  7. Jan 4, 2017 #47
    In the context of science and education, politically incorrect refers to a subset of dissenting viewpoints that relate to issues of public policy; therefore, the term is more descriptive than merely "dissenting" or "unorthodox."

    For example, beginning a decade ago, my wife and I published a series of papers articulating the "unorthodox" viewpoint that bullet hits to the chest could cause traumatic brain injury through action at a distance through a pressure wave effect. ( See: https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/0808/0808.1443.pdf ) This was definitely dissenting from the mainstream view that the only bullet injuries were close to the bullet. The view we articulated has become much more widely accepted over the past decade, and those holding the older view are closer to becoming the minority of dissenting voices. (Experimental evidence will do that.) So while there is some division among federal agencies on which view is right (Army and Border Patrol favor the pressure wave effect, FBI still seems to doubt), it's more of a scientific debate without political overtones.

    In contrast, consider the question of how bad nutrient loading is for the Gulf of Mexico. Some authors think it is very bad and are pushing a public policy agenda to strong arm farmers to greatly reduce fertilizer use throughout the Mississippi River watershed. Colleagues and I have pointed out that this nutrient loading greatly increases fishery production in Louisiana Gulf waters, and that the relatively small, temporary areas of bottom water hypoxia are not serious enough to signficantly harm the fishery. (See: https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1306/1306.5114.pdf ). We've also pointed out published errors by NOAA and errant predictions by some of the big authors in the field. Our work in this field was not just dissenting, it was politically incorrect, because it had the effect of making calls for drastic public policy measures seem less urgent.

    Purveyors of the opposing view have not taken it well. In fact, back in 2013, we were invited to the LUMCON facility in Cocodrie, Louisiana to perform an experiment on magnetoreception in fish. When the higher officials at LUMCON realized that dissenters to their nutrient loading paradigm had been invited, we were summarily uninvited. Our magnetoreception experiment was delayed and eventually performed in SW Louisiana instead of in Cocodrie. Happily, we still discovered magnetoreception in three new species of teleost (bony) fish. Unhappily, this result is somewhat politically incorrect as well, since NOAA and some environmentalist groups are pushing to require magnetic hooks on longlines based on the theory that magnetic hooks will reduce shark bycatch without impacting catch rates of target teleost species.

    One more example of dissention that is not politically incorrect. When I arrived at MIT in 1989, the research group I was joining had just published a paper purporting to provide experimental support for the widely held notion that systems that were classically regular (not chaotic) have a certain kind of energy level statistics (Poisson distribution). See: http://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.62.893 I didn't question the experimental result, I questioned the assumption that the underlying classical dynamics was regular. In time, I proved that the underlying dynamics was chaotic, and that the experimental evidence originally thought to support a widely held notion, in fact provided a disproof by counterexample. See: http://journals.aps.org/pra/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevA.53.178 . Since there was no public policy issue at stake, the new result was quickly accepted. More importantly, the lithium Stark system was recognized as chaotic also (due to the core) and became a valuable test case for different ideas in quantum chaos. See: http://journals.aps.org/pra/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevA.51.3604
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