Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Science March is Bullshit

First off, a bit of a prediction confirmation. In Discussion of March For Science Analysis, I pointed out that while the march was mostly about liberal social advocacy, the organizers had done a good job of keeping their website free of specific scientific controversies, such as climate change, and kept the topic to science in the abstract. (Secondary to the social issues, of course). I predicted that we would see that science predominately translates as climate policy, and that it would be more obvious as the march approached. I've actually not seen a lot about the march in my particular bubble, but this video came up yesterday in my facebook feed. The first issue mentioned, predictably, was climate change.

Also this image is the only depiction I've seen of the march in Washington, via William M. Briggs' post March for Science a Dud.

I'm going to go ahead and call the prediction accurate, based on the small sample size of march promotional materials I encountered.

The march is bullshit predominately based on the evidence given in the March For Science analysis, where I analyzed the verbiage of the March for Science website and determined they were more consumed with social agenda than actual science, by approximately an order of magnitude. For the sake of discussion, let's pretend that the evidence I compiled doesn't exist. (Should be easy for the liberals here reading, if there are any.) Let's suppose that the march isn't just an exercise in social/political expression, wrapped in the veneer of science concern. In that context, are the marches making compelling arguments? Witness this marcher from the satellite march in my hometown, which is typical of what we've seen today.

Eh, ladies?
As always, I'm available for free-lance Photoshop work.
Let's start with the caption: Who could have imagined that you would have to defend science in America in the 20th century?

Have to defend? Who is forcing him? And from what? Are there armed science deniers lurking in downtown Springfield, and quirky hand-drawn signs are their only kryptonite? He doesn't want to have to do it, but he's absolutely forced to defend science from....something. [Hint: it's Trump!!! It's evil Trump!! The whole thing is a thinly veiled protest by liberals against Trump.] The notion is that they believe he is going to cut funding to education, and that is the same as a direct attack on scientists. Trump might as well lurk in their labs and stab each scientist in the throat with broken shards of a shattered Erlenmeyer flask.

In their minds scientific output is directly correlated with academic funding, despite plenty of evidence that American education is producing worse results with more funding. To see budget cuts as a direct threat to the western institution of scientific inquiry, you have to not only believe in that specious correlation, but you also must make the assumption that scientific progress is dependent on government funding. You must ignore that the major scientific and technological breakthroughs in history have mostly occurred outside of government influence. The fact that government has almost completely taken over the funding of science does not imply that the government is a necessary prerequisite for science. In fact, the government dominance in academic funding should be an issue of contention for anyone interested in purely objective scientific inquiry. Washington bureaucrats decide the funding priorities and the career academics adjust their research proposals accordingly. The amount of control the government has on academic pursuits is troubling. But that issue is not raised by these liberal activists science promoters. Their implied message is that the government is a noble entity, without whose funding science would disappear forever, and that science itself is under threat because a bunch of racist science-deniers elected a clown president. Remember this all has very little to do with science. It is political virtue signaling. I have to go defend science, m'lady. My fedora, please.

The text of the sign is taken from a meme the was circulating the week before the march. What do we want? Evidence-based science! When do we want it? After peer review!

Perhaps this marcher is not informed that peer-reviewed research is a massive massive industry already. One list, not comprehensive, puts the number at 15,000 peer-reviewed journals, and doesn't include a vast number of minor journals. Everyone knows that academic careers depend on their ability to generate peer-reviewed publications. Publish or perish, goes the mantra. The academic industry in the US, which is enormous, is completely centered on peer-review journals. And yet this marcher has gone out and, with a straight face, declared, "It's time for peer-reviewed science!" What do we want? Running water! When do we want it? After opening the tap!

And all of this presupposes that peer-reviewed science isn't, well, bullshit. It's not total bullshit, in the sense that the march itself is total bullshit. But the peer-review process is enormously corrupt and is experiencing a reproducibility crisis that the marchers, who love science so much, seem to be unaware of. The number of scientific studies that can be reproduced is a small fraction of the total. One investigation found that only about ten percent of "landmark" cancer studies published by top journals could be reproduced! Can you imagine if my boss found that only ten percent of the code I write would compile? Or if a company made cars and only 10% ran? Not only is 10% reproducibility apparently a satisfactory benchmark in academia, but protesters marchers like this one promote it as the gold standard of intellectual achievement.

If science was predominately about providing benefit to mankind, we'd see a highly rigorous and self-policing institution that enforces high standards. If it was mostly interested in obtaining as much government funding as possible, we'd be likely to see signs of rampant corruption. We'd see that journals would accept submissions of computer-generated nonsense, that they'd accept submissions in exchange for cash bribes, and in fact there would be an entire ecosystem of fake academic research. This is in addition to the fact that up to 90% of the "real" research in the most respectable journals is bunk. I spent a couple years in grad school. I've seen first-hand that the obsession is with crafting research proposals to match the greatest number of funding-fad buzzwords. And I've heard second-hand about the out-right embezzlement of research funds that often occurs. One trick they like to use is to provide housing to researchers as part of their salary package, but to bill it at several times the market rate, pocketing the difference. Think about it. Someone loses a loved one to cancer, so they make a large donation to cancer research. After the charity takes a large enough cut to pay their executives millions of dollars a year, the researcher is then liable to pocket as much for himself as he can possibly get away with, in return for results that are 90% bogus. What an epic swindle, and an outrage.

If the science marchers were so concerned about the future of science that they felt compelled to "defend" it, you'd think they would have grave concerns about the government dominance of science and the rampant fraud. But they aren't interested in science that much. They're more preoccupied with social agendas, political advocacy, virtue signaling, and most of all, STOPPING DRUMPF!

1 comment:

  1. So no Trump supporters were harmed during this Science March? Disappointed. Also don't ask anyone marching for science what the Scientific Method is and are they for it.