Day By Day

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Continuing Collapse of Scientific Authority --

The Financial Times reports:
The Royal Society, Britain’s scientific establishment, has just released a report on public communication of scientific findings. Journalists in search of stories and scientists anxious for publicity and research funding issue early, oversimplified or downright misleading accounts of research....
Do tell! And how, pray, can we guard against such abuse?
The Society’s answers are self-restraint [Hah! ed.] and peer review. Peer review is the process by which professions review their own work. Articles submitted to journals receive critical assessment from referees experienced in the field. Peer review is a bulwark against cranks, crooks and incompetents. But too much reliance on peer review carries its own dangers. Every profession defines its own concept of excellence in inward-looking ways.

Successful academics learn how to trigger the buttons that win the approval of referees.
The problem is linked to the entire concept of the professional community.
The world of today favours the competent professional – as judged by the standards of other competent professionals. In a sense this self-reference is right: the people to decide whether astrology is good astrology are other astrologers. But they are not the people to decide whether astrology itself is any good. Judgment of the rigour and relevance of professional standards and scholarly research can never be left to professionals and scholars alone.
The effect of rigorously applied professional standards is self-imposed censorship.
Any form of censorship, including self-censorship and censorship by fellow professionals, encourages complacency and discourages innovation. The history of modern scholarship is that, more slowly than we would wish, truth and new knowledge emerge only from a cacophony of conflicting opinions.
Complacancy, arrogance, naked careerism, intellectual stagnation, widespread censoring of ideas and falsification of data to fit community standards -- these are the hallmarks of the modern scientific establishment. Taken together they serve as a stark warning against allowing
scientific consensus" to direct public policy.

Read the article here.

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