Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I Would Prefer to Trust Science

I'd like to trust science, and generally I do.

But, it seems that, whenever I get curious about a particular point of science, I have to track down the actual paper or study that was published, and research the backgrounds of the scientists who wrote the paper one by one for undeclared conflicts of interest. Then I have to find out who funded the study and whether or not the funders are in a conflict of interest on the topic in question. Then I have to read the paper and sort out the methodology and data and try to ascertain whether or not it makes scientific, or statistical, or plain old common sense. Then I have to compare the findings to existing science and see if there are contrary views and the reasons why. Then I may be able to draw a conclusion as to whether or not the science holds up.

Why would a layman be expected to or have to do all that? Doesn't the label "peer-reviewed science" imply that all these things have been carefully vetted? Am I duplicating efforts?

Are scientists not supposed to declare conflicts of interest when they submit papers to journals? Not always. Some scientific journals, a small few, demand some declaration of conflicts of interest. Most just ask for it. Many don't bother with it at all. And even when it is required, it falls upon the individual scientists to provide it, to volunteer it. If they don't declare any conflicts of interest, no one asks or investigates what the scientist provides. Omissions are never challenged. Ever.

Do researchers not declare who the research funders are?

Sometimes, not always. Often the funders jump through all kinds of hoops to hide the fact that they are funding the study. Often "donations" are made to apparent non-profit groups who then "fund" the research. Many non-profits are no more than another office in a for-profit group's marketing department. Many more times, the funders operate out in the open, with no one ever questioning their motives or obvious conflicts of interest. It simply never becomes a publicly discussed issue.

Why should laymen have to concern themselves with the details, methodology, data and statistics used in research papers?

Simply because some researchers fudge numbers. Some use very questionable methods and data. Fraud is not uncommon. Some scientists have been known to seek to "hide the decline" and use "tricks" and add "artificial adjustments" to make the data do what they need it to do. And them some, usually the same people, do everything they can to avoid releasing the data or their methodology for fear of being found out, even going so far as to evade Freedom of Information laws.

But isn't the peer review process supposed to weed out such shenanigans?

Yes. That is true. The peer review process should catch any and all attempts to subvert science through the use of poor and fraudulent methodologies, data and manipulations. But obviously peer review in the climate sciences is somewhat.... errr... lacking? I'll be generous and leave it at "lacking". The Climategate episode has done nothing if it hasn't clearly shown how the entire aspect of "science" in the climate "sciences" is definitely "lacking".

Why would you have to compare the finding from one research paper to other ones? Isn't the newer science better? Doesn't the new science make the old science false?

It is always a good idea to step back and have a look at the history of a given scientific issue. Review what was before and compare it to what is now. CO2 as a driver of temperatures was fairly well understood well before the recent global warming scare started in around the 1990's. That there are over 30,000 studies in global climate research and fewer than a thousand that actually references man made global warming in any manner, shows that there is a lot of climate science that doesn't really even consider man made CO2 as being anything other than a negligible factor in the climate. Several hundred recent papers from the same several dozen scientists has leaned more and more towards CO2-caused man made global warming. Most science, from most other climate scientists, doesn't.

I'd like to trust science. But when the background of the alarmist scientists all contain egregious inherent global warming research conflicts of interest. And the funders of the studies are in blatant conflicts of interest. And the methodologies and data do not make scientific, or statistical, or physical, or mathematical, or plain old common sense, or are born from processes that don't even come close to standard scientific practices. And when there is nothing even remotely resembling a consensus in the science. And when the journals who publish the alarmist research fails to flag basic scientific flaws in the research. Well, the climate science cannot be trusted.

I would honestly rather trust science, but insofar as the climate science goes, I simply can't.

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