The Need for Venture Science

This article by Charles Eisenstein provides a timely discussion on the state of science and the manner in which it has been manipulated and hijacked:

If you have faith in the soundness of our scientific institutions, you will assume that the dissidents are marginalized for very good reason: their work is substandard. If you believe that the peer review process is fair and open, then the dearth of peer-reviewed citations for EU research is a damning indictment of the theory. And if you believe that the corpus of mainstream physics is fundamentally correct, and that science is progressing closer and closer to truth, you will be highly sceptical of any major departure from standard theories.

A second, related aspect of the asymmetry is the cursory treatment of the dissenting views. The debunkers only go one level deep – they critique the dissenting claims but do not address the responses to their critiques. Why not? If you believe, again, in the institutional soundness of science, it must be because such a conversation is a waste of time for the serious physicist, who would have no time for teaching or research if he or she bothered to rebut every half-baked alternative theory invented by people imagining themselves to be the next Einstein. The risk, though, is that legitimate unorthodox theories are tarred with the same wide brush. Theories always seem absurd if they draw from premises held to be unassailable.

Another disturbing aspect of the debate that has resonance with other issues that pit a powerful orthodoxy against a marginalized heterodoxy is the liberal use of scare quotes and derisive epithets like “pseudo-science” to exercise psychological pressure on the reader, who does not want to be thought a dupe or a fool. These tactics invoke in-group/out-group social dynamics, leading one to suspect that the same dynamics might prevail within the scientific establishment to enforce groupthink and discourage dissent. But again, perhaps the unorthodox theories really are bunkum and deserve the derision directed at them. We the laypeople cannot know. It comes down again to our trust in authority.

Cosmology is relatively inconsequential to human wellbeing (or maybe not, but let’s leave that aside), but the same dynamics apply to matters of life and death for people and the biosphere, especially in the areas of medicine and agronomy (e.g. the GMO debate). Can we trust scientific consensus? Can we trust the integrity of our scientific institutions?

Perhaps not. Over the last few years, a growing chorus of insider critics have been exposing serious flaws in the ways that scientific research is funded and published, leading some to go so far as to say,”Science is broken.”

The dysfunctions they describe include:
Deliberate, unconscious, and systemic fraud
Irreproducibility of results and lack of incentive to attempt replication
Misuse of statistics, such as “P-hacking” – the mining of research data to extract a post-hoc “hypothesis” for publication
– Severe flaws in the system of peer review (see here and here), for example, its propensity to enforce existing paradigms, to be hostile to anything that challenges the views of the reviewers whose careers are invested in those views.
– Difficulty in obtaining funding for creative and unorthodox research hypotheses
Publication bias that also favors positive results over negative results, and suppresses research that won’t benefit a researcher’s career

The system encourages the endless elaboration of existing theories about which there is consensus, but if one of these is wrong, there are nearly insuperable barriers to it ever being overturned. It exemplifies the classic Kuhnsian resistance to paradigm shift.

End of quote.

I commend the article to you.

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