CHOICE membership

Scientific research

What if we made science accountable?
Science has never been more accessible. Anyone can research any topic in the comfort of their own home at all hours of the day.
At the moment you can search the internet and find a published study/scientific paper to back almost any side of the argument you like. Whilst I understand there is never one clear answer to a question, or a single solution to a problem, it seems to me that with the enormous amount of information out there today we could do with a second level of accountability.
What if every scientific study had to be reproduced by an independent group before it could be published? Or what if they had to have an independent peer group assess it for quality and give it a rating?
Do you think there is an issue?
How do you think we can put the reliability and credibility back into science?

You seem ignorant of the scientific process, peer review, etc, that governs the vast majority of scientific journals and publications. It is very rigorous. Is your concern because you don’t agree with many findings? I would add that questionable independent scientific papers have always been scrutinised. The dodgy ones are routinely called out.

Unfortunately some vested interests make names to hide behind, that don’t reflect who or what they are, and fund “fringe science” to market and support their causes. One of our government ministers stated it is everyone’s right to be a bigot, and everyone has a right for equal time on the soap box, intelligent as well as not. Pretty special, eh?

5 Likes

Hi pdtbaum, I can see how my post could suggest my ignorance to the process, I am however aware of the rigour involved.
It is however possible, that the current system is not holding up, as financial gain becomes more imbedded in the outcome, the research could be loosing objectivity.


The following paper in 2012 discusses the low rate of reproducibility of studies on cancer research http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v483/n7391/full/483531a.html
while I recognise the irony in using scientific papers to questions science, these results do raise some questions around the topic.
Further to the involvement of money: Is there bias in article selection by the journals who make profits by publishing them? http://www.nature.com/news/open-access-the-true-cost-of-science-publishing-1.12676
More than that I wonder how the general public (layperson) is impacted by the scientific ‘evidence’ they now have access to, can they really decipher it, can they see the weakness in the studies, are they able to pick a strong result from a weak one? Or do we need an overlay of explanation in common language to increase its value to those outside the industry?
http://www.americanscientist.org/blog/pub/8-myths-about-public-understanding-of-science
kindly Sonia

2 Likes

Thanks for that. Much clearer about your concerns. Well considered information in the links. While I am empathetic and supportive of your description of the issue, I would have to be on the side that thinks any attempt to do more than educate the uneducated would be either counter-productive because of unexpected outcomes of any attempt at regulation, or would water it down to the point of triviality and thus abuse rivalling the original. Regarding scientists using jargon and thus communicating poorly, I have been in many meetings where their conclusion was that by using “layman’s terminology” it would usually change the discussion by removing specificity and precision of what they are trying to state.

Then let’s use a royal commission as example - unbiased? predetermined based on who is appointed? political? Having worked with both academia and governments in scientific disciplines, getting independent corroboration (as compared to peer review) would be somewhat like a mine field that would probably do no more than add more confusion, interests, etc, into the equation while somehow funding the “independent experts” who are likely not going to be independent and unbiased, subject to who and how they are appointed. Ref my previous comment on our illustrious minister as how it could start. A dollar in someone’s pocket could be introduced as motivation in numerous ways.

Revealing sponsorship would be a major step, but that could and would be abused by vested interests with dodgy science making companies with nice names to protect “the guilty”.

Cheers,

4 Likes

@soniagulwadi , one also has to remember that science is testing a hypothese, using the best/preferred methodology at that time.

As more ‘science’ is done, others may test the same hypothesis using a newer technique or preferred methodology. The underlying assumptions may also change as the science is tested and becomes clearer.

This can give similar or contrasting results. This is what science is about, questioning and testing.

A simple example is water. Science has proven that water is toxic at high consumption (can impact on salt balance resulting in death). It could be reported that water is toxic to humans, when in fact it is essential to life at low to moderate consumption. Neither outcome is wrong, just different hypotheses and methodologies giving different outcomes.

Having worked as a academic scientist and in the environmental science are for many years, it is important not to only understand the results, but the process which lead to them. A good scientist also questions both the results and methodology…something you appear to be doing.

Science can also take decades to resolve or gain consensus - climate change is a good example of this.

It is also important not to confuse populist scientific articles with journal articles. Populist articles usually are written to provide a particular outcome based on the authors own thoughts.

5 Likes

In my humble view, the argument presented above are all valid either one or another. Having been in the academic glass-house for some years before entering the industry arena, I have learnt to take journal articles somewhat differently. Back in the university days, I have been taught one motto: “either you publish or your perish.” I guess this remains frightfully true?

Then in the real world, having worked for two companies manufacturing a similar range of products, I have also seen how data can be tweaked into one’s advantage or shift the reader’s focus without falsifying any result whatsoever. Therefore, I always go straight to the summary of results and ‘author’s declaration’. I usually apply a discount factor to those journals known to be without vigorous peer review or research commercially sponsored. I do pay attention into, for example, sample size (especially those based on meta-analyses), the experimental design. Sadly, I have seen semi-quantitative analytical results turned into ‘statistically significant data’.

I recently read an published article from a reputable institute (but sponsored by one of my ex-employers). As it turned out, the results did not support what the company had been purporting for the product studied; much to the advantage of her competitor. There was no influence or intervention whatsoever.

I would suggest that we should have an open mind and assess each paper on their own merit. In the meantime, keep promoting the importance of ‘integrity’. I know some sections of the scientific community have already been doing that.

6 Likes

Apologies. I agree with what soniagulwadi said.

This report sheds a new light on some peer reviews. It seems ‘China Inc’ did not set out to do this, but because of misguided approaches incubated a ‘fake research’ culture. Subtitle: ‘What is the value of peer reviews in any particular case?’ Diligence about the research and review process is more important than ever, not counting unsubstantiated, ideologically driven, and sometimes unchallenged claims re various science-based issues by an increasing number of politicians globally.

2 Likes

I suppose this culture has existed for centuries, but possibly has become more prominent in the past century. An example is the harvest of animal parts from Africa to satisfy a demand within China for some hopeful medical cure/treatment…when such has no scientific basis. Just because an animal runs fast, a prolific breeder or is strong, doesn’t mean one of it body parts will cause the same in a human.

Having lived in China, it is interesting to see some of the more out there TCM practitioners diagnosing a wide range of ailments just by holding ones wrist

2 Likes

But you linked only to a google search:

That’s unwise.

As I said, Google tailors results according to what it knows about the user. I’ve heard Google characterised as automated selection bias.

Links might enhance credibility.

That assumes Google know you and you let Google control your life.

I am also not aware of Google scholar having the same selectional bias as Google searches.

This is where he works…

https://sees.uq.edu.au/research/themes/climate-change-adaptation.

I also guest lecture for the same group from time to time.

1 Like

It assumes nothing about others who might follow your link.

As I said, assuming you aim to inform, linking to a Google search is unwise.

Links to the studies you feel support your view, plus relevant quotes, might educate.

Trying to attack the credibility of a person without contributing to the discussion diminishes any value which can be added to this forum.

The link to ‘argument from ignorance’ appears to be quite relevant.

1 Like

If you feel attacked, then I’m sorry. If I don’t see support for your view in the limited references you provide and you can’t show support, then do the references you provide actually support your view?

If you had read and understood the references which are complex as they discuss multivariable factors, rather than attacking my credibioity, you would have read comments like the following…

“In general, higher CO2 levels in the atmosphere, resulting from global human activities, increase growth and yield, mainly through their effect on the crop’s photosynthetic processes (higher levels of CO2 mean that plants absorb more CO2—a process known as CO2 fertilization”.

(It is worth googling the term CO2 fertilisation as it provides a number of popular articles explaining what it means).

Many of the other papers have similar comments or references to papers citing the same conclusions.

Other factors can also affect yields other than CO2 itself such as locational influences and fertility (these include things such as nutrient availability, water availability, temperature etc). Significantly higher temperatures and/or higher rainfall which may result from climate change in existing growing areas could also impact on crop yeilds. In existing areas if extreme temperatures or rainfall regimes which impact on plant growth/yields, then yes, yeilds could be impacted.

Locational influences may be able to be mitigated (most like will be as it has since modern farming practices), unlike that which natural ecosystems which will need to adapt insitu) by shifting crop growing areas to areas where such cropping has become more favourable (colder areas which have become warmer and/or drier areas which have become wetter). If this occurs, the elevates CO2 could affect the crop yields if other factors are not overly limiting.

These papers recognise that when looking at CO2 by itself, an increased CO2 can increase biomass/yields which is the point made in the original post.

One of the adaptations for humans is to change local agricultural practices and crops in order to adapt to climate change. This may mean growing crops in areas where these crops have not previously grown due to temperature or water limitations.

The reference you provided assumes that cropping will occur in the same areas as climate change occurs. Unfortunately this is a flawed assumption and assumed humans won’t adapt (which is different to human history)…and is possibly based on the hypothesis of natural ecosystem impacts where there may be a potential inability to adapt quickly (and able to relocate). This does not necessarily apply to cropping shich is more flexible and fluid in its location.

There will be some locale where the yieid of specific crops decreases if that particular crop is continued to be grown at the same time at the same location (such as maize in the US gain belt if the suggested modelling proves to be correct). Applying the same statement across the board to all crops and all locale is incorrect and does not represent the science being used for climate change adaptation.

1 Like

Now who’s attacking who? I interpret both sites differently. Without links to the papers on which you rely, coming to an informed conclusion is difficult. Even then, it’s a matter of interpretation.

In the final analysis, it might come down to a question of which is most credible, the University of Queensland or Columbia University. I find Columbia more convincing. I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

It might be nore convincing and suits ones opinions but…

It is also worth noting that the Columbia blog is about climate change impacts on crops in particular locale and not speifically about CO2 impacts on yields. These are two separate issues. However, it is interesting to note that the Columbia blog also makes high level statements about CO2 impacts and they confirms the comments made above in relation to crop yields. It states…

"Because plants use carbon dioxide to make their food, more CO2 in the atmosphere can enhance crop yields in some areas if other conditions—nutrient amounts, soil moisture and water availability—are right. But the beneficial effects of rising carbon dioxide levels on plant growth can be offset by extreme weather, drought or heat stress."

It also qualifies other factors which may also impact on yields. Some of which I have explained above.

1 Like

The words you quote may well be on that site, but I can’t find them. Linking to relevant pages will help readers study in context. If you’re more interested in informing than in persuading, then that’s the way to succeed.

Where there’s a range of views, truth generally lies around the middle of the range. I’ve seen it referred to as the rational median. From what you say (and I’ve not been able to substantiate) UQ is further from that middle ground than Columbia. The further one strays from the rational median, the closer one gets to the lunatic fringe.

2 posts were merged into an existing topic: Converting carbon dioxide into carbon

Actually, it can also be toxic at low concentrations (e.g. if it gets in the lungs). There is plenty of research showing its dangers.

As for science and scientists being accountable: they are. Unfortunately, not everything is immediate - but bad research is eventually revealed and new theories developed.

One obvious case in point is that of ex-Doctor Andrew Wakefield. He manufactured evidence that suggested existing vaccines were associated with autism. His paper was published in The Lancet - one of the (if not the) most prestigious journals in international medical research, and retracted several years later after it was shown to have involved wrongdoing. Too late - the harm has been done, and many almost-eradicated diseases are resurgent as parents fail to vaccinate their children. Wakefield continues to defend his ‘research’ despite all the evidence of flaws, fraud and conflicts of interest. Anti-vaxxers have become yet another group of anti-scientific conspiracy theorists.

Major scientific journals require that papers they publish be peer-reviewed. In cases such as Wakefield’s, twelve scientists signed on to the original paper but eleven later retracted their support. Peer review is not perfect, and cannot necessarily detect fraud.

Peer review also cannot always reveal the biases evident in the research methodologies. These can range from asking loaded questions (“Dihydrogen Monoxide causes thousands of deaths every year - do you support its ban?”), to failure to properly blind research subjects, to assuming correlation is causation.

chart

It is also important to delineate between the ability to find ‘truth’ in particular fields of science. The social sciences are more ‘rubbery’ than the hard sciences such as physics and mathematics. A mathematical proof is absolute - all other science can and probably will be disproven.

One good example of this is our understanding of gravity. Aristotle had a theory, that was supplanted by that of the Indian physicist Aryabhata, then Galileo developed his own ideas only to be supplanted by Hooke, Isaac Newton and most recently Einstein. Unfortunately, we know that Einstein must also be incomplete because his Theory of Relativity is inconsistent with quantum mechanics. In the meantime, for almost all scientific uses Newton is sufficiently accurate. Einstein’s theory comes into play for astronomy, GPS, and some space flight. At very small scales (sub-molecular), quantum mechanical theories such as quantum gravity take over. There are also competing/complementary theories such as string theory which postulate many more than the four dimensions that we see and with which we interact.

In short, scientific research by its nature seeks self-improvement. In ‘soft’ fields that is more difficult than in the ‘harder’ sciences, but every scientist wants their theory of how stuff works to be an improvement on what currently exists. Even those who fake their evidence are generally driven by a need to be ‘right’.

As for scientific credibility and reliability, we can see these all around us. Pretty much everything in a modern home is based upon tried and tested science - whether it be the plastics, the paint, the electronics or the mass-produced carpets. I’ll leave the final words to Richard Dawkins:

6 Likes