Monday, July 14, 2014

You Can Always Tell An Atheist But You Often Can't Tell Him Much: An Unedited Exchange At Southern Beale's Blog

  1. The faith in the omniscience of geneticists working for or in the pay of , agribusinesses is one of the most bizarre things in the group that thinks they are the great bastion of the highest sciencyness. One of the big problems of the totally artificial manipulation of genes is that, once out here, in the one and only biosphere we’ve got, once it’s gone feral, it can’t be called back. The generally otherwise admirable Chris Mooney and I broke over this issue. His faith in the benevolence and omniscience of scientists who are just as corruptible as anyone else is willful blindness.
    • I agree with one nitpick. As individuals, scientists are no more or less prone to being honest than any of us. As a profession, scientists tend towards honesty as it’s difficult to snow your peers in areas where data is data and not opinion.
      • Science, as a profession, isn’t notably good at following its own rules, as the frequent retraction of papers, at times due to fraud, quite often due to the review process being either faulty or fraudulent, itself. There is no one reviewing the reviewers and unless there are real, effective, professional punishments given to reviewers who rubber stamp and all who commit fraud, there is no reason to believe that scientists will police themselves. No profession should ever be trusted to police itself, especially when there is money to be made from fraud and lies.
        I always refer people to the excellent blog, Retraction Watch, if they want examples.
        The second lead story just now is: Three PLOS ONE papers retracted for totally made-up data.
        One can only imagine how many papers out there to be cited haven’t been caught for that, even as reviewers OKed them.
  2. Right. That shit happens in every profession except politics and religion. The guardians of our morals whether they are standing in the pulpit or sitting in a swanky D.C. restaurant, think only of us and would never do ANYTHING dishonest or unethical.
    I don’t believe in omniscience, being atheist I expeshly don’t believe in GODLY omniscience.
    So, who brought the fraud to the attention of the scientific journal? It had to be someone with at least a modicum of scientific training, yes?
    • Who brought up religion? You. And if your argument is that science is as well self-policed as religion, I don’t see how you can make the claim that religion loses due to the superiority of science if science isn’t automatically superior. Since most of the legitimate criticism of religion comes from people in religion, that’s not much of an argument in your favor, either. People in different religions are far better at criticizing what people in other religions write than scientists would seem to be, and in many cases they are far better at internal criticism as well. The “social sciences” are a centuries long scandal which has never been adequately critiqued by physicists or chemists, sciences with an infinitely better record in upholding the methods and practices of science, though not as good these days, apparently.
      I could give example after example of scientists who have committed even obvious fraud using their credentials and standings as scientists who have not been defrocked, as it were. Some retaining major academic positions and renown within the community of scientists, Fritz Haber was given the Nobel in Chemistry in 1918 when he should have been on trial for war crimes using his science, for example. But I won’t abuse the hospitality of Southern Beale to do so. Only, apropos of her post, when it comes to biological creations that could reproduce, uncontrolled and to horrific results, there is no reason to trust scientists to police themselves and good reason to not allow them to.
I'll point out, for you retraction fans, that the lead article at Retraction Watch yesterday was even more shocking.  Especially considering the attempts of corporate "persons" to suppress the exposure of their frauds and harm.   Here's the link to Southern Beale's very good blog.


  1. How many frauds have been revealed, only to be ignored? "Fraud" is a matter of interpretation, and like a "lie" which no public figure ever utters (unless they are already disgraced as a white supremacist, or some other category which invites immediate opprobrium), is almost never established.

    In law, fraud is the hardest civil tort to establish, because it requires a showing of intent. You can misrepresent through negligence, but fraud requires you know you are telling a lie. So too often a "fraud" in science, as in any other field, is passed off as a "mistake." Take, for example, the grand cock up at CDC where they found vials of smallpox in a container and location they weren't in, officially. Fraud? Well, somebody lied. Is anyone responsible? And what would have happened had those vials leaked, or the small pox infected someone without the vaccination (my daughter doesn't have it. why would she? Smallpox is "dead.")

    Did science discover that? True, not a strictly scientific pursuit, but if there's going to be "self-policing," it covers more than thinking the right thoughts (which no scientist will ever do; Jeremiah knew that: "The heart is devious, beyond all reckoning? Who can fathom it?" And according to Jeremiah, that was God speaking.) But did science discover it?

    No system is perfect, no set of people is always going to self-police its members, no branch of science is so pure and holy that it can maintain its sciency-ness despite all human efforts and failings. To even entertain such a utopian notion is a form of delusion that is itself anti-scientific.

    Not to mention anti-religious.

    1. I hate to think of what is lying around in obscure labs to be discovered. I seem to remember it was a canister of cesium that was found on a dump in Mexico city, opened up and the glowing contents spread around, only to quickly start killing the impoverished dump pickers who found it.

      I'm ever more appalled at the irresponsibility of scientists and technologists who play with such dangerous things. I've known grad students and post-docs who were incredibly immature and irresponsible about really dangerous stuff. It would just take one of their bosses trusting them more than they should for all hell to break loose.

  2. Had I followed your last link first, I'd have found this at their NYT Op-ed page (links above, I'm lazy):

    "Even though research misconduct is far from rare, Dr. Han’s case was unusual in that he had to resign. Criminal charges against scientists who commit fraud are even more uncommon. In fact, according to a study published last year, “most investigators who engage in wrongdoing, even serious wrongdoing, continue to conduct research at their institutions.” As part of our reporting, we’ve written about multiple academic researchers who have been found guilty of misconduct and then have gone on to work at pharmaceutical giants. Unusual, too, is the fact that Iowa State has agreed to reimburse the government about $500,000 to cover several years of Dr. Han’s salary and that the National Institutes of Health has decided to withhold another $1.4 million that it had promised the university as part of the grant.

    But don’t applaud yet, taxpayers: The N.I.H. isn’t doing anything about the rest of the $10 million granted to Dr. Han’s boss, Michael Cho, after the two scientists announced the apparently exciting results now known to be fraudulent."

    As in most human endeavors, what is rare is not fraud; it's getting caught committing fraud.

    As I said, it's hard to prove; and especially in the case of institutions, not always in the interest of the institution.

    Then there's the article about how less than 1% of scientists publish papers. The rest are busy doing the science they are paid to do (which ain't necessarily basic research), which may be a fraud on the public ("Toxic waste is GOOD for you!") in other ways (food additives, etc., come to mind) that are never revealed or even considered fraud.

    But hey, at least it's not religion, right?

    1. Here's something you might like

  3. I didn't understand what you guys were arguing about as it appeared you both were on the same side. When I read the exchange I thought Demo was making a tangential point about religion and politics also being corrupt, and doing so in a sarcastic way because in modern America we're supposed to trust our religious and political leaders as being incorruptible when obviously they're not.

    Maybe Demo can come over here and clarify.

    1. If that was what he intended it is a dangerous form of sarcasm in the online environment, one that it is easy to misunderstand. If he would like to explain what he meant and it changes the meaning I took from what he said, I will, of course, revise.

    2. I just became aware of this about an hour or so ago.

      I had typed a rather long reply, somewhat intemperate, I'm afraid..

      For whatever reason it doesn't want to let me post it--prolly a glitch between my server/platform and this one. Whatever.

      The reply I had intended is at my blog. Polrant.blogspot,com. Enjoy, or dont'