Iain Dale: Science Abuse

I do wish that bloggers who understand fuck all about science, let alone the peer review process that precedes and follows journal publication, would learn to shut the fuck up and not make assertions that they’re completely unqualified to make:

I’d love to know how the BBC justifies publishing THIS load of tosh. It is a story about how sea levels will rise by a metre and a half and we’re all going to die. Fair enough … if there was a scintilla of proof. But there’s the rub.

Yep, if you follow the link you’ll find another doomsday scenario climate change story, which is cause enough to be a bit sceptical, not least because its based on yet another set of ‘predictions’ derived from computer generated climate models, so its almost certain to entail the use of linear approximations of non-linear chaotic systems with all the problems and uncertainties that entails.

(For Iain’s benefit, all that means that the earth’s climate is fucking complex, too complex to model even using the most powerful computers with the kind of accuracy necessary for ‘proof’ because of all the seriously shit-kicking maths it entails)

In short, there’s every reason to want to take a good hard look at the research, when its published, and figure out whether it is all that the article appears to suggest it is, or not – and that’s about as much as can be said about it for the time being, no matter how sceptical you might be, especially about the kind of ‘doomsday scenarios’ that invariably capture the MSM’s imagination.

But Iain can’t just leave it at that…

Right down the bottom of the article we find that the research in question, which goes against the consensus view, has not been peer reviewed or accepted for publication but merely submitted to a journal.

And?

What’s happened here is that the scientists in question have elected to present the paper to a conference of the European Geosciences Union in advance of publication, which is pretty much standard practice whenever scientists have high hopes for their work.

If Iain actually understood how these things work then he’d know that this kind of presentation is actually part of the normal peer review process.

You present your research paper to a conference of your scientific peers, usually by way of a lecture, and then take a Q&A session during which delegates have the opportunity to challenge your findings head on, query your methodology and generally take a shot at picking your work apart – and its up to you to explain and, if necessary, defend your findings against all-comers in what, if the research is a bit controversial and goes against the generally accepted ‘grain’, can be a bit a of bear pit.

In fact, as a means of releasing your findings, a conference paper is about as risky at it gets because if you have screwed up anywhere your shortcomings will typically be very quickly, ruthlessly and publicly exposed. Quite literally, careers have been made, and destroyed, over the course of a single presentation is this kind of environment.

And as for the suggestion that this research goes ‘against the consensus view’, so fucking what? Science isn’t about ‘the consensus view’, its what the evidence does and doesn’t tell you. If this work is correct; i.e. if the methodology, results and interpretation of findings stands up to scrutiny then no amount of ‘consensus’ will change the facts of what the evidence points to and the ‘consensus’ will change in line with the new evidence. That’s how science works.

The other thing that a conference presentation in advance of publication does is put other scientists on notice that the research is open for review, giving anyone with views on the research and its validity the opportunity to submit comments into the peer review process and/or set about carrying out their own research in order to test the findings presented to the conference.

In short, there is nothing out of the ordinary in any of this, but for the presence of a few hacks at the conference, one of whom decided that he was on for a good story, and yet Iain goes on to make the most laughable assertion I’ve seen in many a long time.

This means that it is very probably wrong and may never be published (on the basis that almost all articles submitted to journals subsequently turn out to be wrong and many are turned down after failing peer review).

What?

‘Almost all articles submitted to journals subsequently turn out to wrong’?

Does Iain ever read any scientific journals?

Probably not, after all, with a BA in German, Linguistics and Teaching English as a Foreign Language he’s hardly going to be spoiled for choice when looking for relevant publications – although I do have some of Chomsky’s stuff knocking about if he needs a bit of a refresher…

(Can’t say I’m that big a fan of Noam, anyway, but that’s another story)

Scientific publishing is rarely simply a question of right and wrong, its a matter of adding to, testing, and refining the sum total of knowledge in a particular field. One simply cannot make such bald assertions, certainly not in advance of publication and certainly never when, like Iain, you’re entire unqualified to comment on the research.

By all means, take issue with the BBC for jumping the gun and possibly overselling this research before its been put properly to the test – fuck knows its a common enough fault in many science/health hacks – but don’t try and trash the research itself unless you understand enough about the science (and have enough information about the content of the paper) to offer an informed commentary and argue the science on its merits not on a back of an ill-informed commentary on the nature of scientific publishing.

Consequently, it beggars belief as to how this story got on the BBC website. Charitably the environmental correspondent in Vienna may need a bit more training on science journalism. Uncharitably, it is deliberate scaremongering.

And speaking charitably, Iain is talking out of his arse…

Uncharitably, he should learn shut the fuck up, leave the science blogging to people who’ve got enough of an understanding of the scientific method to comment intelligently on the detail of such research.

  • Well, at least he achieved his own objective: a dog-whistle for the usual right-wing twats to spout their shite. Look at the comments, if you’re feeling brave.