Scientific accountability

A theory can be proved by experiment; but no path leads from experiment to the birth of a theory.
Manfred Eigen–scientist

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli received a letter from the Union of Concerned Scientists, urging him to stop his inquiry into possible fraud violations made by Michael (hockey stick) Mann during his time at the University of Virginia. They feel that his peers in the scientific community would better qualified to handle any misconduct by Mann. If his work is deemed bogus, Mann would lose his standing in the scientific community. Ouch, that is tough.

They are probably right about one thing. In time, his peers will complete a review of Mann’s work. Any errors in math, fudging, cherry picking and outright fraud will become known; but it may be years from now, way too late. Long before that time, an economy-crushing carbon control bill could become law based on his “work.”

Along the same lines, the Board of Directors for the American Association for the Advancement of Science wants Cuccinelli to justify his investigation into Mann, or end it, saying it could have a chilling effect on scientific research.

That sounds about right. It not only may have a “chilling” effect on research, the might have a chilling effect on global temperatures too. Scientists, knowing someone will be looking over their shoulders to check for fraud, may do unbiased reasearch. Actually, there could be multiple positive effects. First, honest scientists have nothing to fear. Their idea of science is to create a theory and then strive to disprove it. They have no fear of someone checking their facts. Second, knowing that there can be criminal penalties for taking taxpayer money and delivering junk science could cause a massive drop in the volume of junk science. Third, knowing there will be additional scrutiny may reduce the rate of frivolous grant applications; you know, the ones investigating the impact on global warming by cow farts or fish farming.

It is time for accountability in scientific research. It is obvious that the scientists do not want to be accountable. The peer-reviewed papers do not want to be accountable. The senators dolling out the pork do not want to be accountable. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) does not want to be accountable. Perhaps it falls to an Attorney General for Virginia to start the demand for accountability. It is a dirty job, but someone has to do it.

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Published in: on May 21, 2010 at 10:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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