Thursday, May 5, 2016

joe stalin Popular science vs joe friday Published science

Don't get me wrong - I love joe friday Published science, usually generated by junior nobodies, particularly when it is long on assembled evidence and short on windy conclusions.

Its pontifical Popular science - the kind mostly generated by the established famous scientists (Science's thumb-suckers-in-chief) - that really gets me in the long and curlies.

Expansive theories, short on facts, long on wind, generated not from down in the dirt or out in the field but delivered ex cathedra from some determinist LaPlacian cloud, way up on high.

Now the theory normally started as a normal joe friday peer reviewed article with some particularly but limited insightful conclusions that for whatever reason, usually something happening in the society outside formal Science, really catches fire inside the discipline and became the new dogma among its members.

Thus encouraged, the original author and their fans push that insight further than the evidence would normally take it and their snow ball starts growing.

No longer formally peer-reviewed, this wind is now issued publicly in the form of the author writing popularly-oriented science books and expansively expressed in author interviews with important non-scientific media.

More privately, it becomes the unchallenged thinking behind the author's designing of chapters in the big popular college textbooks, in the editing choices of the big journals, in the choices made at important grant and hiring committee meetings and in the placement of speakers at big society AGM sessions.

Being windy based on a few facts is my job not theirs

The reason I rant about this is perhaps because drawing expansive conclusions from a shallow study is supposed to be my bailiwick and the bailiwick of my kin in the blogging and pamphleteer worlds.

But as I am not a scientist (in fact never took high school biology and no science courses at all in university) and certainly am not a famous scientist, there is no aura of scientific certainty over any of my windy conclusions.

Instead, it is just my water cooler opinion, just my over-dinner speculations --- and published as such.

Published with the attitude that one can feel free to rebuke it tooth and nail, or just ignore it, or call me a gadfly, an amateur, a pamphleteer - 'I don't care, I don't care, I don't care'.

I am a spiritual son of Eva Tanguay - 'I just don't care'.

But what I do care about - muchly - is when established scientists want to have it both ways.

You know : the freedom to speculate wildly and widely based on a superficial relationship to a few facts like any opinionated non-scientist and yet to come off sounding like the seasoned cautious author of a narrowly argued, fact-filled, peer-reviewed published scientific article.

Disciplines : cut your tall poppies

My only suggestion is for members of every academic discipline to self-consciously and sharply limit the 'perks of power' of the authors of currently dominant theories in their academic discipline.

Don't make them heads of the big university departments, presidents of societies, editors of big journals, textbook editors, or put them on all big grant and hiring committees.

Let them rightly enjoy their virtual intellectual cachet, but without giving them control of any real world instruments that let them enforce their theory but hiring or not hiring people based mostly on the strength of their publicly voiced support of that theory.

workaday Science needs to be more like Joe Friday and less like Joe Stalin...

A truly scientific theory needs to live or die in the world of evidence, not because young scientists get sent to the scientific gulags if they fail to support it : let Science be Joe Friday, not Joe Stalin....

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