BLOG 65 “Science in the Witness Box”
Now, supposing we put “science” itself or “scientists” in the witness box: who will help the jury, i.e. you and me? From what I am about to say, perhaps once again, good character witnesses would best fill the bill.
(Signed) Jimmy Wales, founder, Wikipedia. Posted on March 23, 2014.
The website comments: “Wikipedia's founder tried to censor energy psychology, energy medicine, acupuncture and the entire alternative healthcare community in one broad stroke when he responded to our petition on change.org by referring to its supporters as "lunatic charlatans", stating that Wikipedia would cover work in respectable journals. Apparently he is oblivious to the fact that there have been over 50 energy psychology research studies, many of them published and reviewed by respected scientific journals such as the Journal of Clinical Psychology, Review of General Psychology, and Traumatology.”
But read what Henry H. Bauer had to say on “The Science Bubble” in Edge Science: ”One sign of the increased prevalence of fraud in science is that the newsletters of the National Institutes of Health quite frequently carry notices naming individuals who have been barred from seeking grants or serving on advisory boards following some kind of dishonest behavior, usually faking experimental results. How common this has become seems astonishing.
“About 2% of researchers admitted fudging results at least once—but since that 2% also believed that 14% of their colleagues had done so, perhaps the 2% is too low an estimate.
“Beyond that, about one-third admitted to questionable practices less serious than data fudging, but they thought that nearly three-quarters of their colleagues had been guilty of such misconduct. Rather clearly, mainstream science can no longer be automatically taken as trustworthy.
“Such prominent media as the The Economist have noted that science has gone badly astray: “modern scientists are doing too much trusting and not enough verifying—to the detriment of the whole of science, and of humanity . . . shoddy experiments . . . poor analysis . . . [H]alf of published research cannot be replicated. . . . [Only] six of 53 ‘landmark’ studies in cancer research. . . . just a quarter of 67 similarly important papers [could]. . . . three-quarters of papers in . . . [computer science] are bunk. . . . roughly 80,000 patients took part in clinical trials based on research that was later retracted because of mistakes or improprieties.” Competitiveness resulting from growth is one of the reasons: just after World War II, the world had a few hundred thousand scientists; now there are 6–7 million. . “publish or perish”. . . . “Every year six freshly minted PhDs vie for every academic post.”
The reader may well know of an academic friend who has not published, and because of this has lost employment, or heard of scientists desperately seeking commercial sponsors so that they may continue their work. The pressure to act in a questionable way thus can be intense.
So how do we go about getting some kind of accurate understanding of the nature of things? First and foremost comes the experience that comes to us through our physical and psychic senses, and our intuitions and thoughts. But how we interpret and think about these experiences, will be heavily influenced by the language we use, and by Other People in the shape of parents, our schools, our society, our civilisation.
In addition, in spite of all that we can say about problems with science: an essential way to get at the truth of things is indeed through the use of the tools of science. These tools are of supreme importance. But we need to recognise that the people using these tools are human beings subject to temptation. That is why thinking in terms of the Witness Box can be helpful. Coming at the truth, depends on in which way we are regarding it. And often, to come at the truth, we need to look from many points of view. There will be differences of opinion, and there will be debate.