Friday, January 6, 2023

Science is Dead, Long Live Science

A few related, or at least slightly related, stories on science have washed up recently. First, at Science Alert, Innovation in Science Is on The Decline And We're Not Sure Why

While previous research has shown downturns in individual disciplines, the study is the first that "emphatically, convincingly documents this decline of disruptiveness across all major fields of science and technology," lead author Michael Park told AFP. Park, a doctoral student at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, called disruptive discoveries those that "break away from existing ideas" and "push the whole scientific field into new territory." The researchers gave a "disruptiveness score" to 45 million scientific papers dating from 1945 to 2010, and to 3.9 million US-based patents from 1976 to 2010.

From the start of those time ranges, research papers and patents have been increasingly likely to consolidate or build upon previous knowledge, according to results published in the journal Nature. The ranking was based on how the papers were cited in other studies five years after publication, assuming that the more disruptive the research was, the less its predecessors would be cited. The biggest decrease in disruptive research came in physical sciences such as physics and chemistry. "The nature of research is shifting" as incremental innovations become more common, senior study author Russell Funk said. 

One theory for the decline is that all the "low-hanging fruit" of science has already been plucked. If that were the case, disruptiveness in various scientific fields would have fallen at different speeds, Park said. But instead "the declines are pretty consistent in their speeds and timing across all major fields," Park said, indicating that the low-hanging fruit theory is not likely to be the culprit.

Instead, the researchers pointed to what has been dubbed "the burden of research," which suggests there is now so much that scientists must learn to master a particular field they have little time left to push boundaries. This causes scientists and inventors to "focus on a narrow slice of the existing knowledge, leading them to just come up with something more consolidating rather than disruptive," Park said.

Eh, maybe. David Strom at Haut Hare, How a scientific consensus can destroy good science, using Alzheimer's Disease as an example. For many years, it's been conjectured that the protein tangles seen in higher numbers in the brain of Alzheimer patients are a cause, rather than an effect of the syndrome. However, treatments based on minimizing the tangles have not worked, but research continues to focus there, largely from inertia, and the positions of high ranking academics and the government.

At Am Think, Andrea Widburg thinks she knows Why you can’t trust ‘the science’ about anything anymore

There is something bizarre about a Lancet article entitled “Human monkeypox virus infection in women and non-binary individuals during the 2022 outbreaks: a global case series.” It had all the earmarks of a reputable study.

It was published in The Lancet, which still rests on a reputation it earned over 199 years. It has an enormous number of authors with strings of letters behind their names:

And of course, its very format implies respectability.

The fact that it referred to non-binary individuals was a bit concerning, but the casual reader would assume that the article focused on biological women, no matter what they claimed to be. After all, we’ve long known that diseases affect men and women differently, including the fact that men and women perceive the onset of a heart attack in very different ways. That makes sense, given that men and women have different organs, bone structures, and hormones.

The devil, as always, is in the details. It turns out that almost half of the “women” involved in this study about monkeypox in women…were men:

That little fact is buried in the study’s findings, along with the information that most of these “men” caught monkeypox the exact same way all gay men caught it: Unsafe sex. Moreover, a quarter of these men were HIV positive, something that could well affect monkeypox contagion.

And finally, at WUWT, The Rise and Fall of Peer Review

Adam Mastroianni has written a marvelous article at his substack, Experimental History, evaluating the history, the function and the misfunction of the peer review process.
For the last 60 years or so, science has been running an experiment on itself. The experimental design wasn’t great; there was no randomization and no control group. Nobody was in charge, exactly, and nobody was really taking consistent measurements. And yet it was the most massive experiment ever run, and it included every scientist on Earth.

Most of those folks didn’t even realize they were in an experiment. Many of them, including me, weren’t born when the experiment started. If we had noticed what was going on, maybe we would have demanded a basic level of scientific rigor. Maybe nobody objected because the hypothesis seemed so obviously true: science will be better off if we have someone check every paper and reject the ones that don’t pass muster. They called it “peer review.”

This was a massive change. From antiquity to modernity, scientists wrote letters and circulated monographs, and the main barriers stopping them from communicating their findings were the cost of paper, postage, or a printing press, or on rare occasions, the cost of a visit from the Catholic Church. Scientific journals appeared in the 1600s, but they operated more like magazines or newsletters, and their processes of picking articles ranged from “we print whatever we get” to “the editor asks his friend what he thinks” to “the whole society votes.” Sometimes journals couldn’t get enough papers to publish, so editors had to go around begging their friends to submit manuscripts, or fill the space themselves. Scientific publishing remained a hodgepodge for centuries.

It is an exceptional essay which helps to explain much of what is occurring in “science” and academia.
Here is a list of his section titles and some excerpts.

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