Dr. Judith Curry writes:
The perils of ‘near-tabloid science’
A remarkable essay by esteemed oceanographer Carl Wunsch.
While doing a literature survey for my paper on Climate Uncertainty and Risk, I came across a remarkable paper published in 2010 by MIT oceanographer Carl Wunsch, entitled Towards Understanding the Paleocean.
The paper is remarkable for several reasons — not only that it was published but that the paper was apparently invited by journal editor.
The paper is well worth reading in its entirety, for a fascinating perspective on paleo-oceanography and paleoclimatology. Here I provide excerpts of relevance to the sociology of climate science:
From one point of view, scientific communities without adequate data have a distinct advantage: one can construct interesting and exciting stories and rationalizations with little or no risk of observational refutation. Colorful, sometimes charismatic, characters come to dominate the field, constructing their interpretations of a few intriguing, but indefinite observations that appeal to their followers, and which eventually emerge as “textbook truths.”
Consider the following characteristics ascribed to one particular, notoriously data-poor, field (Smolin, 2006), as having:
1. Tremendous self confidence, leading to a sense of entitlement and of belonging to an elite community of experts.
2. An unusually monolithic community, with a strong sense of consensus, whether driven by the evidence or not, and an unusual uniformity of views on open questions. These views seem related to the existence of a hierarchical structure in which the ideas of a few leaders dictate the viewpoint, strategy, and direction of the field.
3. In some cases a sense of identification with the group, akin to identification with a religious faith or political platform.
4. A strong sense of the boundary between the group and other experts.
5. A disregard for and disinterest in the ideas, opinions, and work of experts who are not part of the group, and a preference for talking only with other members of the community.
6. A tendency to interpret evidence optimistically, to believe exaggerated or incorrect statements of results and to disregard the possibility that the theory might be wrong. This is coupled with a tendency to believe results are true because they are ’widely believed,’ even if one has not checked (or even seen) the proof oneself.
7. A lack of appreciation for the extent to which a research program ought to involve risk.
Full story here, well worth a read.