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[Phys-l] neither sanctimonious nor cynical

On 10/12/2010 07:28 AM, LaMontagne, Bob wrote:

There are good parallels between the so called "global warming
scandal" and the initial cold fusion debacle.

There are some minor parallels and some major divergences.

In both cases the
people who had been accused of "cooking" data were "exonerated" by
the universities that derived income from their endeavors. That's why
I find it amusing when people sanctimoniously say that one side of an
issue has been bought off by big ___________, but project the image
that the other side has been doing "pure" untainted research guided
only by a desire to serve mankind.

The parallelism breaks down when we distinguish initial
discoveries from confirmations. Reports of a remarkable
new discovery are subject to extra scrutiny. There are
a number of reasons why such a report could have problems,
including random error, possibly exacerbated by innocent
overenthusiasm and/or not-so-innocent desire for publicity
and funding.

In contrast, those issues do not arise to anywhere
near the same degree for the Nth report confirming
an established trend.

Climate change is no longer a new idea.

The parallelism breaks down again when we distinguish
misconduct from error from divergence of opinion. Even in
cases where there has been no misconduct, there could still
be error, and even in cases where there is no error there
could still be differences of opinion. The initial Pons /
Fleischmann report was apparently highly erroneous, and the
actions of the University of Utah administration were of
dubious propriety. But so what? That does not mean other
institutions behave the same. In 2002 when a physicist at
Bell Labs was found to have committed scientific misconduct,
the guy was fired and the issue was /not/ covered up. The
institution's long-term credibility demands that such things
not be covered up.

The parallelism breaks down yet again, quite spectacularly,
when we consider the motives of the funding agencies
themselves. There is a chronic problem in the biomedical
research field in connection with research funded by large
manufacturing firms. The pressure to produce "favorable"
results is sometimes overwhelming. The scientific community
is keenly aware of the problem and is fighting a never-ending
battle to defend scientific integrity.

It would be insane to suggest that similar processes are not
at work in the climate science area. Nobody is that naive.
There is plenty of motive for the carbon-energy industry to
support the climate-change deniers.

In contrast, there is not the slightest motive for government
funding agencies to pressure researchers to fabricate evidence
of climate change. Indeed there have been repeated documented
cases of Bush-era officials pressuring scientists to soft-pedal
their climate-change findings.

Remember what James Randi said: Scientists are easier to fool
than children. Randi is a professional magician, so he deeply
understands what is involved in fooling people. And he did not
say that out of disrespect to scientists; his point simply is
that scientists are not accustomed to being lied to. On the
other side of the same coin, whenever there is lying going on,
scientists need to get their act together. They have a duty to
take strong action to defend scientific integrity.

Calling this "sanctimonious" is way out of line. This is neither
sanctimonious nor cynical. It's just the way it is.