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The Age of Scientific Conformity
Howard Richman, 1/23/2010

[originally published on our old blog on April 10, 2009]

We live in an age of scientific conformity that is the result of the peer-review system for determining whether a scientific paper is worth publishing and whether scientific research is worth funding.

There are two types of standards that can be used in judging science: (1) objective standards based upon a theory's ability to make predictions and (2) subjective standards based upon the popularity of a theory among scientists. In this age of scientific conformity, objective standards are often ignored.

Take the case of Gioacchino Giuliani, a researcher at the Gran Sasso Physics Institute in Italy. He predicted the recent Itallian earthquake and tried to warn the populace. But scientists who oppposed his theory convinced the local politicians to suppress Giuliani's warnings while convincing the local press to ignore his alarms. Wikinews reports the story. Here is a selection:
Giuliani claims to have predicted the quake by monitoring radon gas emissions. Last month, cars with loudspeakers drove around the area, broadcasting the researcher's warning that a quake would soon strike. He was then reported to the authorities for making false alarms, and was obliged to remove his findings from the Internet....

Giuliani holds a patent on a device measuring atmospheric levels of radon in order to predict earthquakes. In 2005 he gave a seminar at Gran Sasso discussing the device and its use to predict tremors in the area of L'Aquila, but has not published papers on the topic....

The use of radon levels to anticipate seismic events has been under study by the seismological community since the 1970s, but a generally-accepted proven link has not been established.
Or take climate change. The carbon dioxide global warming theory has been unable to make accurate predictions. Michael Crichton, author of many science fiction books about man-made disasters, started out to write a book about the coming climate disaster. But when he did his research, he discovered that the predictions made by the carbon dioxide theory were not coming true. He ended up writing State of Fear, a book that debunks that theory. He drew heavily from the writing of retired professors who no longer had to conform.

There is now an alternative climate change theory, cosmoclimatology, which is being developed by scientists from countries where peer pressure is less powerful than it is in the United States. Cosmoclimatology has been able to make many accurate predictions. Every step of the theory has been proven: (1) cosmic rays cause ionization, (2) ionization causes cloud formation, (3) low lying clouds reflect sunlight and heat back into space, and (4) solar activity wards off cosmic rays. This theory precisely predicts the periodic ice ages and greenhouse ages of the geological past as well as the opposite temperature trends in the northern hemisphere and Antartica. It also successfully predicts the current cooling period resulting from low solar activity. But the entire field of cosmoclimatology is ignored by the American press.

For example, Marilyn Head wrote a report this week for ABC Science about the current cooling of the earth in correspondence to the quieter sun, a prediction made by cosmoclimatology. But instead of interviewing a cosmoclimatologist, she interviewed a New Zealand mathematician who claimed that there was no scientific basis for a link between solar activity and earth temperatures. Here is a selection:
Dr Sean Oughton, an associate professor of mathematics at New Zealand's Waikato University, says the sun's lack of solar activity is expected.

"What we are experiencing is a very deep solar minimum, but it is still completely within the bounds of what is normal," he says....

He says no mechanism has been found which would prove a connection between minimal sunspot activity and cooler temperatures.
There you have it. The refuge of the subjective scientists is to claim that “no proven link" has been found or that “no mechanism has been found which could prove a connection.” What they mean is that they have not yet been subjectively persuaded by the arguments of the theory's adherents.

In the field of economics, there is a similar phenomena. You can't get tenure as an economist in academia if you disagree with the consensus that unilateral free trade is always the best policy. Economists invariably "prove" the benefit of unilateral free trade with examples in which trade is in balance. They never consider what would be the effect of unilateral free trade upon on a country running trade deficits.

My father broke with the conformist thinking of the economics profession in a September 2003 commentary in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review which advocated balanced trade. He did not have to fear that he would lose out on publications, promotions, or research money because he had already retired.

We expanded his 2003 piece and brought it up to date as part of our 2008 book Trading Away Our Future. Even though we predicted what is happening now and will happen in the next several years, nobody in the economics profession will review our book because doing so might encourage "protectionism."

The problem is the over-conformity encouraged by the peer-review process. Government research grants should no longer be authorized by peer review. Instead, they should be contest awards for the research work that makes the best predictions or achieves engineering goals. Predictions and achievements are the measure of objective theory. Peer review is the conformity-enforcing process that is currently corrupting science.

I am not the only researcher to identify this problem. Scientists all over the country are arriving at the same conclusion. University of Washington professor of surgery, Donald W. Miller, and University of Washington professor of bioengineering Gerald Pollack were two of the scientists from the Seattle area who hold the same belief as noted in an March 2008 editorial column about enforced scientific conformity in the Seattle Times by Bruce Ramsey. Here is a selection:
Here is a list of beliefs in the biomedical and climate sciences that must not be questioned if you're applying for a government grant:
  • That global warming is caused by humans;

  • That AIDS is caused by a virus;

  • That radiation, cigarette smoke and other toxins are dangerous in proportion to their strength, no matter how small the dose;

  • That heart disease is caused by saturated fats;

  • That cancer is caused by mutations.
This is part of a list offered by a University of Washington professor of surgery, Donald W. Miller, who is a heart surgeon at the VA Medical Center in Seattle....

What that means, Miller says, is that "If you say low doses of radiation aren't bad for you, or that global warming is due to variations in the sun, you can't get funded."

He says this happened to University of California scientist Peter Duesberg, who challenged the viral theory of AIDS, and to Harvard's Willie Soon, who challenged the pollution theory of global warming, and to others. In a paper published in 2007 in the Journal of Information Ethics, Miller argued that conformity is built into the system of government grants....

In 2005, in the scientific journal Cellular and Molecular Biology, Pollack made an argument similar to Miller's. American science, he wrote, has become "a culture of believers" whose rule is, "just keep it safe and get your funding."
The press has an important role here. Reporters must learn to ignore the scientists who are trying to suppress the predictive theories. They should no longer ignore earthquake warnings. They should no longer ignore cosmoclimatology. They should no longer ignore plans that would achieve balanced trade. Instead, they must learn to ignore barriers set up by incompetent scientists and give a hearing to those scientists whose predictions are coming true.

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  • [An] extensive argument for balanced trade, and a program to achieve balanced trade is presented in Trading Away Our Future, by Raymond Richman, Howard Richman and Jesse Richman. “A minimum standard for ensuring that trade does benefit all is that trade should be relatively in balance.” [Balanced Trade entry]

    Journal of Economic Literature:

  • [Trading Away Our Future] Examines the costs and benefits of U.S. trade and tax policies. Discusses why trade deficits matter; root of the trade deficit; the “ostrich” and “eagles” attitudes; how to balance trade; taxation of capital gains; the real estate tax; the corporate income tax; solving the low savings problem; how to protect one’s assets; and a program for a strong America....

    Atlantic Economic Journal:

  • In Trading Away Our Future   Richman ... advocates the immediate adoption of a set of public policy proposal designed to reduce the trade deficit and increase domestic savings.... the set of public policy proposals is a wake-up call... [February 17, 2009 review by T.H. Cate]