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Violating The Norms And Ethos Of Science

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Judith Curry, Climate Etc

The Mertonian Norms of Science, introduced in 1942, describe “four sets of institutional imperatives [comprising] the ethos of modern science:

* Communalism all scientists should have equal access to scientific goods (intellectual property) and there should be a sense of common ownership in order to promote collective collaboration, secrecy is the opposite of this norm. 

* Universalism all scientists can contribute to science regardless of race, nationality, culture, or gender. 

* Disinterestedness according to which scientists are supposed to act for the benefit of a common scientific enterprise, rather than for personal gain. 

* Organized Skepticism Skepticism means that scientific claims must be exposed to critical scrutiny before being accepted. 

An interesting article on counter norms and critiques of the Mertonian norms is given in this article in the Journal of Higher Ed.  This is a very interesting article, and the paper concludes with this paragraph:

The Mertonian norms, as principles representative of the normative system of science, have been challenged, attacked, dismissed, contested, inconsistently referenced, and, in short, battered and bruised by controversy and careless application. They nonetheless have endured for over 65 years as part of the communal property of science. 

Lewandowsky’s latest paper in Nature

Numerous lessons in violating these norms are provided by a new paper just published in Nature [link; full paper available online]: Research integrity: Don’t let transparency damage science, by Stephan Lewandowsky & Dorothy Bishop.  Subtitle: Stephan Lewandowsky and Dorothy Bishop explain how the research community should protect its members from harassment, while encouraging the openness that has become essential to science.

My ‘favorite’ excerpts:

Many organized attacks call for more data, often with the aim of finding an analysis method that makes undesirable results go away [JC note: most would call that ‘skepticism’].

Even when data availability is described in papers, tension may still arise if researchers do not trust the good faith of those requesting data, and if they suspect that requestors will cherry-pick data to discredit reasonable conclusions. [JC note: ‘universalism’ does not care whether researchers trust the good faith of those requesting data].

What’s more, the scientific community should not indulge in games of ‘gotcha’ (intentionally turning small errors against a person). Minor corrections and clarifications after publication should not be a reason to stigmatize fellow researchers. Scientific publications should be seen as ‘living documents’, with corrigenda an accepted — if unwelcome — part of scientific progress. [JC note: ‘disinterestedness’ doesn’t care about the reputations of specific scientists, nor their feelings.  How on earth can you justify corrigenda as being ‘unwelcome’?]

Scientists who are harassed often feel alone. Universities do not tolerate harassment based on race or gender, and neither should they tolerate harassment based on contentious science. They should provide training and support to help their researchers cope. [JC note: big boy pants please.  Be a scientist and learn to embrace disinterestedness and skepticism. Training researchers in ethical behavior and their legal responsibilities (and maybe also the philosophy and sociology of science) is all the coping support that they need.]

Public declarations can be particularly useful: in 2014, in response to the harassment of one of its professors, the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York publicly acknowledged the scientific consensus on climate change and its support for academic freedom. [JC note:  this might be most frightening statement in the entire paper  – institutionalizing a politicized, manufactured consensus on a highly uncertain scientific topic as an argument for rejecting the norms of communalism and skepticism].

Similar attention must be devoted to stressors and threats to science that arise in response to research that is considered inconvenient. The same institutions and bodies that have scrutinized science must also start a conversation about how to protect it. [JC note:  ‘disinterestedness’ doesn’t care whether research is convenient or inconvenient.  Policy advocates care whether research is convenient or inconvenient]

The comments at the end of the Nature article are very interesting, however the most interesting ones are the large number of comments that Nature has deleted, including a comment from Richard Tol.  Paul Matthews has post on this, excerpts:

Tol’s deleted comment read:

“Research integrity and transparency are great. It starts at home. It would be good if Professor Lewandowsky would come clean about his research on climate change, and if he would tell his student John Cook to do the same. Harassment would be much reduced if researchers would tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about their data, how it was gathered, and how it was processed and analyzed.”

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