Mike Gemmell is the founder and president of Restore Our American Republic (ROAR). Prior to founding ROAR, he was a geologist specializing in groundwater resource development, a technical writer, and a freelance writer addressing environmental and other cultural issues. For more information on his professional background please see: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michaelmgemmell.
Saving Science after Climate Gate: Recovering from the Loss of Scientific Credibility
By Jay Lehr, Ph.D. Science Director, The Heartland Institute,
and Mike Gemmell* **
“Billions of dollars are being spent each year on publicly funded scientific research in the U.S. However, the Climategate scandal has brought to light glaring problems in publicly funded science including: the slowing of the advancement of science to a crawl, vast sums of money being squandered, and disturbing occurrences of political correctness, science by consensus, and alarmist science. This paper presents an integrated approach to reform based on the principle of full disclosure of data and data protocols at the time of research publication. The implementation of that principle — combined with full disclosure by all parties during the grant application process — and adherence to scientific objectivity, are used to demonstrate a fundamental approach to reform. The application of this reform approach should be a significant step toward restoring credibility in the scientific establishment and provide taxpayers with a much better return on the money spent on public scientific endeavors.”
In November 2009, reports began to emerge concerning data suppression of global temperature data in emails of scientists at East Anglia University, a leading institution involved in promoting the theory of manmade global warming. These reports soon mushroomed into a full-blown scandal now known as “Climategate.” The scandal’s emergence into the public spotlight has shown that systemic problems exist in scientific institutions involved in the promotion of the theory of manmade global warming, and by extension all publicly funded science.
Our approach to reform will be to identify what we believe to be the most fundamental of issues: the release of data and data protocols at the time that research results are published. Reform in the area of data release will be linked with the principles of full disclosure in the grant application process and adherence to the principle of objectivity regarding the accumulated knowledge available in any field. This essay will show how combining timely release of data and protocols, with full disclosure and objectivity, will help restore science’s self-correcting mechanisms. But first we must explain how we got into the mess we are in.
The results of 60 years of publicly funded science research have left us with a loss of scientific credibility as evidenced by:
1. Yearly expenditures of billions of dollars of research money with little in the way of meaningful scientific advances resulting from those expenditures.
2. Previously unacceptable practices becoming the order of the day in the scientific community including: political correctness, science by consensus, and alarmist science.
3. The Climategate scientific scandal that illuminated widespread systemic problems in the operation of public scientific institutions and their conducting of publicly funded scientific research.
Science enters the Public Realm
The decline in science has mirrored the decline in individualism, a cultural trend that began early in the 19th century in the U.S., and has continued to the present day. As a result of this decline, by the early to mid-20th century, interests that had been previously conducted by private parties began to be placed in the public realm. Newly created public institutions sprouted up to address the shift. Eventually, interested parties began to see scientific research as an issue that belonged in the public realm and began to push for public institutions to reflect that belief. One of the leaders in that effort was Vannevar Bush.
During World War II Bush led efforts to use scientific research to help the U.S. achieve technologic superiority and shorten the war through the creation of the National Research Defense Committee. This effort was extremely successful. Unknown to Bush and others at the time was the underlying reason for that success, its “mission-oriented” nature. It was focused on preserving American lives, and the rights to live those lives, a universal human need. This need was a principle that could be converted to a mission-oriented action plan. Because its mission was so “reality-based”, costs vs. benefits and other objective means of measuring its success could be properly applied.
When the war was over, Bush attempted to broaden the use of scientific research into peacetime activities. Unfortunately, he did not realize that peacetime science was not a universal interest, or need, of the public. He blurred the boundaries between wartime and peacetime science in “Science the Endless Frontier” where he contended:
“It has been basic policy that government should foster the opening of new frontiers… that new frontiers should be made available for development by all American citizens.”
He ignored the distinction that making a frontier available, was not the same as funding it with public monies. Frontiers up to that time were typically tamed by individuals or small groups with well-defined interests rather than the entire public. This error was not challenged, and as a result widespread public funding of scientific research began in 1950 with the creation of the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health.
The Four steps of “Public Interest” Degeneration as applied to Science
The degeneration of public scientific research followed the same four steps as other issues wrongly placed in the public realm. What made its degeneration even more destructive was an entrenched establishment’s use of an anti-industrial ideology that treated “nature” as pristine and risk-free, and human action as guilty until proven innocent.
THE FOUR STEPS 1-2-3-4 A-Explanation of the steps, B- How the step took form in environmentalism
1. Declare an issue to be in the public interest
A-Some person or a small group of people declare that the public interest on a particular issue requires action.
B-Vannevar Bush led the way in placing the funding of scientific research into the public realm with the establishment of the National Science Foundation in 1950. He viewed science as a frontier that the government should open to all of the public.
2. Attempts at defining the issue lead to vague or arbitrary definitions
A-The public as a whole (with the exception of the defense of rights, a universal need) does not have interests, only individuals do. Thus, trying to define an interest that does not exist is an exercise in futility and inevitably leads to vague and/or arbitrary definitions.
B-In justifying the public funding of scientific research, Vannevar Bush arbitrarily, and mistakenly, claimed that public funding was necessary to achieve technologic excellence in the marketplace. He ignored over a century of scientific historical development via private sources in the U.S.
3. Limit the number of people / viewpoints in order to manipulate the decision-making process.
A-Without a clear definition of what the public interest is on any particular issue, rational decision making is impossible. Inevitably the situation degenerates into clashes between parties claiming to represent the public. Since rational decision making is impossible, there is no choice but to limit proposals to those who are the most effective influence peddlers.
B-For publicly funded science, the beginning steps to limit viewpoints was the use of the prestige system for the awarding of grants. The prestige system operated by having the most well-known authorities in each field serve on committees that reviewed grant proposals. Since proposals that deviated too far from an authority’s views were unlikely to get funding, this served to entrench the views of the reigning authorities.
At the National Cancer Institute the reigning authority was Wilhem Hueper and his “germ theory” of cancer. Hueper’s theory contended that cancer was largely created by industrial society, but had very little evidence to support it.
When Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962 and launched the environmental movement, her anti-industrial perspective was based primarily on the views of Wilhem Hueper.
4. The situation degenerates with exploding costs and other problems leading to a final entrenchment of an establishment and purging of those with contrary viewpoints.
A-Contracts between private parties are relatively easy to assess costs vs. benefits. The parties agree on a scope of work and a product to be delivered. The party purchasing the product designates someone or some group in particular to keep track of their interests. However, the entire public is, by definition, everyone in general, but no one in particular. And when there is no one in particular to “mind the store” the situation invariably degenerates.
Arbitrary guidelines to try and control costs are inevitable. The already entrenched establishment uses the crisis to further purge any remaining resistance.
B-In 1950, average project costs in the National Institute of Health was $9649, but by 1960 the average cost per project had skyrocketed to $18,584.
The first step taken to halt a deteriorating situation was implementing the prestige system for awarding research grants. Unfortunately even prestigious authorities had to find shortcuts to review the overwhelming numbers of grant proposals fueled by the newly available funds. Assessing papers on their long-term significance and quality was simply too time-consuming and took authorities away from their own research activities. The quantity of papers was soon used as a substitute for quality. This was the beginning of the publish or perish syndrome. Multiple authoring exploded, and emphasis on teaching declined.
Since cause and effect mechanisms can be difficult and time-consuming to determine, researchers began using statistics as a short cut for understanding mechanisms so that papers could be churned out more quickly.
These trends were deplorable, but some progress was still possible in fields such as physics and chemistry that were not being driven by ideology. However, in the environmental sciences, an anti-industrial ideology led by people such as Umberto Saffioti in the National Cancer Institute was beginning to transform the activities and perspective of public institutions involved in environmental science research. Saffioti’s belief, shaped by Wilhem Hueper, was that most cancers originated from exposure to manmade chemicals.
However, in the early 1970s, there was much resistance within the scientific community to Saffioti and others who promoted the assumption that carcinogens in the environment were largely manmade. To suppress this resistance, an issue that went to the heart of the industrial world was needed to secure the anti-industrial ideologues long-term status as the entrenched establishment. That issue was the use of the man made pesticide DDT.
Prior to the publishing of Silent Spring, DDT was considered one of the most miraculous chemicals on earth and had virtually eliminated malaria in many third world countries. However, Rachel Carson and others misrepresented the potential dangers of DDT using biased studies of eggshell thinning of birds, as well as ignoring test results– among a control group of volunteers– that showed minor DDT buildup in human tissue was not a health threat. Her emotionally-moving –yet highly inaccurate prose — sold millions of copies of Silent Spring and widely spread the misperception that industrialized society was poisoning the earth.
By the early 1970s the anti-industrial perspective of Carson was the reigning orthodoxy at the National Cancer Institute. In 1972, following a 7-month hearing process, William Ruckleshaus, head of the newly formed Environmental Protection Agency – quoting authorities at the National Cancer Institute banned DDT without ever attending a single day of the 7-month long hearings.
The banning of one of the most beneficial chemicals ever developed, created the perception that industrial wastes and processes were threatening to “destroy the planet.” If something as useful and widespread as DDT could be a risk, then any man made chemical could be placed under suspicion.
With the banning of DDT the environmental movement was off and running, and as a result of the distortions and demagoguery surrounding the DDT ban, 2,000,000 people each year have had their lives ended prematurely and very painfully all supposedly to “protect the environment.” In addition, this highly biased research was used as the underlying justification for the emerging environmental legal / regulatory framework of the early 1970s in the U.S. in regard to man made chemicals and their concentrations in the environment.
The Aftermath of the takeover of “Publicly” Funded Science
The banning of DDT was possible due to the concentrating of political power and money into the hands of an entrenched establishment of anti-industrial ideologues. Opponents of the takeover tried to counter as many biased scientific studies as possible, but this was a time-consuming process in which the media rarely published rebuttals to the alarmist-oriented establishment.
What was needed to stop the takeover was a philosophical perspective on environmental affairs that considered people to be the highest of environmental values and a method for comparing man made chemical contributions with those of “Mother Nature.” (That method now exists and is known as the Human Exposure / Rodent Potency [HERP] index. The nature of this index and its purpose is outlined in “Environmental Pollution and Cancer: Some Misconceptions,” Bruce Ames and Lois Swirsky Gold, in Rational Readings on Environmental Concerns, ed. Jay H. Lehr, 1992) In addition, the means to spread these views with an uncooperative media were lacking at that time, (e.g., the Internet was not widely used, and Talk Radio was not in existence) and there was little understanding of how public funding of endeavors inevitably leads to the entrenching of an establishment and corrupt influence peddling. Because these issues were not widely understood at the time, the banning of DDT was just the beginning.
The DDT ban put the issue of man made chemicals in the environment under the magnifying glass. Umberto Saffioti of the National Cancer Institute was the architect of the policy of carcinogen testing whose public statements left little doubt of where his biases were:
“I consider cancer as a social disease, largely caused by external agents which are derived from our technology…”
His perspective was staunchly opposed by one of the preeminent scientists of his day, Dr. John Higginson. Beginning in the early 1950s John Higginson wrote several seminal papers compiling cancer statistics based on geography, sex, occupation and other factors. Higginson concluded that between 65 and 90 percent of cancers were “environmental” in origin. By environmental Higginson meant factors such as: sex, dietary habits, drinking, smoking, sunbathing, etc.
However, Saffiotti in a series of announcements and non-peer reviewed internal publications of the National Cancer Institute perpetrated the misperception that “environmental” meant industrial chemicals in the environment. Prior to the public funding of science, Saffioti would have been summarily “tarred and feathered” and treated as an outcast in the scientific community for promoting non-peer reviewed studies that paved the way to perpetrating this fraud. But several decades of degeneration in the publicly funded scientific arena had given him political status, influence over funding, and a compliant media in the palm of his hand. Because of his political clout, Saffioti was able to orchestrate the following policies:
- Assuming that animal test results for carcinogens could be simply converted to project results with humans, even though it was known to be immensely complex and poorly understood.
- Assuming that there is no threshold (i.e., no amount is safe) for a carcinogen even though there was no scientific support for this position (i.e., guilty until proven innocent).
- Weighting Positive studies (i.e., those that suggested a chemical was a carcinogen) much more heavily than negative studies.
- Assuming –when studies that contradict each other — guilt of the chemical in question must be considered more likely than innocence.
None of these assumptions had any basis in fact. However, their use led to the widespread belief that we were drowning in cancer caused by industrial chemicals, thus effectively launching the environmental regulatory machinery that we are living with today. Since most of the testing during the 1970s and beyond was done on industrial rather than naturally occurring chemicals, these criteria ensured that huge numbers of industrial chemicals would be declared carcinogens.
This controversy sent the career of Dr. Higginson into eclipse as well as silencing dissent among scientists opposed to the dictatorial policies of Saffioti and others that would follow his lead. In recent years, scientists have begun to speak out against these and other distortions, but they are almost always retired, or near retirement, so that the need of grant funding is no longer an issue for their careers. Censorship in all its ugliness is operating every day within the umbrella of publicly funded scientific endeavors. In particular, proponents of the theory of man made global warming are using heavy-handed tactics to silent dissent. However, they sanitize their censorship by relentlessly claiming a consensus on global warming. James Hansen of NASA leads the way with his particular brand of demagoguery. For over 20 years he has been pounding the global warming alarms, with manipulated data, and false predictions.
The Operation of Grant-Funded Science in the Present Day
According to Donald W. Miller (The Government Grant System: Inhibitor of Truth and Innovation?, Journal of Information Ethics, Spring 2007), the following paradigms are being treated as dogma even though there have been valid questions raised about each of the orthodoxies:
1. Cholesterol and saturated fats cause coronary artery disease.
2. Mutations in genes cause cancer.
3. Human activity is causing global warming through increased CO2 emissions.
4. A virus called HIV (human immunodeficiency) causes AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome.)
5. The damaging effects of toxins are dose-dependent in a linear fashion down to zero. Even a tiny amount of a toxin, such as radiation or cigarette smoke, will harm some people.
6. The membrane-pump theory of cell physiology is based on the concept that cells are aqueous solutions enclosed by a cell membrane.
Miller lists numerous scientists of significant standing that have voiced objections to each of these paradigms and have been denied grants and/or silenced (e.g., Peter Duesberg, Willie Soon, U. Ravenskov, N. Hodgkinson, S. Lang, D.J. Calabrese, G.Ling, G.H. Pollack….)
Before moving on to the antidote for what is poisoning publicly funded science we’ll let the words of a scientific researcher in health and medicine speak to this topic. In a Dec 31, 2005 interview, Robin Arcarian stated:
“I cannot come out and say that we can teach responsible drinking — I would be at a major risk from an institutional perspective for saying that … you would never get funding for that not in our current political climate.” (Dec 31, 2005, LA Times, “Is Home Schooling Best for Drinking?”
To members of the scientific community as well as the public, please heed the following words:
“Be skeptical of alarmist science, consensus science, and those making personal attacks on scientists who dispute the so-called consensus, or reigning paradigm on scientific issues.”
(We hope that readers of this paper will want to investigate the wider implications of how the four-step degenerative process associated with the misuse of the public interest principle has caused widespread damage to the freedom and prosperity of Americans, and others around the world. To investigate the issue further, there is probably no better place to start than F.A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. Hayek’s understanding of ideas that threaten the traditions of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness makes the book a classic. The four-step degenerative process presented in this paper is a distillation of Hayek’s presentation in The Road to Serfdom. The authors and defenders / lovers of liberty everywhere are in his debt for this incisive work, as well as other great works he authored.)
Primary Reform Concepts
Our proposed approach for reform consists of two concepts presented below.
Concept #1: Release of Scientific Data and Data Protocols
The release of data and data protocols is intended to prevent data hoarding and other dubious practices that have been used to keep scientists from challenging reigning paradigms, among other abuses. Prompt release of data and protocols will make it much easier to challenge dubious research results. This will be achieved by creating an environment of openness where the work of a discredited researcher will also reflect badly on the institution responsible for publishing the research. Knowing that anyone who is skeptical about a given piece of research has the law on their side, should go a long way toward making it easier to voice legitimate objections to published research. Skeptics can simply state their request for a timely review of the research data with a statement along the following lines:
“The law requires the immediate release of data. Furthermore, if the researchers have nothing to hide, they should have no objection to releasing their data immediately….”
Note: for those doing computer modeling (e.g., climate change simulations ostensibly due to manmade CO2 contributions), in lieu of collecting and analyzing data, computer program source codes would serve as the equivalent to data and data protocols and would need to be released within one week of publishing model simulation results.
Concept #2: Full Disclosure in the Grant Funding Process
With full disclosure — combined with adherence to objectivity– the paradigm-challenging grant seeker no longer needs to worry about his grant proposal being taken seriously. If he wishes to challenge bad data or research in the literature he can cite data, research, and/or rationale as needed to make his case. With full disclosure applying to all parties including those administering grants, outside parties of any type, including the media, blogs, etc. can be consulted if the grant seeker believes his grant is not being viewed objectively by grant administrators. As a result, grant applications will likely become much less formalized and unnecessarily restrictive when potential rebuttals, accountability of all parties, and other competitive pressures that result from full disclosure are brought to bear.
Adherence to scientific objectivity, combined with full disclosure, will make it possible for those challenging the scientific consensus or reigning paradigm, to get a fair hearing on controversial ideas. Neither will it harm those that are following the consensus. It simply makes it necessary for all interested parties to back up their views with facts and logic. Free-flow of information is in the interest of all honest parties in the public sphere. Also, the public has a right to know how its money is being spent, and being privy to the debates concerning the grant application process will greatly aid in achieving that aim.
Implementing the two reform ideas above should cause a ripple effect through all aspects of grant-funded science and initiate self-correcting mechanisms that will:
· produce more meaningful advances in science;
· curtail abuses of: science by consensus, political correctness, and alarmist science; and
· provide taxpayers with a much better return on the dollars they have invested in scientific research.
* Mike Gemmell performed ground water resource and contamination studies as a geologist for over a decade before becoming a free lance science writer concentrating on education, business management and free enterprise solutions to environmental policy problems. He is co-author of “People First: Creating a Roadmap for Environmental Reform”. He can be reached at [email protected]
**The authors wish to thank Dr. S. Stanley Young for his help regarding treatment of data protocols incorporated in this paper. Dr. Young is Assistant Director of Bioinformatics at the National Institute of Statistical Science in Research Triangle Park, NC.