The Early Days of a Better Nation

Friday, February 26, 2010

Scientists behaving badly? Social Sessions 04

Over the past few months the Genomics Forum has hosted three very successful public events, the Social Sessions, on: the scientist as seen in literature and in science studies; genetics and crime; and science as an inspiration for poetry.

We are now planning a fourth, to be held in March, on the relevance of science studies to the controversy arising from the East Anglia emails hack - labelled 'Climategate' in the media and online. Our panel and audience will discuss whether the attitudes and actions apparently shown in the emails and other documents are as scandalous as has been claimed, or whether they are (as some of the science studies literature would suggest) fairly typical of what goes on in everyday scientific practice. And if the latter is the case, how is that the results of scientific practice can be regarded as reliable?

Date: 10 Mar 2010 17:30

Time: 5.30pm for 6.00pm, drinks and nibbles provided


ESRC Genomics and Policy Research Forum, 3rd Floor, St John's Land, Holyrood Road, Edinburgh EH8 8AQ

Organised by: ESRC Genomics and Policy Research Forum


Simon Shackley - School of Geosciences
Colin Macilwain - Nature
Ben Pile - Climate Resistance blog
Colin Campbell - EaSTCHEM Fellow, School of Chemistry
Steve Sturdy - Genomics Forum Deputy Director

This event is FREE, but as space is limited, please confirm your attendance as soon as possible to:

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I wish I could be there. As for "Science Studies," my opinions are mixed and biased against most of what I have seen. As sociology I don't mind it at all, although some of the detailed institutional history I just skip. The field is at its best whena text (oops: book) combines detailed history with abundant technical presentation. See "The Mind's Eye," for a fine example of that. It's a description of the great debate between Ewald Hering and Hermann von Helmholtz on colour vision and (another topic) the geometry of eye movements. The worst that I have seen was S. Shapin's "The Scientific Revolution, " whose 1st sentence is close to "There was no scientific revolution and this is a book about it." Lots of organisational and instrumental description, but too little detail. This double status in the Anglophone world (there are German and French precedents) is an effect of Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions." It and Kuhn's later essays stress history, which is fine. But it employs a notion of paradigm change (might also be OK) to describe the history; a notion that leads Kuhn to deny any notion of demonstrable scientific truth and progress. He does this with not one argument. That got me annoyed and too many enthusiastically convinced. It was in the Zeitgeist. I hope that such problems get discussed.

Good luck at this forum, Ken.

I've read quite a few pieces about the Climategate scandal. And I've not seen anything to suggest that any scientists were falsifying data or impeding the pursuit of truth. The 'trick' that caused such a furore is not a trick in the commonly used 'I'm tricking you' sense of the term. And the fact that the emails were so foul-mouthed, opinonated and indiscreet is surely because they were PRIVATE EMAILS. If I write an article online I fact-check and moderate my language; if I'm mouthing off in the pub, or in private emails to friends, it's a different story.

So is there any reason why these emails should ever have been released under the FOI laws, as was being asked? (This was before they were eventually leaked.) All the real data is freely available in scientific papers; the emails shouldn't be in the public domain.

Anyway - couldn't resist that brief rant. I look forward to hearing about the debate.

Hallo Mr Palmer---My wife has precisely the same opinion of THE 'trick' as you do. I'm not at all up to date on this de ate. But if both of you are right i'd suspect that some people are so desperate to trash global warmers that they forget how Many people are aware of the conventions you so concisely describe.

Damn, I'd love to be there, someone make sure and rip Ben Pile to shreds for me. (If you want to see why, look at his website, climate resistance)*

*Note for the literal minded - not physically, just metaphorically.

Mr/Ms/AI Viagra. That is a very good question. Suppose some agency asked me to release my private email, and gave as a reason that I worked for a University (I did). I would do my best not to comply, perhaps even under risk of a fine. I wonder what excuse was used. Again though, I know next to nothing about the substantive issues involved in climate change disputes.

This freely available data would be the stuff that Jones refused to release on the grounds that McIntyre would "only want to disprove it".Clearly it was not freely available.

I do not think it is the generality that scientists try to hide what the figures show or "swear I pulled every trick out of my sleeve trying to milk something out of that... I don't think it'd be productive to try and juggle the chronology statistics any more than I already have." If it were thalidomide would not have been a one off.

Probably it is simply common practice where the politicians have already decided what results they want. This is also the position over the radiation LNT theory.

"Discoveries" which are produced from thin air without producing the evidence are the realm of alchemy not science. Even astrologers' basic data are available.

Speaking of Alchemy, I found this 'paper':

A simple test can show the transmutation of Mercury into Gold, proving that
Lavoisier's Principle is experimentally groundless and that Alchemy is an
Experimental Science.

No prize at all for those who explain why they are probably mistaken, and how to guard against such mistakes.


I just have a quick question for you but couldn't find an email so had to resort to this. I am a progressive blogger and the owner of the mahablog. Please email me back at when you get a chance. Thanks.


So how did the session go?

It went rather well. I may write it up next week.

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