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Blog: Gelman, "The puzzle: Why do scientists typically respond to legitimate scientific criticism in an angry, defensive, closed, non-scientific way?"

Discussion in 'Research methodology news and research' started by Andy, Jan 14, 2018.

  1. Andy

    Andy Committee Member

    Hampshire, UK
    mari_gold, Esther12, James and 17 others like this.
  2. sb4

    sb4 Senior Member (Voting Rights)

    I have been saying this for a while now. The scientific method is good. The institutions and people in control of it are very fallible.

    If you say X is bad and you publish a paper on it, your ego is now at least somewhat invested in X being bad, and you are also now vulnerable to things like confirmation bias.

    Now if that paper gets recognized and you gain some fame from it, you may get promoted. You may become an expert on X. Now, more people that confirm X get promoted. Fast forward a few years and you and people like you, with the same ideas on X are in powerful situations, possibly on boards that decide where grant money goes.

    Now if some whippersnapper comes up with a grant request for a project that says X is good. Your ego is massively invested in this. Would be pretty embarrasing if you got social recognision / fame for a position on X is wrong. Your position in the scientific establishment is at stake. If X is wrong then you are no longer the expert on the matter, perhaps you get demoted. Your biases also prevent you from granting the proposal. This has been settled years ago, the grant money needs to be spent wisely, etc.

    So the people trying to say X is good have to struggle to find grant money and have their names dragged through the mood via the scientific establishment. I have read several accounts of this.

    This all means big change of establishment opinion takes way longer than it should.

    Scientific method = Good.
    Human = Bad. Very naughty human.
    Trish, Art Vandelay, Woolie and 4 others like this.
  3. Arnie Pye

    Arnie Pye Senior Member (Voting Rights)

    One of the biggest "wars" going on between groups of scientists these days is the war between those who think we should be eating low fat, high carb, and those who think we should be eating high fat, low carb.

    There has been particularly fierce fighting in South Africa (the scientist being accused of heresy being Professor Tim Noakes) and Australia (with the casualty being Gary Fettke, who has been accused of "inappropriate reversal of Type 2 diabetes").



    However, unlike many subjects in science, what people eat is not under the control of scientists, and so more and more people appear to have decided that low fat, high carb eating is bunkum, and are "doing it for themselves" by switching to high fat, low carb. Hooray!
    Daisymay, Amw66, Art Vandelay and 4 others like this.
  4. Barry

    Barry Senior Member (Voting Rights)

    As an engineer I am typically involved in development projects that can run for years. When you are deeply involved in some fascinating and important aspect of a project, it becomes "your baby"; something you have put lots of yourself into, including professional reputation - major personal investment. I can imagine that for researchers involved in clinical trials this must also be very true, probably even more so. It is therefore going to hurt like hell if things turn out less rosy than you thought. But the point is, if they cannot cope with that and do the right thing, they should never have got into it in the first place.
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2018
  5. alicec

    alicec Senior Member (Voting Rights)

    Brisbane, Australia
    I experienced it personally. I was an outsider who had discovered something new (being a woman in a male-dominated scientific world didn't help either). A common response was, to the effect - "But how could you have discovered something new? That means we missed it and we are the experts. You must be wrong."

    I had reviewers of papers submitted for publication or grant applications recommend against, because it didn't fit in with what we know about xyz, despite not being able to find fault with my experimental data. Fortunately most Journal Editors were not swayed and I got enough funding to struggle on, but it was difficult.

    So yes, scientists are just as flawed as other human beings.
  6. Forbin

    Forbin Senior Member (Voting Rights)

  7. sb4

    sb4 Senior Member (Voting Rights)

    @alicec Yes I can imagine what it's like. You may be interested in reading books by Dr Robert O'Becker, Dr Andrew Marino, and Gerald Pollack. Even if you do not agree with their conclusions (the former 2 believe that EMFs are harmful, the latter believes most of what we know about water is wrong) the lengths that scientific institutions will go to stop their research and discredit them is extraordinary.
  8. Adrian

    Adrian Administrator Staff Member

    I'm not surprised when scientists react badly to criticism. Sometimes you have to be quite single minded to push ideas through and in doing so ignore criticism. However, its good to listen and understand the criticisms as it can lead to strengthening the approach or the supportive arguments.
    MEMarge, Barry, Indigophoton and 4 others like this.
  9. James

    James Established Member (Voting Rights)

    Paolo Macchiarini's position and defense of it by the Karolinska Institute would be a case in point where reputations and funding brought in by leading researchers outweigh the truth until a tipping point is reached that makes association with them toxic.
    Journals also have difficulty correcting the record as this calls into question their reputation as gatekeepers and the quality of the peer review process that can make science clubbable http://retractionwatch.com/category/by-author/paolo-macchiarini/
    (interesting aside that Paolo Macchiarini also published in The Lancet in 2011 with as much ballyhoo as the PACE trial )
    Esther12, sb4, Barry and 2 others like this.
  10. Esther12

    Esther12 Senior Member (Voting Rights)


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