Everyone who follows the climate change controversy even casually will know about the “hockey stick” controversy. Well, Nature magazine this week offers a new graph of interest: the rising trend of retractions of scientific research papers (see blow). Lo and behold, it looks like a hockey stick! (Heh.)
The Nature story notes:
[B]ehind at least half of them lies some shocking tale of scientific misconduct — plagiarism, altered images or faked data — and the other half are admissions of embarrassing mistakes. But retraction notices are increasing rapidly. In the early 2000s, only about 30 retraction notices appeared annually. This year, the Web of Science is on track to index more than 400 — even though the total number of papers published has risen by only 44% over the past decade.
There’s a lot more here to ponder, such as the essentially hollow and meaningless nature of modern peer review, and the increasingly tribal and ideological drift of much of the academic scientific establishment. Some other time perhaps I’ll get further into these matters.
Elsewhere in this week’s issue of Nature, Dan Sarewitz of Arizona State University, one of the truly honest brokers in the academic science and policy world, offers a terrific essay on what’s wrong with so-called “consensus” science reports. (Dan is a pal, but hat tip to RH for bringing Dan’s piece to my attention.) The article may be behind a subscriber firewall, so here’s a relevant excerpt:
When scientists wish to speak with one voice, they typically do so in a most unscientific way: the consensus report. The idea is to condense the knowledge of many experts into a single point of view that can settle disputes and aid policy-making. But the process of achieving such a consensus often acts against these goals, and can undermine the very authority it seeks to project. . .
The very idea that science best expresses its authority through consensus statements is at odds with a vibrant scientific enterprise. Consensus is for textbooks; real science depends for its progress on continual challenges to the current state of always-imperfect knowledge. Science would provide better value to politics if it articulated the broadest set of plausible interpretations, options and perspectives, imagined by the best experts, rather than forcing convergence to an allegedly unified voice.
Yet, as anyone who has served on a consensus committee knows, much of what is most interesting about a subject gets left out of the final report.