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Interview with Dr. Henry Bauer - Part 2
Vortex: Hello, dear Psience Quest members. Dr. Henry Bauer and I are back here, to continue and conclude our discussion about science.
In the first part of the interview, we talked about science as such. Now, we will turn to the specific stage of science that we are facing nowadays, with all its problems and the potential solutions for these problems. But we should start with a kind of short historical survey, so we would be able to understand our current situation better.
Dr. Bauer, you interpret history of science as passing through three distinct, and differing, stages. So, can you tell us more about this three-stage model of yours? What were the main stages of the development and change of science? Why the modern science is not the same phenomenon that it once was, and is notably different?
Dr. Henry Bauer: The birth of “modern” science came with “The” Scientific Revolution of the 17th century, and there have been three distinctly different stages of scientific  activity since then. In the first stage, amateurs were seeking to satisfy their  curiosity about how the world works. There were essentially no controlling interests other than truth-seeking. Missteps resulted chiefly  from the inherent difficulty of making discoveries and from such inherent human flaws as pride and avarice. The second stage, roughly  the 19th century, saw science becoming a career, a plausible way to  make a living, not unlike other careers in academe or professions like  engineering: respectable and potentially satisfying but not any obvious path to great influence or wealth. Inevitably there were conflicts of interest between furthering a career and following objectively  where evidence pointed, but competition and collegiality served well enough to keep the progress of science little affected by conflicting career interests. The way to get ahead was by doing good science. In the third and present stage, which began at about the middle of the 20th century, science faces a necessary change in ethos as its centuries-long expansion at an exponential rate has changed to a zero-sum,  steady-state situation that has fostered intensely cutthroat competition. Science’s remarkable previous  successes led industry and government to co-opt and exploit science and scientists. Those interactions offer the possibility for individuals to gain considerable public influence and wealth. That possibility tempts to corruption. Outright fraud in research has become noticeably  more frequent, and public pronouncements about matters of science  are made for self-interested bureaucratic and commercial motives. The public cannot now rely safely on the soundness of advice from the scientific community.
Those words come from the Abstract of my article, “Three Stages of Modern Science”, Journal of Scientific Exploration, 27 (20130 505–513; online at
Vortex: The most peculiar and feature of the current corporate stage of science is the notion of the “scientific consensus”. This “consensus” idea always seemed quite strange to me, since it is a direct reversal of the very basic principles of scientific research and conduct.
The strength of science comes from the fact that it is simultaneously socially communal and intellectually adversarial. This means that scientists should not engage in rivalry and mutual hostility on interpersonal and intergroup level – they should rather work together to achieve better results – but, at the same time, they should always debate each other, criticise each other and verify each other’s work. And there should no theory and no observation in science that is immune to this organised mutual skepticism and is forbidden for discussion.
Yet recently this classic adversarial approach to the intellectual process in science was largely given up and replaced with the novel consensual approach. This approach insist on necessity of forming the “expert consensus” on any issue – especially on the issues that are highly socially, politically or economically significant. This consensus is effectively a currently dominant academic position being turned into a prescriptive, oftentimes effectively compulsory, societal commandment which is supposed to be a choiceless basis for any personal conduct or public policy related to any consensus-related issue. The positions and attitudes of anyone who does not comply to it are stigmatised as being “anti-science” and a threat to the people (sometimes, even to the world itself). The “consensus” is also an intellectual dogma within the scientific community itself, with any attempts to doubt and criticise it, let alone disavow and reject it, being branded as dangerous “denialism”.
Such consensual approach to intellectual side of science, in my strong opinion, is a serious menace both to society and to science itself, since it effectively transforms any provisional and controvertible scientific position whose proponents attained a leading role within academia (and, thus, the dominant source of academic influence on a general society) into an indubitable, obligatory statement of faith.
Being thus elevated into the realm of the sacred, such faith-based, societally enforced “scientific consensus” turns into a triple danger:
-       first, it thwarts the progress of science itself, since the freedom to criticise the dominant models and to present the alternative ones is the bedrock of the scientific progress – progress which manifest itself by overthrowing provisional consensuses, not by maintaining them indefinitely;
-       second, it may lead to the negative, possibly even disastrous, consequences to society and environment, since the perpetuation of the consensus requires silent disregard or furious dismissal of its obvious failures;
-       third, it is an affront to intellectual integrity, as well as simple personal dignity, of people, since it is based on a demand to abandon individual critical thought and personal conscience in favour of unquestioning and unwavering belief in the intellectual and moral authority of currently dominant forces and groups within the scientific community.
In my view, if one intends to take a position on a scientific controversy, one needs to look at the evidence and argumentation presented by the sides, not on their social status and standing: contrarian claims should be treated with the same combination of open-mindedness and critical objectivity as the dominant ones. Knowledge about the social component of the controversy does has its uses, of course – it is important to understand what biases and prejudices are characteristic for each of the sides, to make proper adjustment when evaluating their theoretical and empirical claims. But such social adjustments can only work properly if made for all sides of the controversy (and there can be more than two of them), not just the opposing ones. It is laughably easy to notice the subjectivity in others’ apparently objective assessments; it is tremendously hard to honestly embrace the fact that you are not immune to the influences of your own personal subjectivity – and, together with your allies and supporters, of the collective subjectivity as well.
And you, Dr. Bauer – what do you think? What do you think about the notion of the “scientific consensus”? When did this notion arise in the first place (in its recent iteration, at least)? Why scientific knowledge is always provisional and controvertible, with temporary consensuses inevitably overthrown? What are scientific revolutions, what role do they play in scientific progress, and how can our knowledge of the history of science help us to understand it? What role do criticism of the current “scientific consensus” play, why such challenges are necessary for the scientific progress, and why critics of current consensuses should not be dismissed as “deniers” or “denialists”? What perils can an uncritical acceptance of modern consensuses pose?
Dr. Henry Bauer: I agree fully that the present emphasis on consensus is damaging. As I pointed out in Dogmatism  in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth (2012), on many topics quite legitimate minority views are being suppressed.
However, I don’t think there was ever a time when all interactions were constructive and friendly, there were always rivalries and competition (e.g., who invented the calculus, Leibniz or Newton? Who discovered Neptune, LeVerrier or Adams? ; but there was not an organizational structure powerful enough to enforce any one viewpoint. Bernard Barber, “Resistance by scientists to scientific discovery” (Science 1961, 134: 596-602), surveyed the way in which new ideas have always been resisted, until the evidence becomes overwhelming and a new theory or paradigm (Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions) wins out.
Nowadays however there are interests apart from the researchers themselves who may be vested in the status quo and resist change. Official bodies like the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention or the Food and Drug Administration will not easily admit mistakes, for example about approving a new drug; and the pharmaceutical industry of course resists any evidence that a drug might not be as good as advertised, or might even be harmful. So it is much harder nowadays to correct mistakes.
I think the best statement about consensus is from Michael Crichton: “I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had. Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way” (lecture, “Aliens cause global warming”).
More surprising, President Eisenhower understood more than 50 years ago the danger of consensus science: “in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite” (farewell speech, 1961
Vortex: Now we can turn to examination of the common pressures on science which leads to the transformation of the leading intellectual models in science into the socially imposed “scientific consensuses”. Since – and it is, in my opinion, the most crucial moment – the “scientific consensus” as it is presented nowadays has quite little to do with science at all. It is a claim of political, economic and social domination justified with the emotionalised appeal to the authority of capital-S “Science”.
In the area of politics, “scientific consensus” has turned into the rhetorical instrument in the Left-versus-Right political battle. Both sides are fond of appealing to consensus if they like the specific notions that are currently dominant within the scientific community, and are eager to reject it if they dislike them. Two good examples of such politically motivated consensus appeals are controversies concerning anthropogenic global warming (AGW) and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Many (but not all) modern Leftists, with their anti-capitalist and pro-environmental approach, are sympathetic to the dominant scientific position of planetary warming caused by emissions of energy industry yet are antipathetic to equally dominant scientific stance on the safety of genetically modified agriculture produced by the biotech industry; so, they appeal to the “scientific consensus” on AGW issue and yet simultaneously reject it on the GMOs issue. On the opposite side, represented by pro-capitalism and anti-environmental Rightists, the situation is likely to be the opposite: consensus on AGW is rejected and yet consensus on GMOs safety is accepted.
Of course, both sides accuse each other of “politicisation of science”. And both sides are, sadly, correct – as long as they are speaking about their opponents, since, being vigilant to the political infiltration of the scientific process practiced by the opposite side of the political spectrum, they are usually quite lenient, if not affirmative, to the analogous infiltration practiced by the ones sharing their political positions.
However, the political influence of both Left and Right on science is relatively small compared to the influence of the dominant political force in modern Western societies, the Center. Political Center is the one that defines what social and intellectual “mainstream” is, and it constantly uses its influence to keep away anyone perceived by Centrists as “radical” or “fringe” elements. Because of Centrist domination, both largely Right-leaning critics of AGW and predominantly Left-leaning critics of GMOs are dismissed and denigrated. Centrists may appeal to consensus constantly and in all cases, since they are the ones who can decide what consensus is.
What is common to the overwhelming majority of people participating in any of these three political camps – Right, Left or Center – is the fact that their political affiliations strongly influence their scientific positions. But there is a few – very few – people who try to look at scientific issues as on genuinely, not just rhetorically, non-political ones. Dare I say, I am one of them.
For me, political preferences and scientific positions are two different venues that are intellectually independent. If one evaluates a certain political position as desirable, it does not automatically mean that one should accept any scientific model that is likeable to the most people holding such a position: for example, I support environmentalism and socialism as political stances, yet I still have strong intellectual doubts about the AGW as a scientific model. The opposite is also true: if someone’s stances in the scientific area are motivated by undesirable political ideas, it is not a reason to reject such scientific stance, which should still be analysed on its own intellectual merit: while most (yet not all) critics of AGW are indeed the supporters of free-market capitalism, which, in my opinion, is a misguided political choice, it is not a reason to ignore or dismiss scientific counterarguments and counterevidence presented by them against AGW.
Dr. Bauer, what is your opinion about politicisation of science? How can political institutions and movements instill bias into the scientific study? Why all political forces and positions – be they “Right”, “Left” or “Center” – are not innocent in this regard? And how you deal with the fact that the positions you maintain on many scientific issues, such as AGW, contradict the ones held by people with whom you are close on political issues?
Dr. Henry Bauer: It’s human to accept easily what fits with our general worldview, philosophy, ideology, religious or political or whatever. So lefties, environmentalists, easily believe AGW, whereas righties, usually thinking financially, disbelieve AGW because trying to stop it would disrupt economies.
Like you I’m inclined towards socialism and environmentalism, but try hard to form opinions based on facts; see my blog post “A politically liberal global-warming skeptic?”.
It’s very frustrating to me that people I largely agree with on social and political matters disagree with me about AGW and about HIV/AIDS. Similarly with intellectual or scientific anomalies. I’ve long been a member of the Society for Scientific Exploration, founded to provide a scientifically rigorous forum for topics dismissed by the mainstream; psychic phenomena, Loch Ness monsters, UFOs, etc. Most commonly, the ufologists tend to be dismissive of parapsychology, and vice versa, and both are dismissive of Loch  Ness monsters, and they accept HIV/AIDS theory…
I find it quite possible to have good relations with people who disagree with me on particular topics. In most cases we just don’t talk about what we don’t share in some way, there are plenty of things in common: wishing good healthy life, enjoying common interests in swimming, bridge, books….  With really close friends we can talk about disagreements, and I’ve been able to modify my own opinions when the reasons are offered by a close friend.
As you say, very few people try hard enough to go only by the facts. And of course no one has the time to really look into the facts on ALL those subjects.
Vortex: Well, political pressure on science is not the only one that is significant nowadays. The economic, especially commercial, pressure is no less real.
The commercialisation of science is notable everywhere, yet it is especially notable in medical and pharmacological research. The attempts of Big Pharma to influence scientific research for its own profit are numerous and well-documented. The same works for biotech industry. Other branches of modern corporate economy are also far from clean in this regard.
Of course, it would be too much to claim that each and every study sponsored by the industry and commerce is therefore useless – as much as the political affiliations of the scientific organisations should not in themselves be a sufficient reason for their political opponents to dismiss every model proposed by them or every evidence presented by them. The economic conflicts of interest, as well as political conflicts of affiliation, may indeed motivate researchers to fudge their results – but such extreme cases of direct fraudulence are not something happening every day. Yet such economic and political conflicts has a notable long-term tendency to instill a bias in the research projects of even honest scientists, thwarting their observational, interpretative and evaluative activities in the direction where their biases lead them.
Dr. Bauer, what role does commercialisation play in science? How commercial organisations can influence and distort research? What are conflicts of interest, and what danger can they pose for the research process?
Dr. Henry Bauer: Whole books have been written about this, as well as many articles; see the bibliographies I’ve accumulated:
Re commercialization, including its effects on universities, see (in the SCIENCE critique) the books by Greenberg, Krimsky, Mirowski, Radder. Stark gives important discussion including that conflicts of interest can never be “negligible” or “apparent”. When they exist, they exert influence. In the MEDICINE bibliography many books criticize the drug industry which seeks to commercialize illness.

Scientific research now depends on getting funds from government or industry. In both cases, the what research gets done is decided outside the scientific community. When research is funded by industry, sometimes publication of results is prevented if the sponsor doesn’t like their effect on its business.

Several of the MEDICINE books show how drug companies can bias clinical trials.
As to conflicts of interest, here’s what I wrote in my last book, Science Is Not What You Think: How It Has Changed, Why We Can’t Trust It, How It Can Be Fixed (McFarland 2017):

”Consider a hypothetical personal situation. You are a teacher. One of the pupils in your class is your own daughter. You believe in awarding grades purely on the basis of students’ performance. You also want your daughter to get high grades and to build self-esteem as she learns. There is a conflict of interest between what you as a teacher want to do and what you as a parent want for your daughter, and you are caught in the middle. When it comes time to award grades, you may in fact assign to your daughter exactly the same grade as you would have assigned any other student who performed as she did — but there is simply no way to know whether or not you did that. That you firmly and honestly believe that you did is no proof; and other people are likely to have a nagging suspicion that the conflict of interest may have warped your judgment. (And if your daughter’s grade is not as high as she thinks she deserves, she may have a well-founded suspicion that you overcompensated in order not to appear to be favoring her.)

Her suspicion and the likely opposite suspicions of others would be very well founded. It might not in fact have happened in this particular instance, but there is no doubt that overall, on average, conflicts of interest influence behavior, which means that they actually do affect it significantly some of the time.

For example a survey revealed that physicians with financial interests in clinical laboratories had prescribed lab tests more often than did physicians with no such financial interest. There may well be nothing deliberately corrupt here or in similar circumstances. It could be that the physicians who invested in clinical labs in the first place did so because they already believed in the value of doing every conceivable clinical test, in other words these particular physicians would prescribe just as many tests even if they had no investment in the labs. Nevertheless, they do have a bias toward more testing, a bias not shared by other physicians — for if the tests concerned were known beyond any doubt to be cost-effectively useful, then all or most physicians would be prescribing them. The existence of a conflict of interest means that there is a definite tendency toward a particular type of behavior, even if the person concerned is acting out of completely honest motives and is not aware of doing anything inappropriate.

This basic fact about conflicts of interest seems to be widely misunderstood nowadays, for instance when people talk about “apparent” conflicts of interest. There is no such thing. What such talk tries to say is that the existing conflict of interest did or does or will do no harm — but that cannot be known. The only way to avoid possible consequences of conflicts of interest is to avoid conflicts of interest altogether (Stark 2000).
That is widely misunderstood, overlooked, or wished away. People and institutions try to evade this logic and the existing actual evidence by talking not only about “apparent” conflicts of interest but also about supposedly “negligible” conflicts of interest. For instance, the Commonwealth of Virginia defines “negligible” in monetary terms, which a few years ago meant less than $13,000 annually. Even a moment’s thought makes plain that what is negligible for some would not be so for others. There is simply no way to get around the fact that any conflict of interest is likely to result in action that is biased. “Apparent”, “negligible”,  and other euphemisms and evasions pretend to be able to judge that a given conflict of interest or type of conflict of interest will not have seriously damaging consequences. Such predictions cannot be sound or accurate (Bauer 1994).”
Vortex: Well, the second external cause of the research bias – the economic incentives – was, in fact, the easiest one to identify and to accept, that’s why I was quite short when I was writing about it. The first cause of such bias I mentioned – political influences – is much harder for the people to notice, as long as it’s their political notions, not their opponents’ ones, that are being forced into the scientific process.
Yet there is the third external cause of scientific bias, and it is even more painful for the acceptance, for the simple reason that almost anyone – including myself! – share this bias in some form and to some degree. This is moral bias. I think, I should use an example – an example I have one used already, yet good enough to be used again – of my own to demonstrate how it works.
My ethical position is egalitarian one: I maintain that every human being is entitled to the universal human dignity, and should be treated as an equal, a friend, rather than as a boss or as a subordinate. Such as my strong and decisive moral choice, and it is incompatible with the moral stances that insist on a fundamental inequality of human beings, such as racism. So, what should I do with racists’ scientific claims, such as the ones concerning the apparent racial disparities in IQ testing? Should I just analyse them objectively, as any other claims in the area of science? Or should I dismiss them on ethical reasons?
Of course, here I, with my understanding of the difference between intellectual and social, rational and ethical, should say “of course, I should analyse them impartially”. This would be a truly scientific approach to the controversy. Yet I cannot say it this way – in this specific case, my own bias, my deep ethical dedication to equality and dignity of human beings, is stronger than my ability to maintain a rational impartiality. And, therefore, I, in not-so-rational way, maintain that the fundamental moral imperative of equal respect and equal treatment of the people of different racial heritages is more important than inevitably controversial and provisional scientific results. Scientific models come and go, yet the basic moral principles can and should be more persistent. I understand that such position of mine is based on social sensitivity, rather than on intellectual reflexivity. Yet it is what it is.
But this social sensitivity, while being consciously and willfully preferred by me to the intellectual reflexivity when apparent racial disparities are debated, is not overwhelming enough to let me turn into an outright intellectual dishonesty. So, despite my decisive moral rejection of the seemingly scientific claims of innate racial inequality, I will NOT:
-       insist that research-based claims of hierarchical racial differences are “pseudo-science”, “junk science” etc. – since I haven’t studied them in sufficient detail, I have no intellectual right to make such claims (even if I would want to do so);
-       declare that researchers claiming aforementioned results are “insane”, “evil”, “bigoted” etc. – without scrutinising the evidence in detail, I simple cannot honestly state that they are following their subjective biases more than objective evidence (even if I will subjectively suspect that they do follow their biases rather than evidence – yet my own subjective feelings are not objective arguments);
-       demand that such research and researchers performing it should be censored or “no-platformed” – I understand too well that such demands (as well as ANY demands of censorship, in fact) would be based on the subjective moral condemnation that I do feel towards racism and racists, rather than on objective assessment of actual evidence and argumentation, assessment which is socially possible only if ALL sides of ANY controversy are allowed to present their case publicly, without fear of silencing and persecution.
Dr. Bauer, I think you do understand what I’m talking about, don’t you? So, what do you think about the moral influences and pressures on the scientific process – ones that go beyond of the scientific ethics (which we have discussed before), and enter the area of the general social mores and customs? How strong can such moralistic bias be? Why is it crucially important to remember that the basic ethical demand of the scientific work is maintenance of objectivity, rather than support of extra-scientific societal ethical ideas?
Dr. Henry Bauer: You say “every human being… should be treated as an equal”. I agree IF you mean on things like civil rights. But not on matters like how to build a bridge, or who should be president.
What you should do with “racists’ scientific claims” is to expose their “science” as faulty. Yes, you should analyze objectively the claims about IQ, and point out for instance that “IQ” is only defined by the means used to measure it and is NOT what is meant when we speak of intelligence.
I think the chief thing wrong with racism is the assumption that all members of some defined race are the same, concerning whatever particular thing is being focused on (Intelligence? Sexual habits? etc.).
I think every person is unique and should be treated as such, which is why I deplore political correctness (PC) — like racism, it treats all members of some defined group as somehow the same (ALL women and ALL blacks need affirmative action, for instance). See the talk I gave at a conference: “Diversity and Identity”,!NbAR3DyB!sw3rX_K9bVUvT5yLSeNHWYA5IfF1480-2cTtpULJ3-Y.
I think in fact you, Vortex, DO apply objective reasoning when you put your moral attitude ahead of “inevitably … provisional scientific results”: you are pointing out that whatever “scientific” claims are made in support of racism, they are at best provisional and therefore not valid for actions that harm human beings. I think your moral stance on racism is based on your rationally based view that all the “scientific” claims are wrong about people of some race being inherently inferior, meaning not fully human.
I think our moral attitudes are always based on what we believe to be really (objectively) true. We tend to attribute our moral attitudes to “feelings”; but I agree with cognitive psychologists like Albert Ellis and Maxie Maultsby that our feelings are determined by our intellectual beliefs (and I recommend books like Maultsby’s “Coping Better”).
The point of doing science is to get a grasp of actual reality, so scientific research must not be done under the influence of any ideological, political, religious, ethical, moral attitudes, anything that gets in the way of gaining true knowledge.

HOWEVER: I believe that it’s quite proper for moral, religious, etc. attitudes to decide what things should NOT be studied at all: anything that could be studied only by hurting people. There are also some topics likely to be controversial, like using fertilized embryos and aborted fetuses as a source of stem cells.

At any rate, I think rationality and attempted objectivity should underlie moral views. I don’t think a proper morality could urge actions that are objectively unrealistic.
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Vortex: Now we will turn to the internal problems of the scientific community itself, rather than external influences on it. After all my long rants above, I think now I should just pass the ball to you, Dr. Bauer – your knowledge of the internal difficulties faced by the modern scientific community is well-known.
So, here are my questions to you: what about the doctrinal and paradigmatic preferences and prejudices of scientists themselves, and what role can willful closed-mindedness play in the process of interpretation and evaluation of scientific results? The competition and rivalry between individual scientists, scientific groups and organisations, the current academic “publish or perish” incentive – how can it adversely influence the research process? Was there an increase in fraud and dishonesty in science, and if it is, why is it so? Is it true that the whole scientific journals and conferences may become fake and predatory? What about formation of “knowledge monopolies” and “research cartels”, and how do they thwart the search for reliable knowledge? What is a “science bubble”? What are the perils of this current state of the scientific enterprise?
Dr. Henry Bauer: It would take many books to answer all those questions properly, so I can only outline and give citations.
Competition in research is nowadays cutthroat: if you want to do research, you must get resources, and there is much more demand than supply: only 1 in 5 grant requests to the National Institutes of Health was successful by 2014; already in 2007, the average biomedical would-be scientist was 42 years old before starting an independent research career rather than being an assistant. So fudging, cutting corners, and plain faking and cheating have become not uncommon; the average working researcher suspects that 75% of researchers are dishonest in some way. Studying dishonesty in science has become a full-time occupation for some people, and institutional Centers are devoted to it; details in my book, Science Is Not What You Think: How It Has Changed, Why We Can’t Trust It, How It Can Be Fixed.
Trying to make a career means getting attention, publishing or perishing, so to meet the demand to get published, hundreds of journals have sprung up that make money by charging authors of articles and publishing on the Internet, very cheaply; again, details in my book.
Established researchers of course safeguard their resources and resist any attempt to criticize, let alone disprove, what they have done. So the “Establishment” in science has become highly dogmatic and unwelcoming to genuine creativity and originality. much more so than in the past:
“Science in the 21st century: Knowledge monopolies and research cartels”
and Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth, McFarland 2012.
All this is completely different from the popular view about what science is and how it works, because the popular view has not recognized how drastically science has changed, and how since about World War II it has grown out of proportion and become dysfunctional:
“Three stages of modern science”
”The science bubble”
and Chapter 1 in Science Is Not What You Think.
This current state of the scientific enterprise is dangerous because the media and policy makers do not understand (indeed very few people other than academic historians of science understand) that present-day “science” — what is claimed to be true by the scientific establishment — may be wrong, and public actions based on those claims may hurt large numbers of people and misspend huge amounts of money and effort. Two examples are already at hand: HIV/AIDS and human-caused global warming or climate change;see The Origin, Persistence and Failings of HIV/AIDS Theory, McFarland 2007,
and Dogmatism in Science and Medicine, McFarland 2012. Here’s an Op-Ed that none of the nationals newspapers was willing to publish:
Science is a Fallible Guide to Public Policy
Could “science” mislead public policy?
Yes; as when widely accepted tenets of eugenics led to forced sterilization, as late as 1980, of tens of thousands of Americans.
What science says tends to be accepted as a sound guide to good public policy. The trouble is that “science” is equated with the contemporary scientific consensus. Yet the history of science, including very recent history, demonstrates unequivocally that any contemporary scientific consensus may later turn out to have been seriously flawed.
So around the 1970s and for a couple of decades on, the scientific consensus (Nobel Prize, 1976) held a “slow virus” responsible for causing kuru (a mad-cow-type disease). In 1997, however, the scientific consensus awarded a Nobel Prize for showing that it was not a virus at all but a mis-shaped protein (prion) that causes these diseases. 

Again around the 1970s, the media were hyping the scientific consensus that the Earth was facing another Ice Age. Several decades later, the scientific consensus is as sure now as it was then; but about the opposite, that human-caused release of carbon dioxide is heating the Earth inexorably.
At any given moment, the scientific consensus treats dissenters very unkindly, no matter that they may be well informed, expert, even distinguished. Stanley Prusiner had been laughed at and denigrated for many years for doubting the “slow virus” theory of kuru and suggesting protein as the cause; everyone knew that proteins are incapable of doing that sort of thing. Nowadays those who question whether human-caused release of carbon dioxide is the prime cause of global warming and climate change are ridiculed and denigrated as Flat-Earthers, crackpots, or shills for energy industries.
A scientific consensus, it must be understood, is an interpretation of facts, it is not itself fact. Dissenters from human-caused-global-warming theory do not dispute that the Earth is experiencing a long-term warming trend, they merely hold that this very-long-term trend is an inevitable natural phenomenon following the major Ice Age of about 15-20,000 years ago which was part of a natural cycle (several in the last million years), modified by many equally natural cycles of shorter periods of warming and cooling, say the Medieval Warm Period (about 900 to 1300) which was followed by the Little Ice Age (about 1350 to 1850). 

There is no informed basis for believing that today’s scientific consensus on any issue at all is safe from a future overturning. Prions may not be the last word on mad-cow diseases. The scientific consensus went back and forth several times over whether light consists of waves or particles — and today’s opinion is that it’s neither or both, depending how one chooses to interpret the equations. The scientific consensus also went back and forth several times over a possible connection between electricity and processes in living beings; by the late 19th century, the scientific consensus labeled as rank pseudo-science the occasional claims that some ailments could be cured by the application of electricity; yet nowadays applying electromagnetic energy is the preferred means of stimulating bone re-growth or repairing congenital failures of bone growth.
If the contemporary consensus happens to be mistaken about the nature of light, or about much else in science, little if any potential harm would await society as a whole. Not so when it is a matter of infectious diseases or of climate change, where public policies in action may lead to widespread damage if the scientific consensus happens to be flawed. 

 Half a century ago, when experts were disagreeing over the potential safety of nuclear reactors, Arthur Kantrowitz pointed out that policy makers needed some entirely independent source of advice since all the experts had firm opinions albeit on opposing sides. The concept of an independent Science Court has continued to be discussed, most recently to help the legal system as it grapples increasingly with disputes in which various comparably qualified technical experts are in support of both (or all) sides. Such issues as climate change cry out for the establishment of an entirely independent process to assess the merits of conflicting technical interpretations of the evidence. 

 Not that a definitive answer could be arrived at, for only the future may bring that. But a Science Court could be invaluable in ensuring that opposing views be argued substantively and openly, whereby media and public and policy makers could judge which experts make the most plausible or the least flawed case; invaluable assets in Court-type proceedings include subpoena powers and cross-examination. One need not understand technicalities to observe whether questions are met by evasion and obfuscation rather than relevant substance, and observers can certainly note whether any given witness is coherent or inconsistent in claims and arguments.
Open argument is needed because at the present time, as in the past, the scientific consensus does not engage dissenters in a substantive manner: rather they are laughed at as Prusiner was, or as the doctors were for a couple of decades who had found bacteria in stomach ulcers, when everyone knew that ulcers were caused by stress and excess acid; yet in 2005 Australian doctors Barry Marshall and Robin Warren were awarded a Nobel Prize for discovering the role played by Helicobacter pyloris in gastritis and ulcers. 

 Iconoclastic as it may appear, the clear fact is that any contemporary scientific consensus may be flawed, somewhat or even entirely, no matter how vehemently it is asserted that the consensus is overwhelming, assured, unshakeable, and “the science” “settled”. Scientific consensus is never fact, as Michael Crichton illustrated with such memorable finality:
“Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way.”
An independent Science Court would enable society at large to judge how plausible any given scientific consensus is as an interpretation of known facts and in competition with other expert interpretations. To accept any contemporary scientific consensus without further ado is to ignore President Eisenhower’s prescient and sadly neglected warning: “in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite”.
Vortex: As far as I know, Dr. Bauer, when it comes to the negative sides of the modern scientific community, you do not limit yourself to criticism – you also propose some potential means to solve and overcome the existing process. One of such means is an installment of a “scientific court”, but there are also some others.
So, Dr. Bauer, what can be done to resolve the problems common for the current stage of science? About the “scientific court” idea – can you tell us more what it is and how should it function? Are there some other measures that may be implemented for the betterment of modern science?
Dr. Henry Bauer: The essential problem is that basic research has become very expensive. So much has been learned over the last few hundred years that going deeper into understanding Nature requires advanced technology and teams of humans. Only governments can support such efforts, and even they only support a few things like space exploration and high-energy physics.
Almost all research is now done for practical reasons, not for pure knowledge-seeking. So research is governed not by scientific curiosity but by commercial aims. Conflicts of interest mean that claimed results cannot be trusted. The only solution I can envisage is something like a Science Court that could ensure openness of data and protocols.

Chapter 12 in Science Is Not What You Think discusses the history of the Science Court concept and why such a Court is needed and what it could do. 

The problem is that experts disagree over interpretation of evidence. Since there is so much dogmatism now, the Establishment often refuses even to argue publicly about what dissenting experts say. There is no substantive, open, public discussion between those who believe HIV causes AIDS and those who disagree, or between those who believe carbon dioxide causes climate change and those who disagree; there is only public name-calling. A Science Court could force open discussion and thereby make it possible for non-experts to reach an informed opinion about which experts are relatively more believable.
Some legal scholars also think a Science Court could help the legal system in general since an increasing number of difficult cases require expert witnesses, and both opposing sides can usually find experts willing to testify for them.
Vortex: Well, only two questions left in our dialogue, yet these two are the most important, and the most controversial ones, since they are dealing with choices – personal and social – made by non-scientists about scientific controversies. Let’s start with a personal level.
I think that anyone, any person – including any non-scientist – can and should perform his or her own analysis and make his or her own decision concerning any scientific controversy. No one should be pressed, let alone informally obliged, to follow the current consensus without questioning, for three reasons.
First, the role of the scientific heretic is difficult as it is necessary. Ones who doubt the current scientific consensus are often ignored or attacked, and therefore they sometimes need external support and empowerment to survive professionally. External pressure on a scientific process is wrong and counterproductive if it is limiting it; yet it may be right and necessary if it helps to widen the scientific possibilities – for example, by obliging scientists to debate critics of the current consensus in substantial, evidence-and-reason-based way (as in the case of the aforementioned “scientific court” proposal).
Second, a lot of scientific choices directly affect wellbeing and, sometimes, the very lives of people. This is especially true in the cases of psychosocial, biomedical and environmental research – that’s why these three areas of inquiry is also the primary areas of scientific controversy and related public conflict. Depriving people of the right to inform themselves and to choose freely in such vitally significant cases is unacceptable – the cost of the mistake may be too high, and, as we know from the history of science, the consensuses may easily turn out to be mistaken. Maybe, the science will indeed correct itself one day, in some indeterminately far future; yet many people who have chosen to blindly follow misguided, even if dominant, models, simply may not survive to see the light of day (or they will survive, but with their bodies and minds damaged and shattered). So, all people have a right to access the whole range of the scientific opinions and to choose from the whole range of the scientific options – even from the opinions and options that go against the current consensus.
Third, by preferring the blind belief into the authority of the currently leading groups of experts and the currently dominant experts’ ideas and recommendations, people have to give up their own personal experience, personal reason and personal conscience. By relying on an unquestioning trust into the scientific majority and on an unwavering faith into its pronouncements, one have to deprive oneself of one’s personal responsibility for the choices being made, personal comprehension of the available opportunities and personal enjoyment of exploration, investigation and inquiry. And the freedom of enjoyment, comprehension and responsibility is the greatest treasure of any human being, more valuable than anything else.
And no one, no layperson, should fear to interpret and evaluate the scientific controversies for oneself. No matter how fallible our observatory, analytical and ethical faculties can be, they are still the best instruments we have, if they are used skillfully and willfully. So, the best way for any person to decide whether the current scientific consensus is correct or incorrect is to perform a personal comparative inquiry into the evidence and argumentation presented by the dominant majority and contrarian minorities, and thus to be able to make an informed decision whom to support.
Are social background, political affiliations and economic incentives of the conflicting sides of the scientific controversy important? To some extent, yes; but it is crucial to understand that anyone possess such background, affiliations and incentives. So, simply pointing to the mere existence of such potential sources of bias is not enough to win the debate. What is vital to look for is the clear signs of the social biases overcoming the intellectual integrity. Such signs include:
-       demands of censorship and “no-platforming” of opponents and their positions;
-       demonstrative refusal to engage with the position of the opponents substantially;
-       openly expressed desire to persecute and repress the opponents;
-       dehumanisation and pathologisation of opponents (name-calling, appeal to psychology etc.)
-       moralistic condemnation of the disagreement;
-       emotional outrage;
-       insistence on the “self-evident” status of one’s position;
-       sweeping overgeneralisations;
-       “expert’s bluff” (“you are not competent enough to evaluate it yourself, so you must believe us, since we are the experts!”).
If one notices such signs in public speech and activity of some individuals, communities or organisations, one should be highly cautious in dealing with the information presented by them, since their biases are evidently strong enough to mess with their critical reflexivity and observational capacity – but only in the specific areas of controversy where they show these signs. It is common to people to be notably biased in some things and yet quite impartial in others, so their relative unreliability in one specific area does not necessarily mean similar unreliability in all areas. All individuals – and all communities and organisations – tend to have some “intellectual blind spots” where passion dampens intellection; no one, a person or a collective, is entirely objective; yet all of us are able to remain objective in dealing with some issues which are beyond our “intellectual blind spots”.
The existence of such “selective subjectivity” seems to be the root of the deeply entrenched moral stance (shared, to some extent and in some form, by the overwhelming majority of people) that values the fulfillment of particular social goals much higher than the impartial gathering, processing and sharing of knowledge, and thus can eagerly sacrifice the latter for the sake of the former. What is ironic, however, is the fact that effective social acts have to rely on a valid knowledge, and preemptive suppression of counterevidence and counterarguments is the easiest way to engage in a counterproductive social activity (while even being unable to identify its counterproductivity because of a willful intellectual blindness). That’s why the free speech and open discussion are so crucially important, in scientific community as well as in the general society - even if being harshly emotionally distressing, to some degree, in some situations, to virtually anyone.
Dr. Bauer, and what is your position concerning the issues raised by me above? What can laypersons believe, and whom can they trust when being presented with a scientific controversy? How should they form their own positions on such controversies? Why is possible and necessary for laypersons to think by themselves rather than blindly following the currently dominant group of experts?
Dr. Henry Bauer: Your discussion covers the ground very well. Everyone ought to seek an informed opinion about issues important to them. The only feasible way to do that with highly technical matters is to observe the experts arguing with one another, challenging and responding to one another, being cross-examined: what happens in a court, in other words. Juries reach decisions by judging whether opposing witnesses seem responsive or evasive, consistent or inconsistent, forthcoming or arrogant, etc. So a panel of independent judges could similarly assess technical disagreements.
Vortex: Well, Dr. Bauer, I have just one question left for you, yet it is probably the most important one.
We both agree that anyone, on a personal level, can and should evaluate the claims of all sides of any scientific controversy, and make a choice whom to trust and what to believe. Yet sometimes we are facing the decisions that impact us not just on a personal level, but on a collective one, or even massive one, and thus require decision-making on a communal and societal scale. And on these larger and more complex levels, the problems of relationship between inescapably provisional and controversial state of scientific knowledge (as well as any knowledge, in fact) and inevitable necessity to make and enact decisions that will affect countless people (as well as other living beings) and the world itself become really painful.
What should we collectively and politically do when we have to base our wide-impact decisions and activities on scientifically controversial information? First and foremost, we should openly acknowledge that controversy do exist - no matter how loudly and furiously would enthusiastic supporters of the current mainstream consensus insist that “science is settled” and thus any further controversy is “illegitimate” – and allow the whole spectrum of the scientific opinions and options, be they “mainstream” or “fringe” nowadays, to be publicly represented and assessed. Yet even such fair and equal presentation is still not a guarantee of finding an answer – more often than not, policy-makers would face a situation when several scientific positions have comparable level of evidential and argumentative support and visibly differ only in the degree of their support and influence within the scientific community (it is this degree and nothing else that makes them “mainstream” or “fringe”). In such cases, I think, the wisest choice would be to acknowledge and combine both scientific and non-scientific factors in decision-making and policy-forming.
In the case of the environmental controversies such as AGW, it is useful to remember that, even if AGW theory is as totally wrong as its harshest critics insist, fossil fuel industry is still environmentally damaging beyond any doubt – even if this damage takes the form of slow pollution of the biosphere rather than its quick warming. Anyway, on the long run substantial negative consequences are inescapable. So, the direction towards replacement of the fossil fuel energy with something cleaner is justified, truth or falsehood of the AGW theory notwithstanding.
I also have two friendly personal advices to environmentalists. The first is to stop putting all ecological eggs in a single AGW basket – it is better to diversify the public discourse, so, if the AGW models would ultimately fail one day (which is entirely possible, understanding their dubious nature), it wouldn’t weaken environmental cause too much. The second is to stop personal attacks on the critics of AGW, let alone demands to persecute them, and start a polite and substantial discussion – no matter whether AGW is valid or invalid, the engagement in open debate will only empower the pro-environmental positions and will let the environmentalists to become more self-critical in fulfilling their necessary and justified in general, yet imperfect and thus occasionally misguided or exaggerated in specifics – goals.
In the cases of medical controversies, like the debate surrounding the safety of vaccines, it is important to maintain several basic principles. First, it is vital to respect personal liberty and bodily integrity of any individual and do not accept the demands of making certain medical procedures “mandatory” (read: nonconsensual). Every person has a right to give or withhold consent, freely, to the others’ acts on his or her body, and no dubious “public good” can be a valid reason to deprive anyone of this fundamental individual liberty. Second, all medical opinions and options should be open to the assessment by (potential) patients. Third, the vigorous debate concerning efficacy and safety of certain treatments should be maintained – and it should not be presented as a false dichotomy, as it usually happens in the case of vaccine debate.
Concerning vaccines, I think that both common positions in it – uncritical praise of all and any vaccines by “pro-vaxxers” and total rejection of vaccination by “anti-vaxxers” – are empirically untenable. A lot of data demonstrates that vaccination, as such, is one of the greatest inventions in the medical history; along with antibiotics, it helped to stop the scourge of massive infectious contagions that one ravaged the population; so uncritical condemnation of vaccination cannot be justified. Yet this historical success does not mean that any particular vaccine is safe and effective; some of them are evidently notably less effective and dangerously more harmful than enthusiastic defenders of them can accept. The best strategy, in my opinion, would be individual approach to any vaccine and personal approach to any patient, aimed at creating an individualised vaccination regime that can genuinely balance risks and benefits of a specific vaccine and leave the ultimate decision to the patient.
As for the psychosocial questions and practices, from biopsychiatry to psychotherapy to social work, they would be completely deprived of the coercive (read: violent) power and be left to the personal choice and preference of the individual, with the wide range of different forms of the voluntary mental help being available. Yet, at the same time, this wide range of options should be materially supported by the public, to make it economically accessible for everyone (this works for general medicine as well).
Dr. Bauer, and what advice can you give to policymakers who have to deal with controversial scientific propositions? How should they make a choice on scientific matters while making public policy? How should one balance scientific and non-scientific factors in public action? Can science be used as a justification of making medical procedures mandatory and metal treatments coercive?
Dr. Henry Bauer: Again you’ve covered the ground very nicely.

As to AGW, I think it ought to be kept separate from other environmental issues, not used as a way to get rid of fossil fuels which are undesirable for other reasons: Argue those reasons directly! They include that burning fossil fuels distributes very widely tiny amounts of “heavy metals” (lead, mercury, others as well) that accumulate in the food chain, are toxic, and can never be entirely removed from the environment once they have been distributed. Also, landscapes are ruined by open-mine excavations and pollution of waters; fracking causes local earthquakes and sink holes; etc.
Making decisions about public actions is what politicians do. All we can hope for is that they will get the best possible technical advice before making decisions. That’s why we need a Science Court.
Vortex: So, these are all my questions for you, Dr. Bauer. It was an exciting dialogue indeed for me – and, I hope, for you as well. Thank you for your agreement to give this long two-part interview to our forum!
Dr. Henry Bauer: Thank you for the opportunity to reach this audience. I hope people will be stimulated to read further about these matters.
Vortex: Well, dear Psience Quest members, now it is your turn. What do you think about the views expressed by Dr. Bauer and me in this interview? What are your own ideas concerning the questions we have raised? I would be glad to learn your responses!
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The interview was so long that I had to publish it as two separate posts.

I can say that both Dr. Bauer and I did our best here. Hope you will enjoy our work, people...

Yet, I suspect, someone may be already enraged by the topics we discussed and the views we defended.

In such a case, I encourage you to reply to the positions stated above and explain what and why you find incorrect.

I hope this text of ours will ignite a vigourous debate. The first part was just a start. Now you see it in full.
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Thank you for posting that, Vortex.

Again, these comments are in reference to Dr. Bauer' statements.

I hadn't really come across the term "consensus science" until the last few years, in response to Climate Change denial. I'm not sure this represents anything but a response to the wealth of uninformed opinion on scientific matters, some of which is used to inform public policy, with devastating consequences. It seems to be an attempt, by scientists, to convey to the uninitiated the strength of the evidence behind various ideas.

From a scientific perspective, it makes little sense to talk about "scientific consensus".  At best, "consensus" can represent a description of the state of the art at a point in time, with the expectation that it undergoes continuous change with further research. What makes more sense is to talk about ideas for which the available evidence is overwhelming, which I think is what we are actually seeing, since those ideas will likely experience very little to no change with further research (like "e=mc^2).

Is there any indication whatsoever that a court of non-experts has anything to offer to the process? Is there any validity to the idea that ideas can be judged on the presentation style of those representing the idea?

I asked for some examples of this sort of process getting it right, over the evaluations of those with expertise, in another thread. I didn't get any. Does Dr. Bauer have any?

Thank you, Vortex. You've given me much to think about.
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(11-10-2017, 10:36 PM)fls Wrote: Dr. Bauer loses credibility for his ideas because he clings to HIV/AIDS as an example of the failings of the process. Even if he did not do so, though, is there any indication whatsoever that a court of non-experts has anything to offer to the process? Is there any validity to the idea that ideas can be judged on the presentation style of those representing the idea?

I'm not clear about what kind of "Science Court" Henry Bauer is proposing. But if it's based on non-experts judging presentational styles, then it's radically different from the concept advocated by Arthur Kantrowitz, in which the decisions would be made by "a panel of sophisticated scientific judges rather than ... the general public." Those judges would be "established experts in areas adjacent to the dispute", though not actually working in the disputed area:
We have some examples of "science courts" already (although maybe not in the way Bauer envisions) - scientific advisory panels formed to review all the evidence and make recommendations to policy makers in an open and transparent manner. For example, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization in Canada, the International Panel on Climate Change for the UN, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee in the US, etc. I previously referred to the reports (with respect to the evidence base) from these kinds of bodies as sources of reliable information, with attention paid to how the body is formed and their independence as well as expertise.

(11-11-2017, 10:39 PM)linotype Wrote: I've really enjoyed these interviews and would also love to see a Vortex-Bauer discussion on HIV/AIDS. I do think it may be unique among examples of scientific consensus in that it was brought about by a perfect storm of factors - a new health crisis, political pressure, intense emotions, virus hunters looking for a raison d'etre, Bob Gallo's lust for fame - resulting in that dramatic science-by-press-conference moment in which Margaret Heckler declared that "the probable cause of AIDS has been found". And then the word "probable" was pretty much forgotten in the next day or two and that was that.

That discussion is off-limits for the main part of this forum. It may already be taking place on the hidden forum. 

Info here:

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(11-11-2017, 11:08 PM)fls Wrote: That discussion is off-limits for the main part of this forum.

That's right. Those posts have been moved.
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(11-12-2017, 01:58 AM)Ninshub Wrote: That's right. Those posts have been moved.

It's actually quite difficult to discuss the specifics of Henry Bauer's opinions about science here, because the two main examples he mentions - HIV/AIDS and anthropogenic global warming - are both off-limits in the main forum.

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