Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Now comes ‘The New York Times’ on this 17th day of April in the Year of Grace Two Thousand and Two, and of the Independence of the Republic the Two Hundred and Thirty-Sixth, and solemnly reports that there seems to be something very wrong with ‘science’ nowadays.

To wit: a large number of scholarly articles and Studies are apparently being recalled and retracted because they are – to use the paper-of-record’s term – “doctored” and what they claim – not to put too fine a point on it – ain’t necessarily so.

To quote one scientist, Ferric C. Fang, Ph.D., an editor of a scientific journal, “nobody had noticed that the whole thing was rotten” (referring to a particular set of two dozen scholarly scientific papers submitted by a scientist in Japan, but perhaps applicable to much more).

Applicable to much more because his stunning experience with the two-dozen got him and another editor to start studying the question of how much of such rot had taken hold. “They reached a troubling conclusion: not only that retractions were rising at an alarming rate, but that retractions were just a manifestation of a much more profound problem: ‘a dysfunctional scientific climate’”, as Dr. Fang puts it.

It has become a “winner-take-all game with perverse incentives that lead scientists to cut corners and, in some cases, commit acts of misconduct”.

Who can be surprised?

In the currently hot biomedical research field, there is a tremendous pressure to ‘publish’ and to ‘get published’. This is so because universities are looking for ‘published’ scientists to work at their expensively-constructed science facilities because those are the folks who will attract the most funding and keep the government grant money flowing.

The government you see, or rather its cash, is creating pressure here.

True enough, but the SO community realizes that there is also more to it.

The government, very much like its now-vanished Soviet shadow-sibling, has certain ideas about what is and is not acceptable (and Correct) science. You may recall a decade or so ago, a bunch of scientists wondered just how much damage (‘trauma’) was being caused by child sexual abuse. That was a lethally hot topic, dangerous as volcanic magma to touch, but just because of that the scientists decided it should be looked at as carefully as possible.

They didn’t conduct their own research. Rather, they simply studied all the already-published major Studies (that had already been funded, completed, and accepted) – this study of Studies is called a ‘meta-study’. What they discovered, somewhat to their surprise, was that the general gist of those Studies was that the damage was not as permanent or deep as generally claimed, and that a lot depended on the resilience and resourcefulness of the individual afflicted and the quality of help s/he got.

Sound if unglamorous scientific and therapeutic sense.

It set off an uproar, you may recall.

Congress – reacting no doubt to pressure from organized advocacies and cottage-industry ‘therapists’ (which have to be distinguished from genuine, extensively and professionally trained clinical providers) – actually went so far as to go the Soviet route: it issued a formal and official  ‘Sense of the Congress’ declaration that the trauma of sex abuse, especially among children, was awful and in no way to be ‘minimized’ by anybody claiming to be a scientist (and who – the Message was clearly intended to convey – ever hoped to get approved for a government science grant ever again, and whose universities might also not ever get government grant monies again).

Having been told in no uncertain terms just what ‘science’ was going to be now and just what it wasn’t going to find, discover, or conclude … scientists realized that they had better start finding what they were expected by their political funders to find, or else go into the auto repair business.

Things have gotten somewhat better as the stampede of the SO Mania has slowed down and its force-field has weakened, but you still won’t find many Studies affiliated with universities and grant-monies that dare to go very far into the trauma of child sex-abuse area.

(Nor am I here implying or insinuating that the damage caused by the sexual abuse of a child ‘ain’t but a thang’. I am concerned for the integrity of scientific inquiry and research; without such comprehensive and independent study of the problem we can never know whether our expensively-funded legislative and policy ‘solutions’ will actually work and do so without creating even more problems than the one they were erected to solve.

After all, look what happened to the general SO laws, supported by all those ‘scientific’ Findings by legislatures. (But bolstered increasingly not by arguable Findings so much as named after this or that victim – as if emotions could substitute for accurate knowledge of the problem the law was meant to address.)

In this regard, the strange career of two authors and their smash-up success of a book remains greatly instructive. (See here for a general overview .

In 1988, two individuals – a creative writing professor and her student, both feminist activists, and one claiming to be an incest ‘survivor’ (as in Holocaust survivor), and neither with any training in therapy, psychology, psychiatry or anything else of any relevance to their topic – published a book entitled “The Courage To Heal”.

The book purported to explain how one could discover if one had been sexually abused by one’s daddy (or other older male relative), using handy checklists of questions to ask yourself, the answers to which would inevitably ‘prove’ that whatever had gone wrong in your life was surely the result of your daddy having abused you as a child, whether you remembered it or not (thus instantly creating the ‘recovered memory’ industry).

The book became an overnight success and the authors became overnight ‘scholars’ and ‘experts’.

Even at the time, objections were raised by competent professionals that their conclusions (more like unsubstantiated assertions, really) were scientifically and clinically groundless and their recommendations might well cause more harm than help for those who took the book to heart.

Professional concerns were especially raised about what in scientific circles is politely called “confirmation bias”: you tailor your results to find exactly what you want to find and nothing else. Sort of like Soviet ‘science’ where you had better ‘discover’ what Moscow wants you to discover and nothing else – or else

To which the new ‘experts’ replied that you didn’t need a professional education and training to ‘help’; all you needed to do was to ‘listen’ and ‘support’ and all would be well.

Which, for the two of them and the pandemonium of cottage-industry provider ‘therapists’ that immediately sprang up proved to be exactly what happened. Especially as Congress jumped on the bandwagon with both big feet, both hefty thumbs on the scales of Science, and that hefty checkbook from the Bank of the Beltway and its bottomless hoard of Golden Eggs.

The book went through a second edition in 1990, and then a third in 1994. The third even included an Afterword entitled “Honoring the Truth”, written by some nonentity with no substantial professional training or credentials, who – speaking for the authors – ‘addressed’ the ‘scientific objections’ by merely calling the doubters “insensitive” and disrespectful to the experience of all victims.

But – get this – even despite all of this substantial professional doubt about the basic validity of the authors’ assertions (they never did get around to making their ‘research’ available to any other scientists for independent evaluation and testing) Bill Clinton invited one of them to the White House as an acknowledged expert on a grave and vital matter of great national importance, and an outstanding advocate of … and so on. The only good news was that Bill didn’t lard on some of those clunky Soviet encomia by which Moscow rewarded those it found useful: Indefatigable Hero of the Three Year Victim Plan! Stalwart Toiler for the Empowerment of the Downtrodden Masses! Stakhanovite Leader of the Ten Year Solution Plan!

By the time of the 20th anniversary edition in 2008, so much criticism, substantiated, had been amassed that the Afterword was quietly dropped out of the book.

And yet for many, the consolations of such ‘science’ are still held closely to the heart like a teddy-bear. And God help anybody who tries to take teddy away.

You can see what sort of message all of this sent to serious scientific researchers: the very highest levels of government – controlling the grant funds at that – were no longer in the business of seeking accurate and painstakingly analyzed and re-analyzed and verified knowledge. Policy and legislation would be based on other stuff. And so scientific ‘success’ would also have to be based on other stuff.

In the specific matter of the SO Mania, the ‘science’ driving it was the ‘advocacy science’ that already knew beforehand what had to be ‘discovered’ and ‘proved’. Nothing else was acceptable to the money-bags pols or to the advocates.

In the larger sense, the cutting loose of truth and consequences - by the government even more than by the academic elites – has led to dangerous regressions toward Leviathan, the all-seeing and all-powerful police state that acknowledges no Higher Law (God) nor any prior Law (the Framing Vision and its values and principles.)

Again I point out, then, that so much of what drove and is still driving the SO Mania Regime(s) has now migrated into other vital areas of national activity, foreign as well as domestic.

So much remains to be done.

No comments:

Post a Comment