What’s Wrong with Science

A very nice summary of the tragic dead end that science has blundered into, and the open science movement that is trying to repair it, is at Nucleus Ambiguous

those not among the twitterati-blogosophers might be surprised to hear that many scientists now consider the main avenues of science communication hopelessly broken.

Here’s why:  Scientific publishing is still largely modeled on assumptions and economics of the dead-tree publishing era. In those glory days, publishers provided editing, typesetting, printing, marketing and distribution services that were otherwise impractical for scientists to obtain on their own. These days, not so much. While most journals do continue to produce a few paper copies, the associated costs of producing those have dropped dramatically (of course, there are now other costs, like hosting websites and archiving materials).  You would think that competitive forces would then drive publishers to lower their prices, but you would be wrong. The prices that publishers charge (mainly to academic libraries) for their work has instead increased, along with the profits of those publishers.

All this would be somewhat less galling if publishers were still providing a great deal of added value to the scientific process, but as mentioned above, most of the publishing, typesetting and marketing services they provided in days past are now nearly universally available at very low cost. As always, the vast majority of the work of science publishing is actually provided to publishers for free by the scientists themselves, the volunteer editors and peer reviewers who contribute the essential intellectual muscle to the process. To review the accusations against the industry: scientific publishers rely largely on volunteer labor to produce journals based on outdated communication models, for which they charge increasing prices to the institutions that provide that labor (universities) in order to generate high profit margins for themselves.

Find out how they get away with it, and what is being done about it, at the link.

The climate naysayers have an easy time aligning themselves with the open science movement. It’s important to understand that a science with enemies can be filibustered, especially when the critics/harassers outnumber the productive scientists. That in fact is what is happening in climate. But just because the naysayers adopt the protective coloration of the open science movement doesn’t mean that legitimate climate scientists have to support the status quo.

Radical openness will not, actually, repair relations with people who have no interest in being civil. Obviously.

But the current system is nonetheless badly in need of repair, and we should not allow the fact that our enemies find it convenient to say so distract us from the fact that it is true, nor allow it to dissuade us from being part of the solution.



  1. For decades I have argued that science suffers from a bad philosophy of science which tends to be taken for granted by scientists and non-scientists alike, but which nevertheless seriously misrepresents the real, highly problematic aims of science. This view assumes that the basic intellectual aim of science is to improve knowledge of factual truth, nothing being presupposed about the truth. Actually, there are profoundly problematic assumptions concerning metaphysics, values and politics inherent in the aims of science. The whole domain of problematic aims needs to be thrown open for imaginative and critical discussion by scientists and non-scientists alike.

    Ironically, my first book spelling all this out, and published long ago in 1976, is called "What's Wrong With Science? Towards a People's Rational Science of Delight and Compassion". A more recent book is called "Is Science Neurotic?". The answer? Yes it is because it misrepresents basic problematic aims. There is also "From Knowledge to Wisdom", published in 1984 by Blackwell, second edition published in 2007 by Pentire Press. There is more about my work on my website. Many of my papers, and one book, are available online at http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/view/people/ANMAX22.date.html.

    [ A bit o/t but interesting. -mt ]

  2. Pingback: Another Week of Anthropocene Antics, May 26, 2013 – A Few Things Ill Considered

  3. I've always been under the impression contemporary Western science rears an ugly tendency to assume relegation of all subjective reality to mere, projected 'extensions' of and from some physical condition, while it oddly makes a good deal of sense to say - perhaps with little evidence, but a lot of logical support - that, in fact, some aspects of our subjective being may define the physical. That is to say, emotions cause the chemical releases in our bodies associated thereof, our mind over matter, etc. What seems to be ignored is some length of scientific evidence which does make such logic more plausible, but because it doesn't conform to material-objective fact, as well as our assumptions constructed thereof to this day, it's typically passed off as a faulty claim - on assumption.

    That's simply my feeling having observed the direction the mainstream vein of our science has taken.

  4. Big thanks to Michael Tobis for the thoughtful article. Having lived close to "science" from birth, as daughter (PW Anderson), student, practitioner (at a low level), administrative and production helper, teacher (drawing to scientists at MIT), and advocate for climate science, I am steeped in science and cannot imagine a world without it. I am also furious at the way the honesty of the scientific community about issues like this is distorted for political gain, to create the impression that there is poison in the well.

    The points are well taken. My background has also marinated in me a sense of the ways in which conventional scientific authority can distort and limit the scientific process. It took a conflict between my conversations with my father and some respondents at RealClimate to make me realize that the idea of reductionism I had absorbed was contrary to common understanding. What it meant to me was that in some cases science will limit its perception of reality to what it can quantify or describe, rather than accepting the variety of complexity of experience when it is beyond what we can define or measure. You might like to see "More is Different" which treats this issue to some extent.

    Returning to the point, which is the way any discipline comes to be defined over time by the way it has been done in the past, sadly this is true of any discipline. The work done by imaginative and brilliant explorers of the mind become confined by convention. This can create ammunition for a political process poised to pounce on any semblance of contradiction.

    Science needs to be open. To me, climate science as it has developed, thanks to heroes like Stephen Schneider, Mike Mann and many others, has faced these frontiers with open minds, courage and imagination. For me this has been inspiring and provocative, and I cannot tell you how much I love being inspired and provoked. The attempt to exploit these uncertainties and ambiguities has been as close to evil as I care to come, and I've been willing to put myself in the (verbal only) firing line in its defense partly because of this.

    At issue is our very experience of the real world around us and centuries of understanding of how it works. Ready to hand is an organization poised to persuade and heedless of the harm it does in pursuit of profit. How can we be open and honest in the face of persecution. Once again, one must answer, we must, no matter how difficult it might seem.

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