Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Scientific Inbreeding

One of the oft repeated refrains of the moonbat fora is that peer review creates scientific inbreeding, stifling new and interesting research that challenges old orthodoxy. Some folks respond to this accusation with denial, suggesting that scientists, as pure acolytes of the temple of pristine knowledge, are above such things. To these people, I present a former (special) issue of the Australian Journal of Earth Sciences.

First, the guest editors: Crawford, Glen, Cooke & Percival

And now, the authors of the papers in the special issue:
A. J. Crawford; R. A. Glen; D. R. Cooke; I. G. Percival Guest Editors
I. G. Percival; R. A. Glen
R. A. Glen; A. J. Crawford; I. G. Percival; L. M. Barron
A. J. Crawford; S. Meffre; R. J. Squire; L. M. Barron; T. J. Falloon
R. A. Glen; R. Spencer; A. Willmore; V. David; R. J. Scott
A. J. Crawford; D. R. Cooke; C. M. Fanning
R. J. Squire; J. McPhie
R. J. Squire; A. J. Crawford
C. J. Simpson; R. J. Scott; A. J. Crawford; S. Meffre
L. M. Barron; S. Meffre; R. A. Glen
S. Meffre; R. J. Scott; R. A. Glen; R. J. Squire
R. A. Glen; S. Meffre; R. J. Scott
V. Lickfold; D. R. Cooke; A. J. Crawford; C. M. Fanning
D. R. Cooke; A. J. Wilson; M. J. House; R. C. Wolfe; J. L. Walshe; V. Lickfold; A. J. Crawford
R. A. Glen; A. J. Crawford; D. R. Cooke

Number of papers: 14
Total Authors: 54
Unique Authors: 21
Number of papers without at least one guest editor as author: 1
Percentage of authors who are also a guest editor: 46

Now, I’m not saying that this necessarily make the science suspect. I haven’t actually read any of this stuff. But it doesn’t exactly look too terribly open.

Mind you, it is possible that there are many valid reasons for this. For example, it may be that of the six-and-a-half billion living, breathing, sentient people on this planet, less than two dozen are actually interested in the Ordovician Macquarie Arc. It may be that these guest editors are the goto guys in this subfield, or that they are the only people who can actually find any of the outcrops. I is actually quite likely that a lot of people, especially in the exploration industry, wanted the area summarized, but couldn’t be bothered to do the gruntwork themselves. Or it could be some sort of territorial or gentlemanly agreement to try to restrict the teeming masses desperate for a piece of Ordovician active margin action. I really don’t know. And strangely, as tempting as reading an entire special issue on the structure and components of the Narromine-Junee volcanic belt may be, I can’t see myself delving into the special issue in search of an ulterior motive.

But let’s assume the worst. Let’s assume that this is a brutal and vindictive ploy by Crawford et al. to squelch the true scientific progress of the early Paleozoic Australian arc. The Macquarie Arc isn’t exactly the cutting edge of scientific progress today, and small, forgotten fields are less difficult to mess with. I mean come on. It’s the AJES. What self-respecting scientist would publish there?

More generally, does this mean that all science is corrupted and inbred? Consider a similar argument:

Hicksville, Kentucky is inbred. It is in America. New York is in America. Therefore, New York is inbred.

Leaving aside the special case of Staten Island, we would say that anyone with the slightest clue about NYC would find this argument silly. And so it is with science. In order to look for literature manipulation in this, you have to look at all the pre-existing literature on the areas in question, familiarize yourself with the special issue, and then go searching for models and interpretations in the pre-existing literature that are systematically overlooked, without actually being disproven. Sure, the repetition in the Authors list may look bad. But in order to show any dodgy dealings, you really gotta do a lot of work. I reckon it is better to assume that the guest authors were above board and fair, because finding contrary evidence is simply too much work.

Needless to say, the much larger field of climate science will require a much larger knowledge base to determine whether peer review is stifling innovation, or just correcting errors. I don’t care to do that- it would probably take several years of my life to do. So my request to people who do claim that climate science is bent is this: Get yourself a PhD scholarship, spend 5 years of your life learning what does and doesn’t work in the field, and then make your determination on the fairness of the editors at most of the major journals.

p.s. In the interest of disclosure, I should mention that my former boss is an author on one or more of the AGES papers. He was not a guest editor.

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