Big Science on Trial

The News Has Not Been Good Lately for the World's Research Establishment

Late in November of 2009 a hacker broke through the computer security system of the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, and copied over 3000 pages of e-mail and computer code which were shortly disseminated across the Internet. Revealed in the documents was what climate warming skeptics soon trumpeted as a shocking picture of scientific fraud and deceit of enormous significance. The ensuing internet/science tsunami was, and continues to be, of near biblical proportions. And while global warming alarmists have attempted to downplay the incident, it has been dubbed by others as “climategate,” and/or the “CRU-tape letters.” Many believe that the curiously unsuccessful outcome to December’s Copenhagen climate summit could be the scandal’s first real feedback.

As of this writing, the identity of the hacker remains a mystery, but suspicion points to an inside job. If it is indeed the work of some conscious-stricken employee within the CRU, he or she may be protected from prosecution by Brit­ain’s whistleblower laws.

The CRU has become, along with NASA, one of the most influential organizations in the ongoing debate over man-made global warming. Its studies and numbers provide the primary basis for most of the pronouncements of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which is currently leading the charge for sweep­ing changes to the economies of the world, all aimed at countering the perceived threat from so-called anthropocen­tric global warming.

In the hacked files is advice on how the scientists can avoid complying with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requirements for release of temperature data supporting their conclusions (Britain’s FOIA—more stringent than America’s—makes it a crime to deny a legitimate request for the data underlying a decision from a government fund­ed agency). Included are discussions of how to manipulate the peer review process to exclude skeptics. There is also the admission of “a travesty,” the failure of CRU’s computer models to account for an apparent worldwide decline in temperatures, which, since 1998, has inconveniently defied all predictions of the climate change lobby.

While most of the focus, as of this writing, has been on the e-mails, more potentially incriminating are other ele­ments now slowly coming to light. Computer code included with the stolen documents is revealing many of the un­derlying assumptions used to construct the all-important models which provide the basis for alarm bells spurring the warming debate. While the revelations may not directly disprove the hypothesis of man-made global warming, they certainly cast considerable doubt on the integrity of the science involved, including the iconic and widely publicized “hockey stick” graph, created by world-famed climatologist Michael Mann, a Penn State University professor, which purports to show a steep and unprecedented rise in world temperatures. (Mann is one of the authorities whose mo­tives have been thrown into sharp question by the CRU exposures).

Within days of the revelations CRU director Phil Jones had stepped down to make way for a University of East An­glia investigation of professional misconduct, but the process will certainly not end there. After all, vast sums of mon­ey are at stake, if not the very survival of many of the world’s largest economies. And while the draconian measures which have been proposed might be worthwhile to help stave off a looming planetary eco-catastrophe, they can hard­ly be justified if the underlying science itself is in doubt. Major investigations—including, hopefully, independent ones—of the central arguments for and against man-made global warming are now being demanded.

The details of the entire affair are widely available on the Internet, and it seems only a matter of time until the sto­ry becomes common knowledge (it may even be reported on the—thus far reluctant—major TV news networks). Al­ready the reaction in print media and the Internet blogosphere is scathing. The Atlantic Monthly’s widely respected blogger Clive Crook—though his initial writing was that nothing in the CRU dump surprised him much—soon changed his tune. Within days he was writing, “The closed-mindedness of these supposed men of science, their will­ingness to go to any lengths to defend a preconceived message, is surprising even to me. The stink of intellectual cor­ruption is overpowering.”

British Guardian columnist George Monbiot, who had previously been one of the most outspoken defenders of the warming hypothesis, wrote on November 23, “It’s no use pretending that this isn’t a major blow. The e-mails. . . . could scarcely be more damaging. . . . I’m dismayed and deeply shaken by them. . . . I was too trusting of some of those who provided the evidence I championed. I would have been a better journalist if I had investigated their claims more closely.”

Alternative Science

For those in the alternative science community, the implications of Climategate are even more profound. One of the most troubling aspects of the case has to do with the peer review system itself, on which the big science establish­ment bases its legitimacy.

In theory the idea sounds fine: scientists look at a particular phenomenon, come up with some kind of explanation (hopefully a convincing one), do experiments to test their hypothesis, and then submit to other scientists (peers) to see if they can obtain the same results. If the hypothesis holds up, everything is published and then other scientists get to take a crack at the idea. To keep favoritism and politics out of it, the process is supposed to be anonymous so that no one need fear retribution or expect any particular reward. That is the way the system is supposed work, but does it?

As columnist Mark Steyn wrote for National Review on line, “The trouble with outsourcing your marbles to the peer-reviewed set is that, if you take away one single thing from the leaked (CRU) documents, it’s that the global warm-mongers have wholly corrupted the ‘peer-review’ process.”

The “peer review process,” however, was in trouble long before Climategate.

When Richard Sternberg, editor of the scientific journal Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, de­cided in 2004 to publish a paper making the case for “Intelligent Design” he had no idea what he was in for. Despite scrupulous attention to correct peer review procedures, Sternberg, who holds two Ph.D.’s in Biology, was accused of being a shoddy scientist and a Bible thumper and of taking money under the table from fundamentalists. “I was basi­cally run out of here,” he recalls. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, an independent agency whose job it is to protect federal officials from reprisals, found that senior scientists with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural Histo­ry did indeed retaliate against Sternberg for running the article.

According to the Washington Post, the Special Counsel investigators examined e-mail traffic from the scientists and noted that “retaliation came in many forms . . . misinformation was disseminated through the Smithsonian Insti­tution and to outside sources. The allegations against you were later determined to be false.” James McVay, the prin­cipal legal adviser in the Office of Special Counsel, wrote to Sternberg, “The rumor mill became so infected that one of your colleagues had to circulate [your résumé] simply to dispel the rumor that you were not a scientist.”

The Sternberg controversy publicly exposed a common tactic of the mainstream science camp (epitomized by or­ganizations like Csicop)—the use of ad hominem attacks which have nothing to do with the merits of the arguments presented. Frequently heard is the accusation that Intelligent Design advocates are closet creationists masquerading as scientists.

A similar tactic used by global warming activists is to call those who question the validity of their arguments “de­niers,” thus equating them with holocaust “deniers.” One use of the word involves an unproven theory and the other, a thoroughly documented historical event (the murder of 6-million jews in WWII), but the distinction gets lost in the fray.

The usual claim made by the establishment in such disputes is that the matter is already settled, which is another way of saying, don’t argue with us we know best. In the global warming debate, such is emphatically not the case. Richard S. Lindzen, professor of meteorology (climate science) at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for one, says in a November 30 piece for the Wall Street Journal, “climate science isn’t settled. Confident predictions of catas­trophe are unwarranted.” Even the BBC recently expressed doubt over whether the facts can support the main con­tentions of the global warming alarmists. Is the sunspot cycle, for example, the real source of much of the warming we might have experienced? Such authoritative views have done little though to stem the widespread clamor that the debate is over, global warming is accelerating, human activity is the primary cause, and any questioning of the merits of that claim is at the planet’s peril.

Over the last few years Atlantis Rising has championed any number of unpopular causes in which, it was clear, that mainstream science had refused to play fair. Perhaps the best example is “cold fusion” which, since 1989 when it was originally unveiled by Stanley Pons and Martin Fleichmann at the University of Utah, has been scorned by the es­tablishment as junk science. The two pioneer scientists, though, have now been clearly vindicated.

In March of 2009, almost exactly 20 years after the original press conference, the American Chemical Society, a leader in mainstream science’s peer review process, announced to the world that researchers are now reporting “compelling new scientific evidence for the existence of low energy nuclear reactions (LENR),” the process once called “cold fusion.” A newly released study from the U.S. Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SPAWAR) in San Diego, CA now, for the first time, finds the production of “highly energetic neutrons” from a LENR device. Such neutrons are considered to be the sure sign of a nuclear fusion reaction.

Another area where Atlantis Rising has questioned the conventional scientific consensus is over whether advanced civilization on Earth could have existed before the last ice age, something which orthodox archaeology hotly deputes and keeps out of its debates. But recent dramatic discoveries at Göbekli Tepe in Turkey are now widely acknowledged to be a “challenge to conventional history,” and that characterization could well prove to be a major understatement.

Carbon dated at twelve thousand years old, Göbekli Tepe offers incontrovertible evidence for advanced human ac­tivity at a time when our ancestors are said to have been still at the hunter-gatherer stage—thousands of years earlier than we have been told was possible.

In the mid 1990s when maverick Egyptologist John Anthony West and Boston University Geologist Dr. Robert Schoch announced that water weathering proved the Great Sphinx of Egypt was thousands of years older than tradi­tionally believed, they were greeted with derision from conventional Egyptology. And despite evidence widely accept­ed by professional geologists, the orthodox archaeologists have continued to deny the possibility of the Sphinx’s greater antiquity.

Among the many other underreported stories covered in these pages has been the work of Rupert Sheldrake whose book, A New Science of Life, containing his theory of morphic resonance, was declared by John Maddox, editor

of the prestigious peer reviewed journal Nature, to be a book “that should be burned.” Now Phillip Stevens, a Masters candidate at London’s Imperial College, has based his dissertation on Sheldrake’s treatment at the hands of the sci­ence establishment.

Phillips, though personally skeptical of Sheldrake’s theories, found, to his surprise, that despite an unblemished academic record and a research fellowship at the Royal Society, Sheldrake was unfairly subjected to public scorn from colleagues for publishing his theory. Phillips also found that skeptics like Dr. Richard Wiseman had failed to use the normal scientific procedures which scientists usually follow when collaborating and reporting their results. Wiseman had actually repeated many of Sheldrake’s experimental results, a fact which was conveniently omitted in his pub­lished condemnation of Sheldrake’s work.

Similarly hostile receptions have greeted the work of Sam Parnia on near-death experience, Dean Radin on psi phenomena, and others.

But so much for the way big science expresses its disapproval. How is it doing when it comes to approval? Not very well there either, it seems.

Take the case of Jan Hendrik Schön, a young German scientist whose star, reportedly, had already risen. After be­ing credited with a number of amazing discoveries—including plastic transistors, new superconductors, microscopic molecular switches, and more—the 32-year-old researcher at Bell Labs was the toast of big science around the world and considered one of the hottest researchers on the planet. But he was, it turns out, a fake. His peers and the scien­tific journals (including Science) who published his bogus work had been completely fooled.

The Schön case, we learn though, is not that unusual. South Korean cloning pioneer Hwang Woo-Suk, for exam­ple, recently made international headlines when it was discovered that he was faking data. Now, according to the journal Public Library of Science, a review of 21 scientific misconduct surveys of the period from 1986 to 2005, more than two-thirds of researchers said they knew of colleagues who had committed “questionable” practices and one in seven said that included inventing findings. Of course, very few scientists, just two percent, admitted to having faked results themselves. The most common area of fraud appears to be in medical research, which is seen as evidence for the effect of commercial pressure.

It is not, however, just the gross violations such as falsification, plagiarism, and fabrication which are of concern. According to a study authored by Raymond De Vries, an associate professor of medical education and a member of the Bioethics Program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, scientific misbehavior seems to be endemic today. The study was published in April 2009 in the premier issue of the Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics.

De Vries says that intense competition between scientists these days is causing them to worry about things they shouldn’t be thinking about, like how their data will be interpreted, not just its integrity. In other words, they are thinking about whether their research will lead to conclusions their peers might not like. Other issues also men­tioned by the study include the increasing number of rules which scientists are supposed to follow and questions of how to deal with the growing competition for the rewards in a shrinking pie.

The study collected its data primarily from six focus groups with a total of 51 researchers gathered from the top

U.S. research universities. The groups were asked to discuss misconduct which the participants had either practiced or witnessed. “After the focus groups,” said De Vries, “we felt like we had been at a confessional. We didn’t intend this, but the focus groups became a place where people could unburden themselves.”

From the intelligent design of Richard Sternberg, to the cold fusion of Pons and Fleischmann, from West’s and Schoch’s greater antiquity of the Sphinx to the morphic resonance of Rupert Sheldrake, the same conflict, it seems, plays out over and over in scientific debate. Witness the helio-centric solar system of Galileo or the catastrophism of Immanuel Velikovsky. Some, like writer Thomas Kuhn (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions), have perceived a re­curring pattern in which the ideas which are unthinkable to one generation become the orthodoxy of the next.

If, however, we want to be free right now from the tyranny which certain elites would seek to impose on the pub­lic mind, we will have to learn to do our own thinking. The first step in that process could very well be to remember that many who claim to know what they are talking about may, in fact, only believe. And although they may feel quite passionate on the matter, the rest of us will need to hear something much better than their preachments before con­verting to their faith.

In the trial of the soul described in the afterworld of the ancient Egyptians, the heart of the deceased—symbolic of his virtue, moral character, and earthly deeds—was laid on a set of scales before Osiris and weighed against a single feather representing maat, the divine law. If the scales balanced, the deceased was allowed to pass into heaven.

Will today’s big science make the cut? You be the judge.

by Martin Ruggles

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