Science must be reproducible — Part One

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The National Association of Scholars (NAS) is a non profit organization of academics and independent scholars intent on recapturing the essence of scholarship which was so well respected in the past. We once respected all doctors without questioning their level of knowledge. Perhaps you have heard the joke beginning with the question “what do you call an individual who graduated medical school with a D average” the answer is “doctor”. 

The same was true for academics, college professors, all those that taught us at a college or university. Sadly as government slowly took over 80% of all academic research the standard of excellence declined . The by-words of too much research became “as the fear increases so does the money” and government involvement.

In hopes of bringing back the level of excellence among teachers and researchers NAS was formed. It does research itself into how schools are performing in the modern era. While there remains much that is good, there is a great deal that is bad.

This is the first of three essays taken from their new publication aptly titled Shifting Sands. It focuses on the failing efforts to reproduce scientific research that too often ends up supporting unnecessary or inappropriate government regulations. Much of their book uses the tremendous flaws in EPA’s effort to tighten the already unsupportable air quality regulation of Particulate Matter smaller than two and a half microns (millionth of a meter) which is called their PM2.5 rule. I wrote about the PM2.5 hearing they held by Zoom on February 25 on these pages in the weeks of March 27 and April 4, 2022. All but two of those who testified opposed EPA’s effort to tighten the current rule. There were 15 of us testifying against their plan. The EPA panel on the conference call did not ask a single question of the 15 people giving testimony in opposition. We suspect they had no interest in even listening to us. We all agreed that none of the evidence EPA was using to tighten the PM 2.5 rule could be reproduced even if their data could be obtained.

An irreproducibility crisis afflicts a wide range of scientific and social scientific disciplines from epidemiology to social psychology. Science has always had a layer of untrustworthy results published in respectable places and experts who are eventually shown to be sloppy, mistaken or untruthful. Herman Muller even won the Nobel Prize for his fraudulent studies of the fruit fly, which is now known to have resulted in the unsupportable Linear No Threshold model that has handicapped work on medical radiation for more than a half century. But the irreproducibility crisis is something new. It’s magnitude has brought many scientists confidence in other’s research to a very skeptical position. And most of today’s work is performed on the public’s dollar. A majority of modern research may well be wrong. How much government regulation is actually built on irreproducible science.

In the NAS text Shifting Sands the authors included 8 sources of misdirection leading to irreproducibility. They include:

Malleable research plans

Legally inaccessible data sets

Opaque methodology and algorithms

Undocumented data cleansing

Inadequate or non existent data archiving

Flawed statistical methods

Publication bias hiding negative results

Political or disciplinary group think (political correctness)

Government regulation is meant to clear a high barrier of proof. Regulations should be based on a large body of scientific research, the combined evidence of which provides sufficient certainty to justify reducing American’s liberty with a government regulation.

The justifiers of regulations based on flimsy or inadequate research often cite the “precautionary principle”. They would say that instead of being a regulation on rigorous science, they base the regulation on the possibility that a scientific claim is accurate. They do this with the logic that it is too dangerous to wait for the actual validation of a hypothesis, and the lower standard of reliability is warranted when dealing with matters that might involve severely adverse outcomes. The invocation of the precautionary principle is not only non-scientific, but is also an inducement to accepting poor science and even fraud.

We are living with this right now as the government wants to stop the use of fossil fuels because of a belief that it could lead the earths’ temperature to an unwanted level. No such proof of this exists.

The political consequences have unavoidably had the affect of tempting political activists to skew scientific research in order to impact the manner in which the government weighs evidence. Any formal system of assessment inevitably invites attempts to game it.

To all this we must add the distorting effects of massive government funding of scientific research. Our federal government is the largest single funder of research in the world. It’s expectations affect not only the research it directly funds, but also all research done in hopes of receiving federal funding. Government experts therefore have it in their power to create a skewed body of research which they can use to justify regulations.

A 2020 report prepared for the Natural Resource Defense Council estimates that American air pollution regulations cost $120 billion per year, and we may take that estimate provided to us by an environmental advocacy group to be the lowest plausible number.

It is time for US citizens to know all this and react to it in a manner that begins swinging the pendulum back toward more reliable research conclusions.

Note: Portions of this essay were excerpted from the book Shifting Sands with permission of the National Association of Scholars (NAS) and its authors Peter Wood, Stanley Young, Warren Kindzierski, and David Randall.

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* This article was originally published here


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