The new hockey stick


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Steven Hayward at Powerline has noted a new hockey stick graph, produced by scientists and described in detail by the journal Nature. This one is not specifically about climate, but about the reliability of science and the peer-review process itself. To quote the Nature article:

[Retraction] notices [of science papers] are increasing rapidly. In the early 2000s, only about 30 retraction notices appeared annually. This year, the Web of Science is on track to index more than 400 (see ‘Rise of the retractions’) — even though the total number of papers published has risen by only 44% over the past decade.

Below is the graph from the Nature paper. As Hayward says, “Lo and behold, it looks like a hockey stick! (Heh.)”

Increase in retractions

Only 28% of these retractions were due to what Nature calls “honest error.” Everything else was attributed to some form of misconduct (falsification or plagiarism) or results that could not be reproduced.

From the Nature paper it appears that most of these retractions occurred in the fields of medicine or biology. However, the overall increase in retractions — combined with the willingness of the climate field to whitewash scientists who participated in the climategate scandal — suggests once again that the established science community has some serious problems, and until it addresses these problems the quality and reliability of scientific research is going to suffer.

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  • Tom Billings

    It usually takes a few years for a fraud to be noticed and retracted by a journal.

    Anyone else here notice that the “takeoff” of these retractions starts about the time we would expect if the problem of incentives for scientifically unsound publications itself was reinforced, somehow, in January of 1987? What time was that?

    Among other things, it was when the control of the Senate, and its committee chairmanships moved to the Democratic Party. Just what were the positions of Senator Al Gore in Senate Committee assignments between January 1987 and January 1993?

    We already know that between January of 1993 and January of 2001, Al Gore, like Vice Presidents before him, ran the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) for the White House. So, we know his hand was into the funding mechanisms by then that could favor funding those scientists and academics who came to politically correct conclusions in a way that would bring Al Gore more power as President after 2000.

    This is very much like when Dan Quayle’s OSTP was the first administration backer of the program that became the DC-X, and later when Al Gore’s OSTP suggested a “Space Architect” in 1993. The “Space Architect” was there to build an architecture that just happened to exclude the military from manned spaceflight. That ultimately killed the Delta Clipper that DC-X was a demonstrator for.

    Of course after January 2001, plans had to change, but by then, the pieces had already been set moving on the board, and the Dark Lord (excuse me, …ex-Vice President Gore) had a powerful field of allies, who were used to money gotten through these channels. Indeed, it was not until January of 2003 that both the Congressional Chairs funding Science, and the White House OSTP were controlled by people with lower levels of political benefit from anti-industrial policies. Then, 4 years later, that changed again, so that both Senate and House Chairmanships had massive incentive to fund the “right” sorts of conclusions in climate science. Then the incentives would increase again in 2009, when OSTP once again fell under control of those profiting from AGW hysteria.

    We should all note, that *some* scientists *did* hold out against the tide. Would anyone be all *that* surprised to hear their funding declined? This vulnerability is especially sharp when monopsony funding of a scientific field is present. When there is only a single buyer for scientific credibility for political arguments using authority from a field of science, the dissenters from the politically correct line must do so with less funding resources, and ultimately less manpower, since grad students *need* money from that funding to get their degrees and ultimately academic positions, that others can then cite as authoritative sources of information. Once they contribute their voices to the chorus in grad school, and find what happens to those who refuse, few are enthusiastic to switch their opinions, … though even that is beginning to happen.

    Monopsony of funding, with its associated peer review of funding for a field of science, as opposed to only peer review of resulting publications, is the big push that drives things now.

    Even that was only enabled after climate scientists allowed themselves to be seduced not by money, but by the offering of data,…data that they could not release for replication of their work. They made a devil’s bargain with tyrannical governments who considered their climate data to be State Secrets. This allowed the governments with serial crop failures to blame it on weather far easier than if everyone had access to the data, you see. For science, though, the price of disallowing replication was fatal!

    Science is not corrupted all in a day, or even all with a dollar, but with desire,…sometimes even the desire to get the raw data that is at the core of science itself.

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