34 1 min 8 yrs

What the public didn’t realize, he said, was that academic science, too, was becoming a business. “There are scarce resources, you need grants, you need money, there is competition,” he said. “Normal people go to the edge to get that money. Science is of course about discovery, about digging to discover the truth. But it is also communication, persuasion, marketing. I am a salesman.”

Comment by Diederik Stapel, a former – and fraudulant – Professor of Social Psychology, explaining why he made up the results of his experiments. It’s from a short piece by Rob Fisher at samizdata explaining why, in his words, all it takes for grand conspiracies to happen is for incentives to align.

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34 thoughts on “INCENTIVES MATTER

  1. That makes sense. Incentives absolutely do matter, but I think climate change is a bad example. Let’s presume that the scientific consensus on climate change is entirely false. I don’t think that would be done to a conspiracy, but rather down to a kind of group-think and a tendency to ‘join’ the consensus (due to incentives like grants for sure) rather than question it.

    There are lots of where incentives align in particular ways and this influences actions/outcomes. But these are not conscious conspiracies.

  2. My academic friends tell my that they must publish research and bring in research grant money if they are to retain their positions . I do not agree with academic fraud in ANY form , one can see an incentive to keep in employment .
    Please , please do not mention those whores of science …climate experts .

  3. I still find it strange that scientists as a whole get accused of some sort of scam by certain people whenever global warming gets talked about. Science doesn’t operate like politics or industry. It’s not done by consensus or approved opinion. It reaches it’s conclusions by rigorous continued research and peer review. There is no argument in mainstream science on whether or not man is having an effect on the climate. He is and that’s a fact. The only things under debate in science are what the effect of this change will bring.
    I’m not on any ‘side’ here. I’ve just done what I always do and looked at the evidence, and there is plenty of material to read on the subject. And before you go saying that there is some sort of scam for funding in science to favor global warming just remember that the vast majority of scientists researching this would get funding either way, or even if they didn’t research it at all. (They would just research something else.)

  4. Dave — I don’t think that’s entirely true. No science – natural or social – is ever pure. There are always push and pull factors which mean some things get studied and some don’t. In the 19th Century there was a consensus vis-a-vis scientific racism which is now thoroughly discredited. Racial hierarchies were ‘true’ according to the scientific method. Science is subject to social forces.

  5. The Global Warming issue is now so completely politicized that it would be a very brave student / scientist who deviated from the ” consensus ” in any way.

    Lysenko in Russia was a scientist, and I don’t think that too many would claim him today.

  6. Petr, Phantom. I agree science isn’t perfect, it has dropped some clangers in the past and not everyone working in the field is truthful. But the fact is it’s right far more than it’s wrong.
    As for being pressured to give a preferred result, this doesn’t work for science as a whole. No one man or institution is in change. Peer review rules the day and scientists are quite the opposite from being shy or scared to disprove a theory if they have evidence against it.
    A field of mine worked in Manchester about five years ago on climate related research. (I believe he and others working with him where looking at carbon in tree rings and ice cores.) I asked him if there was any ‘influence’ on what results they should arrive at and he laughed. He said for augments sake, even if some shadowy body had tried to influence their work, the data was tested independently by other teams in other countries, white papers where published independently and the research followed a well tested, methodical path. Oh, and he would have been paid to do other research, (like his collogues) if he hadn’t done climate change work and the outcome had no bearing on his pay, so no financial incentive either.

  7. Brave? In a way. I mean, it probably true that it wouldn’t be a great career move, like socialist scientists who go against the grain and don’t get jobs/tenure. There’s no question but that these things influence both what gets studied, and conclusions.

    Climate science is not like laboratory science. It’s inexact, it involves models, projections and so forth. This makes it easy for armchair scientists to take a pop at the scientific consensus around climate change. Anyway, despite everything, the evidence is overwhelmingly on the side of ‘man’ having a pretty extensive and negative effect here. Most of the critiques seem to come from those with an individualist politics; therefore their perspective is self-serving in that they abhor the idea off collective international action on almost any issue. They come to the table in no better faith than the alarmist green scientist.

  8. He said for augments sake, even if some shadowy body had tried to influence their work, the data was tested independently by other teams in other countries, white papers where published independently and the research followed a well tested, methodical path.

    Yes. This comes back to my original point. It’s not remotely credible that there’s a concious conspiracy at play. Too many people involved, too many checks, etc etc. It would only take one person to expose it. To be honest, even engaging with this question is somewhat inadvisable. It is the proposition of headbangers.

    But group-think can emerge in scientific communities, and it’s not true to say that scientists are only too happy to give up on a theory if the evidence no long supports it. On the contrary, if one has been working from particular premises for one’s entire career, the tendency is often to cling to it. Nobody wants to acknowledge they’ve been wrong about something for most of their life, and that years of work are no of little use.

  9. The New Yorker also has an article on this topic this week: Fraud, failure to replicate, a field in crisis: The culture of science is actually changing for the better…though this article mostly deals social psychology.
    >>>>>>>More importantly, there is something positive that has come out of the crisis of replicability—something vitally important for all experimental sciences. For years, it was extremely difficult to publish a direct replication, or a failure to replicate an experiment, in a good journal. Throughout my career, and long before it, journals emphasized that new papers have to publish original results; I completely failed to replicate a particular study a few years ago, but at the time didn’t bother to submit it to a journal because I knew few people would be interested. Now, happily, the scientific culture has changed.

    http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/elements/2013/05/the-crisis-in-social-psychology-that-isnt.html

  10. As respects climate science, I think that it’s impossible to settle anything with certainty, as there can never be a repeatable, controlled experiment.

    You can be pretty damned sure, but you just can’t prove it the way you can prove math or gravity or physics.

  11. You can be pretty damned sure, but you just can’t prove it the way you can prove math or gravity or physics.

    Yes. And no scientist would disagree with this. You can be almost certain.

  12. Phantom. I know what you mean, but in science, most models for reality are theories. (scientific theories do not have the same vagueness about them as theories in general.) Using one of your examples, gravity and prof for it, the theory of gravity is probably less clear than what science has to say about climate change. Sure, we all no an apple falls to the ground if you drop it but why? (Higgs boson.) The facts about climate change on so far as science is concerned are: 1. Man is putting more CO2 into the atmosphere in recent history than ever before and; 2. CO2 is a major greenhouse gas. These two facts alone show we are having an effect on climate. The extent of that effect and it’s consequences are uncertain, but in my opinion, we’ve only got one planet it would be nice if we didn’t f**k it up.

  13. Yes, but there are some who absolutely fly off the handle when you say things like this.

    Even here, I asked someone ” what evidence would it take to disprove GW “?

    The answer given was essentially ” that the models [ presumably from the same guys ] would show a different result ”

    Which to me is a circular argument.

    I will leave names out.

  14. Dave 554

    Those facts don’t necessarily prove AGW to me.

    The earth and the solar system have their own heat and cold cycles that are also a factor as is sunspots.

  15. People do want to be approved of by their peers and on occasion it can influence scientists.

    However in the case of climate change whose beliefs appear more likely to be determined by peer pressure?:

    – Scientists who have studied climate science for years and are of the opinion that increasing CO2 emissions lead to an increase in average global temperature.

    – Laymen almost entirely of one political persuasion who overwhelmingly disagree with climate change.

    It seems obvious to me where peer pressure plays a part.

  16. Phantom, I agree and other factors may end up causing more warming than man. But we are making a significant contribution and as I said in my last post, we should really try and not make the situation worse.

  17. Ross

    I think that there are ” deniers ” in places like Russia that would not fit into any of our political boxes

    Dave

    I’ve often said, with no response here, is that even if AGW were entirely false, that it would be the soundest of policies to minimize air and water pollution, deforestation, all these things.

  18. ” 1. Man is putting more CO2 into the atmosphere in recent history than ever before and; 2. CO2 is a major greenhouse gas. These two facts alone show we are having an effect on climate.”

    Yep. There is simply no reputable counterargument. Even most ‘sceptics’ try to argue that the effect is small, and/or smaller than supposed, and/or very uncertain, not that is zero.

    As to the point of the post, it’s manifestly obvious that plenty of people are incentivised to try to disprove AGW, because plenty do try. It is probably the most attacked scientific result since Copernicus, and its opponents have so far not done much better.

    “Even here, I asked someone ” what evidence would it take to disprove GW “?”

    The most obvious evidence is that mainstream science and pretty much every scientist would reject the theory, and a better explanation would emerge to take its place. In other words, the polar opposite of the situation we have now.

    Of course, you’ve been told that before.

  19. “It is probably the most attacked scientific result since Copernicus …”

    Conjecture, but what “result”?

  20. Among other results (most of them long before any supposed ‘incentives’):

    1896: Svante Arrhenius correctly predicts that increases in fossil fuel emissions would cause the earth to warm.

    1900: Frank Very worked out the radiation balance, and hence the temperature, of the moon. His results were confirmed by Pettit and Nicholson in 1930.

    1902-14: Arthur Schuster and Karl Schwarzschild used a 2-layer radiative-convective model to explain the structure of the sun.

    1907: Robert Emden realized that a similar radiative-convective model could be applied to planets, and Gerard Kuiper and others applied this to astronomical observations of planetary atmospheres.

    1938: Guy Callendar is the first to link observed rises in CO2 concentrations with observed rises in surface temperatures.

    1956: Gilbert Plass correctly predicts a depletion of outgoing radiation in the 15 micron band, due to CO2 absorption. This depletion was eventually confirmed by satellite measurements.

    1961-2: Carl Sagan correctly predicts very thick greenhouse gases in the atmosphere of Venus, as the only way to explain the very high observed temperatures.

    1959: Burt Bolin and Erik Eriksson correctly predict the exponential increase in CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere as a result of rising fossil fuel use.

    1967: Suki Manabe and Dick Wetherald correctly predict that warming in the lower atmosphere would be accompanied by stratospheric cooling.

    1975: Suki Manabe and Dick Wetherald correctly predict that the surface warming would be much greater in the polar regions, and that there would be some upper troposphere amplification in the tropics.

    1989: Ron Stouffer et. al. correctly predict that the land surface will warm more than the ocean surface, and that the southern ocean warming would be temporarily suppressed due to the slower ocean heat uptake.

    To this you can add at least 17 correct predictions from computer models:

    That the globe would warm, and about how fast, and about how much.
    That the troposphere would warm and the stratosphere would cool.
    That nighttime temperatures would increase more than daytime temperatures.
    That winter temperatures would increase more than summer temperatures.
    Polar amplification (greater temperature increase as you move toward the poles).
    That the Arctic would warm faster than the Antarctic.
    The magnitude (0.3 K) and duration (two years) of the cooling from the Mt. Pinatubo eruption.
    They made a retrodiction for Last Glacial Maximum sea surface temperatures which was inconsistent with the paleo evidence, and better paleo evidence showed the models were right.
    They predicted a trend significantly different and differently signed from UAH satellite temperatures, and then a bug was found in the satellite data.
    The amount of water vapor feedback due to ENSO.
    The response of southern ocean winds to the ozone hole.
    The expansion of the Hadley cells.
    The poleward movement of storm tracks.
    The rising of the tropopause and the effective radiating altitude.
    The clear sky super greenhouse effect from increased water vapor in the tropics.
    The near constancy of relative humidity on global average.
    That coastal upwelling of ocean water would increase.

  21. Frank

    In plain English, what would have to happen in the next 50 to 100 years that in your mind would pretty much disprove AGW theories?

    No referring back to models or any of that.

    Assume anything you like about population and fossil fuel consumption and release of x amount of carbon and whatever into the air.

  22. “In plain English, what would have to happen in the next 50 to 100 years that in your mind would pretty much disprove AGW theories?”

    I already answered that (again) and I never said a word about models in my answer.

  23. In one of the times this came up I asked this question and you gave what struck me as a convoluted answer that most certainly did refer to the models.

    I swear on a stack of bibles on this one.

  24. Well I just answered it up there and I’ve given the same answer before. Other times I’ve answered I’ve given even *more* examples of what I think such evidence would look like but you didn’t like that because it was ‘too complicated’.

    But it’s really pretty simple. If there was convincing evidence against AGW, pretty much every scientist would be convinced by it and would tell you so.

    I am pretty sure that people like Richard Alley would say so, for example. You should read his book ‘Earth: The Operator’s Manual’ – a pretty good explanation of the evidence, warts and all, and he’s a Republican too. The book’s not just about global warming but also energy solutions generally.

  25. Frank 10:24. Good post. You’ve given me some new info to look into. Thanks.

    Frank: “But it’s really pretty simple. If there was convincing evidence against AGW, pretty much every scientist would be convinced by it and would tell you so.”

    That’s what I was (unsuccessfully) trying to say.

  26. 1. Man is putting more CO2 into the atmosphere in recent history than ever before and; 2. CO2 is a major greenhouse gas. These two facts alone show we are having an effect on climate.

    The 3rd fact is that certain scientists are so convinced by facts 1 and 2 that any data which show the contrary must be wrong and therefore should be manipulated to be ‘correct’ – which debases science. Oh – and I think that these scientists were ‘incentivised’. But perhaps scientists cannot help themselves from wanting to obtain ‘correct’ results from what they consider to be the basic facts. This example is of a fraud in Holland:

    Diederik Stapel was an academic star in the Netherlands and abroad, the author of several well-regarded studies on human attitudes and behavior. That spring, he published a widely publicized study in Science about an experiment done at the Utrecht train station showing that a trash-filled environment tended to bring out racist tendencies in individuals.

    Stapel did not deny that his deceit was driven by ambition. But it was more complicated than that, he told me. He insisted that he loved social psychology but had been frustrated by the messiness of experimental data, which rarely led to clear conclusions.

    Later, I got used to his reminding me not to leave doors ajar when we walked in or out of a room. When I pointed this out, he admitted to a lifelong obsession with order and symmetry.

    What the public didn’t realize, he said, was that academic science, too, was becoming a business. “There are scarce resources, you need grants, you need money, there is competition,” he said. “Normal people go to the edge to get that money. Science is of course about discovery, about digging to discover the truth. But it is also communication, persuasion, marketing. I am a salesman. I am on the road. People are on the road with their talk. With the same talk. It’s like a circus.”

  27. Frank

    I’m not trying to start another dopey ATW fight, but you’ve certainly not addressed my simple question on this thread, or, have I seen a direct answer to it elsewhere,

    Its OK. It is a big issue. We trust who we trust I suppose.

  28. A few major volcanos that fill the atmosphere with ash and other matter would cool the planet by several degrees. While it is true more co2 is being released, there are other factors to take into account when making sweeping conclusions that result in policies with serious effects.

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