August 27

Tackle The Post-Truth World, Science Must Reform

Tackle The Post-Truth World, Science Must Reform

Before Brexit and the US elections, Nature world magazine columnist Colin Macilwain set out a challenge. If Donald Trump were to trigger a crisis in Western democracy. Scientists would need to look at their part in its downfall. Now Trump has become president, the possibility of crisis is real, including the specter of a Twitter ban for scientists. So what of scientific introspection?

Macilwain argues that the scientific elite is inextricably linked to the centrist, free-market political establishment. In their continuous pursuit of funding, scientists reinforce the ruling nexus of politics and finance. Oblivious to the evident cracks in the system.

We share Macilwain’s diagnosis, and note that the scientific community seems set to avoid a much-needed soul-searching. About its responsibility in the twin crises of science and democracy, escaping introspection by using denial, dismissal, diversion and displacement. These tactics need to be understood in order to address the current crisis and its potential solutions.

Denial And Dismissal World

Denial goes something like this, there is no crisis in science. And if there is one, it does not impact the social role of science, including informing policy.

International organizations studying the production and delivery of science. Such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and UNESCO seem to adopt this position. Discussing scientific advice without admitting the problems in the science that underpins it.

Alternatively, researchers and policy-makers could acknowledge. The existence of a problem but dismiss it as something to be treated with topical remedies. For example, one recent analysis shows how bad incentives drive off good science by sustaining a state of affairs. That systematically encourages malpractice.

But responses from the field seem to conceive of the problem as one that requires only a refined technical solution from within the scientific establishment, not fundamental reforms.

Even a recent manifesto for reproducible science, which lists measures to improve key elements of the scientific process including methods, reporting and dissemination, reproducibility, evaluation and incentives, aims only to make science more efficient.

We argue that the present scientific crisis emerges, in part, from uncritically applying to science a mainstream economics concept of efficiency, unavoidably associated with measurements and metrics, when metrics are seen instead by many as part of the problem.

Diversion And Displacement World

Diversion is another way to avoid addressing the current problems with science. This stance can be summarized as, There is a problem, and this is due to an ongoing war on science between the educated liberal left and the ignorant conservative right. It has been realize by the election of Donald Trump.

Because science is under threat, then, it holds that scientists should close ranks and reject criticism, as they have done in the past when faced with postmodern critiques.

This position feeds onto a persistent Cult of Science, portraying science as the master narrative to adjudicate on the full range of human and societal affairs, and scientists as a nobler domain of humanity.

But in doing so, scientists risk being perceive as just another interest group. Indeed, the public is increasingly wary about trusting scientists to be objective, and scientists would be wise to reflect on the nature of their activism.

World Widespread Response

Last but not least, displacement is perhaps the most widespread response, judging by the insistent claims about the onset of the post-truth era. This position implies that before Brexit and President Trump, we were living in a world where truth was commonplace in policy and politics.

Scientists accuse the public of incompetence on scientific matters such as vaccines and climate change. And Donald Trump fuels these fires by flirting with known vaccine bashers and shutting down the climate pages on government websites.

In this view, the world would be a better place if only the lay public and politicians better understood science.

But it is important when analyzing the vaccine saga or the ease with which conspiracy theories catch on to consider the relations between the pharmaceutical industry and regulators, feeding on a series of documented instances of corrupted science, and ruthless industrial pressure.

The mistakes of the lay public should not be taken as an excuse to overlook science’s own faults. Let us not forget the parallel cases of Love Canal in the 1970s, and Flint, Michigan and Washington, DC today, where the same script seems to repeat itself, with residents having to rely on their own scientists to expose the truth.

What Went Wrong With Science?

In one recent analysis, we suggest that science is in crisis because of contradictions. Between the practice and structure of science, and its public image and social roles.

In his 1963 book, Little Science, Big Science, Derek de Solla Price described how the small-scale. Single-project research activities that characterized most scientific work in through the mid-20th century shifted dramatically to big science after the second world war. This resulted from the impressive growth in the scientific production and workforce. And was characterize by large projects requiring advance technologies.

De Solla Price speculated that this current context might one day lead to a senility of science. Our analysis which owes to earlier works by philosopher Jerome Ravetz. Follows on to argue that the sheer scale of science today is destroying the disciplinary peer. Communities of little science and demanding objective metrics of quality, which encourage perverse incentives and are subject to corruption.

No quantitative and formalized system of quality control can replace the old, informal system. Instead, resolution will require people and institutions beyond the scientific system.

For political scientist Dan Sarewitz. The degradation of science is also due to its engagement in what he calls a trans-scientific endeavor. Meaning a problem that can be express scientifically but is not amenable to a scientific solution via existing scientific means.

Scientifically Soluble

Obesity, for example, seems to be a scientifically soluble problem. Only if we neglect the extremely complex chain of possible causes which could contribute to the condition.

Sarewitz argues that the miracles of modernity came not from the free play of free intellects. But from the leashing of scientific creativity to the technological needs of the US Department of Defense.

From this perspective, the ongoing problems with reproducibility in scientific experiments result from researchers. Choosing to study trans-scientific issues to maximize their funding and publication metrics. Even though science is better, for Sarewitz, when constrained by clear mandates and control. For example, at the service of a market-driven technological development.

Still, the idea that market and innovation keep science clean begs the question of who keeps market and innovation clean?

August 27

Science In Crisis From The Sugar Scam

Science In Crisis From The Sugar Scam

Worldwide, we are facing a joint crisis in science and expertise. This has led some observers to speak of a post-factual democracy. With Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump the results.

Today, the scientific enterprise produces somewhere in the order of 2m papers a year, published in roughly 30,000 different journals. A blunt assessment has made that perhaps half or more of all. This production will not stand the test of time.

Meanwhile, science has been challenge as an authoritative source of knowledge for both policy and everyday life. With noted major misdiagnoses in fields as disparate as forensics, preclinical and clinical medicine, chemistry, psychology and economics.

Perhaps nutrition is the field most in the spotlight. It took several decades for cholesterol to be absolve and for sugar to be re-indict as the more serious health threat. Thanks to the fact that the sugar industry sponsored a research program in the 1960s and 1970s. Which successfully cast doubt on the hazards of sucrose while promoting fat as the dietary culprit.

Destructive Science Trend

We think of science as producing truths about the universe. Triumphs of science, like the recent confirmation of the existence of gravitational waves. And the landing of a probe on a comet flying around the sun, bring more urgency to the need to reverse the present. Crisis of confidence in other areas of the scientific endeavor.

Science is tie up with our ideas about democracy not in the cold war sense of science being an attribute of open democratic societies. But because it provides legitimacy to existing power arrangements. Those who rule need to know what needs to be done, and in modern society this knowledge is provided by science.

The science-knowledge-power relationship is one of the master narratives of modernity. Whose end was announce by philosopher Jean-François Lyotard four decades ago. The contemporary loss of trust in expertise seems to support his views.

Still, techno-science is at the heart of contemporary narratives: the convictions that we will innovate our way out of the economic crisis, overcome our planetary boundaries, achieve a dematerialised economy, improve the fabric of nature, and allow universal well-being.

The appeal of reassuring narratives about our future depends on our trust in science, and the feared collapse of this trust will have far-reaching consequences.

The cult of science is still adhered to by many. Most of us need to believe in a neutral science, detached from material interests and political bargaining, capable of discovering the wonders of nature. For this reason, no political party has so far argued for a reduction in science funding on the basis of the crisis in science, but this threat could soon materialize.

The Crisis We Saw Coming

The crisis in science is not a surprise some scholars of history and philosophy of science had predicted it four decades ago. Derek de Solla Price, the father of scient o metrics literally the scientific study of science feared the quality crisis. He noted in his 1963 book, Little Science, Big Sciences, that the exponential growth of science might lead to saturation, and possibly to senility (an incapacity to progress any further). For contemporary philosopher Elijah Millgram, this disease takes the form of disciplines becoming alien to one another, separated by different languages and standards.

Jerome R Ravetz noted in 1971 that sciences is a social activity, and that changes in the social fabric of sciences once made up of restricted clubs whose members were linked by common interests and now a system ruled by impersonal metrics would entail serious problems for its quality assurance system and important repercussions for its social functions.

Ravetz, whose analysis of science’s contradictions has continued to the present day. Noted that neither a technical fix would remedy this, nor would a system of enforced rules. Scientific quality is too delicate a matter to be resolve with a set of recipes.

Science Perfect Illustration

A perfect illustration of his thesis is the recent debate about the P value commonly use. In experiments to judge the quality of scientific results. The inappropriate use of this technique has been strongly criticize. Provoking alarm and statements of concern at the highest levels in the profession of statistics. But no clear agreement has been reach on the nature of the problem. As shown by the high number of critical comments in the ensuing debate.

Philip Mirowski’s recent book offers a fresh reading of the crisis in terms of the commercialization of science’s production. Scientific research deteriorates when it is entrust to contract research organizations, working on a short leash held by commercial interests.

The present trajectory will result in an impasse in many areas of science. Where it may become impossible to sort out the good papers from the bad.

Science-based narratives and the social functions of will then lose their appeal. No solution is possible without a change in the prevailing vision and ideology, but can scientific institutions offer one?

August 27

Computer Science Benefits Students With Learning Disabilities

Computer Science Benefits Students With Learning Disabilities

The big idea when computer science courses are deliver through career and technical education in high school. The courses can help students with learning disabilities feel better about their ability to succeed in STEM. The classes also help the students see the usefulness of computer science.

This is what we found in a recent study with our co-authors education scholars Michael Gottfried, Jennifer Freeman.

We used national survey data from more than 20,000 students across the country to dig into this connection. Between computer science and science, technology, engineering or mathematics, a group of subjects generally known as STEM.

In our work, we found that compared with other students with learning disabilities. Those who took computer science courses in a career and technical education program. Were more likely to believe they could succeed in STEM. They were also more likely to believe STEM was useful for future employment or college options.

We also found that within career and technical education programs students. With learning disabilities were just as likely to take computer science courses as students without learning disabilities. All our findings were still evident even after we took into account key student characteristics. Such as family income, first language, gender and racial or ethnic identity.

Students with learning disabilities in our study are those who have a disability. That affects their learning to write, read, spell or perform mathematical calculations

Why Computer Matters

Computer science is one of the fastest-growing fields in the current economy. Employment experts predict a 13% increase about 667,000 new jobs in these computer occupations from 2020 to 2030. That’s more than three times the rate of anticipated overall job growth. However, there have not been enough computer science graduates in recent years to fill these jobs.

Based on our work, computer science courses appear to help students with learning disabilities develop positive attitudes toward STEM. These attitudes are link to persistence in both computer science and STEM more generally. This makes it important for educators to encourage students to study, and stick with, computer science and STEM and make sure these students have access to these courses.

At the moment, students with learning disabilities are underrepresent in computer science fields in college and the labor market. Specifically, fewer than 8% of students in undergraduate computer science programs have any disability. This is compare with about 19% of all undergraduates.

What Still Computer Known

A big question that remains is why students with learning disabilities don’t persist in science fields in college and, ultimately, pursue careers in the field. Even though science courses in high school help develop confidence and a sense of purpose, that may not be enough to encourage them to stick with it longer term.

One possible explanation might be that students with learning disabilities don’t see themselves as part of the STEM community. In our research, we looked to see if there was a link between science coursework and a feeling of STEM community membership. We found this connection for general education students but not for students with learning disabilities.

Another possible explanation may be that students with learning disabilities start high school with lower levels of STEM confidence and less of a sense that science will be useful to them in the future. Just participating in computer science courses may not be enough to make up the difference in this regard.

What’s next

One important next step will be to look at the factors that help students with learning disabilities keep studying computer science and STEM. For example, does a positive attitude toward STEM actually lead students with learning disabilities to study computer science or pursue careers in the field? We plan to explore such a question in future work.