Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Merchants of Hype

Once upon a time, the task of scientists was to understand nature. “Merchants of Light,” Francis Bacon called them. They were a community of knowledge-seekers who subjected hypotheses to experimental test, using what we now simply call “the scientific method.” Understanding nature, so the idea, would both satisfy human curiosity and better our lives.

Today, the task of scientists is no longer to understand nature. Instead, their task is to uphold an illusion of progress by wrapping incremental advances in false promise. Merchants they still are, all right. But now their job is not to bring enlightenment; it is to bring excitement.

Nowhere is this more obvious than with big science initiatives. Quantum computing, personalized medicine, artificial intelligence, simulated brains, mega-scale particle colliders, and everything nano and neuro: While all those fields have a hard scientific core that justifies some investment, the big bulk is empty headlines. Most of the money goes into producing papers whose only purpose is to create an appearance of relevance.

Sooner or later, those research-bubbles become unsustainable and burst. But with the current organization of research, more people brings more money brings more people. And so, the moment one bubble bursts, the next one is on the rise already.

The hype-cycle is self-sustaining: Scientists oversell the promise of their research and get funding. Higher education institutions take their share and deliver press releases to the media. The media, since there’s money to make, produce headlines about breakthrough insights. Politicians are pleased about the impact, talk about international competitiveness, and keep the money flowing.

Trouble is, the supposed breakthroughs rarely lead to tangible progress. Where are our quantum computers? Where are our custom cancer cures? Where are the nano-bots? And why do we still not know what dark matter is made of?

Most scientists are well aware their research floats on empty promise, but keep their mouths shut. I know this not just from my personal experience. I know this because it has been vividly, yet painfully, documented in a series of anonymous interviews with British and Australian scientists about their experience writing grant proposals. These interviews, conducted by Jennifer Chubb and Richard Watermeyer (published in Studies in Higher Education), made me weep:
“I will write my proposals which will have in the middle of them all this work, yeah but on the fringes will tell some untruths about what it might do because that’s the only way it’s going to get funded and you know I’ve got a job to do, and that’s the way I’ve got to do it. It’s a shame isn’t it?”
(UK, Professor)

“If you can find me a single academic who hasn’t had to bullshit or bluff or lie or embellish in order to get grants, then I will find you an academic who is in trouble with his Head of Department. If you don’t play the game, you don’t do well by your university. So anyone that’s so ethical that they won’t bend the rules in order to play the game is going to be in trouble, which is deplorable.”
(Australia, Professor)

“We’ll just find some way of disguising it, no we’ll come out of it alright, we always bloody do, it’s not that, it’s the moral tension it places people under.”
(UK, Professor)

“They’re just playing games – I mean, I think it’s a whole load of nonsense, you’re looking for short term impact and reward so you’re playing a game... it’s over inflated stuff.”
(Australia, Professor)

“Then I’ve got this bit that’s tacked on... That might be sexy enough to get funded but I don’t believe in my heart that there’s any correlation whatsoever... There’s a risk that you end up tacking bits on for fear of the agenda and expectations when it’s not really where your heart is and so the project probably won’t be as strong.”
(Australia, Professor)
In other interviews, the researchers referred to their proposals as “virtually meaningless,” “made up stories” or “charades.” They felt sorry for their own situation. And then justified their behavior by the need to get funding.

Worse, the above quotes only document the tip of the iceberg. That’s because the people who survive in the current system are the ones most likely to be okay with the situation. This may be because they genuinely believe their field is as promising as they make it sound, or because they manage to excuse their behavior to themselves. Either way, the present selection criteria in science favor skilled salesmanship over objectivity. Need I say that this is not a good way to understand nature?

The tragedy is not that this situation sucks, though, of course, it does. The tragedy is that it’s an obvious problem and yet no one does anything about it. If scientists can increase their chances to get funding by exaggeration, they will exaggerate. If they can increase their chances to get funding by being nice to their peers, they will be nice to their peers. If they can increase their chances to get funding by publishing on popular topics, they will publish on popular topics. You don’t have to be a genius to figure that out.

Tenure was supposed to remedy scientists’ conflict of interest between truth-seeking and economic survival. But tenure is now a rarity. Even the lucky ones who have it must continue to play nice, both to please their institution and keep the funding flowing. And honesty has become self-destructive. If you draw attention to shortcomings, if you debunk hype, if you question the promise of your own research area, you will be expelled from the community. A recent commenter on this blog summed it up like this:
“at least when I was in [high energy physics], it was taken for granted that anyone in academic [high energy physics] who was not a booster for more spending, especially bigger colliders, was a traitor to the field.”
If you doubt this, think about the following. I have laid out clearly why I do not think a bigger particle collider is currently a good investment. No one who understands the scientific and technological situation seriously disagrees with my argument; they merely disagree with the conclusions. This is fine with me. This is not the problem. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me.

But I also don’t expect everyone to disagree with me, and neither should you. So here is the puzzle: Why can you not find any expert, besides me, willing to publicly voice criticism on particle physics? Hint: It’s not because there is nothing to criticize.

And if you figured this one out, maybe you will understand why I say I cannot trust scientists any more. It’s a problem. It’s a problem in dire need of a solution.

This rant, was, for once, not brought on by a particle physicist, but by someone who works in quantum computing. Someone who complained to me that scientists are overselling the potential of their research, especially when it comes to large investments. Someone distraught, frustrated, disillusioned, and most of all, unsure what to do.

I understand that many of you cannot break the ranks without putting your jobs at risk. I do not – and will not – expect you to sacrifice a career you worked hard for; no one would be helped by this. But I want to remind you that you didn’t become a scientist just to shut up and advocate.

151 comments:

  1. To slap the street merchants without pointing a finger to Al Capone himself and his "Consiglieri" is a bit of an understatement. And then there are the "customers" too, those in the greater need of consuming more and more endlessly accelerating "progress" instead of truth seeking. Then again, we were never exactly a civilization based on truth seeking. Worse, the time to rip the fruits of our obediance may be closer than we think...
    https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jul/23/tech-industry-wealth-futurism-transhumanism-singularity

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  2. As part of my day job I once spoke with Peter Short for about an hour on this very topic, so I am looking forward to reading his response.

    Meanwhile I'll give one of my favorite examples of high-stakes funding obfuscation, in the form of a question that even people who should know better often get wrong:

    When fusion energy research programs talk about building working reactors, what kind of fuel would be used?

    In terms of specific fusion reactions, the wrong answers include all of the ocean-fuel-only ones: proton-proton; proton-deuterium, and deuterium-deuterium.

    So what is the real answer, and what are the materials, safety, and ecological implications of the real answer?

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    Replies
    1. Why those are the wrong answers? I'm curious.

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    2. "the wrong answers include..."

      O do they? If I could say figure out a way to light off a D-T reaction, used lithium to breed my tritium and get net economic gain from same, this would be "wrong"?

      I've always taken the fuel choice as a indication of whether the proponent though they were going to be creating a thermal plasma or not. if thermal then D-T with lithium blankets somewhere for tritium breeding is the clear winner. If non-thermal then Pb11 is the clear winner to lower the required amount "hot work". and other fuel cycles represent grad students getting bored after class.

      "ecological implications" https://www.xkcd.com/1162/ applies to fusion too. I'm not pro-nuclear just pro-numbers.

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    3. peyman afshani, imagine a society working for decades to accomplish the trickiest, most difficult, most simultaneously violent and delicate large-scale science and engineering task ever conceived, which as is noted later in this overall thread is D-T fusion. At last, they succeed, but only barely and initially at very marginal overall cost benefits.

      Someone then smiles real big and says "Great! Now since that was so easy, it should be no big deal to jump straight to the version of fusion that is about a hundred times harder (D-D), or so difficult that even the sun can only barely do it (p-p), or any of a hundred of other attractive (e.g. aneutronic) versions that are all far more than a hundred times harder to do!"

      Stated that way it sounds kind of silly, but terrible things have been done (and funded) with very real money using exactly that argument.

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    4. Proton boron-- 3 alpha particles result, few neutrons: Tri Alpha Energy, now advancing quickly.

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    5. D/T of course. D/T is harvested from sea water because E. Moses said so and California politicians bought it. Never mind you need a gain Q > 1000 to make fusion energy viable.

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  3. You make an awful lot more money managing a problem than you do solving it. There must be a terrible fear that we will run out of problems to solve, (the horror, the horror). Our society, including the faculty of science, is run by accountants. You are a courageous and remarkable writer and scientist. Thank you.

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  4. They overstate their goal when talking to founders, they bow to consensus when talking to their peer, they write hype when addressing the public, but do they publish lies?

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    1. That is a good point, so I will try to explain:

      Sincerity is difficult.

      A good research has to be very sincere with his work: recognizing when his past work failed, recognize when he was mistaken and worse: recognizing when his colleague were not.

      Everyone has an ego, and one have to be difficult with himself to prioritize the truth over his ego.

      Such a person, will have trouble when he need to over-hype his contribution. His sincerity will hurt his ability to raise money.

      When one prioritize people which are good at over-hyping one prioritizing people who are (typically) less good as researchers.











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  5. Sabine,

    That was an absolute joy to read, because although it tells a terrible tale, I have come to believe that huge chunks of science are infected with hype, and only a profound public rethink about science can save it from ruin.

    "Nowhere is this more obvious than with big science initiatives. Quantum computing, personalized medicine, artificial intelligence, simulated brains, mega-scale particle colliders, and everything nano and neuro"

    Can we add climate science to that list? When that 'science' has deprived us all of a decent electricity supply, I hope that big science is the first to lose power.

    In the early 70's I remember the frustration when our NMR machines were closed down for a while because of intermittent power, which was in turn caused by a miners' strike.

    I was working in software development back in the 1980's when artificial intelligence first exploded into hype. Every time anyone opened a magazine it was the same:

    1) We need to teach AI to be morally aware before it becomes so intelligent that it will wipe us out.

    2) AI will eliminate almost all jobs.

    3) We won't need programmers because AI will write all software.

    4) Politicians/business leaders/entrepreneurs don't understand the impact AI is about to make.

    5) Whichever side in the cold war first gets AI will rule the world.

    etc.

    Does that lot sound familiar nowadays? I'll bet many AI whizkids aren't even aware there was an explosion of AI hype before they were born!

    Sabine - I really hope you research this topic some more and write a bestseller.

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    1. David Bailey writes: "Can we add climate science to that list?"

      I don't think climate science can be dismissed as bunk, but it would be astonishing indeed if it were the only science that had managed to avoid the problems Sabine has pointed out. Furthermore, like string theory, climate science has a weak error correction signal -- it lacks a reasonably quick cycle of hypothesis / prediction / real-world test.

      Delete
    2. Climate science denial sort of got sneaked in here?
      Most of the big bucks, if not all, on that score are being made by people who deny global overheating, and iminent biosphere collapse, and are usually employed by large corporations who make their money from industries that cause it. Most climatee scientists agree on the overheating scenario, and do not make their living denying it. That source of energy you are looking for is called sun and wind .

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    3. No, we cannot. In this case, the science has been too slow to state the true situation.

      Shame on your denialism. Denial needs to be prosecuted for being the Crime Against Humanity and Crime Against Nature it is.

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    4. Kevin,

      Climate science is organizationally exceptional because of the huge public scrutiny it receives. Ironically, therefore, I trust climate scientists more exactly because so many people mistrust them. In a nutshell, they know they'll not get away with sloppy arguments.

      Also, they have taken steps to have an objective evaluation of the research in their fields. I think this is a good idea and helps. Of course one can debate how well this works in practice, but at least it's a step in the right direction.

      This is not to say that I think the climate science community does not have to sociological problems. I merely say that I think in the current situation the risk is lower than in other communities.

      (In other words, it's not a coincidence that climate models do not appear on my list.)

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    5. @James Garnett: sorry, but climate scientist have exactly the same conflict of interest than high-energy particle physicst: they live off their research.
      You stop funding climate change research, they lose their job, the same as if you stop building colliders, HEP physicists lose their job.

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    6. Claudio, David,

      I will not approve further comments on this thread that pursue the details of climate models. This is off-topic and I have neither the time nor the patience to host such a discussion. Please pursue this topic elsewhere, thanks.

      B.

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    7. Sabine,

      OK - you obviously call the shots!

      I don't want to call any of these topics 'bunk', so for example, I think it would be fascinating to know how many particles can be entangled, and for how long, in a quantum computer-type experiment.

      That would remain true, even if no viable quantum computer is ever created. However the hype can't embrace that more modest goal.

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  6. Sounds like life to me going back so far in time no one knows when it started. The balance between truth and hype to sell or get something is always there and is often very frustrating.
    commercials, looking for a job, dating, politics to name a few. I'm not saying it is alright, especially in those areas where the stakes are high and there is way to much competition for limited resources like HEP. However, it will never go away. The best we can do is swing the pendulum back to the middle.

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  7. Sabine wrote:

    "Today, the task of scientists is no longer to understand nature. Instead, their task is to uphold an illusion of progress by wrapping incremental advances in false promise. Merchants they still are, all right. But now their job is not to bring enlightenment; it is to bring excitement."

    You are attacking all scientists and the entire science establishment. I do not deny that there are things that need to be improved in the way scientists compete for funding and other resources. The system might not be as efficient as it could be, but still science and technology keep progressing.

    You create the impression that science is one big empty promise. I am worried that your words give encouragement to flat-earthers, anti-vaccination advocates, creationists and all other anti-scientific conspiracies.

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    1. Don't be too worried, people with views even more extreme than average relative to facts, see exactly what they want. Essentially they only function to confirm their beliefs which are based on feelings irregardless of facts and reality. Nothing Sabine, you, or I say will change their minds, sad but true. They will always find fuel to further their mistaken convictions.

      Part of the problem contributes to the "scientific practices" this blog post rants about; too often feelings overrule common sense and facts. Those feelings are directed by self-interest and other biases.

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    2. Udi, it is the scientific process itself that is important and has been the driver of advancement of our understanding of the world for the past several centuries, and not particular people or institutions. Do not make the mistake of elevating institutions above the purposes they were created to serve.

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    3. Therefore, for you is a risk to try to evaluate "Current Objectivity Standards in Academy" because for You, Self-critical attitudes can give room and power to People without Self-critical attitudes & aptitudes ...

      Mr., That specific "reasoning" seems to be grounded on an Irrational and Circular Personal Fear ...

      Something like, If I am critical about Me, then, I will end denying My Self and supporting madness ...

      Objectivity is very very hard to grasp by cognitive systems trapped in local notions.

      The Relationship between Objectivity and Truth is at The Core of every bit of information able to trascend Time ... Let's call that Authentic Knowledge ... Of course, while We are an specie trapped in a Planet, Authentic Knowledge is an Ideal Endeavor, As Thinking Apes, Our best efforts just can produce Partial Knowledge ... But As Humans, We can aspire to pursue Authentic Knowledge Ideals ... and That's an Ugly but beautiful fact.

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  8. To get the full story, combine this blog with the book "Rigor Mortis" (reviewed here a while back).

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  9. Sabine,

    There are personalized cancer cures (or at least treatments; “cures” are almost impossible to demonstrate). However, there are very few of them (few types of cancer, few patients), and it’s not yet clear whether there will ever be more than just a few. To those whose cancer is in remission, due to such treatments, they are literally life savers.

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    1. JeanTate,

      Yes, I know. I recently looked into this for a bit (trying to understand the use of AI in that). Point is that the actual science doesn't live up to the hype. See eg this.

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    2. Sabine,

      This book pours quite a lot of cold water on the hi-tech side of medicine.

      https://www.amazon.co.uk/Overdiagnosed-Making-People-Pursuit-Health/dp/0807021997/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1551817680&sr=8-1&keywords=overdiagnosed

      This type of hype can clearly do a lot of people great harm.

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    3. Part of the problem with hype is that it has raced ahead of results. As a personal example related to cancer treatments I can offer a real example that shows we still, despite wonderful and life saving discoveries, don't know enough (both hard data and working models -- experiment/treatments/trials and theories, respectively) to deliver on the hype.
      This does not detract from the incredible progress that has, and is, being made.
      Specifically: I was diagnosed with advanced, metastatic, melanoma in September. It was untreatable by standard means. My life expectancy was about 6 months. I should probably be dead now.... but...
      There was an apparently good match with the new (recent Nobel winning) immunotherapy. It was an outside chance. There is not yet enough data/models to predict much on that. I started immediate treatment with my oncologist saying it might take 2-3 months to work, if it did, and about 40% chance it would.
      Well, I showed side-effect free regression of my various lumps, bumps & clumps of cancerous stuff within 2 weeks, not 2 months. My most recent scans showed disappearance, reduction and/or reversion to more normal metabolism in all areas.
      Nobody knows why. Nobody predicted it or suspected it. It was a last chance we could take, luckily.
      All my results, data and full genome squence are shared woth other reserch units and hospitals. Hopefully it will help others and lead to those better models & theories -- and understanding & prediction... but the hyped stuff is just miles away.
      This does not detract from the great science that means I am still here. Science does work.
      Hype, and the need for it, is the enemy here, not core scientific method and what it has brought us.
      This is just as Sabine said.

      I am profoundly grateful to science and to its practioners and the wonderful teams of people who have given me a chance at life, again. I hope my data will help others... Science again.

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  10. I appreciate very much the counter-cultural voice you bring when assessing the social, cultural, and cognitive factors that undermine scientific progress. Are there areas of contemporary science where you do see scientists functioning as "merchants of light"? If so, it would be interesting to hear your analysis on what, exactly, has insulated the well-functioning scientists (and their community of support) from the undermining factors you chronicle in your book and on this blog.

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    1. Myron,

      That's an interesting question - I haven't thought of this before. I have nothing smart to say about it at the moment but will keep it in mind and try to come back to it.

      Delete
    2. Ms. Hossenfelder do not have to become "A Jury appointing The Sinners" ... "The Sinners must be their own Judges" ...

      Ms. Hossenfelder task of appointing to the issue in general terms is enough for triggering self-critical views inside the community.

      If You try to make of She, A Judge of Their Peers, You are just trying to make of her The Scapegoat for a Witch hunting Circus ...

      Delete
  11. Yes, there is definitely hype all around - we now live in the age of marketing. What worries me more is that even when we speak to our colleagues who should more or less understand our research (certainly more than the public or press), we rarely speak of the research itself. Instead we speak of the journals and their impact factors. I cannot remember the last time when someone started a conversation with me saying "I managed to solve a difficult problem...". It usually starts with "My paper got accepted in PRL". That tells a lot of the times we live in.

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  12. There's plenty of hype behind the big science the Great War gave us...

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=289QhrU9Xow

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  13. Every academic needs to read and reflect on this article.
    This is the reality of academia in general - the quest for knowledge has become "the business of publishing".

    But thinking of the bigger picture - Is this a sign that there are too many academics ? Which is why they need to resort to hype and meaningless publications just to stay employed ?
    Every university department I know wants to grow their PhD program but maybe they should be shrinking them instead ?

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  14. Sabine,

    A view from industry:
    You have "hit-the-nail-on-the-head" with your despair/criticism for the current state of Western European and American scientific establishments. (not that the problem is contained to those places I just don't read work from other areas). There is a sickness and you have pointed right at it specifically and repeatedly on this blog and elsewhere. We are all in your debt. What always surprises me is your indignation about it. There is a youtube video somewhere of you laying out a revamped incentive structure intended to help solve some of these issues that shows you really 'get' people (they are not good or bad just sort-of lazy miss-incentivized and occasionally brilliant {pardon any misrepresentation here}) but still your blog always has such righteous fury.

    What do you think of the hypothesis that the major research institutes are already 'a lost cause' and that the real innovations will come out of places like Intell's die-shrink research division or SpaceX's engine division? basically could it be that people who need real answers right now because they plan to apply the solution and sell it tomorrow are where the bleeding edge is? (and maybe always was)

    Being American I used our leading firms for examples due to familiarity not because I think this thought doesn't apply the world over.

    TLDR: you've effectively skewered academia please move on and call out business for it's excesses as well (or refute my premise)

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    Replies
    1. So, let me get this clear.
      The problems Sabine talks about are coming from the fact that resources are scarce, demand is high, and so competition shoots through the roof, forcing researchers to behave in the same way as marketers, i.e. "lie" to sell their product.
      And you really think that the solution will come from private companies who have to generate profits in the short-term in order to make their investors happy?

      Delete
  15. Well, this is what you get when you combine an enough advanced knowledge (where nowadays all low hanging fruits have been already collected) and a market-like environment to research and funding.
    Despite your critic of very big science projects (at least in particle physics), the alternatives are not that cheaper, at least compared to what was possible decades ago.
    I don't know in medical/biological sciences, but in physics we reached a point were no tabletop experiment designed, built, and conducted by less than 10 people is able to reveal new particles, new laws of nature or simply new phenomena.
    Maybe this is still doable in solid state, condensed matter physics, or material science, but even there the competition is so high (i.e. too many researcher with respect to the available funding) that this kind of PR approach is inevitable.
    It's true that tenure allows professors to be relieved of conflict of interests regarding needs to gather more and more money, but the problem is that tenured professors are just the tip of the academic and publicly funded research pyramid: we all know that most of the work is actually done by postdocs and graduate students, which rely on their advisors to get money for them.

    So, what's the solution? No idea, but I do think the blaming only the scientists is for sure not helpful.
    The system must change from the top, i.e. funding agencies and state-wide political decisions.
    How many scientists complain about the publish-or-perish system? How many scientists complain about the time wasted in writing grants? Basically everybody I know!
    Do they have the power to change things for the better? Maybe, but for this to happen you need an open cross-discipline discussion and something akin to a union (the horror, the horror!) to speak with one single voice to the decision makers.
    If you're really interested in improving the situation, rallying most of the community against you with this kind of tirades isn't the smart idea...
    Since you spoke about sociological issue in the past post, you should also know that when people feel attacked, their first instinct is to defend themself.
    Isn't it a bit ironic that in order to fight against too much politics and PR in science, you need to be more like a politician than a pure seeker of truth? :)

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    1. Claudio,

      This blogpost is not a critique of big science. I am merely pointing out that with big science projects the problem is most apparent, simply because you have so many people who all hope to get a really big chunk of money.

      "So, what's the solution? No idea, but I do think the blaming only the scientists is for sure not helpful.
      The system must change from the top, i.e. funding agencies and state-wide political decisions."


      I think you look at this the wrong way. I comment on this point specifically in my book. Scientists constantly try to blame funding agencies or higher ed admin people for the problem, but that makes no sense. Neither funding agencies nor HE people have any reason whatsoever to want to waste money. As a matter of fact, they rely on scientists to accurately judge the promise of research avenues.

      What really causes the problem, therefore, is that scientists refuse to take responsibility. They know full well that the current organization infringes on their objectivity, yet they do nothing about it.

      Instead, they amplify the problem, eg by keeping their mouth shut when a colleague hypes their research, and by punishing community members who raise criticism. They also continue to use oversimplified measures for academic success though those are known to cause problems. (I wrote about this extensively elsewhere.)

      It's not that I think they do this consciously. If they thought about it for a moment, I am sure they'd realize that that's a terrible behavior if what you want is to make progress. But that is what is happening.

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    2. Sorry, but I disagree with you.
      Funding agencies and universities impose these wannabe objectives criteria exactly because they do not want to waste money.
      You have resources for 10 people, but there 100 people: how do you choose which people to fund?
      You need to come up with objectives (or at least as objectives as they can be) parameters that can be evaluated independently, so that the risk of corruption is reduced.
      It's the combination of few resources and lot of demands that lead to this situation.
      True, scientists could lobby the funding agencies and universities to change this mis-incentives, but it's not gonna happen unless the majority of them decide to be all on the same side.

      Delete
    3. Claudio,

      Please ask yourself, why do funding agencies and universities use exactly these criteria and not any other? To first approximation, they think the currently used criteria are useful because scientists themselves use them. That's where the problem originates.

      Yes, if you want to change these criteria you need to come up with other ways to evaluate impact. One way to go is Robin Hanson's proposal. I have my own proposal, which is basically to make it easier for scientists to evaluate other measures of research activity. I am working on a small side project on this which I will write more about in the coming weeks (or so).

      "scientists could lobby the funding agencies and universities to change this mis-incentives, but it's not gonna happen unless the majority of them decide to be all on the same side."

      Scientists do not need to "lobby funding agencies and universities". The only thing they need to do is to decide for themselves that they need to stop playing this game.

      Instead of approving proposals that exaggerate outcomes, they should point out these proposals are uncritical and not trustworthy. Instead of producing papers because their institution considers that to be a measure of impact, they should say clearly that such measures create bad incentives. Instead of dismissing ideas because they do not attract citations, they should check their biases. Instead of looking away if a colleague hypes, they should correct them. Instead of punishing scientists who offer criticism, they should welcome it.

      The cause of the problem really is that too many scientists do not think about the consequences of their behavior. They try to blame "the system" but they *are* the system. They do not understand how much pressure social norms can create.

      Delete
    4. Claudio,

      The problem is, the only way there can be change is if people like Sabine criticise actual research and the hype used to describe it. Yes it probably hurts the not so guilty, but if people like her don't shout out, the system just rolls complacently onwards.

      Delete
  16. My involvement in quantum computing was peripheral and limited to assessment — does it work or not? (mostly not). But for AI research I am guilty of promoting a lot of research. I helped formulate and promote millions of dollars of research grants designed to encourage and fund individual researchers and small companies as they looked for new angles and approaches to making machines and robots smarter.

    But it sure didn't feel like hype. The enthusiasm of many of younger researchers was just plain fun, especially when they came up with genuinely unexpected ways of approaching issues. Bio-inspired AI has become especially fascinating these days, since a deeper understanding of that area is only now beginning to emerge.

    AI is also fun for the extraordinary ways in which it bumps up against and leverages physics, since only in a universe with multiple levels of weirdly chunky, gloppy, persistent behavior can the absurdly simple detection and modeling methods of severely limited biological systems work well enough to give a survival advantage — and even then only within a very tiny sliver of that universe. Intelligence doesn't accomplish anything in a universe of true chaos, since in true chaos there is nothing to predict and thus nothing that an organism can do to increase its survival odds.

    So I can't really say I feel badly in any way about promoting large-scale research funding strategies for areas such as AI, given that we stayed focused on funding new individual researchers and giving them as much freedom and incentive to be creative as possible. Indeed, the only real regrets I've felt in recent years has been whether some of the work I helped get funding for has proved too effective for existing rules and policies when scaled up to global internet levels.

    I also absolutely am enthusiastic about big science when the questions are similarly huge and the likelihood of new insights excellent, such as in the superb work that led to the Standard Model. But as I just noted, intelligence works only in a universe that is lumpy, clumpy, and bumpy — and that means that a strategy that worked amazingly well for dissecting and understanding one particular big bump may simply be wrong for whatever follows.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mr., AI is Technology + Applied Math + Engineering , therefore, AI is not necessarily embedded in Science ... Science is about knowledge ...

      It seems that the current needs for solving engineering issues tends to be interpreted as Knowledge Production ...

      You can solve a lot of engineering issues by trial and error without appeal to knowledge ...

      The Error is Epistemological ... The self declared Scientists do not know what is Science ... and Those tends to call their engineering projects, Scientific Research, probably, just because that is a self-delusion that works on their societies.

      You Know, A Scientist is supposed to be a Truth seeker building Models about their object of study ... Meanwhile, The Engineers do not care about Truth, what Matters is that their stuff seems to work ...

      Then, If The Idiots - providing resources to the Engineers - judge The Engineers as Scientists ... Then, The Engineers had found a Social Engineering Mechanism to put themselves higher in A Scale of Social Values that provides Social Power and give to them Authority Figures Roll Playing ...

      Sellers are Sellers.

      Truth seekers are Truth Seekers.

      A Seller do not care about Truth, just about Sales.

      A Truth Seeker just watch how sellers & their sales affects The State and Phases of The System ... Nothing Wrong or Right on The Sellers, They do what is expected that they tends to do.

      Of course, For The Sellers, If The Lie works, then, The Lie must be Trusted as Truth...

      The Truth seekers do not pretends to convert Lies into Truths, that's the ethical and moral differences between those social role constructs ...

      Delete
  17. Is the reason famous string theorists like ed witten and juan malcadena have a high h-index over say LQG theorists like smolin and rovelli and ashketar is that universities employ more string theorists, who cite string papers, irrespective of whether they describe nature?

    if universities decided to employ an equal number of LQG theorists, then Smolin and Rovelli and Ashketar would have a much higher h-index?

    seems like QG theorist wants a higher h-index, so since string theory papers get cited more often, string theory not LQG or others should get all the attention.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. neo,

      The absolute h-index is a meaningless measure. Its value depends on the number of people who work in a field and also on the inherent fruitfulness of the research topic itself.

      Ie, if you have a topic on which it is hard to publish new findings, fewer papers will appear and people will attract fewer citations. It's as simple as that.

      Having said that, I doubt that LQG people would reach comparable h-indices even if the same number of people worked on the topic because, at least by my personal assessment, the topic is intrinsically less fruitful than string theory. Whether that tells you anything about its potential to accurately describe nature I don't know. (I see no reason to believe it does.)

      In any case, the way that academia is currently organized the rich get richer. This means you can expect that the best-cited papers are overrated and the most popular research areas are overpopulated.

      Delete
    2. +1
      is there any way to create an index that measures both citation and feed back from real world experiments such as the null result on SUSY from LHC, penalizing string theory and SUSY papers, or at least explains current unresolved mysteries, such as loop quantum cosmology and inflation, thus rewarding it?

      or to put it another way, if string theory is incorrect, and the results of LHC on SUSY may well point to this direction, and LQG is correct, as there are papers with calculations of angular power spectrum in LQC which may be verified in future missions,

      what would it take for academia to shift from string theory to LQC?

      Delete
    3. neo,

      The system that Robin Hanson proposes would do that. I wrote about this here.

      The LHC results on SUSY do not tell us anything about whether or not string theory is correct, I wrote about this here.

      "what would it take for academia to shift from string theory to LQC?"

      You could simply fire all string theorists, but that would of course be unjustifiable. I am afraid I do not understand why you would ask such a question; it makes no sense to me.

      Delete
    4. let me restate the issue - what would it take for for HEP to move away from SUSY as both LHC and EDM null results pour in,

      in the event that cosmology confirms some of LQC predictions, what would it take for QG theorists to work on that when all the citations is for string cosmology

      Delete
  18. Hi, I am concerned about the future of the superconducting magnets and room temperature superconducting wire. The LHC was a big source of advancement in this area, what will happen to that technology ? Patrick Orlando

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Room temperature superconductors would be a boon to many industries. Overall I would expect CERN to be a minor contributor into the total research in this area.

      Delete
  19. Every academic needs to read and reflect on this article.
    This is the reality of academia in general - the quest for knowledge has become "the business of publishing".

    But thinking of the bigger picture - Is this a sign that there are too many academics ? Which is why they need to resort to hype and meaningless publications just to stay employed ?
    Every university department I know wants to grow their PhD program but maybe they should be shrinking them instead ?

    ReplyDelete
  20. Sabine: You are a very brave lady. I hope for your sake that physicists do not get as ugly as lots of other people in the contemporary world. I also hope that your husband has a good job outside of the scientific establishment.

    ReplyDelete
  21. In your list of potential big project boondoggles I notice you did not mention cosmology.. Maybe significant omission. Big telescope projects are still delivering on [most of] their promises?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Matthew,

      Basically, yes. The reason is rather obvious: There are more new things to see at large distances than at short distances. As has been said before, particle physics is, in some sense, a victim of its own success. Reconstructing the history of the universe on the other hand is something that will probably keep physicists busy for quite some while.

      This isn't to say that cosmo/astro is immune to hype. I don't know if you have followed the SKA story, but this will give you an impression. Basically what happened is that the full version of the SKA didn't get funding, and the slimmed-down version doesn't live up to the promise, yet it's still been promoted using the prospect of the full version.

      (And there, too, the few scientists who spoke out about it were reprimanded and asked to keep their mouth shut. Stakes are not quite as high as with the next larger collider, but still lots of money going around there.)

      Delete
  22. "People don't buy Good Products, they buy GOOD MARKETING"
    -- Business 101

    It happens in Business world ("Product"), but the Science world has now *warped* into a business-type of sales-pitch for Grant Proposals:

    "Stanford [ & all Univs ] don't value the quality of the Research, but instead HOW MUCH $$ the project brings to Univ"

    My HS

    [ UniHi on U of Illinois campus, produced 3 Nobelists incl Dr Philip Anderson/Princeton '77, Dr Hamilton Smith Medicine '78, Dr James Tobin '81 Economics ]

    classmate (Monica Williams, daughter of MD, MIT undergrad Biology, Tufts Univ Medical School), told me she got into an argument with Stanford Univ President on above point.

    ^^^ You enter Academia totally naive/Idealistic, only to find it's a bunch of Business-centric Hooey. See article by Village Voice: "Wanted: Really Smart Suckers"

    http://beyondacademe.com/future-past-and-present.html

    ReplyDelete
  23. Probably off topic, but what do you think are the odds that the next important discovery would come from someone who left academy in order to be able to think freely?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tytung,

      You raise an important point, but really the answer depends very strongly on the field. There are still fields where you can make breakthrough discoveries as a single researcher. Mathematics comes to mind. There are also of course breakthroughs that can (and do) occur outside of academia because not every lab is a university lab and not every research group is in academia. Google springs to mind as the obvious example. I am guessing it's not what you are asking for.

      When it comes to the foundations of physics, I consider it to be extremely unlikely the next breakthrough will come from someone who left. The reason is that the problems we are currently trying to solve have so many aspects that it will almost certainly take several people and many years of time to understand whether a research program is or isn't successful.

      You may take Garrett Lisi as a warning example. Personally I am not particularly enthusiastic about his approach, but let us leave this aside for a moment. Let us just assume that his idea was the right one. We would never find out because as a single research on an island, he will never remotely be able to patch together all the pieces. He will forever be criticized for not also having looked at this and for not having taken into account that, and for not having an answer to that.

      Delete
    2. If there was any chance that Garrett Lisi's idea was right, then there would be dozens of researchers working on it by now. He had a nice idea, but it just doesn't work.

      Lisi is exactly the example of someone that got famous, not because of his work, but because of the hype he generated around himself.

      He is clearly not part of the scientific "establishment", yet he exactly represents the problem with scientists that hype their work in the popular media.

      Delete
    3. Udi,

      "If there was any chance that Garrett Lisi's idea was right, then there would be dozens of researchers working on it by now."

      That's an argument at populum. Social reinforcement works exactly like this.

      Delete
    4. Sabine wrote:

      "That's an argument at populum. Social reinforcement works exactly like this."

      Lisi's idea is about embedding the Standard model and gravity in the E8 group. It is not very different from Kaluza-Klein theory, and string theorist are very familiar with the E8 group.

      All he had to do was to go to some second tier university and talk with some high energy theoretical physicists. He is somewhat of an outsider, but he is fluent enough with the technical terms to talk to someone in the field. If there was merit to his theory, people would have picked up on it fairly quickly.

      You might be able to claim that social reinforcement is the reason that string theorist reject LQG. But not in the case of Lisi. His theory just does not work.

      Delete
    5. Udi,

      "If there was merit to his theory, people would have picked up on it fairly quickly."

      Again, that's an argument at populum. It is not a scientific argument; it's a sociological argument. It is logically faulty. Scientists should not make it.

      Delete
    6. Sabine wrote:

      "Again, that's an argument at populum. It is not a scientific argument; it's a sociological argument. It is logically faulty. Scientists should not make it."

      If I said that his idea was boring or not interesting, it would have been a sociological argument. But I claim the opposite. I say that his theory is exactly the type of ideas that resonates with string theorists. The problem is that his theory is logically wrong.

      Now, someone could decide to try and modify Lisi's idea to get it to work. These decisions are part logical part sociological. But in this case the logical arguments are so strong, that they overwhelm any sociological argument.

      Do you have any proof that Lisi's theory was rejected because of sociological reasons and not on its merit?

      Delete
    7. Udi,

      "If I said that his idea was boring or not interesting, it would have been a sociological argument. But I claim the opposite. I say that his theory is exactly the type of ideas that resonates with string theorists."

      Yeah, and that is still a sociological argument. You are claiming that string theorists "should have liked" Lisi's idea if it was right, but since you observe that they don't, that must mean there's something wrong with it.

      Look, your argument does not remotely surprise me. I constantly see people in my field arguing that way. It is tragic that you don't even notice this is a sociological argument.

      "Do you have any proof that Lisi's theory was rejected because of sociological reasons and not on its merit?"

      No, and I never claimed I do. I used Lisi as an example starting with the explicitly stated assumption "Let us just assume that his idea was the right one." My point is that in the current situation you wouldn't know whether his idea didn't catch on because it's wrong or because there just wasn't enough effort put into it, and it was prematurely discarded because people - like you - base their judgement on what other people do.

      Delete
    8. Sorry for bringing this up after so much time, but I just have to reply.

      Sabine wrote:

      "Look, your argument does not remotely surprise me. I constantly see people in my field arguing that way. It is tragic that you don't even notice this is a sociological argument."

      You seem to have an issue with the fact that scientist make sociological arguments. Of course they do. There is no mathematical formula that tells you how to choose your field of research. You study the things that you find interesting and you listen to other researchers to get an impression of where to look.

      Sabine wrote:

      "My point is that in the current situation you wouldn't know whether his idea didn't catch on because it's wrong or because there just wasn't enough effort put into it, and it was prematurely discarded because people - like you - base their judgement on what other people do."

      There are thousands of ideas out there. Are you criticizing scientists for not giving their full attention to every one of them?

      If Lisi would have just published his idea in scientific journals, we wouldn't be talking about it now. He got more than his fair share of attention just because he hyped his idea in the popular media. I find it ironic that you brought up his name in a blog post titled "Merchants of Hypes". We should aim for a system where ideas are judged by their merits and not by how much they get hyped.

      Delete
    9. Udi,

      "You seem to have an issue with the fact that scientist make sociological arguments. "

      No, I have an issue with the fact that they make sociological arguments but believe these are scientific arguments.

      "You study the things that you find interesting and you listen to other researchers to get an impression of where to look."

      Right, and if you are not aware of the sociological factors that play into this and affect your interests, this brings in factors that has have nothing to do with the scientific merit or promise of a research direction.

      "There are thousands of ideas out there. Are you criticizing scientists for not giving their full attention to every one of them?"

      No, I am criticizing that the current selection system strongly relies on sociological rather than scientific factors.

      "I find it ironic that you brought up his name..."

      I brought up his case as an example for an idea that has been dismissed for sociological reasons. Yes, discarding an idea because of hype is also a non-scientific reason. If you think that I said something to the extend that a hyped idea is necessarily wrong, you badly misunderstood my point.

      "We should aim for a system where ideas are judged by their merits and not by how much they get hyped."

      Right, so how about you judge his idea for its merits and not for how much it has been hyped or for what you believe other people think about it?

      Delete
  24. Future reactors will most likely be burning a 50-50 mixture of deuterium and tritium. The actual reaction is D + T -> n + alpha. As your questions seem to imply, tritium with a half-life of 12 years doesn't exist in the oceans or anywhere else in nature; it has to be bred in the reactor. And radioactive tritium handling is an integral part of any reactor design.

    However, tritium is not the real problem that you should be concerned with here. High neutron flux will lead to activation of the trace elements in the structures of the reactor, and they can have half-lives of 10's of thousands of years, if not more; thus they have to be dealt with appropriately.

    In fusion research we never hype, and I thank Sabine for leaving us out of her list of shameless hypers. ITER in France will start D-T operations in about 20 years, and soon after electricity will be too cheap to meter ;-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. aydemir, thank you for aptly summarizing the fuel situation!

      I, um, assume that your last sentence about "never hyping" and "in about 20 years" (it's always 20 years away, right?) and with a smiley face was made tritium-in-cheek? :) And if not… oh my. My, my, my… =:O

      Oddly I do still support fusion research at some level, but I also always note that the inherent escalating instabilities make the situation mathematically far too similar to balancing a meter a meter of wet spaghetti on end. That is, it's not quite flatly impossible, but something always manages to wiggle loose in the end. I've known and talked to some very sharp and dedicated folks who tried their best to squash those wiggles, but failed. Most amazing of all is some of the outright scams and shams I've seen in venture capital fusion, wow!! I will name no names (you would not know them anyway), but just because you have billions of dollars does not mean you can't be totally scammed by a cleverly incomplete science presentation.

      Delete
  25. Let's not forget economists in this discussion. You may or may not consider them scientists but they are extremely influential in their support of the current economic paradigm. Unfortunately the consequences of this are not constrained only on distributional issues but also on technology policy. For example, most Integrated Assessment Models have implicit assumptions that prevent them from even showing a true energy transition (see our paper https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-017-2077-y ) and many of the same herd homogenization processes are active to ensure conformity (citations, editors with a bias, networks etc.)

    ReplyDelete
  26. Hello, Sabine.

    Sorry for the off-topic but, could you please write a post about this interesting paper: https://arxiv.org/abs/1902.05080? Do you believe these results could rule out (as somebody says) the Copenhague and Everett interpretation of QM?

    Regards.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This paper "Experimental rejection of observer-independence in the quantum world" is an interesting read, and a subject of interest to me, but I will go out a limb and just say it is plain wrong (cf. Huw Price, et al.). In fact this paper matches the hype theme well: Conclusions that are stated without considering the alternatives that others (both scientists and philosophers) have pointed out before.

      Delete
    2. Quite generally, there is no scientific way to distinguish between different interpretations of the same theory. If the interpretations lead to the same predictions for every conceivable experiments, no experiment can choose between them. OTOH, if there is some experiment that could distinguish between them, they are not two interpretations of the same theory, but two distinct theories.

      Having said that, I have my own axe to grind, and that is that you fundamentally cannot ignore the observer's physical properties, in particular not her mass. This is because QFT and GR tacitly make incompatible assumptions about the observer's mass:

      In GR, the observer's heavy mass is assumed to be zero, so she does not disturb the fields.

      In QFT, the observer's inert mass is assumed to be infinite, so she knows where she is at all times, and in particular that her position and velocity at equal times commute.

      Delete
  27. It would be fruitful if people recalled how they felt the first time they were exposed to the research community of their field and how dumbfounded they were when they realized how many unstated assumptions were being made about what is important and what is ignored.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Sabine,

    I have a (non rhetorical-) question: Who are those people authorizing grants for (alleged) hyped fields? Can't they tell hype from substance?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yehonatan,

      The way that such funding decisions typically work is that the funding agencies solicit reviews (usually between 3 and 5 per proposal). These reviews are then evaluated by a committee which is typically composed of a dozen or so people in the field, but those committee members rarely happen to be experts on the specific topic of any given proposal. (And if they happen to be, they may claim a COI.)

      That is to say, funding agencies rely on reviewers, and the reviewers are peers of the applicants. While I do know that many funding agencies provide special training for members in the committee to prevent biases (of any kind), it all depends on the reviewers.

      Now please note that if an expert wants to find something to complain about a proposal, they will find something to complain. And since most funding agencies get many more proposals than they can fund, they will look for reasons to reject proposals just to slim down the pile.

      The consequence is that if you happen to get one reviewer who isn't fond of your topic, you are screwed.

      Once you understand that, it isn't hard to see that this is less likely to happen the larger the share of your community (the pool of reviewers) is who like your research area. (Or, even better, like you personally.)

      Now, please do not mistake me for saying that this is the only thing that is going on. Of course there are good reasons to reject proposals etc. My point is simply that "the people authorizing grants" rely on experts in the field, and I think there is no way around this.

      So, in the end it comes back to what the scientists themselves do.

      Also please note that private funding agencies may work entirely different from what I outlined above.

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
  29. Off topic, but if you would like to ask Carlo Rovelli a question you can do so at the Guardian.

    https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/mar/05/send-us-your-questions-for-carlo-rovelli

    ReplyDelete
  30. Another oldish example of hype is the decoding of the human genome. A worthwhile goal, I guess, but where are all the new drugs that were supposed to flow flow from this discovery?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. On this one I could not disagree more. Decoding the human genome proved profoundly that no one really knows what we are talking about, or even how 98% of human genes work (they are not just junk, you die without them!) Also, it has impacted medicine, just in subtle such as better understandings of cancer pathways rather that as huge direct cures. Finally, it has revealed odd things, for example that the difference between human and bonobo intelligence at the protein coding level is so tiny that it may be non-existent. To understand human intelligence, we may first need to understand all that non-coding DNA a lot better... and that is something that I do definitely think merits various types of large government and private investment.

      Delete
    2. "It has impacted medicine, just in subtle such as better understandings of cancer pathways rather that as huge direct cures"

      All right, but what was promised was lots of new cures for lots of diseases. As I said, decoding the human genome was still a worthwhile goal (for the reasons that you point out, and probably for other reasons as well). Sometimes even overhyped research directions are worth pursuing.

      Delete
  31. I like it, "But I want to remind you that you didn’t become a scientist just to shut up and advocate."
    The Copenhagen interpretation, "Shut up and calculate", the Meyrin interpretation, "Shut up and advocate".

    I suppose that this hyping is made worse by the idea that universities should try to capitalise on their research and try to monetise it. Everything appears to be rendered down to a return on investment calculation. Maybe the worst of this is not that the best saleswomen wins but that the blue sky research with no known use will be last in line.

    Honestly I have tuned out most of the hype through overexposure. Though they hype their proposals you can often find criticism by experts in the field.
    Individual cancer treatment is likely to be too expensive for most of us, at least for awhile. Quantum computers have a lot of promise but "everyone" knows that it is devilishly hard to entangle all the required qubits for long enough.

    Well at least we will have AI soon, which can make the decisions for us without bias. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  32. Apparently hype sells, just like numerous other pointless thoughts. Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur.

    "That which can be asserted without evidence can be disnissed without evidence" (Christopher Hitchens)

    ReplyDelete
  33. "Today, the task of scientists is no longer to understand nature. Instead, their task is to uphold an illusion of progress by wrapping incremental advances in false promise. Merchants they still are, all right. But now their job is not to bring enlightenment; it is to bring excitement."

    Despite whatever problems there are, despite how widespread they are, writing "scientists" instead of "some scientists" (or, perhaps, if you have the numbers to back it up, "most scientists") is an unacceptable generalization. There are still some scientists whose goal is to seek the truth and who don't lie in order to pursue that goal. Whether they are as successful as they should be is another question, but no problem justifies putting everyone into the bad category whatever their individual behaviour.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Phillip,

      I am referring here to the science, the organized enterprise (or call it a "system"), not to any individual. This should be obvious by the context, I think, but since you seem to have misunderstood this, I hope this clarifies it.

      Delete
    2. I suspected that this is what you meant, but not what you said. A reader reads

      "Once upon a time, the task of scientists was to understand nature. “Merchants of Light,” Francis Bacon called them. They were a community of knowledge-seekers who subjected hypotheses to experimental test, using what we now simply call “the scientific method.” Understanding nature, so the idea, would both satisfy human curiosity and better our lives.

      Today, the task of scientists is no longer to understand nature. Instead, their task is to uphold an illusion of progress by wrapping incremental advances in false promise. Merchants they still are, all right. But now their job is not to bring enlightenment; it is to bring excitement.

      Nowhere is this more obvious than with big science initiatives"

      It is talking about "scientists". The third paragraph narrows it down a bit, but sounds like that this is some place where the general phenomenon is most evident, not that it happens only here.

      Of course, most generalizations are false (but not this one). :-) That is, false in the sense that they don't apply to everyone in the targeted group. I agree with most of what you say, but I think that you are not doing yourself any favours by writing "scientists" instead of "many scientists who work within the traditional academic system" or whatever.

      Delete
    3. Phillip,

      I have expressed myself clearly and see no need to water down my message by following your writing advice.

      Delete
    4. It was just constructive criticism. Context? It starts out with "scientists" which, with no qualification, means "all scientists". I'm sure that any scientist so inclined who is not part of the conspiracy you criticize would be very successful suing you for libel. If you have a valid point (and I think you do), it can be made much more effectively without resorting to exaggeration.

      You are by no means alone here. I've been following the discussion of MOND for a quarter of a century and one reason that MOND phenomenology is not taken more seriously is because some self-appointed MOND apologists go over the top and criticize a straw-man model of conventional cosmology. Of course, in an ideal world, people would check out the data and draw their own conclusions, including that such exaggerated criticism of the other side does not invalidate the claims one is making. However, realistically, if people are interested in a topic and the advocates of that topic are exaggerating rather than addressing real problems, people tend to turn away.

      History will be the judge, in all such cases.

      Delete
  34. "
    Can we add climate science to that list? When that 'science' has deprived us all of a decent electricity supply, I hope that big science is the first to lose power."


    No. One stupidity does not justify further stupidities. Bring on the black helicopters with chemtrails, autism-causing vaccines, flat Earth, Nazis on the Moon. Go ahead, reject science if that's what you want.


    ReplyDelete
  35. "sorry, but climate scientist have exactly the same conflict of interest than high-energy particle physicst: they live off their research.
    You stop funding climate change research, they lose their job, the same as if you stop building colliders, HEP physicists lose their job."


    Right, so all physicians have a vested interest in everyone being sick, because if everyone were healthy, they would be out of a job. Do you really believe that? If so, I pity you. Deeply.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Philip,

      A lot of drug companies have a huge vested interest in people being fed more and more expensive drugs. In practice doctors are given guidelines as to what drugs to use and when to use them - e.g. at what level of blood cholesterol. The people who devise the guidelines get huge grants from the drug companies.

      Drug companies are also fined eye watering sums of money - but they make enough money to cover them!

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_pharmaceutical_settlements

      Delete
  36. It's not all bad. In my field at least (quantum optics), yes there are some hype merchants, but they are in the minority and there are also honest people who do rigorous research, regularly debunk nonsense, and are still highly respected, or at least tolerated. Sure they don't get as much short-term recognition and have a hard time publishing in fancy journals, but a lot of them have still managed to carve out decent academic careers. If a researcher can produce stellar results, it's possible to survive even if they speak out, and speaking out actually earns them more respect and trust from others. I don't know as much about other fields, but another example seems to be the replication crisis in social science, where many have spoken out against shoddy statistics even though they have offended many people. There are honest scientists out there.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Good point (SKA) Dr. H. Of course even in an ideal (given practical limitations) project evaluation and funding regimen some projects will not meet their expectations..

    ReplyDelete
  38. Hi Sabine,
    You are spot on.
    Here is another way to look at it. Since 1950, science output as measured by papers and patents has been growing exponentially with a doubling time of about 17 years. The growth rate was slower in the first half of the 20th century. So, if all of these papers and patents were of equal significance, one would have to believe that half of all scientific progress since 1900 had been made in the 21st century. A belief like this is so far from my direct experience that it would amount to a religious creed, though some people apparently manage to believe in it. The alternative is that the more recent papers and patents have, on average, lower value than the earlier ones. The dynamic that drives scientists to produce low-content papers is just as you say.

    Are you familiar with Parkinson's Law? Using staffing data from the British civil service, Parkinson joked that bureaucracies grow at “an average of 5.75 per cent per year” and their growth rate is “much the same whether the volume of work were to increase, diminish or even disappear.” Parkinson's growth rate translates to a doubling interval of 13 years - uncomfortably close to the growth of these science indicators. I am not seriously suggesting that all science is make-work and empire-building, but the real progress is obscured by the much larger Parkinsonian effects.

    Of course, the reason this makes me angry is that science is not a joke or a religion or a job-creation exercise. It is the best way to solve real practical problems such as climate change. I fear that the people who hype up their branch of science for career purposes risk undermining the credibility of science just at a time when it is most needed.
    Steve.

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    Replies
    1. Steve,

      "Since 1950, science output as measured by papers and patents has been growing exponentially with a doubling time of about 17 years. The growth rate was slower in the first half of the 20th century."

      This does not agree with my information. For all I know the growth rate in individual fields has been largely constant ever since data taking at the beginning of the last century. It differs from field to field though. Ie, different disciplines tend to have typical growth rates. Please look at this figure to see what I mean.

      Delete
    2. Sabine,
      I don't think we are really disagreeing. The growth rate rate of publications is a bit different in different branches of science but if you go on to the next figure (fig 3) on the link that you posted, you will see several branches where the doubling rate is around 15 years. The US patenting rate did have a lull in the first half of the 20th century as shown in this plot
      https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Annual-US-patent-activity-since-1790-until-present-and-the-various-policy-changes_fig4_263277039

      Anyway, the point of my intervention was to support your claim that a lot of science at the present moment suffers from over-hype because hyping has become essential to a researcher's career.

      When I say to people outside science that progress in science and technology is actually slowing down, their usual response is that it can't be true because publications and patents are growing exponentially. That is the point of view I am arguing against. The dynamics that produce exponential growth of science indicators in the absence of real progress is where Parkinson's Law comes in.
      Steve.

      Delete
  39. A part of this is that we live in a society with an a capitalist economy, and with that there is always the promise of a better tomorrow. I am not out to promote socialism in particular; capitalism and socialism (or really communism) both suck, they just suck in different ways. Communism makes life miserable now, while capitalism is all based on externalizing costs and pushing the big and growing problems further into the future. To cover that you have this propaganda that new technology will always come to solve problems. In the end it is a Ponzi game, and humanity will receive a kick in the butt in the not too distant future on a scale unprecedented in history.

    A lot of this is a thrashing around with desperate schemes or illusions. Remember 20 years ago all the hype over the hydrogen economy? Anyone knowing stat mech could clock that as nonsense. We have similar silliness, with hydraulic fracturing for oil being the latest, but that is going to tap out on us in a decade or two. So sure, research in general is in the same rush.

    In the end we all need to wake up and smell the Kafka.

    ReplyDelete
  40. Do you really think that your generation is the first to encounter such things?
    "Today the most civilized countries of the world spend a maximum of their income on war and a minimum on education. The twenty-first century will reverse this order. It will be more glorious to fight against ignorance than to die on the field of battle. The discovery of a new scientific truth will be more important than the squabbles of diplomats. Even the newspapers of our own day are beginning to treat scientific discoveries and the creation of fresh philosophical concepts as news. The newspapers of the twenty-first century will give a mere ” stick ” in the back pages to accounts of crime or political controversies, but will headline on the front pages the proclamation of a new scientific hypothesis.
    Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/nikola-teslas-amazing-predictions-for-the-21st-century-26353702/#46ETF1ePyFSS64gb.99

    No one does anything about it? That is most likely an exaggeration and not true. Effecting change within a very large institution is, however, very difficult and the efforts of others to change things may not be noticed, especially if the members of the community are atomized due to compartmentalization within a military-industrial complex.
    I remember the hype about 11 dimensional spaces and superconductors in the mid 1980's. It was hyped sky high, but then again, there is an evolutionary gestation period between fundamental research and practical application (even if not adopted first by the military industrial complex). Look at Frederick Soddy's assessment of nuclear technology in "The Interpretation of Radium and the Structure of the Atom" prior to 1915. Look at the history of technologies in Germany like television,lasers,integrated circuits and fiber optics etc.
    At the end of "The Body Electric"(1985), Dr. Robert O. Becker wrote that he wrote his book because he wanted the public to know that science did not operate the way they thought it did. Throughout the 1980's and 1990's there were numerous U.S. scientists complaining about the U.S. grant system in numerous ways. Edwin T. Jaynes was involved with the design and construction of some of the first accelerators in the U.S. and he spoke up about the research system and how research scientists were causing problems.

    "Besides you"? What makes you think you are the only one? Where is my base on Mars? Where is my room-temperature superconductor?
    Do you see a Superconducting Supercollider in Texas?
    Is it any different in other professional fields like Education? Look at what H.G. Wells wrote in 1921 and then listen to or view the speeches and presentations of David Thornburg, Roger Schank and Sugata Mitra from 2001-2019. Change in Education moves like molasses or cold roofing tar. In the 1970's one of the widespread cultural cliches in television series and movies besides, "You don't have a need to know" was "I'm trying to change the system from within".

    Dr. David Hestenes wrote about the politics of grant proposals in his Oerstead medal lecture.
    http://geocalc.clas.asu.edu/pdf-preAdobe8/OerstedMedalLecture.pdf

    There are similar accounts throughout the 1980's and 1990's. Check out "Discovering" by Robert Root-Bernstein for some more.
    https://www.amazon.ca/Discovering-Robert-Scott-Root-Bernstein/dp/0735100071

    A World that works for 100% of Humanity
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jgfrvZ-SxPQ

    ReplyDelete
  41. drats! I wrote the following on a laptop at work logged into somebody else:

    A part of this is that we live in a society with an a capitalist economy, and with that there is always the promise of a better tomorrow. I am not out to promote socialism in particular; capitalism and socialism (or really communism) both suck, they just suck in different ways. Communism makes life miserable now, while capitalism is all based on externalizing costs and pushing the big and growing problems further into the future. To cover that you have this propaganda that new technology will always come to solve problems. In the end it is a Ponzi game, and humanity will receive a kick in the butt in the not too distant future on a scale unprecedented in history.

    A lot of this is a thrashing around with desperate schemes or illusions. Remember 20 years ago all the hype over the hydrogen economy? Anyone knowing stat mech could clock that as nonsense. We have similar silliness, with hydraulic fracturing for oil being the latest, but that is going to tap out on us in a decade or two. So sure, research in general is in the same rush.

    In the end we all need to wake up and smell the Kafka.

    ReplyDelete
  42. Sabine,

    Triggered by your "Where are our custom cancer cures?", I have a modest proposal, or "left-field" view: find a way to make it very personal.

    Almost everyone will have to deal with cancer at some point in their lives, either for themselves or someone close to them. Something those who do cancer research are acutely aware of; the research they do today may save their lives tomorrow.

    Yes, there's hype in this field, and yes there's a rather extreme need for more realistic communication (have you seen the amount of pure nonsense out there in the internet, coming from sometimes well-meaning ignoramuses?).

    But the pull to stick to research that really makes a difference is surely far stronger in this community than in the cosmology or HEP ones, say. Rich and influential people are also intimately affected; a lot of cancer patients are quite relentless; and so on.

    Is there something we can learn from this? Something which may involve a wider group of people than the researchers themselves? I have a (very) modest proposal on this, which I'll briefly describe in a later comment.

    ReplyDelete
  43. I'm in the process of reading Richard Haier's The Neuroscience of Intelligence. He cites a researcher who wanted to do brain scans to compare brain activity in higher and lower IQ subjects (this is in recent decades). Grant agencies wouldn't touch the subject, for fear of being accused of racism (somehow), so he didn't bother. Haier himself had the same , problem, so he switched to a study of Down Syndrome subjects, and snuck in a 'normal' control group. He got the money. Sometimes, there are perfectly good reasons for lying on grant proposals. When the gate-keepers are corrupt - or cowards - science demands a little creative writing.
    Since then, the evidence is in, and now you can get the money. As long as you don't dare talk about race.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mark,

      I suspect the real problem with comparing the IQ of people of different races, is that although it is a number, IQ is ultimately measured in a subjective way. The score on the test is precise, but the decisions as to what to put in the questions are subjective. There are also social factors, such as how much different groups value education. I know IQ is supposed to be indemendent of IQ, but I'll bet it isn't.

      I can't see what use racial comparisons of IQ are anyway - individual IQ's in any community lie on a broad Gaussian curve. Determining what goes wrong in Downs kids, might have more obvious value.

      Delete
  44. APS March Meeting 2019
    Monday–Friday, March 4–8, 2019; Boston, Massachusetts
    Session E28: Quantum Control of Open and Tracked Quantum Systems
    8:00 AM–11:00 AM, Tuesday, March 5, 2019
    BCEC Room: 161

    Sponsoring Unit: DQI
    Chair: Shruti Puri, Yale Univ
    Abstract: E28.00004 : A Quantum Law of Requisite Variety*
    8:36 AM–8:48 AM
     
      Abstract  

    Presenter:
    Davide Girolami
    (Los Alamos National Laboratory)
    Author:
    Davide Girolami
    (Los Alamos National Laboratory)

    The Law of Requisite Variety was the first attempt to quantify the ability of a controller to shield information-processing systems against error sources. It was then rediscovered in classical control theory, complexity science and computational mechanics. I here extend it to the quantum domain, establishing information-theoretic limits to the controllability of open quantum systems in terms of the resources available to the controller, quantum coherence and correlations. I also introduce a measure of controllability to capture the influence exerted on a system by a controlling device. I verify the result by implementing a control protocol in the IBM 5-qubit chip ``ibmqx4''.
    LA-UR-18-29964
    *Los Alamos National Laboratory, project 20180702PRD1

    https://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/MAR19/Session/E28.4

    ReplyDelete
  45. Speaking of bringing some excitement Sabine,I and many others are
    anticipating your next music video, because like it or not, you are super talented in that domain.

    ReplyDelete
  46. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  47. You see some collective behavior of humans as "bad" (such as funding incentives mis-aligned with "good science") and want it to change. Just like, at some level, has happened many thousand times before.

    Rants may be cathartic, but what are you going to actually do when you get to work on Monday morning? Sorry, I don't see any point in being anything but blunt.

    Many groups of humans (broadly defined) have developed effective (ha!) methods for this: in engineering, in medicine, and more recently in economics, to take just a few examples. In a limited sense, this is what Project Management and Program Management is all about.

    So, what is The Problem? The Aim? (beware of cognitive biases here, it's just so easy to confuse the two). What are (known) Methods for addressing similar things? Marketing and "political science" may be good places to look (quelle horreur!). Given your Resources - present or what can reasonably be expected - which Approaches seem feasible? In terms of human resources, where to go to get more of them?

    It can be iterative, overlapping; it can include plans for failures; even plans for hypocrisy (how about creating some hype of your own, "for the greater good"?) Maybe create a new international non-profit, The Society For Scientific Integrity perhaps?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Therefore, For You, To Spend Zillions in Sterile and Speculative Proto-Scientific Research is a 'Natural' Project Management Issue that do not deserve to be addressed by Taxpayers and Private Funding Agencies ...

      Are You working and/or expecting to work in The expected and Hyped Brand New Bigger Colliders ??

      Don't try to judge Ms. Hossenfelder as some sort of Ridiculous & Blunt Being trying to Moralize over Smart People ...

      Taxpayers and Funding Agencies must to evaluate How The Sellers (dressed as 'Scientists') try to Sell their Products as Valid Products where/when those products do not fits Priorities for Economic and Political Validation ...

      Delete
    2. Jean Tate: Dr. Hossenfelder has already done and continues to do what is likely the most impactful thing she can do as an individual. Sorry to be blunt, but your advice is misguided.

      She worked in the industry she is criticizing, she has deep insider knowledge of how it works.

      She is respected in the field enough to be given books on science to review, which she does, with honest criticism of where they are good and where they are deficient.

      She wrote a book detailing what has gone wrong.

      She got it published.

      She writes articles for popular science magazines with large circulation.

      She has established a following of hundreds of professional scientists on this blog, which gives her a forum to continue to defend her book against criticism and write articles that continue to detail and explain the problems in the community.

      I think she has been remarkably effective in marketing her criticism of the system, and what she is doing is the right course of action to continue that criticism. This is a war of ideas about what science is, and she is on the side of the righteous against the corrupt.

      I don't mind saying, it is far more than I could have accomplished, and more than I think the majority of my colleagues could have accomplished.

      So what is she going to actually do? Hopefully, get up and write yet another cogent argument, or criticism, or point out more hypocrisy and lies, and continue to tell us what is right and what is wrong in the world of physics.

      What you call a "rant" I consider a rational argument that should sway scientists that claim to be uber-rationalists, and a valuable contribution to the discourse.

      Delete
    3. First Name Surname, Dr. A.M. Castaldo,

      "Rant" is Sabine's own classification of the blog post we're discussing, not mine.

      The sorts of "bad" collective behavior of some humans that is cogently described - and sometimes excoriated - in Bee's various blog posts will not be changed by the actions of one individual, or change as a result of those actions.

      Suppose you - like me - are convinced of the necessity of change; what to do?

      I respectfully suggest that you (and me) being convinced of the need for change is a good first step. However, by itself, that makes not an iota of difference (to the behaviors).

      And if we can't even discuss suggestions on what to do - beyond encourage Sabine, and commit to read what she writes - well, I doubt that anything will change in my lifetime (maybe in yours, though I doubt that too).

      Delete
    4. JeanTate,

      The appendix of my book contains concrete steps that everyone can take to improve the situation, broken down into advice for (a) scientists, (b) higher ed admin, and (c) science writers or members of the public.

      For what the latter group (science writers and the public) is concerned, my main advice is to not let scientists off the hook, and keep asking them what they do to prevent cognitive biases.

      I have on many occasions also explained here on this blog what concrete steps scientists should take, such as inform themselves about cognitive biases and social dynamics that can occur in large groups and decision making in groups in general.

      I just went through this one more time in this recent blogpost. I have also discussed here what I think is a very good, and doable, proposal by Robin Hanson.

      Your complaint therefore, that we "can't even discuss suggestions" is plainly wrong. What is right is that scientists (across all fields) refuse to even discuss what they should have done decades ago.

      Delete
    5. Sabine,

      Indeed.

      Can we do better? More? Can we consider being better organized? Communicating more effectively? And so on.

      Yes, there are swings and roundabouts, but maybe your blog (and its comments) are becoming one of those famous "echo chambers"? Surely too many people read it and say to themselves "Right on baby!" ... and do nothing else?

      My modest proposal - which I see was widely misunderstood (my fault) - included the idea that besides thinking clever thoughts about what to do, maybe it might be worthwhile to look at how community change has been brought about historically ... by seeking those who've studied how to change the collective behaviors of humans. And being explicit about this.

      Should go without saying, but I see that it needs saying: this doesn't have to be you, Sabine. Nor should you necessarily be "leading the charge".

      For what it's worth (FWIW), I think comments in a Blogger blog are a very ineffective way to have good discussions on what to do, what has been done, what could be done next, etc. Yes, I have some ideas of my own, but then I have never been any kind of "activist" and certainly not studied how to effect (collective behavior) change.

      Delete
    6. JeanTate,

      That's right, it doesn't have to be me. And it's right, too, that comments on a blog are not an effective way to bring about change. If you know a good way to do it, by all means, please go ahead. So far, you have not been much of a help.

      Delete
    7. Jean Tate: You say I respectfully suggest that you (and me) being convinced of the need for change is a good first step. However, by itself, that makes not an iota of difference

      I disagree, widespread awareness of a problem can prompt actions to solve it. As the old adage says, Sunlight is the best medicine.

      Look at the #MeToo movement in the USA, it began as nothing but a "speaking out" movement, and has already worked to effect significant changes.

      Without any power, the powerless victims of a school shooting in Parkland, Florida (a year ago) marched and shouted and by media coverage alone (they didn't even have the right to vote), forced changes in Florida law and elsewhere. That was actual change.

      Look at the US Civil Rights movement; another successful change brought about by making people aware of what is going on.

      Martin Luther founded a new religion by complaining about the corruption of "indulgences" in the old one (of which he was a working member at the time, but soon branded a heretic for refusing to recant his criticisms).

      Time after time, journalistic investigations into corrupt politicians and businessmen have led to "change", in the form of resignations or punishment. Journalists have no special powers, all they can do is make something known and perhaps embarrass people into action.

      Those are just off the top of my head, I'm sure I missed dozens, and perhaps even better examples. E.g. powerless women marching in the USA pressured an all-male power structure into giving them the right to vote. The point is that sometimes otherwise powerless individuals, or a handful of them, can effect change just by finding ways to be heard.

      Speaking out raises awareness; continuing to speak out is how you maximize awareness, and that may lead to the very tiny percentage of people with the power to effect change becoming aware of the problem.

      Dr. Hossenfelder is doing what an individual can do, at least what a non-billionaire individual can do. What she is doing doesn't always work, but it is not a hopeless crusade. Repeating the message, pointing out new examples of the problem as they occur, and trying to grow the awareness of the problem can work, and has worked many times in the past.

      I will disagree with her reply to you, I think she underestimates herself. Blog posts are articles, Comments on a blog, articles written, books written, talks given, and other forms of raising awareness of the problem in her professional community are one of the few avenues to change that people without any regulatory power or $millions actually have.

      Attention is power, ask any celebrity. But it isn't formal power, it is influence, the hope (or fear) that people will hear what the celebrity says, and may make decisions based upon it. That is the power of journalism, and the power of the Parkland students, and the #MeToo victims, and the Civil Rights marchers. Publicly and loudly raising awareness of a problem is not an empty or ineffective exercise that won't make an iota of difference. History proves that wrong.

      Delete
    8. Thanks Sabine.

      1: write a blog post, sorta like this:
      "{intro} I'm looking for someone to set up and run a website dedicated to eventually {insert Aim/Goal here}, with the first step being opening a focused discussion on concrete actions that will attain that Goal. At least initially I will maintain editorial control. My suggestions: display the Aim/Goal succinctly and prominently; provide links to material which describe the background, current situation, etc; have a good moderated forum (with clear sections/boards); one section of which devoted to (discussion of) historical examples of how similar changes were effected (or not); {more?}. Here's how to contact me with proposals. {sign-off}"

      2: once that blog post is up, directly contact the people who you think might help get the message out and/or might have contacts among whom would be good candidates to set up and run such a site.

      Dr. A.M. Castaldo,

      I fully agree that "raising awareness" is often (nearly always?) an early phase of what ends up being a change in (collective) behavior. My comment, however, was misunderstood (my fault): I expressly addressed you (and First Name Surname).

      Delete
    9. JeanTate, I have no funding to pay someone to do it and have no time to do it myself.

      Btw, you seem to assume that I have no tried this (or other ideas), you are wrong. If I could have seen any other way to change the current situation than writing my book, I would have done that.

      Delete
    10. Thanks Sabine.

      You have many followers, and many who agree with you. Among the nx10^2 (or 3?) who've posted (supportive) comments to your blog posts, perhaps there is one or two who can help. Perhaps there is a retired scientist or two. Someone who knows how to modify/configure an appropriate free web-based discussion forum framework. There are surely at least several who would be very glad to help, as moderators. All for free. Call it a new kind of "citizen science" perhaps (the online crowd-sourcing citizen science collection of projects called the Zooniverse has ~a million "volunteers", a.k.a. "citizen scientists", all of whom contribute for free).

      And so on.

      Something as big as this surely needs more resources than one part-time person. The cost of asking us for concrete help is small; the return could be much bigger.

      Delete
  48. Just how bogus is present-day big science? Is hype a constant perennial or are we witnessing a flare-up? Can we reliably _measure_ the hype level? If so then we can do good science on how good science is; if not, then not.

    ReplyDelete
  49. I'm a former software engineer, here to tell you that never in the history of hype has anything been over-hyped like "Artificial Intelligence". What we have now is what we've always had: pattern matching, curve fitting, clever algorithms and big data sets, grammar parsing, and programs doing single tasks. Shut off the input they expect, and those programs do nothing.

    After decades of essentially no progress in figuring out what "artificial intelligence" might be, the marketing people decided to stop waiting and simply redefine the term to mean "software doing something that used to seem hard". Brute-force methods, finding solutions by trial-and-error on large data sets, are now called "deep learning". Algorithms that can run on parallel processors are "neural nets".

    And every single new software product in the world today "uses AI".

    ReplyDelete
  50. I don't want to go all ballistic on universities. I think they are great at teach people and doing great research. I would like to see much more statistics work required because I think people take a couple statistics courses and they think they understand it. Journalists, politicians, celebrities, and people in general just hop on the bandwagon because they don't want to be viewed as unscientific, or they are just true believers in science to begin with, but the truth is, science is very good at finding things, but very bad at realizing that it is impossible to figure out what is better for society as a whole, and can only be found out through thousands of years of science and societal evolution. Traditions may be wrong, but they are more robust than statistics.

    ReplyDelete
  51. I'm an outsider, an ex-PhD researcher with a lifelong interest in AI. I can't speak for the situation in particle physics, but the situation in AI and neuroscience is pretty bad. The Blue Brain project is the most obvious example, but there are many others. Consider this: for all the billions of dollars spent on Neuroscience and AI research, we still have basically no idea how structure connects to function in the brain of even the simplest animals. And our robots still struggle to master bipedal locomotion.

    Yes, the problems are hard. But at this stage in the development of the field, the situation is rather like the situation in physics 120 years ago. We don't need more money. We need some conceptual breakthroughs.

    ReplyDelete
  52. Great post. Thank you for writing it.

    ReplyDelete
  53. Bee,

    what do you think of Japan's decision to wait on funding for International Linear Collider ?

    "Japanese physicists in particular were hoping for positive news. In December 2018, the influential Science Council of Japan (SCJ) concluded in a report that it could not “reach a consensus to support hosting” the project, citing concerns over Japan’s share of the cost of the $7.5 billion machine and unresolved technical issues."

    $7.5 billion price tag to measure higgs properties

    Mar. 7, 2019 , 12:20 PM
    https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/03/japanese-government-punts-decision-host-international-linear-collider

    Bee, if you think $7.5 billion is a good idea is a ILC a good idea in japan given its earthquakes and tsumanis's? i'd imagine an earthquake can easily damage the ILC and there goes $7.5 billion

    ReplyDelete
  54. How fitting that I should stumble across the article linked below through complete happenstance... via absolutely no connection to Dr. Bee, apparent or otherwise (OK, maybe some algorithm in Firefox's "Pocket" : )

    Such has been the norm since discovering BackReAction in similar fashion a couple of months ago.

    https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/quantum-monism-could-save-the-soul-of-physics/

    I have managed to finish (but for reviewing the footnotes) "Lost In Math" ... finally... despite every effort of destiny to delay it. I will never see another work of such validating impact; surely the last book that will have such a profound effect on my life. A lifetime of curiosity about the subject utterly satisfied in one fell swoop.

    I am now supremely confident in my assessment that we still have everything left to learn...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. R. Taylor, I read the article, and they quote Dr. Hossenfelder by name, but I don't get how quantum monism saves anything, much less can warrant seeking "beauty" in physics equations. It sound more like yet another many-worlds argument without proof or any hope of proof.

      Only this time, the whole universe is an evolving waveform, and we occupy one of an infinite number of eigenstates, so we shouldn't be surprised to find whatever crazy coincidences we might find. But trust me, the whole big enchilada, if we could observe it, would be described by the most beautiful equations.

      Maybe I'm missing something in that argument.

      Delete
    2. Dr. Castaldo,

      You've beat me to reading the linked article; I'm still putting out and starting fires, both literally and figuratively, due to Hurricane Michael.

      I had only scanned it and noted that Dr. Bee was mentioned.

      As for the subject matter, I'll admit that the academic conventional wisdom is way over my head, but I suspect that those "in the know" will be viewed as hopelessly lacking a thousand years from now...

      Delete
  55. Jean Tate said,

    "Rants may be cathartic, but what are you going to actually do when you get to work on Monday morning? Sorry, I don't see any point in being anything but blunt."

    Surely sometimes the only way to effect change is to be a whistleblower.

    Science institutions are probably stuck in a hype arms race, but the more people become aware of this, the more likely it is that we might see some change.

    ReplyDelete
  56. Quoting:
    "I cannot trust scientists any more. It’s a problem. It’s a problem in dire need of a solution."
    Can you listen to yourself? You have a problem, solve it. It is not a problem for the field, it is not a problem for the world. You got disenamoured with fundamental science, and are finding reasons for being in that state at every turned stone. Maybe you should turn that search outside in.
    Cheers,
    T.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tommaso Dorigo is a particle physicist and member of one of the CERN collaborations. He still does not understand that scientific communities with unaddressed social feedback become ineffective research bubbles.

      Delete
    2. From the third person of your reply I take it that you are not interested in dialogue with me, so... so long.
      T.

      Delete
    3. Tommaso,

      I am not interested in further of your attempts to psychoanalyze me. I have responded politely to that nonsense of yours sufficiently often. If you have an argument to make, then make it, but spare us the ad-homimen attacks.

      Delete
    4. I totally agree with you.
      Sabine projects her frustration onto the rest of the world/field, field of which she's been part.


      I find it amusing that a scientist, a real one, could ever conceive the "talk to a physicist" part of the blog!

      http://backreaction.blogspot.com/p/talk-to-physicist_27.html

      50 bucks per talk!...

      Writing books... pay-per-talk on physics... daily long blogs with tens of answers/replies... then she has the guts to disparage people who've been putting all their best efforts and years into science and R&D.

      Bizarre, to say the least.

      Delete
  57. I think it’s exactly what Eisenhower was warning about with the Military-Industrial complex. It looks like we need to add in the term Military-Industrial-Scientific complex. Your description of what science is or should be, is what I once thought of too. That looks like in some kind of distant era now.

    In some sense, this was predicted not long after the Second World War. Hannah Arendt, the philosopher, when she was trying to puzzle out the nature of totalitarianism in Nazi Germany & Stalinist Russia wrote about how scientists should not have been surprised that once the technology for nuclear weapons had been invented, that they should think that they would have any real influence over policy. I guess that goes for the entire scientific enterprise - with honorouble exceptions.

    ReplyDelete
  58. Perhaps this has been written about elsewhere, but exactly what vital areas of "understanding nature" are being neglected in favor of what is basically technical and engineering research on things like AI, quantum computing and fusion power? What problems are both worth solving and have a reasonable chance of being solved, but are not being attacked with sufficient resources?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Archimedes; That can be an unknowable quantity, but presumed to be positive. If we don't spend $12B on a new collider, and as a result $6B goes into other scientific research, then presumably at least some of that research will be fruitful and multiply.

      Perhaps chemists will devise better methods of carbon capture. Perhaps supercomputers (my field) will help with that using quantum chemistry simulations, or material sciences. Perhaps some of the experiments suggested by Dr. Hossenfelder will be funded. Perhaps if a hundred physicists put their wicked math and statistical expertise to work, they can improve the quality of machine learning and machine modeling.

      The Summit supercomputer (#1 in the world at the moment) cost $200M, and for $1B we could build 6 or more of them to work on additional problems that fall by the wayside due to priorities. Leaving $5B to put into other sciences, funding professors and their PhD students and postdocs.

      IMO nearly all problems lack resources and funding. To me, it wouldn't be a matter of directing $6B into one or two "big" questions, but betting on fifty reasonable research areas with $100M or so each, in the hope that with funding, maybe twenty of them find something worth knowing, or something worth making, like room temperature superconductors, or a super-efficient solar power cell made of abundant materials.

      To me the point is to not waste $12B on what is very likely to be a research dead end! It's the same reason I fire any employee. Not because I am great at hiring (and the need to fire somebody proves that point), but because a qualified replacement is likely to perform "average" and I think that would be better than what I'm getting with the employee I have to dismiss.

      For the same reason, we dismiss the next super-collider, not because we have a specific alternative in mind, but because the science suggests it will not make any breakthroughs, and that is sub-par for funding. Our chances are better if we put the money into research areas that do, on average, produce results and advancements in their science.

      Delete
    2. Archimedes,

      "but exactly what vital areas of "understanding nature" are being neglected ..."

      The tragedy is that nobody knows. The only way to find out would be to leave it to experts to objectively evaluate the existing information, but in the current system such an objective evaluation is not possible.

      Delete
  59. I would be curious to read any thoughts on how and why the hype situation has changed over the last few decades or even the last one hundred years. Since science has always needed funding from outside sources, what has changed to make creating hype so important? Could one reason for example be that the competition has increased so much?

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    1. I think one reason is the success of White Sands and the nuclear bomb and the rapid rise of a post-industrial, communications and computer and technological world.

      I think the governments and militaries of the world (as consumers of tech that don't much understand it) have poured trillions of dollars into research, and as a result, monetized science. Just like universities getting aggressive on patents, like drug companies, like all tech industries. There is big money in tech, it is still making billionaires even today.

      In the monetized industry which science has become, hype marketing is bound to arise, along with outright lies couched as "possible" outcomes. The funders (particularly the military and governments on behalf of for-profit industry) want applied science, and fundamental physics is not immune from this. They want their quantum computers. Free green fuel. Anti-Gravity. New weapons and new tools for intelligence. They want their science fiction fantasies to come true, or at least steps toward it.

      Add in that they have pretty much monopolized the funding game; so if you don't sell and market your research in that light, you don't get funded.

      It has progressively become all about the money, for funders, thus for universities and for researchers. As you guessed, there is competition, and the decisions all concern the "payoff", so you have to hype the potential impact of your research in order to get grants and funding.

      Delete
    2. I recall reading in Wigners biography, when he admitted to his dad that he wanted to work as a theoretical physicist, his dad asked him: how many jobs are there in that, and Wigner replied 4. This was in Hungary, around a hundred years ago, so I guess there wasn't much demand, nor much hype then. All that must have come after. Wigner also says, much later in his life, after he emigrated to the US, that he was pleased to witnessed the growth of physics in the US with the beginnings of the big laborotaries that we have now, but he also said that they required a different kind of physicist, one that was much pushier than physicists were in his youth. I don't recall him saying anything about hype. Perhaps the word didn't exist then. Perhaps that what he partly meant by pushy. I highly recommend his biography, by the way, it's excellant.

      Delete
  60. Timothy Caulfield, a professor of health law in Alberta, Canada, speaks about pseudoscience in New Scientist, 6 March 2019:

    "Have scientists played a role in the misinformation and confusion?"

    "I do think the scientific community deserves some blame, because of the way it sometimes allows its own work to be hyped. Stem cells, precision medicine, the microbiome, nanotechnology: talking up the results of genuine research to attract media attention gives people the idea that miraculous benefits are just around the corner. Celebrities and alternative practitioners exploit this expectation to sell bunk."

    https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg24132200-400-how-celebrities-have-fuelled-the-amazing-rise-in-pseudoscience/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ^^ For a moment I thought this was a quote from my blogpost.

      Delete
    2. The article in New Scientist also shows that the spread of pseudoscience happens independently of the valid and constructive criticism that some mainstream scientific fields receive from you, Woit, Smolin, Ellis and others.

      Science is (ideally) one of the few public arenas where one can get credibility by admitting that one is wrong. It seems like more academics should follow John Horgan's example, when he now admits being wrong about the "death of proofs" in math:

      https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/okay-maybe-proofs-arent-dying-after-all/

      Perhaps science needs a prestigious Purple Heart medal (given by the Nobel committee) for those willing to admit being wrong after many years or decades working on a project that turned out to be the wrong path.

      Delete
    3. Which brings up the question, has anyone EVER written an essay titled "The Death of [whatever]" that has turned out to be substantially correct, rather than just a hand-waving attempt at getting attention?

      Delete
    4. God is dead. On a cultural level in (Northern) Europe it can be claimed that Nietzsche was basically right about religion being substantially dead, with only/mostly the outer shell left.

      A science journalist can be given a little slack when using rhetoric. John Horgan plays a role in Scientific American which seems intended to be (slightly) hard-hitting, at times, a bit thought-provoking or at least not as dry as the style of scientific papers. Take it for what it is, with a little humor and self-irony, though wrong predictions or factual mistakes done by Horgan should be corrected, of course, as he did himself when asking mathematicians to criticize what he had written.

      How many scientific papers are not an attempt at getting attention? Given human nature, one can't expect that academics will be like Henry Cavendish, one of my "heroes" in science.

      Delete
    5. Being from the United States, I can confidently declare that Nietzsche was wrong, and that "God" is very much not dead.

      And how many scientific papers are nothing more than hand-waving attempts to get more attention than they deserve on their merits and significance? Not many at all, actually. Most are very run-of-the-mill, and will not be long remembered or much cited, and their authors make no pretense otherwise.

      Delete
  61. "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"
    Upton Sinclair

    ReplyDelete
  62. Actually, I was looking through Nature earlier today, and they have an article on how Orbans government in Hungary is attempting to shackle the autonomy of the Hungarys Science Academy, rather like how Trump has with the Enviromental Protection Agency in the USA. This, I think, is somewhat different from your own criticism which is targeted at the science establishment itself. But I do wonder whether there is some kind of link, after all fake science will come in several varieties: there's pseudo-science like astrology & numerology - but one thinks that the practitioners are actually genuine (but misguided); fake science as misinformation, where the practitioners are intending to pull the wool over the public eyes as well as their publically accountable representatives and fake science as hype, where the main attraction is prestige - though one wonders how much prestige can be found when the hyped up prestige bubble goes pop.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. @Mozibur: If the prestige bubble goes pop. The unrepentant hypers will just do what Trump does; double down on the lie. Say all the hype is real, we just needed more money, and $20 billion is a drop in the bucket for the budgets of these countries, so it is the stingy bickering governments keeping us from bringing you all the magical toys we might find, and doom the planet to becoming a frying pan, and don't care about curing cancer.

      Write your leaders and tell them if they want your vote they need to support the Super-Colossal-Amazing-Mega Collider today, because curing cancer by discovering new particles and super-symmetry is extremely important.

      :>)

      Delete
  63. It's romantic to expect science to be bullshit-free when everything else is saturated. In some ideal world, funders would be fully resourced and totally informed about the projects they assess and scientists would be too ethical to add spin to their proposals.

    Back in the real world it's all imperfect. Game theory applies to the funding process too. We should seek to improve the process incrementally but, don't kid yourself, we are never getting perfect. Research is inherently uncertain; genuinely seminal results are uncommon and bullshitters can sometimes crack it.

    But science is working, brilliantly by historic standards. The reports of its death are greatly exaggerated.

    ReplyDelete
  64. "For a successful technology reality must take precedence over public relations for Nature cannot be fooled." - Richard Feynman

    ReplyDelete
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    1. ""For a successful technology reality must take precedence over public relations for Nature cannot be fooled." - Richard Feynman"

      Right. And as long as technology is concerned accelerator-based HEP delivers big time.
      Or else, explain how beams the size of a human hair, packing the equivalent of the kinetic energy of 400 tons at 400 km/h can be stored and dumped safely for hours, day after days, year after year.
      Or detecting and discriminating hundreds of millions of collisions per second, producing particle with lifetimes basically equal to zero... even at speed of light they don't travel any appreciable distance.
      It is when technology borders magic.
      Open days in September this year. Come in masses. :-)

      Delete
  65. "Trouble is, the supposed breakthroughs rarely lead to tangible progress. Where are our quantum computers? Where are our custom cancer cures? Where are the nano-bots? And why do we still not know what dark matter is made of? "


    ?????
    I've hardly read a dumbest series of questions... mind boggling.

    Maybe all those things have not been discovered, or built yet because it is extremely difficult to do it? How about this hypotheis, Sabine?

    What's your contribution into this, Sabine? Enlighten us... apart from theoretical papers?... i.e. the same kind of "output" that you disparage so much?

    http://sabinehossenfelder.com/images/banners/content/cv_short_nsf.pdf

    How does "A Covariant Version of Verlinde’s Emergent Gravity" changes much compared to the situation you have highlighted above? Tell me...

    How about your previous... "Quasi-stable black holes at
    LHC"... what happened?... did that null result make you change your mind? It was good then, in 2003... pre-LHC... to do, as you write above... "(Most of the money goes into producing) papers whose only purpose is to create an appearance of relevance.

    You made the prediction...

    "It is shown that black holes with life times of several hundred fm/c can be produced at LHC."

    ... which didn't materialize. Was it relevant then?
    Is that what bothers you so much?

    Why is hate so much involved in your writings, Sabine?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Roberto,

      I doubt you actually wanted an answer, but the first paper you mention is about a generalization of model by Verlinde that is an alternative to dark matter.

      Oh, yes, and the quasi-stable black holes. I tell the story in my book, Roberto. I realized that those predictions are unreliable. I stopped working in the field. That was long before the LHC even turned on.

      "Why is hate so much involved in your writings, Sabine?"

      Your amateur psychology is highly amusing, but you are not any better at it than you are at leading arguments.

      Delete

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