Sunday, May 28, 2017

Going to the dogs …

 Dog of a dilemma: the rise of the predatory journal - MJA InSight 19, 22 May 2017 | doctorportal.

“What makes it even more bizarre is that one of these journals has actually asked Ollie to review an article. It’s entitled Malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumours and their management. Some poor soul has actually written an article on this theme in good faith, and the journal has sent it to a dog to review.”
Maybe those recent demonstrations in support of science should have considered the extent to which science has some problems these days, instead of focusing on people who question certain views passed off as "settled" science. 


  1. Jeff Mauvais12:12 AM

    You clearly misunderstood the point of the demonstrations in support of science. I attended the march in DC and can assure you that the focus was on the value of science, per se, rather than an attack on any particular view about a given scientific controversy. We now have an administration that is actively suppressing the contribution of science to debate on issues of critical national and international importance. Climate change is just one of those issues (Yeah, yeah -- you don't need to repeat your tagline about climate always changing; everyone knows that. The unanswered questions involve the velocity and causes of current changes, and whether technological responses can keep pace with climate change if it continues to accelerate.) There will be no increase in clarity on those questions if research funding is slashed to the degree proposed in thee administration's budget. Other important issues include Trump's resurrection of the bogus autism/vaccination link, huge cutbacks in cancer and infectious disease research (if we're not prepared for the inevitable occurrence of a bird flu mutation that facilitates human transmission, millions will die), uninformed dismissal of research showing links between fracking and groundwater contamination, and on and on.

    I'm especially disturbed by the gutting of the EPA, USDA and FDA. I write as one who spent 30 years working for a corporation heavily regulated by those agencies, and I have a deep understanding of the protections afforded to the American people by their regulations. The economic reality is simple: it's relatively inexpensive to discover and commercialize a drug that lowers cholesterol, but thousands of times more expensive to find one that doesn't harm patients while lowering cholesterol. Similarly, it's relatively cheap and easy to discover a pesticide that controls a destructive fungal disease like rice blast, but thousands of times more expensive to find one that does so without harming humans or other critical species. Without regulation, that extra money need not be spent and we'd find ourselves in a race to the bottom in many industries. The dominant legal obligation of any corporation is maximization of shareholder return, not public safety. Without regulation, issues of harm would be settled by the legal tort system only after the damage had been done.

  2. There will also be no increase in clarity if no one is allowed to challenge any consensus that serves the political class. The media's coverage of those demonstrations certainly gave the impression that they had mostly to do with putting down those who dare question certain policy positions regarding climate. And the point I am making here is that this is not the only recent example of science having some problems that need attending. My ongoing pint is that science and dogmatism do not mix.

  3. Jeff Mauvais12:02 AM

    My account of the march is firsthand, while yours is secondhand, filtered through the editorial choices of your news source. The majority of the marchers were scientists whose only interest was in communicating the
    importance of including science in policy decisions. But reporters and photographers focused on the various activists carrying cutesy signs. Typical journalistic superficiality.

    I heartily agree that science and dogmatism do not mix, but also believe that disinterested science has an important role to play in policymaking, a role which the current administration is seeking to minimize. I find the asinine debate over "settled science" regarding climate change to be especially illustrative of the general ignorance about the appropriate role of science in governance. Climate activists use one version of "settled science" as a cudgel to terminate any discussion of the issue, while denialists use another version for the same purpose. And then we have those who say we should wait for the science to be certain before making any policy decisions. The problem with all of these ways of thinking is the assumption that a scientific conclusion is ever certain or settled. In reality, every scientific conclusion is probabilistic and provisional, and remains so forever. But science is still essential in making public policy, as long as the assumptions are quantified probabilistically and revisited as new data becomes available. For something as critical as climate change, this is going to require sustained expenditure on research, as well as honesty and independence on the part of our lawmakers. I'm not hopeful on either front. (Incidentally, I also believe that the forecasts of economic doom trotted out by both sides in the climate debate should be subjected to the same rigor demanded of the physical science.)

    Use of the word "class" (as in your phrase "political class") always causes me to fear that I am in the presence of an ideologue of some stripe. Political ideologies and concepts like class are abstractions in which I have no interest and can see no utility. For example, my career included basic and applied research, product development, new business development, corporate finance, mergers/acquisitions, and strategic planning -- the latter four jobs after going back to school to earn a midlife MBA. In these roles, I worked with government officials at the local, state/provincial, national and international levels on four continents in efforts to develop regulatory frameworks for a new genetic technology. Believe it or not, I inevitably found them to be hard-working people trying to do their best for those they represented, not self-dealing members of some hypothetical class. I also learned to distrust generalizations: Bigger is not always better, but neither is smaller always better; national regulation is not always to be preferred over local regulation, but neither is local always to be preferred over national; markets solve some problems, but they create others. The real world is far more complicated than the ideologue can imagine.

  4. Excellent points, Jeff.