Saturday, October 6, 2012

The immaturity of scientists

Judy Curry notes that academics have no incentive to get it right and no experience at making decisions in the real world.  One of her commenters (Latimer Adler) wrote about a couple of academics of his acquaintance:

they are both proud that they have never really left the institution that they arrived at as 17/18 year old undergraduates.
In the commercial world it would be extremely rare for anybody approaching ‘elder statesman’ status to have had such a limited breadth of experience. It would be seen as far too narrow to give the wide perspective that is needed in such a role. And in many other spheres of public life, appointments to leadership positions are made taking due account of breadth as well as depth of experience.
So it seems to be a bit of a paradox how ‘climate scientists’ have somehow abrogated to themselves the conceit that they are and should be the only parties allowed to speak on the issue. And even odder that ‘we’ have let them get away with it for so long.
He is, of course, correct.  She adds:

The reward system for academics is to have a provocative idea get published in a high impact journal, and increasingly to garner some media attention for the research.  Whether or not the idea turns out to be correct is not of particular importance in the reward system for academics.
For professionals in engineering, finance, the world of regulations, etc., there are typically serious penalties for getting it wrong, i.e. if the bridge collapses.  As a result, due diligence, verification and validation, uncertainty analysis, auditing etc. are essential elements of the profession.
Now if the principal activity of a field of science is to push the knowledge frontier, then being right in a long term sense isn’t all that important.  However, when a field of science is operating at the policy interface, e.g. climate science, then that field could learn some valuable lessons from the professions.
 [my emphasis added]


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