The Week That Was: 2024-03-23

The Week That Was: 2024-03-23 (March 23, 2024)

brought to you by SEPP (

The Science and Environmental Policy Project

Quote of the Week:

"A coincidence of interests is always more powerful than a conspiracy.�

  • Richard Courtney

Number of the Week: 100,000 times (greater than background)

THIS WEEK: By Ken Haapala, President, Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP)

Scope: This TWTW addresses scientific integrity and how it is lacking in a great number of government reports. Also mentioned are issues of nuclear waste storage, the need for standardization when different procedures or instruments are used, and a questioning of net zero in Canada.

Importance of Science Integrity:

In his 1974 Commencement Address at CalTech, Richard Feynman discussed Cargo Cult Science, where natives had built runways and followed all:

“… the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.Now it behooves me, of course, to tell you what they’re missing. But it would be just about as difficult to explain to the South Sea Islanders how they have to arrange things so that they get some wealth in their system. It is not something simple like telling them how to improve the shapes of the earphones.  But there is one feature I notice that is generally missing in Cargo Cult Science.  That is the idea that we all hope you have learned in studying science in school—we never explicitly say what this is, but just hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific investigation.  It is interesting, therefore, to bring it out now and speak of it explicitly. It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty—a kind of leaning over backwards.”

Feynman states that scientific integrity is on another level than factual honesty,

“In summary, the idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.”

[Italics in original changed to boldface.]

After giving an example from advertising, he states:

“We’ve learned from experience that the truth will [come] out.  Other experimenters will repeat your experiment and find out whether you were wrong or right.  Nature’s phenomena will agree, or they’ll disagree with your theory.  And, although you may gain some temporary fame and excitement, you will not gain a good reputation as a scientist if you haven’t tried to be very careful in this kind of work.  And it’s this type of integrity, this kind of care not to fool yourself, that is missing to a large extent in much of the research in Cargo Cult Science.A great deal of their difficulty is, of course, the difficulty of the subject and the inapplicability of the scientific method to the subject.  Nevertheless, it should be remarked that this is not the only difficulty.  That’s why the planes don’t land—but they don’t land.We have learned a lot from experience about how to handle some of the ways we fool ourselves.  One example: Millikan measured the charge on an electron by an experiment with falling oil drops and got an answer which we now know not to be quite right.  It’s a little bit off, because he had the incorrect value for the viscosity of air.  It’s interesting to look at the history of measurements of the charge of the electron, after Millikan.  If you plot them as a function of time, you find that one is a little bigger than Millikan’s, and the next one&#x2019