The Corner

Scientific Red Flags

From a reader (with an academic affiliation):

To: Jonah Goldberg, John Derbyshire

I followed with interest your interchange about the recent developments

concerning global warming research. I thought John’s point that there will

always be contrarians in any scientific discipline, and that in general it

is likely that the consensus position has more validity than the

contrarian one, is a valid one.  Given the recent events, though, it seems

to me that we need to develop methods that can alert us to situations

where the consensus position is faulty.  In the case of climate research,

there were numerous such clues that were available five or more years ago

which should have made people look much more carefully at the consensus.

Here are some red flags in the behavior of mainstream scientists that

could be used as prompts for examining more carefully the consensus


(1) Consistent use of ad hominem attacks toward those challenging their


(2) Refusal to make data public.  This has been going on in this area for

some time.

(3) Refusal to engage in discussions of the actual science, on the

assumption that it is too complicated for others to understand.

(4) Challenging the credentials of those challenging the consensus position.

(5) Refusal to make computer code being used to analyze the data public.

This has been particularly egregious here, and clear statements of the

mathematics and statistics being employed would have allowed the

conclusions to be challenged at a much earlier stage.

If one believes in the science one is doing, one should be willing to go

to great lengths to engage those who challenge it or fail to understand

it, and provide various explanations at various levels of technical

detail, rather than attempt to discredit others.