Evidence-resistant science leaders: When Authority goes the Wrong Way

September 2, 2015 at 8:54 am 3 comments

The story in the blog post connects to my previous blog post about CS faculty arguing against doing something other than lectures in their classes.  Here the authority figures are preventing the rest from considering evidence.  What a weird place for a scientific meeting to be at, but we really do listen to authority more than evidence.

On the scientific side, the meeting brought together a number of thought leaders detailing how different components of the scientific community perform. For instance, we learned that peer-review is quite capable of weeding out obviously weak research proposals, but in establishing a ranking order among the non-flawed proposals, it is rarely better than chance. We learned that gender and institution biases are rampant in reviewers and that many rankings are devoid of any empirical basis. …The emerging picture was clear: we have quite a good empirical grasp of which approaches are and in particular which are not working. Importantly, as a community we have plenty of reasonable and realistic ideas of how to remedy the non-working components. However, whenever a particular piece of evidence was presented, one of the science leaders got up and proclaimed “In my experience, this does not happen” or “I cannot see this bias”, or “I have overseen a good 600 grant reviews in my career and these reviews worked just fine”. Looking back, an all too common scheme of this meeting for me was one of scientists presenting data and evidence, only to be countered by a prominent ex-scientist with a “I disagree without evidence”. It appeared quite obvious that we do not seem to suffer from a lack of insight, but rather from a lack of implementation.

via bjoern.brembs.blog » Evidence-resistant science leaders?.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , , , .

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Leigh Ann DeLyser  |  September 2, 2015 at 9:17 am

    Ah, the “in my experience” proof. Especially prominent in education research, this methodology offers a life’s worth of evidence collected via qualitative methods in a single case study in order to counter other hypothesis. Since the depth of knowledge of the researcher is absolute (no one can know his life experiences better than him), it rests on the reader to distinguish the validity of collection methods, the documentation of instances, and the amount it will diminish your ability to get anything done if you call “bullsh*t”.

  • 2. dennisfrailey  |  September 2, 2015 at 11:54 am

    Scientists often behave as do other people, despite their claims to focus on evidence. This phenomenon has been noticed many times before. For example, the theory of plate tectonics (continental drift) was rejected by the scientific establishment for decades, despite ample evidence to support it. It’s too easy in the comfort of one’s beliefs to scoff at evidence that disrupts the established order. Perhaps the lesson we must all learn from this is humility. No matter how dearly we hold our beliefs, we must accept that sometimes the evidence says otherwise and, as humans, we may be very reluctant to admit it.

  • 3. lizaloop  |  September 2, 2015 at 5:06 pm

    Let’s hark back to Kuhn’s thesis in “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”. We have two processes occurring simultaneously: Paradigm shift and hypothesis validation. Both are needed to advance human understanding of phenomena in the world. When a paradigm shift happens (a totally new theory is advanced that seems to fit with existing data but violates the earlier paradigm) there is a flurry of resistance, claims of authority and re-exploration of the evidence as interpreted through the new lens. “Theory inertia” is valuable in keeping us from abandoning the old in favor of a new paradigm that will not survive the validation period. But change does threaten the status of those experts who thought they were going to have the last word. Today’s “science leaders” are investigators who have contributed extensively to the validation studies that elaborate yesterday’s paradigm. We owe them a lot. Our challenge is how to continue to accord them the high status they deserve during times when mounting evidence is shifting the balance away from the current paradigm toward some seemingly hair-brained new scheme.


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