Friday, November 18, 2005

Elsevier Science and crackpots

W.S. has pointed out an article written by someone called Ms. Liisa Antilla that has been accepted into a peer-reviewed journal "Global Environmental Change Part A" published by Elsevier Science - the publisher that has done a lot of good things for high-energy physics in the past but whose journal "Nuclear Physics B" is widely considered to be a dinosaur that should die soon, especially because the journal seems much more expensive than what is appropriate in the era of the internet (and the arXiv).

Incidentally, if your university does not provide you with access to the article, you can buy the text for $30.

W.S. is amazed by the article, I am also amazed, virtually everyone else is amazed. Why are we so shocked? The title of the article is
  • Climate of scepticism: US newspaper coverage of the science of climate change
and it is arguably the first published peer-reviewed article in the world whose main point is to accuse dozens of particular scientists from scientific misconduct and corruption just because the result of their research does not agree with the author's silly ideological fantasies, without having the tiniest glimpse of evidence. What do I mean? Who is the author? What is it all about?

First of all, Lisa Antilla is not a scientist according to all available data. Already the abstract makes you sure that you should not expect the scientific method to play any role in what follows:
  • This two-part study integrates a quantitative review of one year of US newspaper coverage of climate science with a qualitative, comparative analysis of media-created themes and frames using a social constructivist approach. ...
Well, a "social constructivist approach" is one of the postmodern "approaches" whose irrational character - and absurdity - was pointed out by Alan Sokal. The 15 pages make it absolutely clear that Liisa Antilla has no idea about the subject she is writing about - the climate in this case - and her ability to have learned the English alphabet is demonstrably her greatest intellectual achievement.

At any rate, this achievement apparently seems sufficient to get published in peer-reviewed journals that belong to Elsevier Science.

It must be clear to any rationally thinking person that the chance that an article about "warming" gets published in the newspapers today is at least 5 times higher than the probability that an article that implies "no warming" or "cooling", even locally, gets published - even though cooling and warming are essentially in balance. Bias of one order of magnitude is apparently not high enough to satisfy Liisa Antilla who argues that every article that does not support the crackpot idea of a looming global warming catastrophe must be an artifact of corruption.

Her paper has 15 pages and is full of completely chaotic citations of texts about the climate that support the author's unscientific opinions as well as citations of those that disagree with it. The articles that agree with Antilla are assumed to be the holy word while those that disagree with it are creations of the Devil - and the reader is supposed to be equally intellectually challenged.

For example, Liisa Antilla cites Naomi Oreskes, another female crackpot whose paper "proving" the "consensus" about the climate change has been shown to be rubbish. The holy side described by Antilla also includes people like Noam Chomsky and random journalists from 255 U.S. newspapers.

The "evil" side is represented by scientists such as Christy and Spencer. Antilla proposes theories that all the people who have similar ideas and results about the climate are paid from something like $10,000 dollars that indirectly came from ExxonMobil. I am not sure whether someone's mental capacity can really be so severely compromised so that he or she would believe this kind of stuff - especially when lots of people are getting $1,000,000 grants for doing science of the kind that agrees with the preconceptions of Liisa Antilla and others - but nevertheless this conspiratory theory is good enough for Elsevier Science to be publish it.

As mentioned above, Liisa Antilla is not the first female crank of this kind. As a rich person, she has donated money to the Sierra Club (whose description is here) via the Rachel Carson Society (which makes her conspiratory theories about ExxonMobil even more bizarre) and she has signed various anti-industrial petitions. Rachel Carson who gave her name to the society was the very first environmental crackpot. Her book "Silent Spring" (predicting that the birds would be eradicated by DDT) is considered to be completely incorrect today; nevertheless, her flawed ideas - and other, new ideas of similar sort and quality - were apparently good enough for thousands of people to be a part of the so-called "environmental movement".

If the political correctness in science continues to thrive, crackpots like Carson, Oreskes, and Antilla - after whom p-branes were named - will completely dominate every individual field in a finite proper time. No one will convince me that there is nothing inherently "female" that these three women share in their approach to reality. It's about a complete inability to figure out how things actually work in Nature combined with a highly exaggerated emphasis on patient reading of all kinds of texts, regardless of their quality, and on making rationally unjustifiable conclusions based on purely verbal patterns of the texts, without any understanding of the content, combined with some irrational prejudices.

I don't argue that this approach cannot be found among male researchers; what I argue, however, is that the probability that a female researcher approaches scientific questions in this way is much higher than in the case of males.

Do the institutional readers also pay $20,000 per year for a journal that is made of "material" like the article by this particular crackpot? How much does your university pay for such journals?

1 comment:

  1. Dear Lumos,

    Since you mention Sokal in passing, here's a relevant link on that subject:

    Best wishes,