(C. Jardin) #1
1 February 2020 | New Scientist | 11

A CONFERENCE in California
next week says it aims to make
scientific studies more reliable,
but critics fear the event is a new
tactic used by those who question
the reality of climate change.
The event, called Fixing Science,
is being run by the National
Association of Scholars (NAS),
a non-profit organisation based
in New York.
The conference’s programme
focuses on the reproducibility
crisis – the claim that science has
an increasing problem with poorly
performed or even fraudulent
studies – with a portion dedicated
to how that applies to both
economics and climate change.
In recent years, psychology
and medicine have suffered a
series of embarrassing incidents,
where well-established results
collapsed under scrutiny. Many
scientists believe we must reform
how science is organised to avoid
such errors.
So it is no surprise that the
upcoming conference has
attracted a number of high-profile
experts on reproducibility.
On the surface, identifying
flawed studies “looks like a very
good mission”, says Philipp
Schmid at the University of
Erfurt in Germany, who studies
science denial. He isn’t attending
the conference.

Sustainability critics

But he says there may be more
to the NAS’s conference than
that. “They use the findings from
these areas to downplay climate
change, which kind of shows
that they have a specific agenda
when writing their reports,”
says Schmid.
The NAS has published reports
attacking sustainability initiatives,
including campaigns seeking to
persuade universities to divest

their fossil fuel investments. A
2018 NAS report on reproducibility
said that climate scientists seek
to “demonize carbon dioxide”.
NAS president Peter Wood
says the world is warming, but
“whether that is caused by human
activity is a matter of significant
dispute”. In fact, 97 per cent of
climate scientists agree that
human activity is responsible.
Responding to the accusations
about the conference, Wood said:
“We have been critics of the
sustainability movement, which
is not the same thing as climate
science by a long stretch. The
science and politics can and
should be distinguished.”
The NAS’s focus on
reproducibility is significant,
says Sven Ove Hansson at the
Royal Institute of Technology
in Sweden. “It seems to me to
be a new tactic. The idea is to
say, ‘Look here, the behavioural
sciences have sometimes been

wrong, therefore the climate
scientists are wrong just now in
what they are saying’,” he says.
Climate change hasn’t been
implicated in the reproducibility
crisis, says Schmid.

Furthermore, the central
findings of climate science have
been replicated over and over,
and data and models have been
subjected to high levels of scrutiny.
This leaves scientists with a
question of whether to attend
the conference and push back
on these ideas.
Daniele Fanelli at the London
School of Economics plans to go.
He argues that the reproducibility
crisis is overblown because
most fields of science are highly
reproducible. Fanelli says he
has “sought reassurance that my
participation will not be taken as
an endorsement of any political
position or agenda”.
Computational biologist Lenny
Teytelman is CEO of protocols.io,
a company that aims to make
experiments more reproducible
by standardising how data and
methods are shared. Aware of the
NAS’s history, “I tweeted a general
warning against the conference
and then emailed the individual
speakers to alert them about the
group’s background,” he says.
In response, Wood published
an opinion piece in The Wall Street
Journal^ accusing Teytelman of
trying to stifle debate. Others
have since weighed in on
Teytelman’s side.
“My view is that many of the
speakers at this meeting are being
played,” Dorothy Bishop at the
University of Oxford argued on
her blog. By attending, they are
lending credibility to fringe
views and to an essentially
political group, she said.
“If the purpose of a conference
is not bona fide scientific, people
whose names would add to the
status of the conference shouldn’t
go there,” says Hansson. ❚


5 .P


Y^ S




Solar power is a key
part of sustainability

Climate change

Michael Marshall

New science denial tactics?

Event accused of using the “reproducibility crisis” to knock climate research

Climate scientists who say climate
change is due to human activity






Free download pdf