Tuesday, October 21, 2008

How Do I Distinguish Between Bad Scientists and Confirmation Bias?

On the environment, by Lorne Gunter:
In early September, I began noticing a string of news stories about scientists rejecting the orthodoxy on global warming. Actually, it was more like a string of guest columns and long letters to the editor since it is hard for skeptical scientists to get published in the cabal of climate journals now controlled by the Great Sanhedrin of the environmental movement.
On economics:
And free trade is not the only sacred subject, Mr. Blinder and other like-minded economists say. Most efforts to intervene in the markets — like setting a minimum wage, instituting industrial policy or regulating prices — are viewed askance by mainstream economists, as are analyses that do not rely on mathematical modeling.
Both articles claim that confirmation bias crowds out the good science, which is "global cooling" in the environment and "free markets are bad" in the economics article. I know enough economics and about the response to Blinder's work on the minimum wage (published in AER, later refuted with own data) to feel confident in dismissing the confirmation bias argument in the second article. However, I have 3 concerns:

1) Given that I am unqualified to weigh environmental evidence, should I assume the same would be true in environmental science as I feel it is in economics?

2) In observing a debate among scientists, where one side is claiming confirmation bias while the other was claiming bad science, how could I discern the truth without years of dedicated study?

3) If my research leads to controversial results that are greeted harshly by the mainstream, how can I tell whether or not I am working against confirmation bias or if I am simply not as good of a scientist as I would like to think I am?

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