Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login

Disclaimer: I'm a scientist, so maybe I'm biased. But then again, I'm often a vocal critic of the system myself, so maybe not.

Science is actually admirably egalitarian. That's not one of the things I think is wrong with it. The heavily politicized branches might not be egalitarian; I have no experience with them. But in general, you don't need to be a member of any professional organizations or have any other credentials to submit your work to journals and conferences (which is how we transact our business.) Many journals employ double-blind reviewing, in which case even unintentional discrimination based on credentials is unlikely or impossible.

Nevertheless, scientists might often give the impression of not wanting to let amateurs into the 'club'. Why is this? It is simply an issue of bandwidth. Think about this: for each amateur, like the author, who had something to contribute, how many do you think thought they had something to contribute but were mistaken? If you guessed a hundred thousand you'd be in the right ballpark. I've seen it in many different areas.

For example, the number of people trying to submit "proofs" of P != NP, (or worse, P = NP) is just ridiculous. Some are well-intentioned although ignorant, and others are just cranks. Some fields of research attract more amateur claims than others, but whichever field you look at, the amateurs greatly outnumber scientists, and the vast majority of them are mistaken.

So what do we do? We use a simple filter. If you speak our language, we'll listen to you. This is what appears to the lay public as anti-amateur. But it's not, really. All you have to do is to learn some simple definitions and terminology set forth in a straightforward way in previous papers, to prove that you've done your homework. Then write up what you have to say and we'll be happy to give it a read. Sure, like every heuristic, it's not perfect; sometimes there are false negatives. But there really isn't an alternative. Without a filter, all we'd ever be doing is debunking crackpot theories.

I acknowledge that much of this probably doesn't apply to climate change "science," which is a special case. But there's been a lot of criticism of science in general, and I wanted to set the record straight. It's important to distinguish between what's really broken and what appears broken, otherwise we risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater.




randomwalker is spot on, from what I've seen, e.g. in working for scientists and mathematicians. My first job was for a group of applied mathematicians at MIT (maintaining the PDP-11/44 they used to for RJE to Crays and the like, and to write up their stuff (plotting, I helped them with TeX, which was brand new at the time), etc.)

Every once in a while we'd get a "walk in", someone with something he came up with, thought was brilliant and that "the people at MIT" would be interested in. Our lead professor was quite gentle with these guys, but the outcome was clear ... and part of it was certainly that they didn't "speak our language", which when you come down to it is a pretty low bar.

Low in that reading some of the literature and sitting quietly at a few gatherings would easily bring you up to speed.


Try to study something you're interested in on the other side of the paywall. Your impressions might change...


That is an orthogonal issue.

I actually spent 3 years doing research on the other side of the paywall. It is one of the things I'm "vocally critical" of. Here's me calling it evil just a couple of days ago: http://bit-player.org/2010/yet-another-spam-update#comment-2...

At any rate, there's not a single scientist who believes that publisher copyright for papers is a good thing. Unfortunately we can't change the system overnight. At least in CS, as I pointed out in that comment, it has already become a non-issue.


I don't think it's an orthogonal issue. I think there's genuine snobbism in academia, and the PhD system is one great part of it. The paywall is symptomatic of the fact that academics value guild credentials (PhD's, tenure, publications in prestigious journals) over equitable, open discussions.

Furthermore, people are ludicrously impressed by 'PhD's' from 'top schools' with 'impressive publication records.' Even a former academic with no institutional affiliation falls off the radar screen, and so those who want to be taken seriously in science are goaded into a costly, inefficient, and decades long rat race, just so that people will take them seriously.


You reminded me of this episode of the NPR radio show This American Life (http://www.thisamericanlife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?episode=2...) entitled "A Little bit of Knowledge". In the third act "Sucker MC-Squared" an electrician and amateur physics enthusiast thinks he has disproved Einstein.

He finally gets an academic to meet with him to hear his ideas but won't accept it when the academic points out the flaws in his reasoning. Throughout the story the electrician insists that the math isn't important, that he's right even though he can't express the math behind his ideas. He thinks the academics are being elitist (or, as you write "anti-amateur") just because they insist on using math.


Your criticism of current scientific practice does not go far enough. Recent issues like the refusal to grant access to climate data cannot be so easily brushed off with a "not enough bandwidth" complaint.

We have the internet now. There is no reason to not put up a site with data & code when you publish your paper and just point all requests to go to the site. Scientists need to start using these tools like the rest of us and stop hiding behind such false excuses.


His disclaimer that starts with "The heavily politicized branches might not be egalitarian..." since he has no experience with them covers the particular exception you point out.


It's easy to be so strident.

I agree freedom of information requests should always be respected (if nothing else it's the law). That doesn't mean it's useful on it's own.

Unintelligible source code isn't much more useful than none. See CRU's own source code for example: http://www.jgc.org/blog/2009/11/about-that-cru-hack.html

It's nice that some spend the time to clean up code and format data. But scientists progress on their career track by total number of papers; so they're being somewhat asked choose between the greater good and their own.

Most research is publicly funded. If open access is important to you then write to your government representative and ask them to require it.




Applications are open for YC Winter 2018

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: