I have been a member of AAAS for all of my professional life. In December, I received AAAS’s annual fundraising letter. The letter contained this appeal:
It is essential that we ensure science is a strong bulwark against misinformation. We have made progress on this front, but there is much more to do…
I wrote back that we need AAAS to be an open forum for discussing controversial ideas. Nobody should be deciding what is “misinformation”. The following email was addressed to the Development Director (Ann) and the editor of Science Magazine (Sudip).
Dear Ann and Sudip –I speak for America’s independent scientists. We need AAAS to be on the other side of this issue. Science is open inquiry, not dogma. AAAS should be encouraging wide-ranging debate and promoting dissident voices. This is the core of what makes science a more reliable source of truth than politics or religion.I see AAAS becoming politicized. I see suppression of debate at Twitter and Facebook. AAAS is providing the foundation for censorship in news reporting and social media.To regain our trust and financial support, AAAS must reverse its position and promote open debate over scientific orthodoxy.– Josh Mitteldorf
Thank you for the email. I don’t think we are on the other side of this issue. I agree with you that science is open inquiry, and consensus (or dogma) should not be immovable. AAAS does encourage wide-ranging debate on many issues related to the scientific enterprise – we have done so through webinars, letters, and other channels that include scientists with many opposing viewpoints on many subjects. That said, moving the consensus does require the highest-quality peer-reviewed science. Big claims require big evidence. The journal Science often publishes papers that describe discoveries that refute the prevailing scientific consensus – papers on the W-boson and high temperature superconductivity come to mind immediately from this past year. Nothing gets us more excited. Those papers don’t attack individuals or present innuendo – and they aren’t published in op-ed pages of the newspapers. They present data showing that a testable hypothesis has facts supporting it or not.
I suspect I know the issue on which you are basing your statements. We at AAAS would be excited to publish a paper proving the hypothesis you support. But it would have to do so based on data. In the meantime, we are strongly supportive of increased transparency by all governments and entities involved so that scientists with expertise in those fields can have a look.
In any case, thank you for taking the time write. We listen to all constructive criticism and work hard to live up to our values.
All the best,
I took the opportunity to expand on what I would like to see from AAAS in a return email:
Dear Sudip –I am grateful to have your ear on this subject. I believe that open scientific inquiry will be the most important issue in our future, and you are in as good a position as anyone to help the move from dogmatism to open exploration.The big issue is confirmation bias. We learned from John Ioannidis that most publications in the biomedical sciences are false. It’s not because editors have been too careless in publishing frivolous challenges to orthodoxy, but rather that results supporting the orthodoxy have gotten a free pass. Scientists who promote the current paradigms are rewarded with research funding, acknowledgment from their peers, and an easy path to publication.
** moving the consensus does require the highest-quality peer-reviewed science.This is where I am asking for a change in attitude. In practice, “highest quality” means that a ms is approved by the best people in the field, i.e., those who have the biggest stake in maintaining the present paradigms, on which they have built their reputations.If you want to publish the most important paper that breaks the mold and points the way toward fruitful new directions in science, you can’t know in advance which paper that is going to be. You have to be willing to publish 10 ideas that turn out to be dead ends if you want to publish the one that turns out, in retrospect, to be paradigm-shifting. If anything, the 10:1 ratio is an underestimate. Established scientists are the ones least able to judge what the science of tomorrow will look like.I’m asking you to accept that science is a free and chaotic marketplace of ideas. None of us is wise enough to judge in advance which are the ideas that will prove most fruitful in the coming century. We can’t make progress if we’re afraid to make mistakes.
** I suspect I know the issue on which you are basing your statements.
COVID policy has been the subject of censorship unprecedented in the history of science since Galileo. US policies have been disastrous, and if the scientific community had remained open to free debate about policy starting in 2020, millions of lives could have been saved. Am I exaggerating? Nigeria has had a COVID population fatality rate of 15 per million, while the US has had a PFR of 3,500 per million.Yes, COVID policy is perhaps the most egregious example as measured by the disastrous consequence of scientific censorship. But for the long-term future of science, there are many more important examples.
- Halton Arp devoted a long career to demonstrating that redshift in galaxies and especially quasars must be due to something other than recessional velocity. Now that the data constraining Big Bang models has tightened the noose on the consensus paradigm, maybe it’s time to re-consider the evidence he documented so carefully. Arp was chief scientist at the Palomar Observatory, world’s largest and most prestigious at the time.
- Robert Jahn compiled evidence that human intention affects the probabilities that quantum mechanics insists are purely random. By the end of 12 years, he had amassed 7 sigma in significance, and his methodology took every precaution to eliminate artifacts. Jahn was Dean of the School of Engineering at Princeton at the time.
- There are now over one hundred labs around the world that have successfully reproduced Fleischmann and Pons’s 1989 work in cold fusion. I have personally visited three CF laboratories and examined their data first-hand. In 1991, Julian Schwinger, the co-inventor of quantum electrodynamics and my mentor at Harvard, proposed a theory of cold fusion and no American journal would publish it. It’s time to acknowledge that we don’t understand quantum mechanics of many-particle systems very well, and that quantum tunneling can happen in circumstances that surprise us. This article describes the day that a one cm cube of palladium, after sitting quietly for weeks, suddenly burned through the lab table and deep into a concrete floor at University of Utah. Fleischmann was the best-known electrochemist in the world before he lost his reputation to a scientific inquisition.
- Garrett Moddel, working with Casimir junctions at the University of Colorado, has documented a device that continuously drives a current through an external resistance without an external power source. Moddel would be the first to admit that his results are “probably” wrong, but even if they have a small chance of being correct, his device is likely to open new avenues of understanding the Casimir effect and energy of the vacuum.
- Monica Gagliano has demonstrated that plants can learn and remember and communicate among themselves via channels that challenge conventional physics. We need a new science of cognition without neurons.
- Michael Levin at Tufts University has opened an electrical dimension of biology. Developmental morphology is guided by voltage patterns in cells that develop in the embryo. When he inevitably wins a Nobel Prize, Science Magazine will wish they had published his works early on.
- And speaking of Nobel Prizes, Luc Montagnier devoted the last part of his life to the study of water memory. The significance of the idea of water as an active medium goes well beyond homeopathy, and may offer a new window into the internal organization of cells.
- My own research has been in the evolutionary biology of aging. I know from first-hand experience that the whole field of evolutionary theory is stuck in the 1930 paradigm of R.A. Fisher’s neo-Darwinism, a dogma of selfish genes. Michael Gilpin demonstrated in 1975 that selfish genes lead to local extinction. Established experts have been too slow opening up to epigenetics, horizontal gene transfer, evidence of Lamarckian inheritance, and multilevel selection.It would reflect well on Science Magazine to host open debate on all these topics. No one can know in advance which of them will open doors to new avenues of research.Thank you deeply for listening and for engaging with me.– Josh Mitteldorf