The Honest Broker

Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics



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Should a Scientific Paper be Retracted Due to Serious Errors? Consensus: Yes

dataThese are some notes for my future reference on editorial policies of major scientific publishers on retraction. Most publishers have retraction policies (see: Resnik, D. B., Wager, E., & Kissling, G. E. (2015). Retraction policies of top scientific journals ranked by impact factorJournal of the Medical Library Association: JMLA103(3), 136.).

Many, if not most, publishers rely on guidance provided by the Committee on Publication Ethics (here in PDF), and more generally here. COPE states: “Retraction is a mechanism for correcting the literature and alerting readers to publications that contain such seriously flawed or erroneous data that their findings and conclusions cannot be relied upon. Unreliable data may result from honest error or from research misconduct.”

Here are some guidelines from different publishers, with my present focus on cases of flawed data that underpins published results (there are obviously other reasons for retraction): Continue reading “Should a Scientific Paper be Retracted Due to Serious Errors? Consensus: Yes”

Power Politics of the Brahmin Left


OK, so the title here is a bit overwrought, but it’s a riff on Piketty whose work on these concepts helped to motivate this talk. The actual title of the recent talk I gave in Lyon is “Scientific Authority and Political Myth.” It is a dense and ambitious talk, and represents work in progress rather than a polished set of conclusions.

You can find the talk:

Comments welcomed!

Science Communication as Intellectual Hospitality

009davidsocMore than a century ago, American pragmatist John Dewey emphasized the importance of “intellectual hospitality.” By this he meant “An attitude of mind which actively welcomes suggestions and relevant information from all sides.” Today academics and other experts face a crisis of intellectual hospitality, with implications not just for the art of science communication but also for the broader roles of experts in democracy.

My views on intellectual hospitality have been shaped by my experiences, which are surely not representative, but which also are not unique. Delegitimization of unwelcome ideas and the people who express them sits somewhere near the polar opposite of intellectual hospitality. Despite its growing presence in science communication, delegitimization is easy to ignore or rationalize. That is, until it happens to you. This essay discusses some of my experiences with intellectual hospitality and delegitimization and makes a case for why these issues should matter in our discussions of science communication. Continue reading “Science Communication as Intellectual Hospitality”

Trump’s S&T Policy


I’ve got an article in The Guardian today on Trump’s science and technology policy, which, I argue, is not really a thing. Here is the bottom ,ine:

There is not much of a US science and technology policy under the Trump administration. However, science and technology policies remain important to the nation. There is a gap here that the science community might fill, if they can avoid getting distracted by the outrageous guy in the White House who just doesn’t seem to care.

You can read the whole thing here.

AAAS Sends a Message

header_2016_1Organizations give awards to recognize those individuals who best display the values that organization seeks to represent and uphold. The American Association for the Advancement of Science is the leading scientific organization in the United States. From a vast pool of excellent scientists who engage with the public, the AAAS has decided in 2018 to give its prestigious award for Public Engagement with Science to climate scientist, Michael E. Mann.

I find this remarkable. Who is Dr. Mann? Continue reading “AAAS Sends a Message”

Analyzing Trump’s Tweets as Propaganda


Propaganda is a term of art in the field of political science. A useful, if technical, definition is “the management of collective attitudes by the manipulation of significant symbols” (read more here to unpack that). It is important to understand that all politicians and governments use propaganda, no matter their party or ideology. The word has a distinctly pejorative connotation in its common usage, but its technical definition is not necessarily pejorative. The concept of propaganda is absolutely essential to understanding politics and policy.

To that end, here are a few thoughts on President Trump’s propaganda technique used on Twitter. In his 1927 PhD dissertation (at p. 195), political scientist Harold Lasswell characterized four different functions of political propaganda:

  • to mobilize hatred against the enemy;
  • to preserve the friendship of allies;
  • to preserve the friendship and, if possible, to procure the cooperation of neutrals;
  • to demoralize the enemy.

The characterization remains influential 90 years later, with Lasswell’s 1927 dissertation having been cited in more than 80 articles last year (so says Google Scholar). Lasswell’s four functions of propaganda can be usefully applied to understanding the Tweets of President Trump. Here I’ll illustrate with examples from 2018.

Continue reading “Analyzing Trump’s Tweets as Propaganda”

The Green Revolution and Political Myth

1101600111_400Along with Björn-Ola Linnér of Linköping University, I’ve completed a draft of a new paper titled “The Green Revolution and Political Myth.” It has been a long time in the drafting and we expect to submit soon after the new year.

Here is a sneak peak at the abstract: Continue reading “The Green Revolution and Political Myth”

What Would Robert K. Merton Say About Scientists who Sue?

quote-most-institutions-demand-unqualified-faith-but-the-institution-of-science-makes-skepticism-robert-k-merton-55-39-36Last week I had an op-ed in the WSJ arguing that scientific debates – even they become when nasty and personal – should not be taken to the courts. The motivation for the piece was a recent lawsuit filed by Stanford professor Mark Jacobson against a fellow researcher and the National Academy of Sciences. The lawsuit follows in form, substance and even venue an earlier (and still ongoing) lawsuit filed by Michael Mann of Penn State against several journalists.

Mann “responded” to my op-ed via a letter from his lawyer to the WSJ. Mann’s lawyer seeks to adopt the authority of sociologist Robert K. Merton, whose norms I invoked in my piece, to argue that I am wrong. Mann’s lawyer writes (without any evidence):

Were Merton alive today he would reject Mr. Pielke’s claim that science is stronger when scientists must turn the other cheek to attacks on their character.

I’m happy to engage a debate with Prof. Mann (via his lawyer) over the writings of Robert K. Merton, who was of course a giant in the sociology of scienceContinue reading “What Would Robert K. Merton Say About Scientists who Sue?”

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