Scientific Conformity

This New York Times science column linked by Instapundit gets it about right on scientific conformity.

As the author notes:

The strength of this urge to conform can silence even those who have good reason to think the majority is wrong. You’re an expert because all your peers recognize you as such. But if you start to get too far out of line with what your peers believe, they will look at you askance and start to withdraw the informal title of “expert” they have implicitly bestowed on you. Then you’ll bear the less comfortable label of “maverick,” which is only a few stops short of “scapegoat” or “pariah.”

Of course, conformity among environmentalists is the current cause célèbre, but I see the same thing going on in the response of the scientific mainstream to “cold fusion.” Despite the intriguing results of recent experiments at SPAWAR by seemingly competent and credible researchers, I continue to hear deprecating remarks by other scientists who probably haven’t read a research paper on cold fusion in the last five years.

Scientific conformity can have unfortunate results. For example, the DOE recently stood up ARPA-E, its version of the military’s DARPA. It received a generous chunk of change ($400M) to fund “high risk, high payoff” research. The solicitation for research proposals for this money hit the street some time ago, and the proposals are already in and are currently being reviewed. I may be pleasantly surprised, but I suspect no cold fusion research will be funded. If not, I hope the cold fusion community screams bloody murder, and someone in Washington listens.

Well, let’s wait and see.

Author: Helian

I am Doug Drake, and I live in Maryland, not far from Washington, DC. I am a graduate of West Point, and I hold a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin. My blog reflects my enduring fascination with human nature and human morality.

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