On Vox Day’s blog space, he is engaged in a trialogue with two scientists–one a physicist and the other a biochemist–over the validity of the premise that science is self-correcting. I’ve been following from a distance. It is a very good discussion.
The physicist recently had this to say:
However, the the character of the corrections in accounting and science are somewhat different. The rules of accounting are set by accountants, lawyers, and legislators. Errors and corrections happen within that known framework, which can itself be adjusted. In science the framework is the laws of nature, which are not known a priori and can’t be adjusted. (Citigroup can rewrite accounting law, Virgin Galactic can’t rewrite gravity.) So sure, you could say accounting is self-correcting. That description might not be as useful as it is for the scientific study of natural laws, but it wouldn’t be wrong.
While the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) can (and does) indeed revise Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), there are some differences in the comparison that the physicist provides:
(1) If a non-accountant questions the integrity of the changes, he or she is not dismissed for not being a CPA. This is because accounting, among other things, involves assessing the integrity of the operations of an economic entity. And almost anyone–due to disclosure laws–can do this.
If you can read a 10-K, which includes a balance sheet, income statement, cash flow statement, and retained earnings statement (in addition to material disclosures in footnotes), you can make an educated assessment for the condition of a business, irrespective of (a) the marketing efforts and (b) the GAAP rules.
(2) For that reason, if FASB redefines or reclassifies certain items–or, as they have recently done, change rules to allow banks to improperly value their assets–it does not change the nature of what is being done. People who denounce that tactic–such as Denninger–are not likely to be dismissed for not being CPAs.
Instead, their ideas are allowed to be tested in the free market. Denninger has made truth claims, as has Vox Day. (For the record, I agree with them most of the time.)
If their truth claims don’t come to pass, then they have to answer for this in the free market of ideas.
For scientists, the rules are somewhat different. They have made truth claims which include bald assertions, misrepresentation of data (sometimes intentional), doomsday predictions for the world and for civilization, and proclamations of fact that were based on known fraudulent “research”.
And yet (a) the very system that ought to be holding them accountable does not do this–largely because they are comprised of fellow scientists who are dependent on government largesse for their career paths, and (b) they attack critics–who point out obvious errors that call their very hypotheses into question–for “not being scientists”.
This is not to say that all scientists are so intellectually dishonest; the problem, however, is that the system itself is one that economically encourages–and in some fields requires–such.
The larger question is how to reform the scientific community to ensure that they are more vigilant about the integrity of the scientific method.
I would submit that breaking the government-academic complex will go a long way toward that end.
This is because without the gravy train–which foments the existing paradigm of obfuscation and demonization of critics who recognize the naked emperor–there will be no economic incentive for the naked to go unclothed.