Counting Cats in Zanzibar Rotating Header Image

(Paul) Nurse Shark Jump

Nobel laureate Sir Paul Nurse told the Guardian that some climate scientists were being targeted by organised campaigns of requests for data and other research materials, aimed at intimidating them and slowing down research. He said the behaviour was turning freedom of information laws into a way to intimidate some scientists.

Nurse said that, in principle, scientific information should be made available as widely as possible as a matter of course, a practice common in biological research where gene sequences are routinely published in public databases. But he said freedom of information had “opened a Pandora’s box. It’s released something that we hadn’t imagined … there have been cases of it being misused in the climate change debate to intimidate scientists.

“I have been told of some researchers who are getting lots of requests for, among other things, all drafts of scientific papers prior to their publication in journals, with annotations, explaining why changes were made between successive versions. If it is true, it will consume a huge amount of time. And it’s intimidating.”

Bob Ward of the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics said the intention of many of those making freedom of information requests was to trawl through scientists’ work with the intention of trying to find problems and errors. “It’s also quite true that these people do not care about the fact that it is causing a serious inconvenience,” he said. “It is being used in an aggressive and organised way. When freedom of information legislation was first contemplated, it was not being considered that universities would be landed with this additional burden.”

Yes Bob the truth can sometimes be inconvenient. Who said that again?

What really outrages me about this is that it seems to be a call for a return to “medieval science”. Back in the good old days it was publish and be damned – especially in the case or Giordano Bruno who was burnt at the stake. But there was another reason. Modern scientists have to publish or they won’t get tenure bu back in the good old days if they revealed their “trade secrets” – well, there was much skullduggery and out-right theft. Taratagli’a formula for cubics is a well-known case – they were ought of a job. And their job was usually as a mathematicus which meant casting horoscopes and solving problems at court as if by magic and not showing their working. Think John Dee or Johannes Kepler or Tycho Brahe here. All essentially magicians. Or even Newton who sat on The Calculus for years. It is a measure of Newton’s absurd genius that the Principia used stuff derived from his “method of fluxions” but was written-up using more traditional methods. Well, you don’t let your secret weapon out of the bag do you? Compare that to the Modern rush to get results on big questions published. but that was modern and we are now firmly post-modern.

What Sir Paul Nurse is arguing for he is essentially a return to science as magic or perhaps rather something more like a guild structure. It is very regressive and totally unlike the greatest period of modern science. That would be between roughly 1900 and 1939. In those few decades relativity and QM were laargely hammered out. In German university towns in the ’20s people would work on problems at cafes and if they got stuck they’d leave their partial working on the table! how do you think Quantum Mechanics got worked out so quickly?

Anyway, Sir Paul should leave the Guild of Alchemists to Sir Terry.


  1. CountingCats says:

    Damn you Nick. I don’t post a lot these days but I was going to post on Bob Ward’s idiocy here.

    The best thing about this is it exposes him to all as nothing but an ideologue, as someone who doesn’t even know what the scientific approach is.

    He has destroyed himself as a credible spokesman.

  2. NickM says:

    Well he does work at the LSE. That’s like hint one!

    Oh, didn’t Karl Popper? He must be turning in his grave.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: