Good Science Requires Unceasing Explanation and Advocacy

Recently in Australia a proposal was made for an “independent science quality assurance agency”. Justification for the proposal made specific reference to “the replication crisis” in science.

Surely we can all support a call for quality assurance in science? Not so fast! First, some context.

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, one of the wonders of the natural world, is under extreme threat. Warming oceans, increasing acidity, sea level rise, and more, comprise grave threats. Indeed the GBR has suffered two devastating coral bleaching events in recent years, with maybe half the Reef severely damaged.

A recent analysis identified 45 threats to the Reef. Very high on the list is coastal runoff containing high levels of nutrients (primarily from farming) and sediment.

The Queensland State Government is introducing new laws to curb such dangerous runoff.

Now, back to the proposal. It was made by a range of conservative politicians and groups who are unhappy with the new laws. They claim that the laws are based on flawed science–results that haven’t been sufficiently validated and could therefore be wrong.

Fiona Fidler and colleagues wrote a recent article in The Conversation to take up the story and make the argument why the proposed agency is not the way to improve science, and that the proposal is best seen as a political move to discredit science and try to reduce what little action is being taken to protect the Reef. Their title summarises their message: Real problem, wrong solution: why the Nationals shouldn’t politicise the science replication crisis. (The Nationals are a conservative party, which is part of the coalition federal government. This government includes many climate deniers and continues to support development of vast coal and gas projects.)

Fiona and colleagues reiterate the case for a properly-constituted national independent office of research integrity, but that’s a quite different animal. You can hear Fiona being interviewed on a North Queensland radio station here. (Starting at about the 1.05 mark.)

Yes, unending explanation and advocacy, as Fiona and colleagues are doing, is essential if good Open Science practices are to flourish and achieve widespread understanding and support. And if sound evidence-based policy is to be supported.

The proposal by the Nationals is an example of agnotology–the deliberate promotion of ignorance and doubt. The tobacco industry may have written the playbook for agnotology, but climate deniers are now using and extending that playbook, with devastating risk to our children’s and grandchildren’s prospects for a decent life. Shame.

A salute to Fiona and colleagues, and to everyone else who is keeping up the good work, explaining, advocating, and adopting excellent science practices.

Geoff

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