The National Association of Scholars (NAS) held its first regional conference of 2020 in Oakland, California, on February 7th and 8th. Nearly 90 academics, public intellectuals, and friends of the NAS attended the conference, which was titled, “Fixing Science.” The Independent Institute graciously opened its doors to NAS. Presidents David Theroux (Independent Institute) and Peter W. Wood (National Association of Scholars) welcomed attendees by discussing the importance and complexity of getting science right.
At this conference, NAS aimed to illuminate the many problems facing responsible and reproducible science, identify means to alleviate those problems, and discuss the numerous ways in which colleges, universities, non-profits, government, and private citizens may carry out these recommendations. Guests heard from distinguished speakers such as Ronald L. Wasserstein (American Statistical Association), Louis Anthony Cox, Jr. (Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, Environmental Protection Agency), Barry Smith (SUNY University at Buffalo), and Deborah G. Mayo (Virginia Polytechnic Institute).
On Friday, Nathan A. Schactman kicked off the conference with an address highlighting the importance of getting science right. “It’s not just an academic dispute,” said Schactman. “Appeals to science are frequent among both the public and in the court of law.” Irreproducible science has the potential to erode that public trust and potentially “renders legal judgments unsafe.” In the dinner keynote, Barry Smith identified the problems of adopting many of the proposed reforms by using as an example the attempts of financial regulators and companies to avoid repetition of the Great Recession of 2008.
During the Saturday morning address, Daniele Fanelli took issue with what he called the “unreal and unproductive ideal of total scientific reproducibility,” and submitted that there may not be an irreproducibility crisis at all. Over the luncheon address, Louis Anthony Cox, Jr. argued that irreproducibility threatens the trustworthiness of public health risk assessments that inform regulation and public policy. Cox suggested that modern causal analysis helps assure that announced results reflect genuine casual relationships.
In concluding the conference, Ronald Wasserstein stressed the importance of patient preparation for professional organizations offering guidance to reform science and alleviate the crisis. He recounted the careful spadework needed for the American Statistical Association to issue its authoritative and influential statement on p-values and statistical significance--not least by making sure that the statement incorporated the disparate views of the statistical profession.
Speeches and panels at the Fixing Science conference included an introduction to the causes and consequences of economics in the irreproducibility crisis and a thorough discussion of falsifiability in the realms of error statistics and modeling. Other presentations focused on the roles of groupthink, stylistic bias, and sympathetic bias as contributors to the irreproducibility crisis. Different speakers offered possible solutions, including acknowledging biases, offering an irenic tone and willingness to bring out the best in an opponent’s arguments, incorporating the democratic virtue of submitting your work to external criticism, better communication inside disciplines and to the public, and ultimately addressing the need to reform incentives and procedures for journals, private enterprise, government, and professional associations.
All the speakers spoke clearly and confidently; they defended their positions and listened to those of others. The question and answer periods were lively and civil, and conference attendees enjoyed ample opportunity to engage speakers.
We at the National Association of Scholars are especially thankful to our sponsors and supporters. We are also grateful to all the attendees for taking time out of their busy schedules to join us to discuss this important topic.
Watch the proceedings of the conference in the playlist below.
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