Monday, March 13, 2017

The Consensus of Plate Tectonics

"If it's consensus, it isn't science .. "

Consensus in science is a contradiction in terms.   Yet in the Earth Sciences the theory of Plate Tectonics is monolithic.  Why?  Advocates will reply "Because it works'.  Yet it is childishly simple to show that it doesn't.   In fact it founders on every one of its three key points - "moving" plates that don't move but grow,  transform faults that don't transform but are simply growth fractures in the brittle crust over a substrate of growing mantle, and so-called subduction zones that plate tectonics itself acknowledges are primarily a "convenient assumption"  and that do not 'subduct' (due to convection), but override (due to crust - mantle decoupling symmetrical with  the Earth's spin).   And this does not take into account all the other points that it founders on consequent on ignoring the first order structure of the ocean floors) .

There are no dissenting  mainstream views.   Why?   How can this be?   Is it not strange that so much of what is written in the Earth sciences is framed in the context of a model that is so manifestly deficient, and deficient on grounds that directly and patently derive from the crux of those "convenient assumptions"? .. that these three simple points of deficit are hardly acknowledged by a worldful of scientists, and certainly not focussed on?   How is it possible that Earth scientists not only resolutely ignore them, but present plate tectonics ("the best model we have") as a "pinnacle of achievement"?    Well, the answer is simple:-

CONSENSUS - From the Latin,  consentire (to feel together), agree.
1a.      Harmony co-operation or sympathy
1b.     Group solidarity in sentiment and belief
2a.     General agreement; unanimity, accord.
2b.     Collective opinion.
3.       Formal statement of religious belief
3-1.    To be in harmony or concord, especially in opinion, statement or sentiment.
3-2.    To express a willingness (to accept a proposition or carry out a particular action); give assent or approval.
[ That's from my Big Webster's Dictionary.]

(No mention of thoughtful deliberation  in all of this, you'll notice. ...It's  'opinion' (read 'bias'), sympathy, belief (of the religious sort), agreement,  harmony and willingness that get the mention. "Feeling together".

"In recent years, much has been said about the post-modernist claims about science to the effect that science is just another form of raw power, tricked out in special claims for truth-seeking and objectivity that really have no basis in fact. ....These ideas anger recent events have made me wonder if they are correct."   ( Michael Crichton Caltech Michelin lecture January 17 2003)

I'm inclined to agree.  Science has lost the plot, since it now has to sell itself in a world of commerce.  Or to put it more exactly (since science is first and foremost an enterprise of the people who do it), the people who do it have to sell themselves in the world of commerce.

The reason science is failing - or at least why in the Earth sciences the model of plate tectonics is failing - (apart from the fact that the psychological makeup of scientists mostly doesn't equip them for being salesmen)  does not lie in the science itself, which is so manifestly deficient, but in the nature of the 'what's-in-it-for-me'  syndrome of the human condition operating within scientific enterprise, which in a civilised society is a hierarchical system of power and status (if not wealth).   That is, the aspirations of career scientists are firstly personal and political,  not scientific - a perversion of their natural make-up if you like, bred of self-interest.

Whenever the finger is pointed at aspects of this it draws claims or accusations of  'conspiracy'.    To call it such however is to misunderstand the nature of what's going on.   Of course there isn't any centralised 'black-hand plot designed to pervert the way of the world', just seems that way.   So perfectly orchestrated,  integrated, accented and interwoven is the complex network of input-feedback self-interest of the operators and operands combining volition with coincidence, understanding and misunderstanding , that it seems as if some intelligence, ...*someone* must surely be behind it all (a bit like believing there must be a 'God' (in the sense of that old time, hellfire-and-damnation religion)  And in a sense,  so there us (sorry, 'typo').  :-)   [see? somebody is messing with my keyboard, or having a go at my computer - or maybe even me!] [and is it coincidence that that youtube video is followed on my computer by "I can see clearly now the rain has gone", .. has google got me fingered?]  :-)   But no single person, ...everyone! ...because what is operating is the self-organisation of consensus within that system of power of academic enterprise and the prestige and social rewards that fall to the career scientists at their various levels.

There are basically three players, 1. the scientists themselves who exchange their research for an income and professional status, 2. prestigious journals, which feed off scientists by functioning as an outlet/ forum where they can publish their work ('advertise') and earn professional credits ('notches on the record of academic achievement' - in exchange for subscription fees generated), and 3. grants committees that fund the work being carried out.

The first-order, high-level system-control is the money, and to a large degree consensus ensures fair distribution.  Committees see consensus as surety for return on investment - "everyone agrees on such-and-such, so it must have value" ("More research needed").   So scientists adopt the consensus voice, talk-the-talk and walk-the-walk in the knowledge that like Lotto, ' if you ain't innit, you won't winnit', and therefore take considerable care to couch proposals in mainstream consensus terms, and write up their results similarly. Indeed, if any hint of controversy arises, they are given considerably reduced prominence, and may even be deleted, especially when results are to the detriment of the funding body (tobacco/ food/ pharmacueticals/ nuclear etc).  ("We are a community of scientists" - "Why would you want to be controversial?").   Where issues are less controversial they may simply be set aside until such time as the direction of the scientific milieu is more receptive.   Controversy, or alternative views, are not in the interest of consensus.

Robyn Williams: "You don't think they're getting the value? Why not?"

Craig Venter: "I think the way science is conducted around the world, we probably waste over 90% of the money. Governments are very risk-adverse in funding new programs. The genome is one of the best examples. We had a $5 billion world program that was set in motion as a large public works program that left little room for innovation. For example, my team had to go outside that program and we converted it into a nine-month $100 million program. So that's a big change because of innovation, and now all those labs around the world use the techniques we developed in that process. So governments aren't good at funding innovation, they're good at funding the next phase once the innovation is done. The irony is people don't want the government to take risks with their money because they can then consider it's a bad investment. In fact they're taking safe bets with the money and we're not moving forward. So instead of being upset that some programs were funded that didn't take us anywhere, they should be upset that most of the programs we're funding have us crawling forward instead of leaping forward."  (transcript)

So, .. money endures.  Money ensures.  Consensus.  Scientists, like everyone else, need a job.  And who pays the piper, calls the tune.

This perhaps cynical view from within the profession contrasts with that of the public who see scientific enterprise as carried out by teams in white coats, usually young, good-looking and pursuing truth when not (as a concession to normality) members of the opposite sex, all of them, week after week on the box, on-track and co-operatively 'assisting'.

And so long as it stays that way, transmogrified in the collective mind as an ideal, everything's fine. But we see it for what it is when a dissenting voice arises.  It doesn't take much imagination to understand the threat when this happens and there is the potential to turn consensus into controversy, to up-end the applecart.  It's a lesson never learned by hard-line power cliques, because it always plays out the same way in the end with the challenging position being the winner.   Why? because the challenge is centred in the science, where the dominant position of the defence is primarily couched in the power, priviledge and consensus that its once-(but no longer) 'scientific' position entititled it to.

 That 'once-position' (in the case of Plate Tectonics), is the bad science of the "convenient assumption" of subduction and the destruction of an imaginary Panthalassa, which is the crux of the Plate Tectonic model.   In the scientific world where reproducibility of results is everything, Plate Tectonics is very easily tested: simply review the data without the overlay of convenient assumption - subduction, and the convection model that depends on it -  and see which model fits the data best.  In the end Earth expansion will win hands down.

But to get there the politics of the game must first be played out.  Response to the challenge involves a variety of tactics.  The first, using the review medium of the consensus press, is to dismiss the challenge as uninformed.  (e.g Carey.)     "This has already been dealt with",  "...everybody knows" ,  "...well documented, ...go and read books".   The fact that the challenge has arisen again, is not seen as an opportunity to revisit the discussion in the light of new facts that may have arisen, and to restate the consensus view with greater authority in the light of those, but as a clarion call to head-kickers to get their boots on!    Then follows (if that doesn't work) the ad hominem attacks, the demonising, the ignoring.   Then if that doesn't work and the challenger is in a position to be 'got at', there may be more direct attacks by those in a position to do so, such as marginalising, threats of transfer demotion or redundancy, withdrawal of funds or damaging equipment,  ...and just generally making things difficult in whatever ways possible.

This behaviour is from those who feel themselves most representative of the dominant position because of the status they advertise and enjoy.   Those less committed close ranks and impose self-censorship, and say nothing because they are aware of the dangers posed if they do speak out, especially if they happen to agree with the challenging position.  Why should they,  and become themselves a target, when to do so only endangers what security in the community they may already have?

It is here that the issue becomes clearly shown for what it is, nothing to do with the science, but all to do with the underpinnings of priviledge and  power of the dominant group.   In the end, the final scene is where the proponents of the dominant position either retire or die, and everyone else, those less committed, can come out of the closet, change hats, shrug shoulders and carry on as if nothing had happened, often (according to age, experience, and position within the hierarchy) appropriating the views they earlier strenuously rejected, once they see which way the 'wiifm' wind is blowing.

And (cutting a long story short) this is why a dissenting voice virtually never comes from within the mainstream - there is 'nothing in it for me' ('niifm').  And it is why the consensus of plate tectonics is so monolithic.  And why the Earth sciences at the present time deserves  the moniker "Junk Science", based as it is on a consensus of  self-serving interests of a dominant group.

 "Scientists best serve public policy by living within the ethics of science, not those of politics. If the scientific community will not unfrock the charlatans, the public will not discern the difference-- science and the nation will suffer."    ( Michael Crichton (above link) quoting Philip Handler, former President of the National Academy of Sciences.)

The above applies to science in general.  Earth Science being at the present time primarily concerned with the interior makeup of the planet is a special case, because it so obviously defers to physics.  To admit Earth expansion has serious consequences for understanding models in that field, and no senior figure in the Earth science community will risk their career by overtly engaging the physics community.   But physics is once again genuinely at a crossroads, and won't know which way to turn until it incorporates the fact of the Earth's enlargement, because what is at issue is possbily more than how we understand the connection between the elemental particles of matter, and the electrical forces that bind them, but the very means by which matter comes into being in the first place.   During this time onlookers may be forgiven for thinking that in defending the consensus position in the Earth Sciences we are simply looking at a case of the Emperor's fine clothes, where the status of courtiers is revealed by the intricacy of the warp and weft they can discern in the non-existent weave.

Which (in the story), is the non-existent "convenient fabrication" of subduction [1]  [2]  ... and the hypothetical convection that follows.

See also

[ linked pages (to come) ]

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