When creationists talk about things such as, how mainstream scientists believe in evolution because of their shared worldviews, or that evolution is specially protected by the scientific establishment, evolutionists seem to get the idea that what creationists have in mind is some sort of global network of conspiracy, or a secret cabal pulling strings. In actuality, it’s simply a matter of common education and the philosophy of naturalism that are built into science today. Science is not itself an objective fact or principle, nor a law or gift from God. It is a human invention, it has been modified over the centuries, and all human activities are prone to human error. A recent study shows one small way that an area of science can be stifled by an effect that might appear to be conspiratorial if the true cause wasn’t known.
I read about this study in the Vox.com article “Study: Elite scientists can hold back science” ( Updated by Brian Resnick on December 15, 2015, 12:10 p.m. ET). What the study showed was that an area of science can be dominated by the leading scientist, and that scientist’s views (and those of the scientist’s collaborators and co-authors) can suppress the introduction of new ideas — which becomes evident when the star scientist dies, because then researchers outside his circle start getting published more often.
The article begins with a quotation of Max Planck, considering the progress of science in general:
A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but
rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.
Of course, this assumes that something can actually be proven to be a “scientific truth.” In the case of evolution, “scientific truth” was re-defined to include things that could not be demonstrated to be true, but had to be “true” if the “scientific” belief in the power of natural processes to produce everything in nature were true.
This new study considered a more limited effect, but consider how easy it is to scale up and apply more generally: “Scientists can be stubborn. They can use their
gravitas to steamroll new ideas.”
When Darwin wrote his Origin of the Species, evolution was not really a new idea, but he was the first respectable English gentleman to set in technical terms so it would be accepted in scientific circles. It was not spelled out as a specific scientific theory, key specific proposals were quickly shown to be in error, and for every way the theory might be shown to be false or have insufficient evidence, Darwin proposed an excuse that made the theory virtually unfalsifiable. However, the timing was right — a new generation was looking for just such a generalized proposal of gradual biological variation. As the older generation passed away, the new believers in evolution took over.
Back to the new study. The article says it was presented as “a working paper —
titled, ‘Does Science Advance One Funeral at a Time?'” This is what the authors did: “The NBER team identified 12,935 ‘elite’ scientists — based on the amount of funding they receive, how many times they’ve published, how many patents they invented, or whether they were members of the National Academies of Sciences or the Institute of Medicine. Searching through obituaries, they found 452 of these elite researchers died before retirement.” Studying publications in the areas these researchers worked in (and grants given for research), the authors found a “pattern: After the unexpected death of a rock-star scientist, their frequent collaborators — the junior researchers who authored papers with them — suddenly see a drop in publication. At the same time, there is a marked increase in published work by other newcomers to the field.”
The article notes that the new studies appeared to break away from the old, as the authors were less likely to cite the works of the scientists who had died. The new studies also did not appear to be wild flukes or inconsequential attempts at change for change’s sake. “The new articles represent substantial contributions, at least as measured by long-run citation impact. ”
Between the changing of the guard and the apparent value of the new material, ” these results paint a picture of scientific fields as scholarly guilds to which elite scientists can regulate access, providing them with outsized opportunities to shape the direction of scientific advance in that space.”
Note, nobody is claiming there are conspiracies going on between top scientists, their collaborators, and editors of science journals and leaders of scientific institutions. Rather, “All this suggest there’s a ‘goliath’s shadow’ effect. People are either prevented from or afraid of challenging a leading thinker in a field.” The article also suggests (as an alternative) areas of science can be “like grown-up versions of high school cafeteria tables.”
The article concludes with, “All of this is another example of how progress in science is confounded by human behavior,” and goes on to list some other examples, with links to back up the claim.
Here’s the final paragraph:
It’s worth remembering: Science may be a noble discipline based on cold logic and rational observation; but humans are animals fueled by emotion and bias. As the NBER researchers conclude: “[T]he idiosyncratic stances of individual scientists can do much to alter, or at least delay, the course of scientific advance.”
The case of Evolutionism (as opposed to studies of actually observed changes in organisms) in science is similar. No conspiracy is involved, but generations of scientists who are, after all, still as human as the rest of us, trained to see the world in a certain way, and working in an area where the major claims will never be demonstrated or observed. The story of all life descending from an initial population of primitive microbes is locked in place by the philosophical belief that simple natural processes (combined in complex ways) are completely sufficient to have produce all that we see in nature, because that has been identified as the basis of science. Science actually began and can still get along fine without this idea, none of the blessings of science is based on it, but it is now seen as a vital foundation of science, so that anything that challenges it is seen as a dangerous denial of science itself. Naturally this bias produces emotional responses and has done “much to alter, or at least delay, the course of scientific advance.”