Sunday 16 February 2020
What do I think about the birdemic?
In response to a query from commenter dearieme:
In my book about the corruption of science Not even trying; I try to explain that science (and by extension other kinds of objective knowledge) depend on all those involved being rigorously truth-seeking and truth-speaking.
When researchers are neither truth-seeking nor truth-speaking; then nobody knows what is going-on.
(Competence is also necessary to science; but dishonest competence not just worthless but actively harmful.)
That's the case here. At every level, I think everyone can agree, people are being dishonest; the result is that they don't know what is going-on, and nobody can know what is going-on.
And this is not about noise drowning the signal - because (as you know, professionally) there are statistical procedures for detecting signal from noise; but dishonesty is systematically-biased wrongness where we do not know the degree of bias, nor can we assume that the wrongnesses would average-out to be the same in both directions of error.
So, I don't know and nobody knows what is going-on in any precise quantitative fashion; because all the data are corrupted to degrees (and in directions) that we cannot accurately estimate.
The only exception is if somebody (some specific person) who is a real scientist - honest and competent - has done relevant work on this problem; then that data could be used.
But I don't know enough about this matter to detect such a person (ideally, I would need to have known them personally, over a period of time), and don't have any means to evaluate the honesty and competence of the people making claims to know what is going-on.
(Well, I do know enough to rule out as either dishonest or incompetent most of what I have read that were claiming knowledge on this matter - Chinese authorities, Western Mass media-approved sources, politicians etc) but I don't know enough to pick-out that one or few honest-competent persons from the great mass of liars and spinners.
In such a situation it is just a matter of waiting and seeing what happens, relying on personal observations; and making sure that I don't believe those people who claim to know, but are in no position to know.