Peer-review of scientific papers is an obvious problem in that it provides a means for internal politics to silence scientific hypotheses that are go against the grain of the prevailing ‘internal political opinion’ (scientists can be political, too) and suppresses the natural evolution of scientific understanding.   That is, in a community of ‘peers’, the ones who are ‘more peer than the rest’ have the power to ‘shoot the messenger’ if they don’t like the ‘message’.  Thus the peers in the science community are not ‘bulletproof’ in the manner that people outside of the community are (i.e. their livelihoods  and self-images are not dependent on sustaining membership in good standing in the science community, so they are not exposed to coercion in the manner of those whose livelihood, and, indeed, life interests, have a dependency on continuing to be a ‘peer in good standing’ within their scientific discipline.

In this blog, I will write a letter expressing a currently ‘disallowed’ scientific point of view and soliciting comments, to two scientists who I believe might ‘see’ if not ‘agree’ with the expressed point of view.  The net effect of the  suppression that I am ‘alleging’  is that science is standing in the path of its own natural evolution.  I will publish any responses here in this blog thread (if there are responses).  There is also the facility for anyone looking on, to comment directly, as is provided for both the Aboriginal Physics Newsletter and Ted’s blog, on this website.

If I happened to be the editor of a scientific journal, I would very likely receive answers, and since I am not, the reason that I may not receive any answers may be because I am seen as an ‘outsider’ rather than a ‘peer’, and thus the unspoken question may follow, ‘who am I to comment on scientific works?’

Richard Feynman, a more open-minded scientist than most (perhaps because his life-time achievements had made him ‘bullet-proof’), said (in ‘The Meaning of it All’);

“Most people find it surprising that in science there is no interest in the background of the author of an idea or in his motive in expounding it. You listen, and if it sounds like a thing worth trying, a thing that could be tried, is different, and is not obviously contrary to something observed before, it gets exciting and worthwhile. You do not have to worry about how long he has studied or why he wants you to listen to him. In that sense it takes no difference where the ideas come from. Their real origin is unknown; we call it the  imagination of the human brain, the creative imagination—it is known; it is just one of those “oomphs.”

At any rate, my reason for seeking to stimulate commentary on ‘why the peer-review requirement in science is a problem’, is to do something, anything that I can do, to help break this stifling stranglehold that the internal politics of science has on science, because in my view (and I am not alone), it is the source of serious dysfunction in the modern world.

[The following note appears in Ted’s blog in the Aboriginal Physics Newsletter at; ]

Dear Bruce and Florian,

I am writing this letter to you both, because you have recently (2009) written a paper which directly explores the ‘politicization’ of science; i.e. Arctic climate change discourse: the contrasting politics of research agendas in the West and Russia. by Bruce C. Forbes & Florian Stammler.    I have reviewed your paper elsewhere on this website (e.g. The Political Hijacking of Scientific Inquiry) but in this case, I would like to be more ‘direct’ and publicly ask you, in the manner of journalistic inquiry,  specifically about an entire ‘field of inquiry’ that appears to be suppressed within those areas of scientific inquiry, such as your own, where ‘humans’ and ‘nature’ are in direct engagement.  The communicating of findings  in this realm is troubled by, as you say,

“the traditional separation between natural and social sciences.” so that “contemporary scientific discourse fails to integrate what actually belongs together in the analysis, because not only indigenous people, but any human agent in the environment, enact practices embracing social, natural and spiritual aspects of lived experiences.”

I agree with you and believe you are pointing out a fundamental shortcoming in popular mainstream scientific modeling practice.   This shortcoming associates with continuing social dysfunction because it gives us a popular science understanding of our engaging with the habitat that is radically over-simplified, so that when we plan and implement our engaging with the dynamic habitat we are included in, based on the over-simplified understanding (as captured in “a body of knowledge”, as separate from evolved practice, as you say), the results are not those we anticipate.  In David Bohm’s terms, this gap between knowledge-driven results and ‘actual results’ is a source of continuing ‘incoherence’.

One way of looking at the essence of the modeling shortfall;

Western science has long used absolute space framing as a simplifying basis for its inquiry.  This type of reference framing allows us to ‘absolutize’ the movements of dynamic figures in the dynamic ground and remove the inherent relativity between the two.  By this ‘geometric simplifying strategy’, we can take the dynamic figure we know as a hurricane (or storm-cell, or convection-cell) which is the result of the dynamic ground (atmospheric flow) it is included in, much in the manner that a ‘mud-flow’ is the result of the release of tensions in the continuously transforming landscape, and BY IMPOSING AN ABSOLUTE FIXED SPATIAL REFERENCE FRAME over it, which we can then refer ‘its’ movements to, we can synthetically convert the dynamic figure inextricably bound up in dynamic ground, to a notional local system, notionally equipped with its own locally originating (local internally-driven or local externally-driven) behaviour.

We do this for the boy riding on the bicycle and the ‘goose’ in the flock of wildgeese flying in formation, and once we do, our inquiry as to the origins and nature of their behaviour shifts to ‘their internals’, since we have removed the ‘relative spatial-relational influences’ (which are in general multiple and simultaneous) ‘from the picture’.

But, as you point out in your paper, and as mathematicians/physicists have pointed out in the case of the bicyclist and the ‘wildgoose’, the movement of the dynamic figure cannot be understood out of the context of the dynamic ground he/she is inextricably included in.  The bicyclist’s wriggling ‘balancing act’ derives from him putting his movements in the service of sustaining balance while being exposed to at least ten simultaneously interfering (confluent)  influences, which puts the scientific/mathematical studying of the system into at least ten dimensional space (Ian Stewart, Does God Play Dice, 1989).  The sourcing of the dynamics is thus invisible in the manner that the source of a man’s frenetic actions fending off small pesky insects (‘no-see-ems’) is invisible.

There is no ‘realistic’ way that we can legitimately impute the bicyclist’s behaviour to be locally originating from within him.  Furthermore, once we are in the realm of movement deriving from three or more simultaneous mutual influences, there are no longer any mathematical/logical solutions wherein we can isolate the ‘contribution’ to the motion of the individual, particular influences/participants.

It is not that such situations ‘are rare’, it is instead that they are the general case, but as Newton commented, on ‘bumping into’ this problem as it associated with ‘resonances’ (harmonies) in planetary movement (in trying to go beyond his two-body solutions in principles 65 and 66 in his ‘Principia’);

“An exact solution for three bodies exceeds, if I am not mistaken, the force of any human mind.”

Newton did not say that this three+ body mutual influencing did not exist.  It exists and one could argue it is the general case before we reduce and simplify it by the imposing of absolute space to isolate a ‘dynamic figure’ from the ‘dynamic ground’ (of energy-loaded space or ‘simultaneous mutual influences’) in which it is, in reality, inextricably bound up in, in the manner the convection cell is bound up in the fluid flow).  Visually, it is convenient for us to focus on the dynamic figure as if it were a ‘thing in its own right’ and thus fully and solely responsible for its own behaviour, but what is visually convenient does not equate to ‘what is really going on’.

As you imply (but did not explicitly articulate), the social sciences, which cut themselves off from the natural sciences, start off from the notion of organisms as ‘locally existing systems with their own locally originating (internal knowledge and purpose-directed) behaviours.  Thus those of a social sciences orientation who observe the social dynamics of wildgeese comment on their ‘cooperation’ and ‘teamwork’ as if the geese were the source of the behaviour, whereas, when they fly in ‘V’ formation, it is resonances in the fluid-dynamics they are included in which are orchestrating their individual and group behaviour.

As Nietzsche suggested (and is clearly on target in this case), science is anthropomorphism; i.e. because WE TEND TO THINK OF OURSELVES  as ‘local systems with our own locally originating (internal knowledge and purpose-directed) behaviour, we impute the same to the wildgeese, and thus we explain their flock flying in terms of ‘their cooperation’ as we would speak of the similar notion of ‘our human cooperation’, without ever having to speak to the greater reality wherein individual and collective behaviours are orchestrated by resonances in our inherently relative habitat-inhabitant dynamic.

In your investigations of the nomadic engaging of the Nenet peoples with the seasonal dynamics of their living space (including reindeer migratory habits), you have found that your observations of evolved Nenet practice support (what I am calling, by analogy)  a ‘bicyclist’ or ‘wildgeese’ type situation that goes beyond the simple absolute-space framed modeling wherein the Nenets can be split out of the dynamic ground of nature in which they are sentiently included and reduced to self-propelled ‘local organisms with their own locally originating (internal knowledge and purpose-directed) behaviours.

However, elsewhere in the Arctic, Western scientists studying the Inuit and Saami people are interpreting their investigations in the ‘standard’ terms of self-propelled local organisms with their own locally originating (internal knowledge and purpose-directed) behaviours.   This makes it appear, even to some Western science indoctrinated Inuits, that their own traditional behaviours, rather than being evolved ‘bicyclist’ practices, derive from ‘knowledge of climate change’, ‘knowledge of wildlife management’ and ‘traditional ecological knowledge’, all of which, it is alleged, are ‘put into action’ in an inside-outward deliberately intended fashion, from out of the knowledge-directed interiors of individual Inuit people.  Instead of the migration of seals orchestrating their collective movements, it was instead, as in the example of the wildgeese, interpreted to be ‘cooperative action’ on their part as in ‘like minds [equipped with like knowledge] think alike’, so that the outside-inward orchestrating influence is ignored or ‘occluded’.

In your conclusions, you refer to this as ‘top-down’ versus ‘bottom up’ research priorities.   The top-down approach being the Western science approach which imputes that Inuit behaviour is knowledge driven and thus goal-oriented, infused as you say, with the notion of control over the environment as in;  “The idea of the Judeo-Christian-inspired human-environmental relations is to seek dominion over nature.”

The bottom-up approach being the Russian science approach which implies that the behaviour/practices of the Nenet people are shaped by the dynamics of the space they are included in, rather than being sole-sourced by internal knowledge-drive.  As you say, since the reindeer herds are a life-sustaining part of nature to the Nenets, the Nenets ‘lived off the herd’ and behaved in such a manner as to sustain the continuing good health of the herd (in order, as you say, to  “maintain live reindeer instead of producing dead reindeer”).  Whereas in the Western science (top-down) framing, there is the notion of ‘harvesting’ as in ‘animal husbandry’ (implying control over the wildlife, as in ‘wildlife management’).

Clearly, in order to ‘get to’ the view of ‘Russian Science’ as both of you are expounding it, one has to suspend the constraining notion that the behaviour of the people, any people, is sole-sourced from out of themselves, by way of an internal knowledge and purpose drive.

Meanwhile, there can be no argument that the individual and collective behaviour of wildgeese is orchestrated by resonances in the energized [fluid] dynamic space they are included in.

However, the tradition of the social sciences has been to assume an internal knowledge and purpose drive AS THE FULL AND SOLE SOURCE of individual and collective behaviour (embellished by feedback loops and adaptation of know-how), thus words implying internally-sourced direction such as ‘cooperation’ are used when, in reality, the individual and collective behaviours of the wildgeese in formation flying is orchestrated by the in-the-now ‘feel’ of being in ‘a sweet spot in the turbulent slipstream’, an in-the-now ‘feel’ that is familiar, as well, to motorcyclists travelling in a ‘flock’.  In order to understand this, one has to take account of the fact that fluids have a characteristic way of responding to disturbance which relates to the spatial shape of the disturbing intrusion.  Far less energy is required for the passage of a sailboat in a fluid-dynamic medium when it travels at such as speed (termed ‘hull speed’) wherein it sits continuously within the trough forming from the interference between its bow wave and its stern wave.  Since longer wave-lengths travel faster in water, in order to have a faster sailboat, one constructs a longer sailboat.  In general, the habitat-dynamic and the dynamics of the inhabitants are in a conjugate relation in the manner of the spatially transforming of a tree included in airflow.  The spatial re-forming of the boughs etc and the transforming of the airflow are ‘simultaneous’; i.e. what we observe/experience is the ‘one dynamic’ that we notionally (synthetically) break apart into two, by imposing an absolute space reference frame.

There is thus a conjugate relation between the dynamics of the medium (habitat) and the dynamics of the contents (inhabitants) which, according to relativity and quantum theory, is the general case.  (It is articulated in Mach’s principle of relativity between space and matter).

Back to Nietzsche’s charge of science being anthropomorphism, while it is true that the wildgeese travel farther and faster for twenty percent less energy when they travel in ‘V’ formation, it is not this ‘internal knowledge’ that serves as the internal directive source of their individual and collective behaviour, it is instead the sentient atunement of the wildgeese to the dynamics of the habitat that their inhabitant-dynamics are included in.

Were wildgeese ever to acquire the rational thinking and modeling capabilities of humans, they would then be exposed to this trick of the ego, to attribute their behaviour fully and solely to themselves (to their internal knowledge and purpose directed behaviour).  In which case, if one interviewed a wildgoose as to why she flew in ‘V’ formation, she would avoid mention of the primary role of the habitat-dynamic and would reply that it was because ‘by cooperating with the other team members in this manner, we travel farther and faster for twenty percent less energy expenditure.  This gives us an increased foraging range even while it lessens our food consumption, and also allows us to move more quickly out of harm’s way.

What I am suggesting is that Western science has been building this ‘anthropomorphism’ into science, even into the behaviour of body cells (e.g. where does the body cell gets its knowledge and purposive direction to behave as a ‘chemical-gradient sensing/responding cell’?   Answer: it is not a problem if we take into account the orchestrating role of the dynamic spatial medium it is included in).

This uni-directive way of modeling is a simplification that derives from imposing an absolute space-frame over the dynamic so as to isolate the dynamic figure (lifting it out of its inherent relation with the dynamic ground [dynamic medium]) and then re-rendering the dynamic figure AS IF IT WERE a ‘local system with its own locally-originating [internal knowledge and purpose-directed] behaviour.)

As authors of a paper which brings to the fore, the problems with this simplification; in this case where Western science is using this simplified modeling approach in its inquiry into Inuit behaviour while Russian science is not using it in its inquiry into Nenet behaviour, you are focusing attention, in my view, on the tip of a huge iceberg, the invisible underbelly of much of both Western and Russian science.

My question to you both, if you care to comment (for my part, my asking this is in the public interest to try to get these hidden problems out in plain view), is;

– Do you agree that science is heavily invested in a uni-directive (top-down) dynamics modeling approach that employs the notion of   ‘local, independently existing systems’ (e.g. ‘organisms’ viewed as such), notionally equipped with ‘their own locally originating (internal knowledge and purpose-directed) behaviours’ to the point that this [way of scientific researching] is OCCLUDING the real situation in nature wherein individual and collective behaviours are being orchestrated by the dynamics of the natural living space they/we are included in?

Even if you believe the above discussion to be not worthy of comment, your comments to this effect would be useful and appreciated.

Best regards,

Ted Lumley