Friday, September 21, 2012

Ananyo Maitra's criteria

In a wonderful comment in a post on nuclear power, Ananyo Maitra says:
"In summary, the commissioning agency has to a) hold extensive, informed local consultation for any project, in the planning phase b) Be open, and clear about dangers, and safety measures c) Quantitatively and qualitatively prove the advantage, and demonstrate whom the advantage accrues to d) be answerable to queries from the people likely to be affected by the said project. This might sound idealistic, utopian, and plain stupid. But ignoring this is not only undemocratic, but leads to a development path which leads to rising income disparity, and increasing difference in social indicators."
There seems to be problems with 'quantitatively and qualitatively probe the advantage'. Comparing the methodologies of  different groups of researchers in 'Constructing Facts: BT cotton Narratives in India', Glenn Davis Stone says:
"While writing in the triumph tradition appears in many nonpeer-reviewed sources, most of it refers to peer-reviewed research that is at the centre of the authentication system. This research distinguishes itself on the quality of its facts, based on agreed-on conventions of evidence and peer review. 
Yet facts do not fall simply onto a linear scale of quality. Even in peer-reviewed literatures, conventions on what constitutes significance and empirical support vary between disciplines and schools of thought; conventions also vary through time."
and goes on to point out  'selection bias' and 'cultivation bias' are ignored in peer reviewed work "A study on Bt cotton impacts is unlikely to be panned for ignoring selection and cultivation biases if the referees ignore the same biases in their own work. In this way, authors, referees, and journals implicitly collude in ignoring biases. The second benefit for journals is obviously 
that this collusion in overlooking potentially disqualifying biases allows them to attract more manuscripts on a hotly debated topic, with favourable effects on their impact factor."
And "... we should expect no letting up in the dichotomous flow of claims about this crucial case. "
Stone also mentions that the debate is only theoretical, it is mostly BT cotton in India now. Bush Jr is supposed to have said:
"That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
P.S. See also The Lie Factory on how health care campaigns of Earl Warren and Harry Truman were lost.

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