Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Butterfly emergence study- a case of Cargo Cult Science?

A recent journal article titled "Early emergence in a butterfly causally linked to anthropogenic warming" published online by Biology Letters claimed to have linked a change in butterfly emergence with temperature changes caused by increased greenhouse gas emissions. A comment on the article now posted by Biology Letters (HERE) shows the methodology and results are unfounded, the study could not be repeated. We wonder if the media will spend as much energy reporting on this damaging critique as it spent enthusiastically promoting the findings of the original paper.

In his famous Caltech speech "Cargo Cult Science" the late Richard Fynman stated:
"We've learned from experience that the truth will out. Other experimenters will repeat your experiment and find out whether you were wrong or right. Nature's phenomena will agree or they'll disagree with your theory. And, although you may gain some temporary fame and excitement, you will not gain a good reputation as a scientist if you haven't tried to be very careful in this kind of work. And it's this type of integrity, this kind of care not to fool yourself, that is missing to a large extent in much of the research in Cargo Cult Science."

With the truth buried deeply in the servers of Biology Letters it appears the butterfly emergence study joins others that have all the hallmarks of the Cargo Cult that Feynman so eloquently described.