Re: [asa] Doubting science

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Fri Dec 04 2009 - 02:13:56 EST

Heya Jon,

Some replies below.

> Yet we should also be very concerned about the (apparently) growing
> distrust of science, what seems to me a growing anti-establishment attitude
> among those who have a particular axe to grind over supposedly conservative
> political and philosophical viewpoint. (And believe me, I have a fairly
> conservative view myself, although not as much as I used to be, or as much
> as most of my friends and relatives.) The ease with which people seem to
> dismiss anything scientific that they happen not to be comfortable with (or
> accept any unproven assertion), on the basis of Internet rumors, carefully
> chosen excerpts, "expert" opinion from those who don't know what they're
> talking about I think those things ought to concern us greatly.
The problem I have here is, I'm not sure there really is a growing distrust
of science. Even the most furious anti-AGW people are not saying "Science,
schmience! You just can't trust the scientific method!" In fact, their tact
seems to be one that's very respectful of science (or at least, what they
understand to be science) - they are insisting that the science is being
abused, sometimes by scientists. Now, they can be wrong about that too. But
the distinction is important.

I said in another thread: Scientists are not science. Maybe some people feel
this point is pedantic, like hairsplitting. I insist otherwise. Science has
no motives. Scientists do. Science does not engage in fraud. Scientists can,
and have.

> For the sake of discussion, getting back to my original post on this
> subject, here is a list of similarities I have put together between YEC and
> anti-AGW, versus the establishment science.
I have no dog in either the YEC or anti-AGW fight either. So yes, let's take
a look.

> AGW and evolution science:
> - Conducted primarily by thousands of professionals around the world,
> through careful field work and theoretical analysis, refinement and testing
> of hypotheses, etc.
- Published in peer-reviewed scientific publications; results reviewed,
> critiqued, replicated and/or contradicted independently by others trained in
> the relevant fields.
This is peer-review in the ideal. Does it really work so smoothly, so devoid
of ego or interest, in reality? We saw a small glimpse of some of what goes
on in peer-review with these emails. What about the funding involved with
getting these studies done to begin with? What about the competition between
scientists, journals, and even disciplines?

> - Through careful analysis and multiple lines of evidence from various
> sub-disciplines and independent researchers, a consensus view has almost
> universally been accepted in the various fields of the basic conclusions of
> the science (for AGW: the earth is warming substantially in response to
> human activity; for evolution: evolution has occurred over the vast
> geological ages of the earth).
I know you're talking about AGW and evolution science in particular, but I
will point out: Consensus views can and have formed even in the absence of
much evidence. Or there can be some evidence, but the consensus is reading
it wrong. In fact, it's hard not to keep a consensus from forming on many
topics - regardless of how much evidence is even available.

> - (In deference to Schwarzwald's and others' comments) The experts may tend
> to overstate what is known versus what is currently theorized. For
> evolution: even though the evidence strongly points to it having occurred,
> there is so much that isn't known and can't be explained about specific
> mechanisms, etc., that the level of confidence in "natural evolution" having
> the power to create so much of what we see does seem (to me) more than can
> be reasonably justified. I strongly suspect that the same could be said of
> AGW, with strong predictions being given but a lot of uncertainty still
> existing concerning all the variables and mechanisms involved. (However, as
> a non-specialist, it's hard for me to critique on the basis of reason and
> evidence.)
I'm not merely talking about overstatement of scientific knowledge. Granted,
that's very important - details can be overblown, what are not even theories
but closer to imagined possible stories get spun out as 'how it probably
happened', etc.

But I'm also talking about outright bleeding-over-the-borders of science
into philosophy and politics in a number of senses. Popular senses, where
scientists - trying to speak with the authority of a scientist - talk about
how evolution is unguided, purposeless, random, etc without qualification.
Talking about what political and social policies are 'best for the planet' -
again, not as merely one more citizen with an opinion, but as an 'expert'.
Even though expertise in a scientific field does not make one an expert or
authority on political policy, even if the policy relates directly or
indirectly to such a field.

> - As a group, scientists do seem to tend toward being dismissive of the
> minority voices and critics from outside their disciplines. They tend to
> dismiss the problems with their theories and emphasize the agreement of data
> with theory. Kuhn's paradigm theory points to this as a characteristic
> phenomenon.
They also can be critical of other disciplines, period. See the
conversations about hard science versus soft science, or whether soft
sciences are really 'science' at all.

> Anti-evolution and Anti-AGW:
> - Conducted primarily by those outside the establishment of science,
> usually by those not qualified in the relevant fields; however, both groups
> can point to at least a handful of "professionals" who do have relevant
> qualifications, who dismiss the consensus view.
And here's another problem I have. Again, I'm not "anti-AGW" myself, and I'm
not anti-evolution either. By why is it that suddenly professionals get
scare quotes when they're on the wrong side? Don't you mean scientists here?
Indeed, sometimes scientists even in a relevant field? Or are they only
really scientists when they're on the proper side? Are they only doing
scientific research when they're getting the answers the larger group thinks
they should?

> - Not typically published in professional or scientific journals or subject
> to serious peer review, but appeal largely to popular media, Internet blogs,
> e-mail propaganda.
Popular media, internet blogs, and e-mail propaganda is in active use with
both sides. Do you deny that both pro-"evolution" and pro-AGW people are
amply represented in this capacity? That they blog, e-mail propaganda
(Again, is it only propaganda when the wrong side does it?), that they work
through the popular media?

> - Quick to point out individual data points or alleged anomalies with the
> consensus theory, but unable to address the large scale of data in support
> of the consensus theory, or to produce carefully researched and verifiable
> alternative theories to explain the data.
I'd question the degree of "verifiability" for many AGW and even
evolution-related claims - really depends on what's meant.

> - They also tend to overstate the strength of their own position and make
> unqualified statements as to the foolishness and pending collapse of the
> consensus view.
> - Dismissive of evidence that contradicts their position.
Not exactly specific to the anti-AGW or anti-evolution side.

> These last two points seem to be held in common by all (or most). And
> let's not even talk about how both sides are motivated by their
> extra-scientific political and philosophical agendas to hold these
> antithetical positions.
I'm unsure if you meant those last two points are common to both sides, or
'all anti-evolution/anti-AGW types'. Or again for extra-scientific political
and philosophical agendas.

To repeat something I said at the start of this response: It's not science
many people are having a growing skepticism of. It's scientists. And, while
I know the ASA is composed of many scientists, I think it's very important
to consider this possibility: Maybe people are right to take that tact. In
fact, maybe that skepticism has been earned.

> Jon Tandy
> *From:* [] *On
> Behalf Of *Jim Armstrong
> *Sent:* Thursday, December 03, 2009 4:13 PM
> *To:* ASA
> *Subject:* Re: [asa] Doubting science
> Just to complete the message:
> ...and those that were frauds were discovered by........and made public
> by.............??
> Guess what? The (untrusted?) science community.........
> JimA [Friend of ASA]
> Michael Roberts wrote:
> MOTHS. (Capitals deliberate as I am shouting.) Those who claim that are
> blatant liars or repeating blatant lies.
> Piltdown was a great hoax - met one of the suspects in his 80s. I wish I
> had done it:)
> To add to them there was an Indian palaeontologist who published lots of
> fraudulent papers until he was rumbled by an Australian - typical of an Oz.
> Scientific fraud is fairly rare
> Michael
> ----- Original Message -----
> *From:* Jon Tandy <>
> *To:* 'AmericanScientificAffiliation' <>
> *Sent:* Thursday, December 03, 2009 4:46 AM
> *Subject:* [asa] Doubting science
> I'm wondering if there isn't an analogy between the current "Climategate
> scandal" and a few high profile scandals in the evolution debate. In
> particular, there was the so-called "faking" of moths pinned to trees for
> purposes of photographing samples, when in reality Kettlewell's experiments
> don't show evidence of fraud (and have been duplicated by subsequent
> experiments). Then there were the fake fossils (Piltdown man, for instance)
> which are still trumpeted by anti-evolutionists as evidence that the whole
> establishment of evolution is similarly fraught with scandal and deceit.
> Yet despite these appalling examples of moral and ethical failure, there is
> a tremendous amount of evidence from multiple lines of investigation that
> can't be swept away by reference to a few questionable or even falsified
> evidences.
> It seems that an unhealthy anti-science mentality is just perpetuated by
> the hysterical or polarizing reactions to such scientific frauds, deplorable
> though they may be.
> Jon Tandy
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Received on Fri Dec 4 02:14:28 2009

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