The alternative to anti-science is not blind pro-science


#1

[Permalink]


#2

Something something something: Only Evil deals in absolutes, Darth.


#3

OMG, this is a HUGE issue of consistency/intellectual honesty with a lot of people I know and in the community I live in. They get very high and mighty about the rightness of science in matter of, say, teaching evolution or climate change policy, but when the talk turns to vaccinations or GMOs it goes to crazy town.

Edit: I realize I'm kind of running counter to the posting, but this just hit my pleasure center, lol. smile

Edit 2: I think I"m OK after all, because it seems the article isn't so much questioning the science of one side vs the other, rather saying there are sometimes more compelling arguments aside from or in spite of the scientific. I'll give an example, where I live they are debating fluoridating the water (or were, I think it passed) and many of the arguments were of the "corporations are poisoning us for profit?!!!?!?" type. But, there was one argument against that was logical and I felt had a much more persuasive potential: the idea of medicating a whole population. We don't, for example, but vitamins in the water, even though that would have a lot of public good.... or so goes the argument.

Anyhoo... smile


#4

I generally find myself on the side of science when it points to the existence of something (e.g. global warming), but skeptical of science when people use it to "prove" that something does not exist (e.g. vaccination problems or even bigfoot).

The only thing I know I can trust is that fundamentalism is always wrong to some degree.


#5

I don't follow you with vaccinations. It seems the burden is more to show there is a problem than assume there is one to disprove.


#6

There something very silly about this conversation. Science isn't a monolithic thing, that is either all right or all wrong. If you know anything about Climate Science there's much debate. Right now, it seems to be just how bad it's going to be and how soon.

As for GM, it's pretty simplistic to give it a pass because the science actually figure a way to make GM crops. The real question should be what did science do to prove it safe? Practically nothing, very few studies have been done on health. Regulators gave it a pass and still do because they say it's substantially equivalent to crops humans have been eating for a long time. This isn't science it's lack of science.

Also you should look at the history and claims of the GM crowd that were based on assumptions that have been proven wrong in the field. Larger yields in some GM varieties never happened and in others may have happen in the short term but now new resistant pests are destroying these small gains.

The difference between the GM science and the Climate Science is that GM has never lived up to claims of the scientists involved where the Climate Scientists have been proven right time and time again.


#7

A friend asked me recently, how can someone be sceptical about GM and yet also believe in climate change?

Maybe it's time to hang out with more intelligent friends who consider critical thinking a more important part of life?


#8

But is simple hypocrisy.

Anything can be "scientific" and evidence-based; or does "scientific data" only come from laboratories filled with vats and labcoats?
The scientific method can be applied to every single thing.
Also, what is "blind pro-science" anyway? Is it religion-like following of things "scientists" say? That's not scientific at all.

This seems to boil down to "some ideas uttered by scientists make me feel good, others don't".
A very silly conversation indeed…


#9

See "precautionary principle"


#10

Science has thoroughly and repeatedly reinforced the precautionary principle. I wouldn't always see a great contradiction when some, who are scientifically inclined, haven't been satisfied by the supporting data enough to waive that principle. Large-scope, multi-variate topics such as GMOs and geoengineering have found that hurdle tougher to clear.


#11

The problem is, while it is certainly true that people form their decisions on scientific issues on a variety of factors such as "economics, social values, [and] legal considerations", it isn't at all clear if that's a good thing. If such factors are out of sync with science it is those things that need to change to keep up.


#12

The more you study science, the more you question everything you know...
For some reason, many people think it's bad to question things...


#13

The article states ...

Moreover, I'm not sure we should expect a homogeneous response to
something as diverse as science. When people use the term
"anti-science", I want to know what definition of science they've
based their concept of anti on. Who'd be simplistic enough to be "pro"
the whole of science? What sort of shallow, shampoo advert "science
bit" approach to the complexities of modernity are they living by?

People clearly possess different opinions of what "science" actually is. Is it a methodology for finding truth? Or is it a set of ideologies? Our culture appears to be undergoing a transition from the former to the latter answer -- a side effect of this being that as discrimination generationally declines on the basis of things like sex and race, it appears to be on the incline with regards to ideology.

When it comes to the global warming debate, a lot of confusion arises because of the way in which we've been educated about science. Very few of us have actually dug into the details of scientific modeling, big data and inferential statistics (etc) sufficient to get a gut-feeling for how easy it is for these ad hoc models to be wrong. Nate Silver poignantly gives a mention to a critic of the global warming models in his recent book, The Signal and the Noise, who suggests that the global warming models are probably wrong simply because the number of variables involved is just so large.

I would personally add that it seems a bit odd to me that many people would express so much confidence in the models for 50 - 100 year climate projections -- and yet scientists still cannot make accurate predictions about the number of sunspots in the next solar cycle. When one digs even further into the actual solar models, it would appear that we basically do not understand many of the sun's features. Very basic questions -- like why are sunspots black, given that we're supposed to be looking into much hotter regions of the sun? -- would seem to require answers involving invisible entities like magnetic fields.

Why does the solar wind fail to appreciably decelerate even as it passes the Earth's orbit? Nobody knows for sure yet.

And why is the Sun's atmosphere -- its corona -- apparently 100x hotter than its surface? How does that heat pass through the surface without heating it up? Again, nobody knows for sure. But, solar scientists think that magnetic fields might have something to do with it. But, is that even a falsifiable theory? Probably not, actually.

So, when climate modelers suggest that we should possess some great confidence about the future climate, based upon their models, it's probably wise to realize that they are specialists who -- like all other specialists -- are accepting a great number of assumptions as facts, in order to do their highly complex computations. Those computations would not actually be possible if those assumptions were not made.

But, at the end of the day, the assumptions still exist. And for those of us who are trying to make sense of all of it, we very rightly should take into consideration that a great number of mysteries remain when we decide on our own level of confidence. These sorts of things can be decided on the basis of the limitations of the models alone, without the need to consider the influences of corporations and all of that.


An biological mechanism for fire-breathing dragons
#14

I'm just confused what being "sceptical about GM" even means.

Do otherwise science-smart people not believe that genetic modification even works? Are they concerned about patent ramifications? Irrationally afraid of it in an unscientific "man shouldn't fiddle with life" way?


#15

It's quite simple for me. GMO technology has a strong, well established scientific basis. It works. Where I am skeptical is on the non-science side, on the social/economic side. Patenting genes, labelling, agribusiness practices, etc.

To call it hypocrisy to support the climate change theories on one side, while rejecting GMOs doesn't really jibe. It's not skepticism about the same thing at all.


#16

"Sceptical about GM" means, I think, that just because the executives (and, to a much lesser extent) the shareholders who make money from it insist that it's just as safe as what your old granny ate, and won't hurt farmers or the food supply in any way, doesn't make it so. Of course it *can* be done, and certainly in some situations where the alternative is mass starvation, concerns about the integrity of the food supply and the "authenticity" of the food do seem picayune.


On the other hand, where we have a decently-functioning food supply, and malnutrition/obesity/diabetes/cancer/heart disease rather than starvation, and the only "problem" GM foods address seems to be inadequate growth in the revenue and stock value of agribusiness, then these concerns seem more important and may even prevail. I would rather eat organic, local foods that have greater ties to "authentic" old-fashioned foods, than GM crops whose main function in our society seems to be to provide steadily growing revenue streams from patents and the growth of the Western stomach.


At least, that's what I think "sceptical about GM." Though, of course, I spell skeptical with a K.


#17

My quick unstudied read; Science is good until it starts contradicting my friends. Then it gets really complicated and I can't decide.


#18

Sort of, but I think that might miss the point. The value of a technology depends on how it is employed, and there are lots that are science suggests are safe when applied carefully and dangerous when not. In which case, their value depends on how well we trust people to take proper precautions, and so economic, social, and legal factors come into play.

For instance, I don't think it makes sense to ask whether something like GM is safe or not in general; science shows that it can be, but it's easy to see that it doesn't have to be. So the real question is what level of investigation and regulation goes with using it safely. That's something you can and should approach scientifically, but it involves looking at a lot of social context in addition to the technology itself.


Technology != science
#19

Good thing you can use empirical observations to check and refine different models, see to what extent the results depend on the particulars of the assumptions, and see whether predictions are being corroborated. Which shows the objection "we don't understand sunspots so how can we trust modeling the planet we live on" is really and completely beside the point.


#20

An interesting article. I gather he's attacking the age-old appeal to some meaningful boundary between science and unscience. There's this notion that science should be Science; a religious ideal; a Shining Beacon on a Hill; a perfect abstraction ever-sought and never attained.

There is actually good in that conceptualization of science, but it must be tempered with a world-weary realization that we'll always fail. If we get caught up in the principle and philosophy of science and lose sight of the fact that we imperfect humans are the ones doing the thinking then we'll fall into the same arrogant pedestalizing traps which swallowed up traditional religions.

Truth-claims need justification in the physical world because we ourselves are physical, yes? Our thoughts and minds are distinct configurations of particles, as are the photons which constitute the words you're currently reading. What else could they be whilst being identifiable by and communicable between localized individuals?

In that sense, science and religion are playing the same game (trying to explain the whys and hows of our existence) and science is doing much better. I think this has led some irreligious people to want to cling to old emotion-centered ways of investigating the world, and they do so by attempting to neatly cleave morality and science into separate spheres (morality then becomes the "new" religion).

That way they can comfortably assume their morality as they previously assumed their religion (it seems people need a bit of easy "I just believe it" stuff in their lives) and they can then use those assumed biases to attack whatever they don't happen to like. The problem is that both endeavors clearly use the same physical criteria to derive confidence; they're the same thing. It's a blatant double standard arrived at by inventing a nonsensical competing standard out of whole cloth.

"But there's non-science stuff, see? All this meta-this and super-that. I seen it; it's out there, in the ether. But it's meaningful to physical creatures because, uh... well, because it just is, you see? Something something Platonic Forms something something Souls something something Be Nice to Each Other."

Ugh.

There's the physical world and there are varying degrees of confidence in how to describe it. There are modern-day Pythagoreans who think physical reality is neatly reducible to kiddy-maths – that the world around us is just so many twos plus twos equaling fours. However, even if reality is thus reducible, it's only reducible that way conceptually because we're not omniscient. We'd need the full account of particle positions in the universe to perfectly predict the future, and I really doubt that'll ever happen (although pondering the ramifications of QM is mind-blowing). So we're left to hedge and refine and asymptotically approach "truth" as opposed to having a neat little equation for "life" or "love" or whatever.

I think a good way though all that is simply accepting the inherent absurdities which are beyond one's interests and/or power to change whilst drilling down into the absurdities one finds neat and/or malleable all while retaining a strong aversion to overconfidence (especially one's own). If we must, then, we could say skepticism > science, or perhaps rather that proper science emerges from skepticism (skepticism being a general rejection of appeals to authority, hasty generalizations, calls to tradition, and so on).

If you're out to neatly categorize and define all things you'll fail. Every answer you arrive at will come with questions and assumptions of its own, and you'll eat yourself up tumbling down the rabbit hole. I think it's better to conceive of science as making innately-incomplete answers continually less-incomplete, because that way we see both sides of the coin at once: we see that the physical world really does point to truth, but we also see that the "truths" we arrive at are never perfect, absolute, universal truths. Both the idealism and the skepticism of science all in one short phrase.

Anyway, thanks for the link. It was a provocative article.