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

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…

3 Likes

See “precautionary principle”

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.

2 Likes

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.

1 Like

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

3 Likes

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.

2 Likes

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?

2 Likes

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.

11 Likes

"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.

7 Likes

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

2 Likes

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.

2 Likes

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.

1 Like

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.

2 Likes

Except that vaccines are a precautionary measure against known and well-documented risks. Unless there is actual evidence of risk from the vaccinations themselves, “precautionary principle” actually supports the pro-vaccination side of the debate.

7 Likes

Re: “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.”

Yes, but let’s not oversimplify what is actually happening with ad hoc modeling today, in practice. Unfortunately, when it comes to phenomena like the Sun, the empirical approach can become constrained by our observational capabilities. And more often than not, what happens in practice is that scientists look to the scientific framework – the paradigm itself – in order to create additional techniques for measurement. And so, what one person who accepts the assumptions and claims might call “empirical” evidence, in truth, now becomes a form of ideology for somebody else who doesn’t, since in due time, more and more systems of measurement which necessarily depend upon the original assumptions build upon this already speculative structure.

We can now see this pattern in many of our most speculative sciences – in particular, cosmology and astrophysics. Notice that even though parallax only works to 1% the diameter of the Milky Way, that rarely stops people from speaking – with confidence – of distances many orders of magnitude further than this.

Humans did not mirror nature when they broke the sciences into specialties. Specialization can actually interfere with the comprehension of whole systems (aka interdisciplinary synthesis). It is a feature of professionalism – a concept which science has borrowed from the corporate world. Specialization is popular today for the very reason that scientists are expected to work for large institutions like governments, universities and corporations.

That’s an important point to realize, because in the world of science, a misunderstanding within the solar sciences or in astrophysics can indeed have an incredible impact upon the climate models. There is no barrier which separates these two types of models, in terms of the physics. After all, our planet exists within the Sun’s atmosphere. It is not at all some abstract exercise to say that a failure to understand what is accelerating the solar wind should affect our confidence within the climate models – reason being that that failure represents an unknown which envelopes our own planet. It takes an enormous amount of energy to accelerate those particles, and our planet rests within that unknown energy. So, what is the cause? If you can’t answer that, then you can no more put a box around it, and declare that it cannot possibly be influencing the planet’s climate in either a direct or even incredibly indirect manner, through some far larger misunderstanding about how the universe works.

Mistakes in models trickle through the artificial walls of our disciplines in ways which we cannot foresee.

How about skeptical that Monsanto is thorough and ethical in testing?

6 Likes

Sorry, no. When a model based on known principles matches known observations about heating that applies to the troposphere more than the stratosphere, it more or less confirms mysterious effects in space as not important. I know you really like to bring up the coronal inversion and other plasma physics favorites, but we don’t actually have to put all terrestrial science on hold for them, because it doesn’t change our observations of what applies here.

4 Likes

All belief requires denial. To believe in Jesus, you’re supposed to deny Vishnu, Odin, Zeus, and Ah-Puch. To be a nativist conservative, you need to deny the existence of racism, evolution, that slavery caused the American Civil War etc etc.

Where things have gotten weird is that the anti-GMO movement seems to becoming part of the conspiracy subculture that believes in “chemtrails,” vaccines cause autism (and now so do GMOs), and Morgellons “disease.”:

1 Like

As as oft been said, we’re not rational creatures, we’re rationalizing creatures.

Science is all well and good, but let’s be honest, it’s simply a tool to advance my preferred policies, which are based on my ethics and my morality.

Now, I like to think of myself as rational, so on those issues where I disagree with science, I’ll simply say we haven’t collected enough data, or I’ll question the scientists motives based on their employer or I’ll invoke the precautionary principle, which can almost always be used to support either side.

1 Like

Actually, not everything can be scientific, while the scientific method is simple enough, being rigorous is hard, that’s why peer review is important. And the idea of “laboratories filled with vats and lab coats” is, I suspect you know, a parody at best.
So what you boil the argument down to is, also at best, a straw man.

Very silly indeed.

1 Like