“The questions being asked in the so-called soft sciences go to the heart of who we are as human beings–how we make moral decisions, what subconscious biases underlie our conscious actions, and how our mental landscape affects the way we perceive the world around us. These are crucial questions that science should investigate.”
That’s not true at all. We as humans know the difference between right and wrong. Whether you believe these are traditions built up through generations and tested by time, or you believe they are divinely inspired, the attitude that “every option is on the table” diminishes us as human beings, and runs the risk of twisting us into absolute monsters.
Morality — or ethics, if you prefer — must always be above science. The history of the 20th century alone should be enough to put that beyond dispute by any but the most utopian or the most unscrupulous.
The argument of this post depends on a false premise. Science is not based on the assumption that every scientist is a perfect flawless individual. Science is based on the fact that bad science will sooner or later fail to stand to public exposure.
The last thing that science needs is politicians and journalists establishing standards for scientific truth.
Additionally, mainstream economic science has held up surprisingly well, imperfect science that it is, to the depression-like conditions of the last few years in the rich countries, despite the fact that economics is not completely trusted either by scientists or humanists. What has not held at all is the pseudo-science that passes for “common sense economics” in the editorial pages of some business publications, but that was never regarded as a science by more than a few money-intoxicated academics.
Public scientific grants, publicly supported Universities, these scientists are defrauding the Taxpayer and should do hard time when caught. The amount of fraudulent science being performed in the Environmental field is astounding. The entire global warming controversy is a fraud, and every scientist that is involved and has written fraudulent papers needs to be charged. The Scientific Journals are guilty as well, as they have been conspiring to enable the fraud (RICO), with bogus peer review, failure to show data and work, and have been sensationalizing like they were the Enquirer or some other rag.
What is needed is a bunch of 20 year sentences with scientists and journal publishers doing hard time for fraud and conspiracy to defraud. After all, these POS’s have cost mankind Trillions in blocked energy development, dozens of political conferences, carbon trading, and other associated fields of the economy (everything mankind produces or does has an energy cost component).
There are many people that believe the Truth is holy, that God blesses the Truth, and gave man the Scientific Method to calibrate his Truthdar, and BSDetector. It follows that if a man bases his actions and beliefs on the Truth then they too will be blessed by God. On the other hand Satan is the father of lies and God curses all lies, so it follows that if man bases his actions and beliefs on lies, they will be cursed by God.
A survey of the nations and cultures around the world shows that those nations that are the most scientific and value the Truth the highest, are also the most successful, blessed by God. This indicates that scientific fraud is a crime against humanity. I don’t support the world court in any way, but I would support charges of a crime against humanity being brought against scientists and their cohorts for lying.
What Felipe Pait #2 said. Bien hecho.
To expand on Felipe’s wise points, there’s nothing new here.
For starters, there has always been a very large subset of the population in any nation that is given over to non-reason: quackery, astrology, paranormal pursuits, etc. Even Conan Doyle was a big follower of “spiritualism.”
We see this today in that hard core of 25-40% in nearly every nation surveyed that will tell pollsters, when asked that on 9/11 the Pentagon bombed the Pentagon ie that 9/11 was an inside job.
And we know from the publishing industry, which has a vital interest in tracking this issue, that in any country, about half the population has not purchased a book since leaving school. So the public’s inclination to believe or disbelieve in particular theories about which they have no personal or direct knowledge doesn’t tell us anything whatsoever about the health or state of the authorities behind those theories.
I therefore believe – though I have no hard data to back this up – that any recent measurements of low prestige of or popular confidence in scientists is very unlikely to be due to errors on the part of the scientists themselves.
Scientists aren’t angels. As is evident to anyone who’s read or studied the lives of great scientists since Newton and Hooke, Galileo and Kepler, Watson/Crick and Rosalind Franklin et al, scientists are just as ambitious, striving, conniving, vainglorious and self-seeking as any real estate broker in Glengarry Glen Ross or any Hollywood agent.
The Climategate e-mails and grey literature references made by the IPCC have done more to undermine the credibility of the scientific community than any religious movement in the last 50 years. When scientists are caught intentionally perverting the peer review process to advance their belief in a particular cause, in this case CAGW, then those scientists should be removed from their positions and their grants immediately revoked. They have become little more than a modern Spanish Inquisition. It was a bad idea then, and it remains so today.
Pure science is about learning and understanding. It is most certainly not about protesting and advocating. Unfortunately, we’ve got a small core of left-learning intellectuals that see science as the ultimate trump card in an endless debate between left and right that is ultimately based on your world view and not on the abstract, objective, and falsifiable heart of the scientific method.
One of the most interesting instances of liberals denying science is in the field of population genetics. The basic idea of kin selection (aka inclusive fitness) is about as well understood as natural selection itself, yet we (I am a liberal nyself) consistently ignore the implications of cousin marriage for policy, whether it be the issue of arranged marriages among immigrants in our own country or the chances for democracy in places all around the world. Culture and biology interact in ways that effect liberal institutions. Ignorance is folly at this point in time.
@jim. I respectfully disagree. If a person doesn’t believe in moral absolutes, and more importantly, isn’t judged by something that is held over and against that person, then morals are relative, nothing more than shifting sands that can change depending on one’s situation.
In the long run, science will be fine, but in the short run most scientists have become just glorified government workers, little different from the public unions. The social sciences are so soft as to be ‘squishy’, and there is no guarantee that they can overcome this. And the hard sciences, physics in particular, have become institutional and resistant to change. The details of what has actually happened in the last four decades are beyond a simple comment on a blog, but it hasn’t been especially pretty. A lack of new data to guide theory resulted in mathematical theories and multi-universe nonsense and this got locked in simply by the hierarchical nature of the academic institution. Things may be starting to break loose now, experiment-wise, but the entrenched interests who have invested in their own theories are sure dragging their feet. Engineering science is on track, so there will continue to be improvements in technology. But fundamental research that tells us about the nature of things is very chaotic right now. It may actually be the most appropriate response at this time to ‘downgrade’ faith is science. The wisdom of crowds may take their cues from the climate-gate follies and may also intuit that the basis of progressive government saying ‘we know best’ based on ‘science’ is a dangerous proposition. Very little of science is actually appropriate for guiding our lives and even less so for controlling us. This upsets the academics and the would-be controllers, but so be it.
Well, here we have another example of bad science. It is not faith in science that is lessening but faith in scientists and scientific organizations, especially among conservatives.
From the first link,
“The problem is this is not what the study actually shows. To measure “trust in science” Gauchat relies on data from the General Social Survey (GSS) from 1972 to 2010, in which respondents were asked to rate the degree of “confidence” they have in various social institutions. ”
You have outlined several recent examples why one should be skeptical of scientists and scientific organizations. People still have faith in science and their skepticism of scientists’ and scientific organizations’ claims is a good sign. That the Academy doesn’t like those without proper credentials asking hard questions, is really something they should have thought about before putting their reputation and prestige behind the latest fad diet or environmental control scheme.
Nullius in verba is the motto of the Royal Academy and roughly translates ‘take no ones word for it.’ Yet, today’s scientists take offense at being challenged even as the challenges expose wide ranging fraud and misrepresentation.
But don’t take my word for it, Richard Feynman, a scientist who knew how hard real science is, had this to say on the cargo cult science that permeates the academy.
An answer to unsettling science is “standards must be tightened, publication of experimental data must be made mandatory and peer review in the soft sciences must mean something.” Science is and must remain non partisan as a process for discovering truth. WEM, the aforementioned are conditions that will help to regain lost confidence in science postulates while still recognizing that human beings undertake scientific inquiry.
“Science is based on the fact that bad science will sooner or later fail to stand to public exposure.”
As demonstrated by the poppycock known as anthropogenic global warming, that premise don’t work too well when nutcases with science degrees hijack government science programs to peddle their brand to a scientifically illiterate public increasingly trained up to be “nice” feelers rather than rigorous thinkers.
“The last thing that science needs is politicians and journalists establishing standards for scientific truth.”
Probably truer than not, but also too tardy a realization to be particularly useful. There’s govment $$$ in them thar sciences waitin’ to be parsed out to eager takers who don’t care about anything except ensuring tha their programs last until they are ready to retire and join the rubber chicken circuit.
“Some of the skepticism is skepticism of journalism rather than skepticism of science proper, and it is heartily deserved. The legacy media loves to report sensational conclusions based on tentative research, and is usually much less careful than scientists about qualifying and conditioning its reports.”
The Executive summaries to UN Climate panel reports are all written by politicians and media types. Guess who [messed up] the entire project and practically destroyed public faith in science with their scare-mongering! It will be decades before real science recovers from the effects of the climate liars and cheaters.
Two Words – Richard Dawkins.
People aren’t losing faith in science so much as they’re losing faith in SCIENTISTS. They;re making the same mistake that a generation of right-wing preacher did; confusing their authority in their given area of expertise as license to interfere in areas outside of it. When the Likes of Dawkin’s and others in academia waves their degrees as justification for essentially insulting those who believe in a higher power, it;s not hard to assume that it will generate a considerable amount of goodwill.
No likes being called a backwards idiot, or has good feelings towards those who say such things. When stalwarts of the scientific community use their position to attack anyone who as ever opened a Bible, Koran or any other holy book, it’s not surprising that ‘science’ and ‘scientist’ come to be seen in a negative light.
“…it;s not hard to assume that it will generate a considerable amount of goodwill.”
Sorry, meant ‘illwill.’
Economics is not science.
Another false premise, per Felipe Pait’s trenchant comment above.
For more, read:http://www.amazon.com/ECONned-Unenlightened-Undermined-Democracy-Capitalism/dp/0230620515
You are basing your conclusions, ironically enough, on a single study that may just be one of what you claim to be the innumerable flawed (or outright fraudulent) such studies — and doing just what you decry in journalism: Drawing conclusions based on woefully inadequate information, hyping it as though it has ANY significance.
Also, see http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/06/10/496982/virginia-lawmaker-says-sea-level-rise-is-a-left-wing-term-excises-it-from-state-report-on-coastal-flooding/.
Whenever something this idiotic is reported, it’s a safe bet that a conservative is the guilty party.
WRM wrote: “in the academy and elsewhere the story of declining confidence in science is seen as reflecting a declining confidence in reason itself — and evidence of the rising tide of stupidity against which we enlightened few must ceaselessly battle.”
Over the course of my life I have experienced a declining confidence in reason precisely because it has become increasingly obvious to me that I am not simply a rational being and that my character is prey to overwhelmingly instinctive and emotional forces. So I am conscious that as an academic I might very well fiddle data. I notice that I am less than honest with myself and others and that I am not alone. In my experience the best we can do is be aware of our shadow tendencies and not deny that they determine our actions far more often than we like to admit. Professor Meade correctly pokes fun at the ego inflation and narcissism of the intelligentsia.
Thibaud #4, I think you nailed a very good point. Public perception of science is emphatically NOT a part of science itself, and has to be understood from a sociological or political science point of view – over which science has very little influence.
I very much doubt that the public is aware of the quality of scientific research; to the extent that cheating by individual scientists gets echoed in public debate, that says a lot about the media and public receptiveness to criticism of science, and very little about science itself.
More than 90% of the scientists are giving the rest of us, the physicists a bad name.
It would appear that the problem with science that you describe is but a subset of the need for higher education to reform itself. Reform the host and the “guest” will be reformed as well.
Correction @10: should have been WRM not WEM.
@ #18 Felipe – agreed. Support or opposition to scientists has as much to do with people’s preconceptions and prejudices, and the degree to which scientists agree with those.
Fundamentalist Christians in the US – who if I recall correctly account for ca. 19% of the population – fear and loathe scientists whose conclusions undermine their literalist Biblical beliefs.
Ever since people started politicizing the sciences to advance their own agenda, fraud, distortions and political agendas have followed:
Some oldies but goodies include:
. Sigmund Freud (psychoanalysis),
. Margaret Mead, no relation I hope, (anthropology)),
. John Maynard Keynes (economics)
. Alfred Kinsey (human sexology),
. Rachel Carson (environmental science)
. Karl Marx (scientific history)
.and too many Darwinist to mention by name but Haeckel surely stands out as one of the more blatant.
Before we leave the subject, a distinction needs to be made between technology & engineering and science.
Although technology & engineering are base on scientific principles, but they are distinctly different from science.
Yes, engineering & technology can surely be misused, but it is near impossible to lie about them.
The gadget either works or it doesn’t; the jet either flies or it does not; the bridge either stands or it doesn’t; the prescription medicine either attacks the bacteria or it can’t.
The problem arise with science for two reasons.
First, many fields out there are masquerading as science, when they are definitely not. Think of sociology, environmental science, economics, political science, psychology, economics, etc. This confuses the public and even the pathetic crop of journalists we have today are so scientifically illiterate that don’t know the difference.
Second, even true, physical sciences like physics (and let’s call math a science) have a metaphysical content to them which can allow philosophical wiggle room for the unscrupulous who may wish to push their hidden agendas.
@ Filipe – “Additionally, mainstream economic science has held up surprisingly well, imperfect science that it is,”
That’s not my assessment. Mainstream economics is in a state of high decadence.
***… a declining confidence in reason itself…***
Didn’t the pinnacle of trust in the power of reason occur not in our age but a couple of centuries ago? Didn’t The Enlightenment get soundly trashed and discredited quite some time back? One notes that it made a brief comeback in time for the 1939 World Fair but for a long time now the belief in reason as the ultimate tool of humanity has been a social vulgarity. Far too many people who are credentialed as scientists wouldn’t dream of actually practicing the scientific method without regard in advance for where it led, nor will they follow it if it leads where they dare not go for love of their politics.
A real scientist is like Columbus and crew heading into the uncharted. A scientist who will not accept his own data because it doesn’t support global warming or some other pet project is like a crewman on the Santa Maria who begins to suck his thumb and cry for mama once out of sight of land.
Scientists feel free to do this because reason is already discredited in our culture. (See aforementioned demise of The Enlightenment, which, again, died a long time ago.)
This is the dirty little secret: Scientists who behave as if they don’t believe in the methods of science when it doesn’t support their politics are no different than anyone else who doesn’t accept the primacy or even the importance of reason. It isn’t the great unwashed who are the real betrayers of enlightenment but rather those entrusted with preserving it who instead trash it for this some ‘higher’ cause like green energy, abortion rights, and other Left policy.
@ thibaud – “Fundamentalist Christians in the US – who if I recall correctly account for ca. 19% of the population – fear and loathe scientists whose conclusions undermine their literalist Biblical beliefs.”
I think it would be more accurate to say that fundamentalist Christians fear and loathe scientists who try to ram atheism down their children’s throats.
@ thibaud – In fairness I should add that atheists fear and loathe Christian fundamentalists who try to ram God down their children’s throats.
I worry that the growth of government funding and the extended reach of the federal government into more aspects of society is leading to a conformist science. Global warming and nutritional research are two among many examples. An overly large government can’t help but skew the research agenda to favor it’s preferences. In general scientists go along, not because the are evil, but because those supporting the favored policy get the grants and publicity. They then train the next generation of researchers to see the world through their eyes.
As a society we need to make sure the unpopular theories and their backers get funded too. It is only through surviving the severest challenges of their skeptics that we can increase our certainty that theories are valid. A lapdog scientific establishment that tries to exclude alternative viewpoints ultimately undermines the whole enterprise.
One problem that science faces nowadays is the fact that the phenomena they’rd looking at these days are just too [very] complicated to make the same sort of grand, sweeping generalizations that Newton and Maxwell made many years ago.
Systems are nonlinear, chaotic, based on aggregations of individual phenomena that are also nonlinear and chaotic. It is frankly no wonder that anything dealing with the human mind or body can be less well-characterized than, say, the orbit of Jupiter. Same goes for complex thermochemical systems like our climate.
It’s not that the public has gotten dumber; you just don’t have demonstrations like hitching dozens of horses to try to part the immobile halves of an evacuated globe, or showing a metal ball fit through a ring only when the metal ball has been chilled in liquid nitrogen.
Scientists nowadays are asking for faith. Often, too often, this is faith in computer models that do not deserve it.
In many ways, this is a continuation of the Enlightenment, not its demise. We are still throwing off the “guardians of our intellect”, as Kant urged. We are taking no one’s word for it, as the Royal Society directed. The vast majority of us have still inverted Aristotle’s taxonomy of rhetorical persuasiveness, putting logic and evidence — real, clear evidence — over the the pronouncements of authority in the form of today’s sacerdotal “scientific consensus”.
The proofs have just gotten harder to produce with any degree of certainty, is all. Expecting or claiming sure knowledge in these fields may never be reasonable. That’s not to sy that useful knowledge cannot be gained, but it does heavily imply that skeptics may be more right than scientists can be, in an ever-increasing number of cases.
This brings me back around to what has become one of my favorite quotes (Joan Didion, I believe: “No matter how cynical I get, I just can’t keep up.”
I am finding that the debate here is sterile. Most of the comments – there are a few exceptions – seem to be statements of rigid ideological positions without much regard for either the post or the previous comments, nor for the facts of life. In this sense the comments are very similar to those in far left blogs. Undistinguishable, almost.
This is not very interesting. Which is a pity. But I cannot change the world. These are the people who comment on blogs. At least they are not running the country while commenting. I only hope.
What many describe in the comments as another of science’s growing legitimacy/credibility problems is the failure to distinguish between science and scientism. Scientism is the normative application of the scientific method claiming the scientific method’s analysis of measurable phenomenon is the only legitimate method of understanding the world. The average person may be unable to label the problem, but they recognize something amiss when scientism masquerades as science.
Dr. Mead is right on with his analysis. Scientists are now following the money and to get more it, getting in bed with politicians and journalists. You can see it in field after field. Especially those fields (like climate, psychology, social sciences) that cannot easily be refuted in the short term. Too much government money directed at causes for which the outcome is already known, and the scientists are only too happy to provide the already assummed outcome. then when the public starts to questions the “settled science” more researchers come out with research telling us that skepticism of science is because we aren’t reasonable. And in most cases statements are made by people with less education in the sciences than myself. I have a BS from Berkeley and an MS from Stanford and I am extremely skeptical of everything I read in the name of science.
@#31 Felipe: “Most of the comments – there are a few exceptions – seem to be statements of rigid ideological positions without much regard for either the post or the previous comments, nor for the facts of life. In this sense the comments are very similar to those in far left blogs.”
A pity, yes. I expected better of a site that hosts articles by Fukuyama, Bhagwati, Berger, but Via Meadia doesn’t attract people looking for fact-based discussions that might lead them to new conclusions or insights.
Like the left-wing sites, it’s mainly a place for people who hate OtherSide to vent, rant, sneer ‘n’ smirk without the inconvenience and potential embarrassment of facing neighbors or colleagues or family who have a different point of view.
Aside from a handful of very low-traffic, elite sites that attract primarily specialists, the only English-language political discussion site I’ve found that has real discussion between people of varying views is The Atlantic. But even there the smirk ‘n’ sneer tendency creeps in frequently.
See also — the Amgen and Bayer findings where 80-90% of supposedly groundbreaking studies published in top journals turned out to be badly wrong.
— world’s top climate scientist: “Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it.”
“Scientists nowadays are asking for faith. Often, too often, this is faith in computer models that do not deserve it.” (Jim @ 29)
This cannot be understated. In the modern era, the saying that “talk is cheap” has evolved to “data is only worth its medium.” If the digital models were worth the bytes they’re stored on, then the modelers wouldn’t even try to say, “Trust us.” Instead they’d say, “Go look for yourself and tell us where we got it wrong.”
@ #23 Kenny – “Some oldies but goodies include:
. Sigmund Freud (psychoanalysis),
. Margaret Mead, no relation I hope, (anthropology)),
. John Maynard Keynes (economics)
. Alfred Kinsey (human sexology),
. Rachel Carson (environmental science)
. Karl Marx (scientific history)
.and too many Darwinist to mention by name but Haeckel surely stands out as one of the more blatant.”
Good list Kenny. You could add Steven Jay Gould. Keynes, however, never claimed economics to be science: economics for him was an art, a kind of logical art, a moral art, fashioned for the particular historical moment, and he was good at it.
@ Filipe Pait – “I am finding that the debate here is sterile. Most of the comments – there are a few exceptions – seem to be statements of rigid ideological positions without much regard for either the post or the previous comments, nor for the facts of life. ”
Translation: Filipe’s idea of an agreeable person is someone who agrees with him. (hat tip Oscar Wilde) Seriously, your assertion that economics is a hard, empirical science is just that, an assertion. There is no progree in economics. The language of calculus is inappropriate. The problem of measurement is not even addressed. (When is the last time you saw an error bar on the date presented?) The language is arcane, deliberately so, with no justification. It’s like pig latin, The object is to conceal the meaning of the words from others not familiar with the rules. Don’t try to tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about. I do.
I meant to say “there is no progress in economics.” I mean no steadily building general body of established knowledge like there is in biology, chemistry, physics.
Don’t get discouraged thibaud. You do good comment.
Felipe Pait, is wrong. Of course there have always been a few incompetent or corrupt scientists, but what is new, seems to be the way the scientific establishment is willing to support such people in certain fields.
Take the issue of climate change. The Nobel Laureate, Sir Paul Nurse hosted a Horizon program on the BBC that was basically about climate change skeptiks. Rather than explore what these people have to say, he resorted to cheap tricks to pretend that all is well in “climate science”.
Think also of Michael Mann, who is being helped by his institution to resist FOI requests to see his emails regarding his statistical treatment of the “Hockey Stick” data.
@#34 thibaud: perhaps the format of blog comment lends itself to the rant-and-vent wing nut crowd. I don’t really look at left-wing English-language ones, so I’m mostly comparing to Brazilian leftist blogs. I suppose someone could try to understand from a sociological point of view why it is so.
The one site that I find has good comment is Mathoverflow. Perhaps it is something about research~level mathematics. Perhaps it is something about research-level mathematicians. The comments are polite, knowledgeable, and on point. People seem genuinely interested in advancing and sharing knowledge.
For a while there existed a beta-version economics discussion site at stack exchange. The discussion was not nearly as useful – too many comments similar to the examples you can see between your #34 and this, the ones I am talking past. In any case stack exchange economics was closed for lack of interest.
Maybe the sociological explanation is that genuine thinkers are elsewhere: either doing mathematics, or if they are doing social sciences they write their own blogs. The commenters are the people who think they scored a point with ad hominem attacks, or who feel gratified by attacking a position that the other side never took.
I guess one can still look at Via Meadia but skip the comments.
As a scientist, my view is that the underlying problem is that there is a profound but poorly understood distinction between Science and scientists.
There are thousands of scientists who are off the reservation. Their misbehavior has nothing to do with Science.
We need a mechanism to cull the field. My vote is to have a procedure for retracting their degree. It would be no different than a priest being defrocked for violating his vows.
John Droz #43, I doubt many scientists would think it would be a very good idea for science to imitate the defrocking procedures of the Catholic Church, which will all due respect to the religious beliefs of its adherents is not a model of democracy or pursuit of truth. The last thing science needs is a central authority choosing who is allowed to be a scientist and who is not.
Although you claim to be a scientist, your views seem as out of touch with the scientific process as those of the some of the ideologues who commented above. Scientists do not derive their legitimacy from titles or degrees, as you imply, but from the quality of their work. And science already has a method to weed out poor science, which consists of ignoring it.
#10–“People still have faith in science” Unintentional Irony award for the day.
#25- I would contend the Enlightenment ended in Europe in 1914 with WW1, and ended in the United States in the 1960s, a period that needs no exposition.
#27-Christian [Catholic] but I could understand their concern if public schools proselytized. What we have in Public Education is Christianity being “un-personed” from History except for brief excerpts to vilify it.
Peer review has proven to be woefully inadequate and not at all the rigorous process its proponents contend that it is. Michael Crichton outlined the problem and solution ages ago. The people proposing the theory have to be different people from the ones collecting the data, who need to be different from the ones measuring the data and testing the hypotheses. Otherwise an actual rigorous audit of the data and findings needs to replace peer review. Any system that allows cheating and doesn’t check for it will eventually have it. Scientists can vault themselves to the top of their field and become darlings of the media (as much as scientists can be, anyway) with sensational findings – especially politically correct ones. They are not beyond temptation and while perhaps more self-disciplined than most, not impervious to human flaws and vices. Until the process is cleaned up and systems put in place to combat fraud and cheating (or even unintentional biases) the erosion of science and the public’s confidence in science will continue.
I have high confidence in scientists and low confidence in science journalists. In scientific fields that I am not an expert in (e.g., anthropogenic global warming), I don’t have access to the science as a whole (although I might follow parts) and have to go by what the journalists say.