Tuesday, December 13, 2011

science in theory vs. practice

Speed Bump

From Ronald Bailey in Reason-- on whether Dems or GOP'ers are more anti-science...

Dems point to stem cells and global warming. But Dems are often opposed to animal testing and genetic engineering. And they're usually opposed to nuclear energy. The Dems also get votes for their support of abortion (which can't be solved by science, but if one relies on it, then abortions after a few weeks would be out-of-bounds).

Finally, "as law professor Dan Kahan and his colleagues at the Yale Cultural Cognition Project have shown, the strong urge to avoid scientific and technological risk is far more characteristic of people who have egalitarian and communitarian values, that is to say, left-leaning folks..."

How do religions die? Generally they don't, which probably explains why there's so little literature on the subject...Consider the case of global warming, another system of doomsaying prophecy and faith in things unseen. As with religion, it is presided over by a caste of spectacularly unattractive people pretending to an obscure form of knowledge that promises to make the seas retreat and the winds abate. As with religion, it comes with an elaborate list of virtues, vices and indulgences. As with religion, its claims are often non-falsifiable, hence the convenience of the term "climate change" when thermometers don't oblige the expected trend lines. As with religion, it is harsh toward skeptics, heretics and other "deniers." And as with religion, it is susceptible to the earthly temptations of money, power, politics, arrogance and deceit...

Religions are sustained in the long run by the consolations of their teachings and the charisma of their leaders. With global warming, we have a religion whose leaders are prone to spasms of anger and whose followers are beginning to twitch with boredom. Perhaps that's another way religions die.

One of the changes among scientists in this century is the increasing number who believe that one can have complete and certain knowledge...I felt nostalgic for those times when even the greatest scientific minds admitted limits to what they knew. And when they recognized well that the key to the scientific method is that it is a way of knowing in which you can never completely prove that something is absolutely true. Instead, the important idea about the method is that any statement, to be scientific, must be open to disproof, and a way of knowing how to disprove it exists.Therefore, "Period, end of story" is something a scientist can say—but it isn't science...How about a little agnosticism in our scientific assertions...

This is one of medicine’s dirty secrets: Most results, including those that appear in top-flight peer-reviewed journals, can’t be reproduced…There is also a more insidious and pervasive problem: a preference for positive results...


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