Gil on what’s at stake in the end — the credibility of science
|April 13, 2012||Posted by kairosfocus under Education, Darwinism, Creationism, Culture, academic freedom, Science, worldview issues/foundations and society|
The worst part is that these clowns are destroying public trust in legitimate science.
As usual, Gil has gone straight to the key point.
When science and science education as well as popular science and science-related journalism are ideologised and made into little more than agenda talking points, sooner or later, science is going to pay the price for the ideologues we can see dressing themselves up in the holy lab coat and demanding genuflection before their favourite myths. (And of course, predictably, they will try to twist the issue about, and accuse those who challenge them of being “anti science,” Fundy ideologues, creationists and the like. Let us see who is name-calling and distorting easily checked facts, and who is laying out facts on the merits. That’s why we are going to roll the tape below.)
Gil was speaking in the context of the issue of climate change and how it has been handled over the past forty or so years in the influential media. I’m sure Barry won’t mind our putting the picture back up, of two contrasted Time Covers, c 1977 and c 2006:
Circa 1977, the issue was cooling and a possible ice age;
UPDATE: Mr Arrington has announced that the actual 1977 cover is a photoshopped fake, ouch. However, there most definitely were articles in the newsmags on just such a coming ice age, and indeed I recall reading even comic books discussing that.
It turns out the Time magazine cover “How to Survive the Coming Ice Age” is a photoshopped fake. However, while the cover is a fake, Time was in fact printing stories about fears of global cooling in the 70’s. See here. And so was Newsweek. See here. And the National Science Board. See here. And Science. See here. And several other sources summarized here. We regret the error of putting the fake Time cover up. However, the point we were trying to make remains valid.
Ouch again, but the point remains valid . . .
now it has been warming and/or weather disturbance, and at no point has there been a consistent responsible emphasis on balanced explanation of what is going on, and why the projections being made should be regarded with due reckoning of limitations. In both cases, a key point of concern is that science and its claims are inherently provisional and subject to correction in light of the very nature of scientific warrant. And so, prudent public discussion and policy making MUST pivot on that fact.
However, too often, that key — and inescapable — weakness/limitation of science and decision-making based on its findings, has been overlooked or even dismissed.
If you doubt this, think about how the logic of science works. On inferred patterns that unify observations, theories [T], models [including simulations and graphs etc] and laws are made then are tested and are tested against further observations [O]. That which is empirically reliable so far is regarded as scientific knowledge.
But, the logic is:
If T then O
O, so T (so far)
This is identically structured to: if Tom is a cat, Tom is an animal. Tom is an animal, so he is a cat. This is the fallacy of affirming the consequent, i.e. it is possible for a false T to imply true O’s. So, science and scientific knowledge claims are inherently provisional and subject to correction on further evidence. They may be empirically reliable to the point where we would be foolish to disregard the well-tested results, but that is not at all the same as we have “proved” T beyond correction or even abandonment. And, where we deal with the unobserved or unobservable, we must bear that in mind if we are responsible.
In particular, the deep past of origins is not observable. So origins theories are subject to far less complete empirical testing than theories about the world as an operational going concern in the present. That is why it is foolish and highly misleading to suggest that say the [Neo-]Darwinian theory of macroevolution is as certain as the orbiting of planets around the sun and related laws of gravitation.
And, ever since Einstein, we have known that the Newtonian theory of Gravitation is not absolutely true though it is empirically reliable under a great many relevant circumstances.
Similarly, developers of climate change theories and models or even graphs [e.g. the famous Mann Hockey Stick], cannot actually observe the deep past. Indeed, we may not be able to observe the present with sufficient accuracy and precision to observe the present. The ground stations and their records are beset with difficulties, and the satellite atmospheric soundings have had to be adjusted already. When it comes to temperatures of the more remote past where we are playing with proxies for temperature, there are many confounding effects and obvious limitations that are too often glossed over. Last I looked, the global circulation models still had not captured clouds, and they were unable to project the structure of the observed patterns of temperature in the atmosphere. Feedback effects were still being debated, and there is a big issue on the long term behaviour of the Sun. (Cf here to see how this critical view of the issues applies to sustainable energy development: we should justify our policies on a broad base, not any one particular claim subject to controversy or correction. That breadth makes the policy far more robustly founded.)
Likewise, the issues on cloning, fetal tissue research and stem cells are loaded not only with scientific questions in a pioneering field, but are laced with ethical minefields. I think the summary is still that embryonic stem cells, which require the killing of embryo’s, have still not advanced to the stage of significant tested and reliable treatments. The comparatively ethically uncontroversial “adult” stem cells were showing a lot of promise and had advanced to a significant number of treatments. So, those who took an ethical stance against the use of questionable cells were vindicated, they were not “simply” being mindless anti-science, anti-progress fundy Christo-fascists.
(And I have never seen a headlined apology for or retraction of some pretty nasty things that were said along these lines only a few years past.)
As for cloning, that too is an ethical minefield.
(Let us not overlook, that there is a serious question that the dominant evolutionary materialist view to science and science issues has no foundational IS that can objectively ground OUGHT, and the sorts of questions on science and its role in society that also raises. In reply to the usual twist-about talking point, no this is not saying that all atheists are as evil as is possible to be. Nope, we are talking about the moral hazard of being human: finite, fallible, morally fallen/struggling and too often ill-willed. So, we need sound principles of moral governance to guide and restrain our thought, policy and behaviour in the face of the agendas and arguments of the nihilists or the just plain selfish and wicked. In that context it is highly significant to note that ever since Plato it has been aptly highlighted that evolutionary materialism has in it no foundational IS that can ground OUGHT and has had a specific problem with restraining nihilism; ever since Alcibiades. Yes, out in the penumbra of hate sites, there is a tendency to impatiently brush this aside. Observe carefully that this is not addressed seriously on the merits; as a rule we see twist-about arguments, brush asides and the old trifecta fallacy: red herrings led out to strawmen soaked in ad hominems and set alight to cloud, confuse, polarise and poison the atmosphere. Inadvertently demonstrating the very point Plato had to make. )
In short, we definitely need to be educated to handle the strengths and weaknesses of science, if we are to be responsible citizens, educators, journalists, scientists, policy makers, legislators, judges in courts, etc.
When we turn to the recent Tennessee law on discussions of science in the classroom, what has actually been presented in the law is that:
. . . teachers will not be subject to discipline for engaging students in discussion of questions they raise, though Watson said the idea is to provide guidelines so that teachers will bring the discussion back to the subjects authorized for teaching in the curriculum approved by the state Board of Education.
As was reported in the same article in The Tennessean:
The measure has drawn strong opposition from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Center for Science Education and the American Civil Liberties Union, which said it is cover for teachers who want to teach creationism or intelligent design. Supporters said the measure would give teachers more guidance to answer students’ questions about science . . .
Now, the actual Amendment indicates, in material parts:
[Whereas:] (1) An important purpose of science education is to inform students about scientific evidence and to help students develop critical thinking skills necessary to become intelligent, productive, and scientifically informed citizens;
(2) The teaching of some scientific subjects required to be taught under the curriculum framework developed by the state board of education may cause debate and disputation including, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning; and
(3) Some teachers may be unsure of the expectation concerning how they should present information when debate and disputation occur on such subjects . . . .
[Therefore . . . ] The state board of education, public elementary and secondary school governing authorities, directors of schools, school system administrators, and public elementary and secondary school principals and administrators shall endeavor to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about scientific subjects required to be taught under the curriculum framework developed by the state board of education . . . .
(c) Neither the state board of education, nor any public elementary or secondary school governing authority, director of schools, school system administrators, or any public elementary or secondary school principal or administrators shall prohibit any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught within the curriculum framework developed by the state board of education.
(d) This section only protects the teaching of scientific information, and shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or non-beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion. [Amendment No. 1 to SB0893]
Why then do the objectors say things like this, by Mr. Zucchino of the LA Times:
Creationism discussions are now OK in Tennessee schools
Discussion of creationism in public school classrooms in Tennessee will now be permitted under a bill that passed the Republican-controlled state Legislature . . . . The measure will allow classroom debates over evolution, permitting discussions of creationism alongside evolutionary teachings about the origins of life . . . .
The state’s teachers are not allowed to raise alternatives to evolution but, under the new law, would be required to permit discussion of creationism and other beliefs if they are raised in class. The law would also permit discussion of challenges to such scientific conclusions as the man-made effects of climate change . . .
It is patent that the bill and the way it is being reported for purposes of objection are as chalk and cheese, and it is further obvious that this distorted reporting is agenda driven.
In short, indoctrination, not education.
The main purpose of the bill is plainly right and needed, “to help students develop critical thinking skills necessary to become intelligent, productive, and scientifically informed citizens.”
Clearly, such is doubly needed in a time where there are those who would don the holy lab coat, and issue holy writ that may not be challenged or questioned on pain of a high tech media lynching and veiled threats of holding students educated in ways that “develop critical thinking skills necessary to become intelligent, productive, and scientifically informed citizens” hostage. (For, we have not forgotten the point of the NAS/NSTA intervention in the Kansas case some years ago. Cf the key letter by these bodies said to represent institutional science and science education, as discussed here.)
Why, then, did the Governor protest the bill?
Clearly, he feared controversy, a controversy that given the correlation of forces and media power, proponents of critical thinking in science cannot currently win. And indeed, duly, the old smears on the Scopes Monkey Trial in the same state, c 1925/26, as further amplified by the material distortions in Inherit the Wind of the 1950’s — and yes, the general impression of the Scopes trial is materially and willfully distorted — have been trotted out. (More distortions that have been allowed to settle in and be perceived as unquestionable truth.)
Why then take up a fight that — given the evident balance of forces — we cannot win?
Because, no lie — speaking with disregard to truth with the hope that to your advantage it will be taken as truth — stands forever. And because in the end, someone must hopelessly but resolutely stand at Thermopylae to set the marker that allows the later decisive victories to happen.
Or, since Easter week just passed, let me add: we must never forget that it was when Jesus came over the brow of Mt Olives on a donkey, and wept over Jerusalem that kills its prophets, then went in and cleansed the Temple of abuses [perhaps for the second time in three years] and stood in it teaching to the people, that the stung authorities resorted to trying to retaliate against whistleblowing by attempting to discredit him, then when that didn’t work, set out on buying his betrayal to a kangaroo court bent on judicial murder.
Of course, that was Friday, but Sunday was coming.
Just so, every cross on every spire in every city is a silent rebuke to corrupt elites who manipulate legitimate institutions to their own ends, and to every city that kills its prophets. (And if you want to trot out anti-semitism accusations, kindly cf here and here first. Corrupt elites are corrupt elites.)
But, ever so often, it is the gibbet that sways the future.
(And yup, they tried to discredit that martyr too, as a blasphemer, whose followers stole his body from the tomb and made up stories about resurrections. Sure, the sleeping guards saw it . . . . [Cf here on.])
In particular, it must be on record that the distortions and manipulations in the name of science and science education in our day as we see again exposed, are just that, distortions.
So, when the day of reckoning comes, it will be plain what the fault is, not genuine science, but the ideological captivity of key institutions to the point where they imagine that they can so twist public perceptions that they can dismiss the needed reform that students [need to] develop critical thinking skills necessary to become intelligent, productive, and scientifically informed citizens.
Let the record show that someone blew the whistle, loud and clear.
What is at stake in the end is the credibility of science, and the integrity of science and education institutions, as well as the media.
Those are the fires that are being played with so irresponsibly by journalists, by agenda-driven special interest groups flying the false colours of science, and even by science and education institutions.
With Climate Change, with the disclosures of the whistleblower concerning the internal correspondence of the members of “the team,” that day of reckoning is at hand already.
With stunts like what we have just discussed, the day of reckoning for origins science is not far off.
Time to stop the ideological posturing.
Time to stop the indoctrination of students in school and the general public in the name of science education.
Time to stop poisoning public discourse in the name of protecting science, education and students in the classroom from allegedly anti-science religious fundy fanatics, etc.
Otherwise the conflagration set by the sort of agenda-driven ideologues we have seen at work above will do inconceivable harm to not only the credibility of our civilisation’s education, science, schools and media, but to the very fabric of responsible democratic society.
There is far more at stake, in the end, on the debates on science, origins, climate change, cloning and the like than we may realise. END