Anti-anti-science

Lots of coverage at the weekend from the AAAS meeting in Vancouver, including this piece from the Observer. I’m sure such meetings are dripping with excellent ideas and thoughtful discussions, which is why it is so annoying that, from thousands of miles away, we get the impression that they are a love-in.

Particularly depressing was Nina Fedoroff’s invocation of the mythical anti-science brigade, once beloved of Tony Blair and countless British Chief Scientific Advisers. I once came across someone who was anti-science. It was in a review of an academic paper. This unnamed person thought that all of human progress since the invention of agriculture was a massive collective error. Thankfully, few would agree.

My over-riding impression is that ‘anti-science’ is a term that is imaginary and unhelpful. It describes almost nobody and it gets us nowhere. Climate deniers are not anti-science, they are anti- a political view that considers environmental protection as important. Creationists, too, have moral objections to the implications of an evolutionary worldview (John Evans is very good on this). In both cases, these groups use science arguments as their vehicle because they are more sophisticated sociologists of science than the scientists themselves. Where scientists see their evidence as a solid stage on which the public drama of policy can take place, creationists, denialists, anti-vaccinationists and others see a precariously balanced house of cards. Yes, they are stupid and wrong, but calling them ‘anti-science’ doesn’t help. Hitting these people over the head with bigger and bigger science hammers will not win the argument, it will simply confirm their suspicions.

One reason the term ‘anti-science’ raises my hackles is that I think the big beasts of science who use it might be talking about a group that includes me. We social scientists and policy folk have been known to ask difficult questions of science that have been interpreted as attacks. The Science Wars, if they ever took place, helped no-one. Sociologists were left looking petty, and scientists were overly defensive.

The use of the term ‘Anti-science’ reflects a privatisation of the idea of progress that is dangerous for science and society. As soon as science is seen as inseparably wedded to one particular trajectory, particularly when that trajectory is Fedoroff’s favourite topic of GM crops, debate becomes impossible. I know dozens of scientists who are anti-GM, or anti- a particular sort of GM. Are they anti-science?

I find it worrying that, at a time when science enjoys astonishing privileges, political support and stable funding when so many other areas are in turmoil, scientists talk, as Fedoroff did, about it being ‘under attack’. Paul Nurse was guilty of this in his recent Horizon programme and John Beddington provided some thoughtless remarks about intolerance (see this post). Both men have said sensible things about science and policy, but their reasoned arguments are undone by the Manichean retreat to us-vs-them. In democratic societies, science is part of the conversation. Dissent, challenge and scepticism are inevitable. Science has to learn to talk about alternatives, to talk about possibilities, to talk about diverse, desirable and undesirable futures. As Andy Stirling has described, calling someone ‘anti-science’ is as dumb as calling someone ‘anti-education’ if they want to talk about the best way to run our children’s schools (see this piece for a recent version of his argument).

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About Jack Stilgoe

Jack Stilgoe is a lecturer in science policy at the department of Science and Technology Studies, University College London.
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66 Responses to Anti-anti-science

  1. Echoing a lot of my concerns here Jack. Whenever I have attended AAAS I have been struck by what I can only describe as the “cult of science” – an abandonment of evidence-based reason in the cultural/social domain in favour of group protectionism and proselytisation of a set of core common beliefs.

    This is probably a but harsh as there is a lot of exciting and important stuff that is inevitably presented and discussed at these meetings. But without a doubt there are also the usual sociological phenomena you get when a large group of like-minded people get together.

  2. I must admit that I can’t begin to see the point you are trying to make. Coming from a country where, allegedly, 60% of people don’t believe in evolution. it seems to me that you should be admitting that you have a very serious problem. As far as I can see, from Europe, much of it seems to stem from extreme right wing “religious” zealots. It looks rather like the decline and fall for the Roman empire from here. I really hope it isn’t too late to stop this tendency. Articles like this don’t help at all.

    • Without a doubt, there are serious issues in the US associated with how substantial numbers of people understand science and make evidence-based decisions. But there is also a lot of naivety in how these issues are assessed and addressed. It’s worth considering that:

      The apparent/speculative impact of beliefs that are not supported by evidence is almost definitely amplified within groups that find such beliefs incomprehensible.

      It is harder to find a clear correlation between highly publicized beliefs and personal actions in day to day interactions beyond headline-grabbing issues.

      There are a surprising number of poorly supported and ill-informed beliefs amongst technical experts on how society works

      There are major challenges to integrating science into society – I don’t think that is in doubt. But I’m not sure the answers addressing these challenges lie in simplistic hubris

      • (Not that I was referring to your comments with that last statement David! Thinking more of some of the simplistic science debates this side of the pond that I encounter)

  3. Jack Stilgoe says:

    Hi David

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. Sorry to hear that you think my piece is unhelpful, when my aim is precisely to help scientists out of the ruts in which they find themselves. My response would be that there are lots of different problems here, and to lump them all together risks solving none of them. The problem of the ‘anti-science’ label is that too often it considers creationists in the same breath as critics of GM crops, nuclear power, vaccination or whatever. These are different and difficult problems with different entanglements of science and politics.

  4. Unlike David I can sort of see the point of this article, but I think it’s unhelpful.

    You seem to have this idea that all groups engaged in controversial scientific issues are all there because they care about the truth of the issue. They’re often not. Certain groups are opposed to science, period. Boko Haram in Nigeria for example are dedicated to the opposition of Western education. Various groups in the West from animal rights extremists to climate denial groups have attacked, threatened or intimidated scientists, or attempted to have areas of science removed from schools. In many cases these people aren’t arguing some nuanced point about what they’d like to see science do, they are implacably opposed to the whole enterprise and in some cases willing to hurt or threaten people engaged in it.

    That is “anti-science”. I’m sorry if you don’t like the term, but it’s the best one I can find for a group whose pet name means “Western Education is Forbidden.” If you have a better suggestion, I’m all ears, but when I see this sort of thing it just comes across as yet another scicomm person demanding that we stop using term ‘x’ without either a) talking to people who use it to ask why we use it, or b) offering constructive alternatives.

    And on the subject of effective communication, some of what you say about scientists just comes across very badly. Given our falling budgets in the UK and the current Republican circus in the US I was amused by “at a time when science enjoys astonishing privileges, political support and stable funding.” And when you say things like “science has to learn to talk about alternatives, to talk about possibilities,” it’s both quite patronizing, and very hard to see what exactly you mean.

    Anyway, aside from all that, great piece!

    • Jack Stilgoe says:

      Thanks Martin. I take the point that there are specific examples of opposition to certain sorts of science, and even some of opposition to lots of science. But the term is deployed unhelpfully. It makes science sound more defensive than it needs to be and it closes down much needed conversation. I’m not a scicomm person, and I’m not telling journalists what they should write. I’m interested in high quality, nuanced policy discussions where we can talk about what needs to be talked about and work out what to do about particular issues.

      I still contend that science has a privileged position, given the scale of the troubles that surround it. Yes science budgets are falling, but if you talk to any other public servants, they would look on science with a degree of envy.

      • riverlaw says:

        Science should have a privileged position. It is self correcting and important to the survival of our race. When evidence based decision making is dissuaded we should be wary.

  5. Jim Jepps says:

    I think you’re trying to draw a distinction between two different kinds of ‘anti-science’. There are those who are opposed to the scientific method and that their particular ‘thing’ should not be subjected to real scrutiny to prove the claims they make. The other ‘anti-science’ is where people onjject to a specific piece of technology.

    These people are not saying that nuclear power doesn’t *work*, for example, but that think the harms it does outweigh the benefits.

    Now some of the second group can also deploy dodgy evidence to prove their case against GM, or nuclear or whatever but I’d say it’s wrong to say they are by default anti-science.

    Sadly the first group do exist though and some of their dangerous arguments do, occasionally, become popular.

  6. Jim Jepps says:

    Apologies for typos… sigh

  7. Paul Matthews says:

    A good article. Maybe David Colquhoun should look at it again and think more carefully about what seem to be political prejudices on his side. What really doesn’t help at all is the tendency of some people to categorise those they disagree with as ‘anti-science’.

    The related news on this today is that one scientist (or activist?) was so desperate to try to discredit a group he thought of as ‘anti-science’ that he pretended to be a member of that group and so obtained documents by deception. Incredibly, this man was the chair of the AGU task force on Scientific Ethics.

  8. As Andy Stirling has described, calling someone ‘anti-science’ is as dumb as calling someone ‘anti-education’ if they want to talk about the best way to run our children’s schools.

    No, it’s more like calling someone “anti-education” if they talk about dismantling the schools entirely. Or if, like the climate denialists and evolution denialists, they pay lip service to “education” but clearly seek to undermine it with bogus claims and poor-faith argument.

    I mean dude. Call things what they are.

  9. Mary says:

    I find myself in a lot of arguments on GMOs. If the discussants were able to distinguish their position as not opposed to the science–but opposed to the big-M, that would be fine. But that’s not now these discussions go.

    In the US I was involved in a major conflama because anti-GMO activists were trying to prevent a food security bill because it contained the word “biotechnology”. It didn’t contain the word “Monsanto”. But if you are going to work against legislation that would encourage and train developing world scientists in biotechnology and enhance food security because you hate Monsanto, that’s anti-science.

  10. Gavin says:

    Science may ‘enjoy astonishing privileges’, but, frankly, it’s achieved astonishing things, and that should, in my opinion, be reflected in its treatment in politics and society. It’s not an appeal from authority; it’s an appeal from evidence.
    Anti-science can be as simple as thinking everything science does, and is, is bad, or as complicated as only looking for ‘policy based evidence’, rather than ‘evidence based policy’ and everything in between and around.
    The term ‘anti-science’ could have many different contexts, maybe it is a spectrum, but that simple phrase seems to be the quickest most verbally economic way of putting the meaning across, whether it’s really referring to:
    • Trivialising sciences input on this issue
    • Ignoring the facts on this particular issue
    • Misrepresenting the evidence on this issue
    • ‘I don’t really understand it so I will pretend the facts don’t exist at all’ for this issue
    or anything else that refuses to look, as objectively as possible, at the evidence and/or scientific consensus on something.
    If you disagree strongly on something where the mass of scientific evidence is against you, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for you to be labelled as ‘anti-science’, for expediencies sake. You might only be ‘anti-science’ on this one issue, whatever it is, but you don’t get to pick and choose when it comes to evidence.

    I fired this out over a sarnie and coffee at lunch, so if this make no sense, I absolve myself of responsibility for it. Against the evidence of my own typing… ;)

  11. Steven Hill says:

    Good stuff. I have always been troubled by the ‘anti-science’ label. While there are some groups/people who it might be fairly applied to, in the majority of cases it seems like lazy and potentially damaging short-hand.

    The GM example is a really interesting one, in that the position adopted by Federoff and others in the plant science community is as much about defending the interests of that discipline as anything else (and I say that as a plant scientist who spent many years on research on and with GM crops). As the cliché goes when all you have is a hammer every problem looks like a nail, and there is a real issue with some in parts of the plant science community seeing GM crops as the only solution to food security questions. The reality is that there is an incredible range of scientific contributions to the issue of food security, many of which are pretty low tech, as well as lots of contributions from other spheres.

    I think some of the reaction that your post has generated also speaks volumes about the issues that you raise.

  12. Jack Stilgoe says:

    Wow. Thanks all. Really pleased to see this range of responses. I was perhaps a little strident in my original post. Many people have pointed to particular examples about which we might sensibly use the term anti-science. My post was about the lazy extension of this term to describe and magnify a phantom collective that too often includes reasonable people alongside the hypocrites and idiots.

  13. Jack Stilgoe says:

    Another lesson from all of your comments is that there is a clear Atlantic divide. US scientists and commentators feel more keenly a sense of opposition.

  14. Neuroskeptic says:

    “One reason the term ‘anti-science’ raises my hackles is that I think the big beasts of science who use it might be talking about a group that includes me.”

    Then you should explain why you’re not anti-science. But you can’t seriously pretend that no-one is. As Martin Robbins points out, there’s Boko Haram, an extreme case no doubt but not unique by any means.

    You seem to be trying to escape from the allegation of being anti-science by challenging the very idea of calling someone anti-science, which is not how I’d approach it; I’d say “No, I’m just not, I’m pro-science, because whenever I criticize science I’m helping improve it.”

    I mean look at it this way: I’m an atheist but I’m not anti-religious, I don’t care whether you’re religious or not. But I know many atheists are anti-religious. I disagree with them, although I respect their opinion, but they don’t represent me. Now I could try to deny that Richard Dawkins is anti-religious or whatever, but that would be silly because he is. I just point out that I disagree with him.

  15. Neuroskeptic says:

    As to who is anti-science: I would say that most homeopaths, most creationists, many climate change denialists are; but not all, in any case. It’s an attitude, not a belief, and it can co-exist with almost any belief, although clearly it fits better with some than others.

    Some creationists for example are genuinely convinced that the scientific evidence points towards creationism, and believe that creationism is truly scientific. However many don’t believe that and just “know” that creation must be true and that if the evidence disagrees, the evidence is wrong or has been misinterpreted. That’s anti-scientific. Such people might not be consistently anti-science, they might have no problems with the scientific method when it comes to chemistry, say. But they are anti-science on a major issue.

  16. Matt Feltz says:

    I made a one-sentence response on Twitter, but thought I might as well throw in a full comment. Jack’s made a very astute point that the “anti-science” label is used indiscriminately. To me, it becomes troubling when “science” becomes associated with a particular set of policies and worldview. There’s a lot of science communication, especially on Twitter where nuance is almost impossible, that basically comes across as Two Minutes of Hate directed at “anti-science forces.” From an outreach perspective, this strikes me as terribly counterproductive.

    There’s a New Yorker piece about Francis Collins which describes some of the reactions among scientists to his NIH appointment. Steven Pinker called his beliefs “anti-scientific” and PZ Myers said, “I don’t want American science to be represented by a clown.” Neither is a peripheral figure in the scicomm landscape. What sort of message are those comments sending to the average American about the compatibility of science and religion?

    Here’s a guy who wrote a book in which he explicitly rejects intelligent design and young-earth creationism and incorporates Darwinian evolution into his idea of faith. For his trouble, he basically got told to go jump in a lake. Now, you can agree or disagree with his ideas. But for my money, I’d like people to think it’s OK to learn about natural selection without having to disown whatever else they might happen to believe.

    I’m pretty young, so I don’t know how this “science as culture war” thing started. But even if scicomm isn’t to blame for starting the culture war, I’ve certainly seen plenty of people in our community perpetuating it. If our goal is to help spread science as broadly as possible, I can’t see how such an attitude is helpful.

  17. Oli says:

    Neuroskeptic:

    “One reason the term ‘anti-science’ raises my hackles is that I think the big beasts of science who use it might be talking about a group that includes me.”

    Then you should explain why you’re not anti-science.

    George W Bush:

    You are either with us, or you are with the terrorists.

    … rather proves, I think, Jack’s point about the Manichean world view that shapes some scientists’ views on science in society.

    I think it’s quite sad. In my experience (I work in astronomy outreach, and used to be a journalist), non-scientists are generally very curious and interested in science, even if they don’t know much and sometimes have odd views as a result. It’s mostly scientists who are condescending, insulting (tiresome rants about ‘humanities graduates’) and ignorant of the world around them – sometimes even the broader context of their own research. It’s like CP Snow’s Two Societies flipped around at some point.

  18. Neuroskeptic says:

    ? I never said “you’re with us or against us” & I think my analogy of anti-religion makes it clear that I don’t believe that. All I’m saying is, some people are anti-science, other people aren’t, and the ones who aren’t (but are wrongly accused of being so) should make it clear that they’re not.

    Which I really don’t think is a controversial thing to say, unless you try and make it into some kind of tiresome rant about science graduates (sorry, couldn’t resist).

  19. Directed here from the PSCI-COM list.

    “I once came across someone who was anti-science. It was in a review of an academic paper. This unnamed person thought that all of human progress since the invention of agriculture was a massive collective error.”

    Occasionally, in my crabbier moments, I think that our miserable species was doomed with the first flint-knapped tool. And I am a PhD physicist! When my mood lightens, I think to myself that such a view is possibly a little too extreme. Even for me.

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  21. I have to agree with Jim Jepps. There are two groups being thrown in together here: those opposed to the use of new science in particular technological advancements, and those who refuse to accept the observations and measurements from science based upon theological or political beliefs. The first group is concerned with the use of science (technology), rather than debating it’s findings. I’m a scientist, and would place myself in this first group regarding many specific technologies.

    It is only the second group that I would label as “anti-science,” and my interactions with fellow-scientists indicate that there is agreement on this distinction. When particular groups deny the methods, standards, and peer review process that define modern science worldwide, I’m not sure there is any better term than “anti-science.”

    That’s how the GM, stem cell, evolution, and climate change debates differ in the U.S.. The variations of public acceptance between the U.S. and comparable countries for each of these debates further demonstrates this very important distinction.

    • Neuroskeptic says:

      I agree – there is genuine anti-science out there, but that doesn’t mean that everyone who is opposed to a particular technology or a particular application of science is anti-science, by any means.

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  23. jonturney says:

    how’s this for an amazingly late comment… as one with an alarmingly long memory for this debate, I think I now regard commentaries on the larger scene like this as part of the unchanging tribal rituals of AAAS meetings. There is almost always an “anti-science” movement – though the evidence for it, and its composition, changes from time to time. Invoking it is standard rhetoric, but achieves little, as the particular debates still have to joined on terms scientists do not necessarily get to set.

    • Michael Kenward says:

      Excellent summary and reminder of the history that escapes those who cannot recall anything that predates Google.

      I read the original article and wondered what the point was. I got a bit lost – my usual state of mind – by the phrase “a term that is imaginary”. The “anti science” term sure ain’t imaginary or the author would not have something to bang on about.

      One value of labels is that they make you think about what you are trying to tag. That’s about the only thing I get out of the piece, and a feeling that the author doesn’t really understand the ways in which people use the label “anti science”.

      That is a bit strange for someone who describes himself as “researcher and practitioner in science policy”. (An aside, what is a practitioner in science policy? Or is that just another gratuitous, perhaps even imaginary, label?)

      The “anti science” label seems to me to fit very nicely on to politicians who wilfully ignore scientific evidence when they devise policies. Think drugs policies in the UK, for example. While the term evidence-based policy has been abused, it has a value in making you look at policies for their underlying evidence, especially when that evidence might be scientific.

      • Politicians and political interest groups will often “wilfully ignore scientific advice”, but that doesn’t necessarily make them anti-science. Political expediency is for them more important, and they factor everything into their cost-benefit analyses. To me this seems very rational, albeit depressingly so.

  24. jrkrideau says:

    Anti-science is a correct term unfortunately. See the Union of Concerned Scientist’ recent report “How Corporations Corrupt Science at the Public’s Expense” available at http://www.ucsusa.org/

    Or have a look at the Heartland Institute’s funding plan and 2012 budget. The Insitute is anti-scientific , mind you, it seems to be anti-a-lot-of-things.

    There are real anti-science people out there. Death threats, institutional harassment and attempted criminal prosecution against scientists who are just doing their job are not jokes.

    In many cases the people may not be anti-all-science but they definitely are against specific science for a variety of reasons and scientists are right to be afraid.

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  26. Elisa says:

    V good comment by Jack Stilgoe: “I know dozens of scientists who are anti-GM, or anti- a particular sort of GM. Are they anti-science?” This is also my observation. I also know doctors, health workers, and researchers who have such doubts about the safety of vaccinations (based, for example, on the peer reviewed papers that back the much-maligned Wakefield’s findings on MMR) that they refuse to vaccinate their children. Similarly, I know scientists who have a strong religious faith and some who use alternative medicine, a field which the “anti-science” labellers claim is … well… anti-science.

    In truth, GM crops are no more “science” than are vaccination or nuclear plants – any more than my rubbish attempt at making crepes suzette today was “French cuisine”. They are technologies that use science in the R&D, but are not “science” itself.

    I may depart from Jack Stilgoe’s argument in one aspect: he suggests that when certain people call opponents of GM “anti-science”, they are sincerely defending science. I suspect that more often than not, the label is a crude propaganda tool to try to shut down debate. Does the GM lobby really want to engage with scientific critics of GM? In my experience, they go to extraordinary lengths to avoid factual debate, preferring to hide behind half-baked abusive slogans and emotive claims that people will starve without GM.

    • Anastasia says:

      You’re right in saying that being against a particular use of a technology isn’t the same as being against the science itself that underpins the technology. Thank you for clarifying the distinction between these two concepts as introduced by Jim Jepps here.

      However, while there is a distinction – it becomes very, very blurred.

      Scientists and other informed people often have conversations about limitations of particular technologies or their use in various situations – this is clearly not anti-science, and is a useful and necessary part of advancing technology in the best possible way.

      The discussion of technology isn’t limited to informed people though. We have many uninformed people who clearly misuse the science to attempt to support their distrust of a particular technology.

      So, I propose that the distinction above isn’t the correct distinction to make. Instead, there are two other distinctions that may be more useful –
      1) informed and uninformed – although this may not work, because we have informed people who should know better who still make terrible mistakes (see the many Nobel prize winners who launch into non-science post award) and we have uninformed people who nonetheless have a great sense of scientific skepticism and work to educate themselves.
      2) hedgers and non-hedgers – people who use appropriate terms of scientific uncertainty and those who do not (see this post for longer explanation of what is meant)

  27. Peter says:

    I am more and more convinced that the most ‘anti-science’ people in the GM field are those who promote it – levelling ad hominem attacks at critical scientists, in some countries sending ‘heavies’ to shut down critical scientists’ labs, threatening sovereign nations with “retaliation” if they don’t accept GM crops, and arguing for fewer and weaker tests on GMOs in order to speed them through risk assessment. Not to mention screaming ‘anti-science’ at anyone who raises a question about GM technology, presumably aiming to shame them into silence in the same way that they previously tried with the Silent Spring scientist, Rachel Carson (dismissed as a “hysteric” by the agrochemical lobby and its chums). These people are the real threat to science and to humanity in general.

  28. I’m amazed that no-one has mentioned the Discovery Institute yet and their Wedge Strategy. Anti-Science is real, pernicious, and organised. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wedge_strategy

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  30. I quoted your article in my plea for a different focus in the GM-debate which just came out: http://www.euractiv.com/cap/gm-crops-forget-money-follow-science-analysis-511151

  31. Jytte Nhanenge says:

    I am one of those you may call “anti-science,” although I find the concept invalid. In my holistic perception of reality “anti/pro” or “them/us” conceptions have, like science, derived from a dualist, hierarchical, and reductionist worldview to which I do not subscribe.

    Modern science is founded on the false belief that it can obtain universal and objective knowledge and truth, valuable for all. Science has therefore displaced all other knowledge systems including diverse, valuable, indigenous, and local experiences. However, when one is studying the background of science and analyzes the values of its disciplines, it becomes clear that scientific theories, methodologies, concepts, and conclusions are colored by gender, class, race, and culture. Hence, one can best describe creation of scientific knowledge as a social activity embedded in a specific culture and worldview founded on a historical ideology. This means that scientific facts come from a collection of human perceptions, values, and actions – a paradigm – based on white, male, hegemonic thinking. Science is therefore not universal or objective. It is rather a subjective tool that can dominate all that is not white, Western, and masculine. The outcome is that science pursues knowledge, which can dominate society and exploit nature in order to make economic profit to the elite.

    In this way it becomes clear why the “pro-science” people are supporting the GE technology, while calling those who disagree with them “anti-science.” The GMOs have potentially the ability to control societies and nature worldwide, earning huge profits to the political and economic elites. With their reductionist and dualist perception of reality, these “pro-science” people can only focus on economic quantities, while dismissing a quality of life for society and nature. Oppositely, those of us who perceive reality holistic and systemic are deeply concerned about the negative side-effects GMOs have on nature and society: this kind of scientific “progress” are causing global crises of hunger, poverty, environmental degradation, leading to violence. Conclusively, as long as science has so many vested interests and its proponents focus purely on economic profits, I am a proud “anti-science.”

    You can read my study on the subject in my book, “Ecofeminism: Towards Integrating the Concerns of Women, Poor people, and Nature into Development”

    https://rowman.com/ISBN/9780761854289

  32. “Modern science is founded on the false belief that it can obtain universal and objective knowledge and truth, valuable for all.”

    That’s not my understanding. I would put it somewhere nearer to:

    “Modern science is founded on the belief that it can obtain universal and objective knowledge, valuable for all.”

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  34. skepteco says:

    The distinction should be between those who have doubts about use of certain technologies, or the political use to which science may be being used, and those who are opposed to the scientific method- ie those who have uninformed opinions which they simply assert as true and inviolable without debate or evidence. Jytte Nhanenge’s comment above would be an example of the latter-vague assertions about science having displaced “other forms of knowledge”- that is because science as a method is far superior to “other forms of knowledge” which only amount to guessing or making stuff up.

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  36. Barry Woods says:

    Paul Nurse in the Horizon documntary stood by and supported Prof Phil Jones..

    Whose refusal to share data and publish code and provide the sation dat for his rk, is legendary – By definition anti-sceice..

    Prof Phil Jones we discovered in the emails was discussing with coleagues to have words with another Professors department bosses(behind his back).. That Professors crime, having to resort to a Fredom of Information Request to CRU for thier data.. Profesor J Jones (Physics Oxford) did this as a matter of scientific principle.. A similar strategy was considered for Dr Don Keiller (dep Head of Life Sciences, Cambridge)

    Perhaps, Paul Nurse – did very little research on the state of ‘climate science’ and chose the wrong side? or is it policy over scientific principle thesedays?

  37. Barry Woods says:

    oops sorry for typos!

    Professor Jonathan Jones had this reaction to Sir Paul Nurse defending Prof Phil Jones, with respect to the ‘Hide the Decline’ issue. (he made it at Bishop hill, reproduced here below)

    http://www.realclimategate.org/2011/02/hide-the-decline-2-pictures-for-2000-comments/

    Professor J Jones:
    “People have asked why mainstream scientists are keeping silent on these issues. As a scientist who has largely kept silent, at least in public, I have more sympathy for silence than most people here. It’s not for the obvious reason, that speaking out leads to immediate attacks, not just from Gavin [Realclimate] and friends, but also from some of the more excitable commentators here.

    Far more importantly most scientists are reluctant to speak out on topics which are not their field. We tend to trust our colleagues, perhaps unreasonably so, and are also well aware that most scientific questions are considerably more complex than outsiders think, and that it is entirely possible that we have missed some subtle but critical point.

    However, “hide the decline” is an entirely different matter. This is not a complicated technical matter on which reasonable people can disagree: it is a straightforward and blatant breach of the fundamental principles of honesty and self-criticism that lie at the heart of all true science. The significance of the divergence problem is immediately obvious, and seeking to hide it is quite simply wrong.

    The recent public statements by supposed leaders of UK science, declaring that hiding the decline is standard scientific practice are on a par with declarations that black is white and up is down. I don’t know who they think they are speaking for, but they certainly aren’t speaking for me.

    I have watched Judy Curry with considerable interest since she first went public on her doubts about some aspects of climate science, an area where she is far more qualified than I am to have an opinion. Her latest post has clearly kicked up a remarkable furore, but she was right to make it.

    The decision to hide the decline, and the dogged refusal to admit that this was an error, has endangered the credibility of the whole of climate science. If the rot is not stopped then the credibility of the whole of science will eventually come into question.

    Judy’s [Prof Judith Curry] decision to try to call a halt to this mess before it’s too late is brave and good. So please cut her some slack; she has more than enough problems to deal with at the moment.

    If you’re wondering who I am, then you can find me at the Physics Department at Oxford University. Feb 23, 2011 at 10:29 PM | Jonathan Jones

    —————————————————————

    So what do the public see scientist vs ‘anti-science’ ‘deniers’ or other scientists gradually sticking their head above the parapet expressing concerns that all perhaps is not well in small (BUT politically important/influential) areas of climate science?

  38. Barry Woods says:

    Dr Paul Matthews (Reader of Mathematics at Nottingham Uni)

    Made a submission to one of the ‘enquiries’ – which mentioned other failings of Phil Jones, Cru and covers ‘Hide the Decline’ I imagine that Sir Paul Nurse was ignorant of thisas well (at least I hope so) when he defened ‘tricks’, etc on Horizon in Phil’s office..

    http://www.cce-review.org/evidence/Matthews.pdf

    extract: ref ‘Hide the Decline’

    Dr Paul Matthews:
    If the instrumental measurements and proxy data are presented separately, the proxy
    data show a decrease in the late 20th century when the instrumental measurements show
    an increase. This would lead a thoughtful observer to question the accuracy and validity
    of the proxy data, and hence question the validity of the entire “hockey stick” picture.
    This is the “decline” that Jones is trying to “hide”.

    This is a clear attempt to mislead the reader and is completely unacceptable. No respectable
    scientist would ever attempt to hide anything. The correct way to present
    the data would have been to show the proxy data in its entirety, separately from the
    temperature data.

    extract: exageration/IPCC

    These examples are but two of many examples of the manipulation of the presentation of
    data to exaggerate global warming that is widespread in the field. There are many examples
    of this in Chapter 3 of the 2007 IPCC report, for which Phil Jones was responsible
    as lead author.

    These include:
    • The misleading comparison of 25-year, 50-year and 100-year trends to convey the
    false impression that warming is accelerating (page 253, inserted into the final
    version of the IPCC report after the expert reviews).
    • The false claim on page 249 that the world’s surface temperature continued to
    increase between the 3rd IPCC report and the 4th (2001-2007). In fact there was
    no warming in this period as Jones has recently acknowledged in a BBC interview.
    • The false claim on page 252 that in the late 20th century warming temperatures
    rose “more strongly” than in the early 20th century. Again this is not true, as
    acknowledged by Jones in the BBC interview. This is followed immediately by
    another false statement about an increasing rate of warming in the last 25 years.

    extract: foi and refuasl to provide data.

    Furthermore, one should ask why these FOI requests were made at all. The reason is
    that CRU had previously refused to supply data when requested politely and informally.
    And in turn, these earlier informal requests were only necessary because CRU had not
    followed accepted scientific practise of making full data and methods available in their
    scientific papers and supplementary information
    —————————

    As an educated member of the public, am I as many would and do call me, an -anti-science ‘denier’ fot thinking that Dr Matthews and Prof J JOnes have a valid point or 2…

    I imagine that Sir Paul Nurseis totally ignorant of the above, otherwise he would have not appeared with Prof P Jones.

  39. Barry Woods says:

    Recommending a couple of twitterers to follow:

    Prof J Jones @nmrqip

    Dr P Matthews @etzpcm

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  42. I would propose a few distinctions:

    1) I think there are clearly people who reject scientific findings for a variety of reasons. They may have methodological objections, they may have process-based objections, they may have any number of objections. I don’t think that makes them anti-science. The people who argue that EPA’s linear, no-threshold risk hypothesis is wrong aren’t anti-science, they simply reject EPA’s assumptions, which, by their nature, are subjective, not objective. I think a lot of “climate skeptics” are in this group too: they simply don’t trust predictive models, and raise questions about how sensitive the climate really is to greenhouse gases. They don’t accept runaway-positive-feedback assumptions when they look at the rest of nature and see overwhelmingly negative-feedback dynamics. That doesn’t make them “deniers,” IMHO.

    2) I don’t think there are a significant number of people who actually reject the institution of science, or the idea that science offers us a superior way of understanding the physical universe. Some religionists do, I suppose, which would be your creationist types. But I don’t think that they represent even the majority of religionists. I would probably have to lump your anti-vacciners in here, and probably your anti-GMO types as well.

    3) Increasingly, I think there are people who are “anti-scientific-establishment,” or just anti-scientist.” That is, they believe that the scientific establishment has been colonized by the left, and is, intentionally and unintentionally skewing publications to favor findings that lead, almost inevitably, to recommendations for social change that fit a pre-conceived left-wing agenda. I think you’d find all kinds of people in here, including those disgusted with the whole “eat fat/don’t eat fat; eat salt/don’t eat salt; take statins/don’t take statins; cholesterol is important/cholesterol is unimportant dynamic that has shaken medical research to its core. The constant reversals of what were supposedly such hard-and-fast “scientific findings” that your uncle Edgar was told he needed surgery (which then killed him) have probably done more to alienate people from “science” than anything in the traditional (non-biomedical) sciences have ever done.

    For background, my degrees are in biology, molecular genetics, and environmental science/engineering. I would say that I’m in groups one, and, regrettably, increasingly in group 3.

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