Thoughts on the ocean, the environment, the universe and everything from nearly a mile high.

Panorama of The Grand Tetons From the top of Table Mountain, Wyoming © Alan Holyoak, 2011

Friday, February 10, 2012

Attacks on science and scientists...what is the deal!?

I don't know about you, but I am shocked and concerned about recent political attacks on scientific findings and attacks on the scientific community itself.

One of the most blatant recent examples of this type of attack was made by Texas Gov./Presidential hopeful Rick Perry.  During a press conference in New Hampshire earlier this year Gov. Perry stated that he does not accept the scientific conclusion that human activities have an impact on global climate.  That is his right, but he didn't stop there. In my opinion Gov. Perry crossed an important line (and I don't mean that in a good way) when he went on to attack the scientific community directly by stating that he believes that "many scientists" manipulate data in order to keep money rolling into their pockets.  The following link shows the portion of the press conference when Gov. Perry's made that statement:

Gov. Rick Perry denies human impact on global warming, and goes on to attack the scientific community

Gov. Perry's statement regarding the scientific community and others like it are, in my opinion, completely out of line.  His statement that many scientists manipulate data in an effort to get rich shows clearly that he and others who hold with his position on science do not understand the scientific peer review process which scientists use to critique one another's conclusions, and through which scientific explanations are improved.  But, even worse, Gov. Perry gets personal by going beyond disagreeing with scientific conclusions, and overtly stating that he believes that many scientists are dishonest and that they are motivated by greed.  He also displays his lack of scientific understanding by stating that the "current climate change theory" is unproven.

FYI, once a scientific explanation becomes a theory this means that, in the scientific world, it is the equivalent of a scientific fact - provisional to be sure, but it is nevertheless the best and most complete explanation we have on a particular topic.  Gov. Perry is suggesting that the current explanation of human-influenced climate change is nothing more than a biased hunch or perhaps a hypothesis - he is wrong there.  Because the current explanation of climate change is a theory it bears serious consideration, and is not to be dismissed on the basis of personal opinion alone.

In an interview with the Huffington Post in August 2011, former Vice President Al Gore addresses the recent trend of political attacks on science and the scientific community, and makes a meaningful analogy.  Mr. Gore stated that during the fight for Civil Rights in the USA one of the most important things that happened was a shift in what people were willing to accept as being OK or not OK in their everyday conversations.  Over time it became less and less acceptable to include racist comments in everyday conversation and actions.  Mr. Gore suggests, by analogy, that we should become less and less willing to accept personal prejudice and unfounded opinion against the scientific community, and that we should give increasingly serious consideration to conclusions reached through scientific research.  Whether you like Al Gore or not, he's got a point, and I urge you to take 6 minutes and listen to what he has to say about the current social and political climate with respect to the scientific community.  This link will open a video showing that interview:

Huffington Post interview in which Al Gore highlights recent attacks on science and scientists

After you watch this interview I urge you to ponder on what you think about the scientific community, and why you think what you do.  As you do that you should ask yourself whether you think what you do about science and scientists because of a personal knowledge of what science is and how it works, or because of someone else's opinion.

Lastly, I believe that it is NOT OK or fair to accuse the scientific community of being greedy charlatans whose main goal is to get rich (a la Gov. Rich).  Scientists are hard-working, dedicated, ethical, educated people who dedicate their lives to trying to explain how the world works.

(Originally posted 8-30-2011)

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