De Scientist is in de Basement

Kevin Drum has, I think, the right take on postnormal science, pretty much the same one I am trying to illuminate in the recent Easter Island posting:

Fluoride aside, it’s true that most crackpot arguments these days take on the veneer of science. Creationism has become Intelligent Design. Global warming deniers write lengthy statistical critiques of climate change research. Tax cutters produce Greek-letter-laden academic papers…

…science has become increasingly debased, just another partisan tool that an increasing number of people take no more seriously than advertising claims about who has the best pizza. Scientists have their version of science and everyone else has theirs. And that version is decidedly not the same as the “elitist” version practiced by the guys in white lab coats.

…crackpots have simply learned that their arguments sound better when they’re wrapped in the language of science. As a result, the public now seems to view science as little more than a flag of convenience for whichever side they sympathize with most.

That’s the problem. I’d almost go so far as to say it’s the whole problem. And real science journalism, not the pablum we’ve been fed lately, is the only possible answer to this problem.

Hat tip to Keith Kloor for spotting this article.


  1. I am constantly surprised that people don't realise that the the corruption of the scientific message was a deliberate technique used the anti-smoking lobby. They could not win the scientific argument that smoking causes cancer, but they could persuade the smokers to distrust scientists, and so continue smoking.

    The same people are using the same techniques to persuade vehicle drivers to distrust the scientific argument that vehicle exhausts contain gases that produce global warming.

    For those orchestrating the sceptic campaign (and funding the hacker), Climategate was a great success even if we know that it had little scientific basis. It was a great coup for those trying to discredit the scientists. For the ordinary man in the street there is no smoke without fire, and Climategate was a smoking gun. No number of enquiries by what the public regard as distrusted (and hated) scientists is going to persuade them that Climategate did not uncover a secret plot.

    My point is that it is no longer of any use using logical scientific arguments because that will not now convince the public. What needs to be done is to discredit the the organisations and spokesmen behind the disinformation campaign. If that means ridiculing all the Republican candidates for president then so be it.

    But it will be a long uphill struggle. No-one wants to give up their prized automobile. It is part of their personality, even more than the brand of the cigarette they smoke. So powerful emotional arguments must be used, but only Hansen and Lovelock seem to be prepared to do that :-(.

    Cheers, Alastair.

  2. The non-science people who I talk to don't feel equipped to distinguish between real science and "misdirection science"; or between their proponents.

    Who has taken on the task of informing the public about good heuristics for doing so? And how do we keep the heuristics ahead of those who're bent on gaming them?

    (and who's a good person to interview, about the heuristics?)

    p.s. p3, I still want a preview button...

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