Friday, December 15, 2006

Ten Thousand Scientists

This was mentioned in the thirteenth paragraph of a story on page A-26 of The Post yesterday. BBC has more detail:
Some 10,000 US researchers have signed a statement protesting about political interference in the scientific process.

The statement, which includes the backing of 52 Nobel Laureates, demands a restoration of scientific integrity in government policy.

According to the American Union of Concerned Scientists, data is being misrepresented for political reasons.

It claims scientists working for federal agencies have been asked to change data to fit policy initiatives.

The Union has released an "A to Z" guide that it says documents dozens of recent allegations involving censorship and political interference in federal science, covering issues ranging from global warming to sex education.

Campaigners say that in recent years the White House has been able to censor the work of agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration because a Republican congress has been loath to stand up for scientific integrity.

"It's very difficult to make good public policy without good science, and it's even harder to make good public policy with bad science," said Dr Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security.

"In the last several years, we've seen an increase in both the misuse of science and I would say an increase of bad science in a number of very important issues; for example, in global climate change, international peace and security, and water resources." US scientists reject interference

The word "science" comes from the Latin scientia, "knowledge." I am fascinated by the process, the turbulent social evolution of knowledge as researchers around the world compete and cooperate and learn from one another and teach one another, all at once. The heart of the matter is peer review, where scientists judge one another's research to determine whether it meets a standard for publication.

The intent of science, if we can say there is such a thing, is the development of knowledge. It is not just the accumulation of facts, of data-points, but the increase in understanding that comes when a good theory well explains the interrelationships among those data points. And the point of a theory is not just to produce a formula that satisfies a lot of constraints, but to contribute to human knowledge.

And we don't think about this very often, but knowledge is nothing without a knower. Knowledge does not exist outside of our heads or outside the society that maintains it. You and I are where knowledge lives. And scientific knowledge is nothing more than the knowledge maintained by groups of individuals who have trained themselves to understand minute details of their field, all the facts and all the perspectives and how they all fit together.

So yeah, blah blah blah, there he goes again. No, I am making a point. Knowledge is a subtle thing, even scientific knowledge. Scientists rigorously and jealously guard their process, there are endless debates about possible contamination of science by popular culture, for instance. If you ever had to take the seminars and read all those books and papers about validity in its many forms, you know what I'm talking about.

And how much does the Bush administration respect all that? They have made it clear, they don't understand how it works and they don't care how it works. All they want is answers that support their position. All the nuance is lost on them.

And that can be OK, I guess, you shouldn't have to be a scientist to govern a country, in fact the idea brings up some pretty funny images. But there should at least be respect. And that's what this is about, there is no respect for the difficult commitment these people make to increase our knowledge of the world. This is ten thousand researchers signing this petition. Fifty-two Nobel-Prize winners.

I like science. I don't think science is opposed to religion -- I doubt that God would have created a world so terrible that learning the facts about it would disprove His existence.

Yeah, think about that one for a while, Grasshopper.

We're here to promote a good sex-education curriculum in Montgomery County schools. That's it. It's a little fight, a minor battle in one little corner of the country, but you have to fight every day. And this story tells you why. The war on science is a war on knowledge. There are people who want to replace thinking with believing -- not just their own, but yours and mine, too, and our kids'. They want to replace facts with wishes. We've got to stand up to them, just like these scientists are doing.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I don't think science is opposed to religion -- I doubt that God would have created a world so terrible that learning the facts about it would disprove His existence."

That would depend on the religion. That idea that all are legitimate or equivalent is a dangerous idea. Some are enemies of science.

Judeo-Christianity believes that nature is part of God's revelation so there is no problem at all. Any observation must be reconciled to scripture and vice versa. For example, there is a Bible verse that mentions the four corners of the Earth. There was a time when believers might have not known if this was meant to be taken literally or figuratively. Empirical observation settled the matter. If evolution is ever proven true, this would be another example.

One problem with empiricism is that it is not the only way to discover truth. Revelation from sources that have proven dependable is another way. Everyone, even Richard Dawkins, leans on revelation of some kind. So scientists who only believe what they see, don't know much.

It's a little unfair to act as if Bush is some trailblazer in disrespect for science. Radicals have consistently misrepresented science in furtherance of their socio-political aims. The scientists protesting Dobson's use of their research are a perfect example. The facts are facts. The consequences are for moral leaders not scientists. Protestors shouting down speakers and threatening violence at APA conventions in the 1970s were enemies of science.

December 15, 2006 3:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Scientists often don't simply believe what they see; how could they? Can we see the quantum mechanical world? Who are you kidding? But there is no place for Biblical revelation in any of this. The unseen is proven through experiment and the collection of data. Some people, it is true, have been inspired by their religious beliefs to promote various hypotheses. If testable and falsifiable -- good. That's science"

Really. Are quantum physics testable and verifiable? How about string theory?

Nobody personally does every experiment. We all rely on revelation from sources that have proven reliable.

December 15, 2006 5:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"You have no basis upon which to consider any religion more legitimate than any other."

Ridiculous. Do you actually think before you type?

December 15, 2006 5:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"All observations need not be reconciled to scripture, except maybe in your mind. Jews have never done that, nor have most Christians."

Well, it's part of orthodox Judeo-Christian doctrine. It's called the theory of General Revelation.

here's a proverb:

"It is the glory of God to conceal things and the glory of kings to seek them out."

here's the book of Romans:

"For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made."

December 15, 2006 5:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for sharing Anon. Here's a bit about my faith:

We have evidence that a Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe. None of us, of course, were around to see it, but we have written accounts of it. We have several lengthy volumes explaining all details of His power. Also, you may be surprised to hear that there are over 10 million of us, and growing. We tend to be very secretive, as many people claim our beliefs are not substantiated by observable evidence. What these people don’t understand is that He built the world to make us think the earth is older than it really is. For example, a scientist may perform a carbon-dating process on an artifact. He finds that approximately 75% of the Carbon-14 has decayed by electron emission to Nitrogen-14, and infers that this artifact is approximately 10,000 years old, as the half-life of Carbon-14 appears to be 5,730 years. But what our scientist does not realize is that every time he makes a measurement, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is there changing the results with His Noodly Appendage. We have numerous texts that describe in detail how this can be possible and the reasons why He does this. He is of course invisible and can pass through normal matter with ease.

December 15, 2006 6:24 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

I hate to be like this, but ...

Anon quoted somebody else saying ... If testable and falsifiable -- good. That's science

Then he re-phrased it into a semiliterate question: Really. Are quantum physics testable and verifiable?

Never mind that physics is singular; notice that Anon has transformed the word "falsifiable" in the first sentence to "verifiable" in the second.

It just so happens, and if Anon had an education in science he would know this, that the word "falsifiable" carries a lot of baggage in the philosophy of science.

The problem has to do with inductive and deductive reasoning. As Karl Popper said, No matter how many white swans you see, you haven't proven the hypothesis "All swans are white." Inductive reasoning, building knowledge on positive examples -- verification-- is simply logically invalid. Popper's brilliant idea was to turn inductive questions into deductive ones by asking them in a way that allows them to be falsified. The hypothesis is no longer "All swans are white." Instead, the scientist tests the hypothesis, "Some swans are not white." This guides the search, not to confirming beliefs, but to trying to reject them. And all you need is one black swan to disprove the hypothesis that they are all white, logically and without doubt.

If you look at the religion/science impasse, you will see that this understanding of valid logic underlies it. The scientist is always trying to disconfirm a hypothesis, the religious devotee is always seeking confirmation and evidence to support his beliefs.

Changing falsifiable into verifiable was more than just poor paraphrasing.


December 15, 2006 10:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Ridiculous. Scripture is irrelevant to reality. There have been thousands of religions over the millenia, each claiming to be the one truth with all the others being false. The odds against your religion being the one true one are at best thousands to one. It is the nature of religions to be false. There has never been any evidence of the supernatural regardless of how hard people have tried to look for it. Science has given us virtual miracles of transportation, medicine, and communication. And all of science is based on the assumption that there are no supernatural causes Religion hasn't achieved anything even remotely close to that magnitude for the obvious reason that it is false."

Well, much brighter people than you and I disagree. Francis Collins, who headed up the Human Genome Project, and worships at the same church as I, appeared in a cover story in Time magazine this fall debating Richard Dawkins, noted atheist, over this topic. Read the story if you'd like to be enlightened. (fasten your seat belt, Dana- he believes in evolution)

Dawkins is now the most famous of the world's traveling evangelists of atheism. Until 2004, however, that title belonged to Anthony Flew, author of God and Philosophy, one of the most commonly used books in college philosophy classes. At that time, however, he disavowed atheism as a ridulously unlikely scenario because it could not account for the evident fine turning of the universe which allows life to exist and, more specifically, said there is no reasonable naturalistic explanation for the existence of DNA.

Beyond science, however, religion is a moral force that transforms the world daily. While you're right that all these thousands of religion can't be true, you might want to try and find out which one is.

December 18, 2006 1:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Btw, if scripture is the word of God, how come all the medical and most of the scientific knowledge in the Bible is either wrong or outdated?"

Not true at all. For example, when the Big Bang theory was first formulated, scientists didn't believe it because it sounded too much like the Genesis. Similarly, the sequence of created life in the Bible sounds remarkably like the fossil record. It's not a science text, but where it speaks, it's truth.

"Why no mention of viruses and bacteria? Why no antibiotics? Even primitive Amazon-dwelling peoples had large armamentaria of plant antibiotics. All the Bible gives us are priests splattering blood against the walls of an infected house."

See above.

Just asking.

December 18, 2006 1:49 PM  
Blogger Priya Lynn said...

Anonymous, something like 90% of all the sequences in DNA are random junk that don't code for anything, they are ignored in the creation of proteins and the living organism. This is clear evidence of bottom up tinkering, not a top down designing. If a god were responsbile for DNA it wouldn't be full of random junk. The existence of so much random junk is clear evidence of its development by random mutations, by evolution.

The vast majority of scientists don't believe in your god. That a handful do and have no proof means nothing. Religion transforms the world daily all right, but not in a good way. At the heart of all religions is the belief that the world was created just for our special group of people - the Jews are god's chosen ones, or as Islam puts it "kill the infidels". Religion is always an "us versus them" philosopy that's the basis for all human conflict. Look at what's going on in the middle east, 9/11, Northern Ireland, the war and genocide in the former Yugoslavia, the near civil war between shiites and sunnis in Iraq, and on and on. Maximizing the good and minimizing the bad for all in an equal fashion, fairness, is something everyone can agree upon, it is the one philosophy that can unite the world.

If any religion is true it most certainly isn't Christianity, Judaims or Islam - those stories are waaaay too far fetched and paradoxical to be possilble.

Your statement that the sequence of created life in the Bible sounds remarkably like the fossil record is absurd. There's no dinosaurs in the bible, the fossil record shows life evolving over billions of years, not six days. He supposedly creates the sun after he creates light, get real. Genesis says birds were created before reptiles and the fossil records shows us it was the other way around. It says grass was created before fish, reptiles, and animals but the fossil record clearly shows fish, reptiles, and animals came before grass.

December 18, 2006 6:06 PM  
Blogger Priya Lynn said...

Well, Dana, I strongly recall recently reading that the majority of scientists don't believe in god and the farther up the hierarchy one went the fewer did, i.e. the members of the acadamy of sciences had fewer believers than there were amongst medical doctors and other scientists. I don't have a reference for this unfortunately. If you do I'll be corrected at that time. In any event, there are considerably more atheists amongst scientists than the general population.

December 18, 2006 7:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"At the heart of all religions is the belief that the world was created just for our special group of people - the Jews are god's chosen ones,"

Randi, you've misunderstood. Judeo-Christian belief is not that the world was created for Jews. They are the chosen people in that they are the people through whom God chose to reveal himself to the world. Every human being has the same value before God. Jew or gentile, male or female- in Paul's words. Way back in Genesis, there is the story of Abraham offering tithes to a non-Jewish priest, Melchizedek.

December 18, 2006 11:40 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Re Dana's comment/question.

From a weird but hopefully credible web site quoting an article in Nature, vol. 394:, p. 313, July 23, 1998: "A recent survey of members of the National Academy of Sciences showed that 72% are outright atheists, 21% are agnostic and only 7% admit to belief in a personal God."


December 19, 2006 9:16 AM  
Blogger Priya Lynn said...

Anonymous at December 18, 2006 11:40 PM

Anonymous, you obviously haven't read the old testament. "God" repeatedly orders the Jews to kill non-believers, every man, woman, child, and baby. "God" repeatedly favours the Jews over non-believers, offering the Jews other people's land and women to rape. "God" repeatedly loses his mind over the fact that many people don't believe in him and destroys them and demands they be destroyed. Your absurd statement that every human being has the same value before your god is shown wrong over and over and over. This is a god of war, not of love. No god who values all human beings equally rewards his favourites and tortures the rest eternally. Get your head out of your butt, this is one of the most evil despicable characters in all of literature. How ignorant are you?!

December 19, 2006 12:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon blasphemed "...the world was created for Jews. They are the chosen people in that they are the people through whom God chose to reveal himself to the world."

Arrrrgh, the real TRUTH is that pirates are the chosen people:

" is disrespectful to teach our beliefs without wearing His chosen outfit, which of course is full pirate regalia. I cannot stress the importance of this enough, and unfortunately cannot describe in detail why this must be done as I fear this letter is already becoming too long. The concise explanation is that He becomes angry if we don’t.

You may be interested to know that global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are a direct effect of the shrinking numbers of Pirates since the 1800s.

December 19, 2006 5:31 PM  

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