Monday, August 15, 2005

Blinded With Science


The New York Times the other day wrote an editorial, supposedly by a "science writer", which can only be described as atrocious in its reasoning. Ostensibly "in defense of common sense", the author effectively proposes something else entirely - the "what makes sense to me" standard. The first major flaw of the argument is that scientists don't reject "common sense" - they reject instead the notion that uninformed opinion is an appropriate substitute for measurable scientific data. The second major flaw, which ties into the first, is that "common sense" flows from knowledge. It was once "common sense" to many that the sun was carried around the earth in a chariot driven by the sun god, Ra. We now have a great deal more knowledge, and the columnist would probably now decry that particular belief as defying common sense (presumably without even noticing the contradiction in his argument).

It is interesting to note that this type of flimsy argument is effectively couched in terms of common sense. (Essentially, "It is common sense that common sense makes sense.") This type of overstated case, in my opinion, furthers an increasingly problematic contempt for science by our nation's leaders, most notably its Republican leaders. When you don't like the scientific consensus on global warming, appoint ideologues to important commissions and phony up dissention. When you don't like the scientific consensus on fighting HIV, appoint ideologues to important commissions and phony up data to favor "abstinence only" programs for Africa. When you don't like the scientific consensus on evolution, embrace the phonied-up "alternative" claim of "intelligent design". Get your supporters to close quarters in defense of ignorance over science, get them to extend grants to institutions which advance ignorance over scientific knowledge (as companies like Dow Chemical and ExxonMobil have done with global warming), and laugh when people take this particular science writer's advice and dismiss global warming with "common sense" statements such as, "If the world is getting warmer, why was it so cold last night?"

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