It’s OKAY to Ask Questions– Even About Science!
By Caroline Crocker
Denier. This is the word author Michael Specter and others use to discredit those who question scientific orthodoxy. Instead of encouraging beneficial scientific debate, those who question are accused of being irrational, blocking scientific progress, harming the planet and even threatening our lives–he calls it “Denialism“. It is an obvious ad hominem argument, attacking the people instead of evaluating their ideas.
However, the slogan for AITSE is “Good science: based on evidence, not consensus”. This intentionally short phrase does need a little bit of unpacking. After all, science is not just evidence, but also interpretation of that evidence-and many scientists together-a consensus-decide the value of the interpretation. However, it is important for people to realize that the system does have inherent problems. Some scientists fail to distinguish between interpretation of data and speculation about or extrapolation from data (which can be and often is inaccurate). Others are so desperate for their papers to fit with the consensus views that they ignore or bury inconsistent data. Even though most scientists are genuine people sincerely seeking advances in their area of science, they are human: subject to the same temptations, errors in judgment, and even deliberate close-mindedness as the rest of us.
I have experience as a research scientist working on grants from pharmaceutical companies, a professor working with students, an expelled scientist, and just a citizen. I know that when data are not favorable to the company funding the work, some companies use a confidentiality clause to prevent publication. I have seen numerous students cheat in their classes-undergraduates, postgraduates, and medical students, and am aware that many professors do not report or even discourage this practice. Of course, a more intentional breach of scientific integrity is also active in the schools, namely the suppression of information that might allow students to critically assess the evidence for evolution or indeed any controversial subject. Finally, as an observant and concerned citizen, I see breaches in scientific integrity when companies make their product seem better than it is in order to get as large a market share as possible. Just yesterday I noticed a great example in the supermarket: cotton candy was being advertised as a low fat and cholesterol-free food. Well, it is. But the intended message for the consumer was that it is a healthy product-even though clearly it is not!
Therefore, it seems that we need “Deniers” and skeptics. We need to be challenged about our pre-conceived ideas, to carefully think through what we are being told is fact, to distinguish between the ideology and the science. We need to be free to think.