Reaping the benefits of science while hostile to science

So I read with some interest an article by Adam Frank espousing the idea of removing the benefits of science from those who deny science. He starts with examples like “alien visitations to the healing power of eskimo rituals”, and states that there is “no price for them to pay for believing” in these ridiculous things. “They still enjoy the fruits of science, from iPads to modern medicine, even as they profess belief in ideas without any sound basis.” Further, “Science is not a lunch buffet. Yes, the individual results on small, focused issues like the coffee-bad/coffee-good debate may flip back and forth. When research domains mature into overarching paradigms, however, its time to take notice.” Finally, “Don’t pick and choose between the science you like and the ones you deny. Chose between science and no science at all.

Hand in your cell phones, please.”

I’ve stated this before, in the form of removing medical treatment for those who refuse vaccines. I am never completely serious, but it is frustrating to see the dichotomy.

The issue I have with this article is one that I’ve written on before here and more here: he focusses on the comparison between evolution denial and climate denial. It really drives me nuts! I am not entirely convinced by the climate data that the situation is as dire as is claimed. I am not sure whether the climate scientists have provided a clear enough picture, without distortion, cherry-picking, and exaggeration. I don’t have to deny all of physics, chemistry, and biology to hold this position as creationists have to do. Perhaps I’m what is sometimes called a luke-warmist, but even on its best days climate science is nowhere close to as well supported as evolution.

Enough! Stop comparing global warming deniers to evolution deniers. It’s a bad comparison, and extremely misleading.


About brianblais

I am a professor of Science and Technology at Bryant University in Smithfield, RI, and a research professor in the Institute for Brain and Neural Systems, Brown University. My research is in computational neuroscience and statistics. I teach physics, meteorology, astonomy, theoretical neuroscience, systems dynamics, artificial intelligence and robotics. My book, "Theory of Cortical Plasticity" (World Scientific, 2004), details a theory of learning and memory in the cortex, and presents the consequences and predictions of the theory. I am an avid python enthusiast, and a Bayesian (a la E. T. Jaynes), and love music.
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2 Responses to Reaping the benefits of science while hostile to science

  1. bill says:

    Good point to make. I personally think there is credible evidence for global warming, but I admit I am hardly an expert on the subject. That said, I think there is also a case for peak oil, which has the downside that given our cultural inability to agree on the validity of science, much less agreeing on a timeline of dwindling petroleum resources, there is a good possibility that this “Ship of Fools” we call our country will crash and burn before lifestyle changes and viable energy alternatives come to pass.

    As I see it, the issue is there isn't anything we can practically grow/produce that will produce anything close to our current oil/gasoline usage (we use about 1.5 gallons of gas per person per day in the US — and you'ld have to use ALL of Texas (including where people live) to grow enough switchgrass to produce enough alcohol to take its place, not counting all the processing required. This is based on a 1000 gallons of alcohol per acre estimate for switchgrass).

    So that's what concerns me these days. Global warming has the disadvantage (being a relatively small effect) that people can argue about its validity for years. Running out of oil is at least a more pressing argument, and still I feel the current state of politics and current state of disinterest in science will result in a very limited change in the status quo for a number of years to come.

  2. bblais says:

    It's a nice reminder that some people read my blog! I need to post more (I have a backlog). I have heard of peak oil, but not looked carefully. That being said, the arguments of Julian Simon are pretty compelling. Essentially, he points out resource limit scares through history, and why they didn't pan out. I think energy resources might be a bit different, but I could be convinced otherwise.

    I too think that there are more pressing issues related to CO2, mainly our entanglement in Middle East lunacy, that one can make a very strong argument for its reduction despite ones position on global warming.

    Thanks for the comments!

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