Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Is it Permissible to Question Science?

With the departure of little casey luskin, the job of 'Chief Poster of Serious Inanities' seems to be falling to davey 'klingy' klinghoffer.  He has a pretty idiotic little post over on the misnamed "Evolution 'News' and Views' site called "The Myth of the Objective Scientist".  The majority of the article is typically misguided, it's the 'conclusion' that he takes it from misguided to foolish.

OK, if you don't want to read his post, I suggest you read the article klingy references first, "The left’s own war on science".  I really suggest you read this before you read klingy's spin.  More importantly, I suggest you read the whole article, something I have a feeling klingy never bothered to do.

Here is my summary of the situation.  Anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon did some long term scientific work.  Along the way he MAY have done some things that were less than kosher in the eyes of other anthropologists.  I word it that way mainly because I am not equipped to pass judgement on his work.  I am getting my information from other sources.

A journalist, Patrick Tierney, wrote a book that made serious accusations against Chagnon and his collaborator James Neel.  The charges were so serious that the American Anthropological Association, which set up an task force to investigate.  The down side here is that the nasty stuff got publicized well before any investigation, so Chagnon lost in the Court of Public Opinion.

Here is my problem, did klingy mention the results of the investigation?  No!  The fact the investigation occurred was enough for klingy to come to his spin-based conclusions.  Before getting into that, the results were exoneration for Chagnon and Neel on the serious charges supposedly uncovered by Tierney.  The ethical debate over anthologists' behavior when conducting studies is ongoing, as it should.  When questions arise, they should be dealt with, possibly changing the rules about anthropological studies.  But this exoneration was ignored by klingy.

So what did klingy get from all this.  He makes one point, scientists are people.  Gee, I don't know about you, but I sorta had that one in my head already.  No one ever said scientists were some inhuman automaton that can achieve some unheard of level of objectivity.  What has been said, and proven over and over again, is that Science can be an objective process.

Yes, I said 'can be'.  By itself, it isn't objective, but the process lends itself to a level of objectivity.  Look at what happens when a scientist screws up.  Pons and Fleischmann's Cold Fusion Experiment is a good example.  Rather than take their results at face value, other scientists attempted to replicate their work and when no one could, their results were relegated to a footnote in history rather than a startling breakthrough. Hwang Woo-suk's cloning experiment is another.  Scientist messes up, and it is uncovered and dismissed.  That's part of the process!  It leads to much more objectivity than many processes in other fields!  No one claims scientists are perfect, but the process -- the use of actual scientific methodology -- tends to reach much more objective conclusions.

Those are just two examples, but when you look at the hundreds and thousands of scientific discoveries that do pass through the many gauntlets of scientific methodology, including examples of scientists going against current orthodoxy, you cannot argue with the success of science.  Look at the example of Chagnon.  After all his work, there were complaints, much motivated by political reasons.  Were mistakes made?  Maybe, but the serious charges were false and the integrity of the overall work restored.

But, of course, klingy doesn't go the extra mile and actually investigate.  He read part of one article and takes it as confirmation of his own biases.  Here is his closing:

"Misled by the myth of objectivity, many in the media and in education are themselves blinded. And so you have a dynamic that goes beyond a vague confirmation bias to an absolute insistence that when it comes to certainties like Darwinian evolution, no challenge is permitted and anyone willing to consider counterevidence is demonized as a "creationist."
So according to kling, challenges to evolution are not allowed.  Hmm, how many times has someone over the last 150 years questioned parts of the Theory of Evolution?  I couldn't possibly count them.  But they do tend to fall into two broad categories, scientific challenges and philosophical challenges.

We have scientists who raise objections, do the scientific work and that work improves the overarching theory.  People like Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould are perfect examples.  There is a long list of scientists who have added to the body of science, including evolution, and they do so by re-examining the current state of knowledge.  Something klingy seems to think cannot be challenged.  If science is so set-in-stone, then how are any advances made at anytime?  They are made by doing to actual work!  Not marketing, not whining, not lying . . . but actually doing science!

The other category of objection are people, like klingy and his buds at the Discovery Institute, who object for philosophical reasons.  The majority of those are actual, honest-to-god (pun intended) Creationists of one stripe or another.  Many simply object, quoting various religious tracts, and refusing the accept the scientific validity of evolution as a whole.  These folks come in a variety of types:  Old Earth Creationists, Young Earth Creationists, Evangelicals, Hamians (little kennie ham's followers), to name a few.  The honest ones self-identify as Creationists.  Other Creationists are much more stealthy, maybe 'closeted' is a better term.  They hide their religious motivations, dress up their ideas in scientific-sounding language, and market them all the while trying to segregate themselves from their religious beliefs . . . at least officially.  Sound familiar?  These folks are not Creationists because they object to Evolution, they are Creationists because they hold a religious belief that the Universe and life originated "from specific acts of divine creation.

Do you see how foolish his conclusion is?  Over the years there have hundreds, even thousands of examples of actual scientific objections to Evolution.  Some of them gathered and garnered the evidence to support their objections, thereby improving the validity of the theory.  Many of their ideas don't work out, but at least they made the effort!  That's the part klingy seems to forget.  If your objections are actually based on science, do the work to either support your ideas, or abandon them as unsupported.

If your objections are based on your religious philosophy, at least be honest about it.  But no, look at what he says: that support for evolution is only some form of confirmation bias because any sort of objectivity of a scientist apparently impossible.  And if you dare to object, you get labeled as a creationist.  What a load of nonsense. 

So the answer to the question I started in the title, Is it permissible to question science?  The answer is that it is not only permitted, but encouraged.  The requirement is you question with science and you be willing to do the work to either support your ideas or see them eventually dismissed.  If your objection is based on philosophy, then you should really look at your belief set.  If you believe some actions by a capricious deity, you probably are a creationist.

To paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy,
"If you demand your religious beliefs should be taught in science class as if they are science, youuuuuuu might be a Creationist!"  
And, for the record, klingy, I believe you are one!  I think it's time to come out of the closet.

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