Do You Belong in the Hall of Shame?

By Keith Kloor | September 5, 2013 4:02 pm

Mark Lynas detonated a stink bomb on Twitter today:

While I have on occasion used the anti-science tag for eye-catching purposes (see here and here)–and have been rightfully taken to task for it–I’m not a fan of this one-size-fits-all label.

In fact, I think it’s problematic and explained why here:

I’m not so sure that the anti-science cudgel can be cleanly wielded by any one side. Aside from that, is it even constructive to do so?

If we are to be fair and consistent, the tent under the anti-science banner should fit scores of people from across the political and ideological spectrum.

 

  • mem_somerville

    Yeah, maybe that wasn’t hugely effective. But just last week we were talking about naming hurricanes after climate obstructionists and that was pretty well supported among the climate-aligned lefties in the US at least.

    But nobody liked my parallel idea about naming blind children after Golden Rice obstructionists.

    • disqus_atlq8Zmtsd

      Doesn’t trying to use shame to influence ideas amount to an ad hominem attack?

      Fact of the matter is that there are nuts on both sides of the issue. We could cherry pick them for petty naming schemes to promote both sides. I feel pretty strongly about both issues, but that isn’t really my point.

      The second you resort to the moral equivalent of calling names, you’ve lost ANY chance of productive discussion with the few people that are still willing to listen.

    • Graham Strouts

      shouldnt that be the other way around- naming GR obstructionists after blind children?!

  • Mauricio-José Schwarz

    Problem is, perhaps, you see things in the light of political sides and imagine that “anti-science” should belong to one or another. But if you simply use science (its method and resulting knowledge) as your measure, it’s very easy to detect the anti-science people in the right, the left, the lunatic fringes on both sides, the “I don’t do politics” crowd and essentially any imaginable group or community.

    And, I do believe that pandering to the anti-science people because of political inclinations or any other feature has been a good part of what has gotten us into the current “science is opinion” atmosphere. So we should go out and clearly indicate who is simply denying what is known and lying in order to serve their purposes. Only good can come from it.

    • harrywr2

      Unfortunately, almost all quality propagandists include a provable grain of truth in their otherwise misleading stories.

      As an example I quote a section from a Wiki article on cancer
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cancer

      “”Many cancers could be prevented by not smoking, eating more vegetables….minimizing sunlight exposure”

      Minimizing sunlight exposure is one of those ‘half-truths’…zero sunlight exposure is going to lead to it’s own set of problems.

      Is the person that wrote that article one of those anti-science LNT(Linear No threshold) nutters or simply sloppy?

      The American Cancer Society uses different phrasology…

      http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/sunanduvexposure/skin-cancer-facts

      The best ways to lower the risk of skin cancer are to avoid long exposure to intense sunlight and practice sun safety.

      Minimizing sun exposure implies ‘as close to zero as possible is best’…which is quite a difference from avoiding long exposure to intense sunlight…

      Who is right? Who is wrong? Who is is ‘anti-science’?

      At low levels of various levels of radiation exposure the statistics are murky at best.

      How much or little sunlight is best is hardly a political charged debate…but those claiming ‘scientific backing’ hold a wide range of opinions.

      Oh look…rickets is apparently coming close to once again being an epidemic in the UK.

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-200848/The-return-rickets.html

    • jh

      “I do believe that pandering to the anti-science people because of political inclinations or any other feature has been a good part of what has gotten us into the current “science is opinion” atmosphere.”

      Much of it is opinion. That’s the problem for people that are worked up about stopping the “anti-science” crowd.

      There are thousands of papers published every month. The overwhelming majority – probably more than 99% – of the scientific literature won’t see the eyes of more than a few tens – at most a few hundred – of other specialists in a given field. Most of it isn’t designed to address policy issues or other serious societal issues. It’s not designed to be 110% bullet proof. Most of it is speculative (and intentionally and beneficially so).

      Yes, unequivocal results do shake out of the testing and speculation. But very few papers present such results. Opinion always plays a role in setting up investigations and/or experiments, interpreting the data, and deriving broader conclusions. The prevalence of opinion in science – call it variation in ideas about how to approach and/or solve problems if it makes you feel better – both generates novel approaches and makes them harder to confirm. It is both a benefit and a challenge.

      So, please, if you want people to trust in science, recognize reality: very little science is unequivocal and/or unquestionable.

      Accept and acknowledge uncertainty and deal with it.

      • Mauricio-José Schwarz

        “Very littile science is unequivocal.”

        This sounds exactly like the kind of wording used by pseudoscientists and anti-scientists to give the impression that actually reality is not there and is not knowable. The amount of papers and the amount of bad research that can be funded has absolutely no bearing on the matter.

        Anything that is opinion is not science. It’s at most hypothesis, the beginning of science. And what we know is quite more impressive than what you portray. Curiously enough, not to put too fine a point on it, you’re using the Internet to put down science. This means you are implicitly recognizing that _everything_ we know about electricity and electromagnetism, including all of Maxwell’s equations and whatever can be derived of them, is unequivocal. You’re also recognizing that everything we know about materials, mechanics, metallurgy and the many other disciplines needed to obtain and operate power generators is quite trustworthy. Of course, electronics and therefore quantum theory are also recognized by you when believing your message will be relayed effectively to the readers. And relativity, of course, since the signals from your computer bounce around in satellites before reaching us.

        You’ve also might have noticed that I wear glasses. I hope you trust in the discipline of optics and believe it has corrected my eyesight enough so that I can read your message.

        If you fail to find this impressive (not to mention all we know in the life sciences, which I will not detail for the sake of brevity) or “very little”, we differ in opinion.

        And all of that, though, has nothing to do with the fact that people who push anti-scientific concepts (homeopathy, GMO false data, AIDS denialism, fake cancer cures, “free energy” (perpetual motion machines), various health scares, etc.) are so far removed from science, and this can be proven quite effectively from their own lack of effectiveness, should be denounced. Much as other quacks who have also tried to thrive in science (from Sheldrake and Deepak Chopra to Pons and Fleischman) have been denounced.

  • disqus_atlq8Zmtsd

    Better idea: Let’s start a blog that addresses logical fallacies in social media. Could provide one anonymous tweet on each side of a controversial or hot button issue and address why the logic is flawed.

    Example:
    “-10 degrees today. Where’s global warming now?”
    “New daily temperature record in Oklahoma City. Climate change is here to stay.”

    Then explain why BOTH are flawed logic. Don’t advocate one side or the other. Don’t educate on the issue. Educate on how to think about the issue.

    • bobito

      Judith Curry had a similar thought on her blog recently: http://judithcurry.com/2013/09/04/what-is-scientific-mediation/

      Unfortunately, it won’t work, because neither “side” wins… ;)

      • disqus_atlq8Zmtsd

        sigh. yes, it does seem to go back to politics. I’m not sure why we were so surprised when we found extremophiles when we had known about politicians for years.

  • Anonymous

    I’m sorry, but I am getting so tired of this “taking sides” b.s. I thought scientists were supposed to be skeptical. Now, all I see are people who expect blind allegiance to a cause. Galileo might have a thing or two to say about that religious inclination.

  • charlesx

    If there was a Hall of Shame for the most juvenile, pointless comment in the climate debate, Mark Lynas would fit right in there.

    • Graham Strouts

      Much as I admire Lynas in many ways I’m afraid I have to agree. It is a
      terrible idea, and for what? In any case, AGW and GMOs are completely
      different kinds of scientific issues: the safety of GMOs -constantly
      “denied” by activists- is a relatively straight-forward scientific
      question which has been demonstrated in lab experiments, and verified by
      20yrs of people eating them (in the US);

      AGW cannot be verified in lab
      experiments, and there is huge lee-way in terms of what it might mean,
      or what policy should therefore be followed, even accepting the science
      that predicts warming from CO2. Lynas’ suggestion is setting up people
      to be put in his Hall of Shame just for backing the “wrong” policy, or
      favouring economic development over CO2 cuts, CCS over nuclear etc..
      There really is a category of “anti-science” in my opinion- I work and
      live around people who explicitly state they are anti-science every day
      (as it suits them)- but a Hall of Shame is definitely not the way to go.

  • Matt B

    KK a Lynas quote from your Yale Environment 360 article:

    There are processes of gradually opening one’s mind and beginning to
    take seriously alternative viewpoints, and then looking more closely at
    the weight of the evidence. It was a few years ago now that I first
    started reassessing the nuclear thing.

    All well & good that he has reassessed his position….but let’s face it he really shouldn’t be lecturing anyone on anti-science….once a scold, always a scold…..

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Keith Kloor

      I actually once asked Lynas about this–specifically if he would have thought of himself as anti-science during his anti-nuclear and anti-GMO periods. And he said yes, that would have been fair to call him anti-science on these particular issues.

      • Matt B

        Here’s a somewhat lengthy excerpt from “Surely you’re joking Mr Feynman” that is not exactly the scientific method by Hoyle, but it is does more accurately capture how scientific thought moves along instead of the “aha” cut-and-dried genius flashes that many envision as how science works: from the “Los Alamos from Below” chapter:

        “One of the first interesting experiences I had in this project at Princeton was meeting great men. I had never met very many great men before. But there was an evaluation committee that had to try to help us along, and help us ultimately decide which way we were going to separate the uranium. This committee had great men like Compton and Tolmam and Smyth and Urey and Rabi and Oppenheimer on it. I would sit in because I understood how the theory of how our process of of separating isotopes worked, and so they’d ask me questions and talk about it. In these discussions one man would make a point. Then Compton, for example, would explain a different point of view. He would say it should be this way, and he was perfectly right. Another guy would say well maybe, but there’s another possibility we have to consider against.”

        “So everyone is disagreeing, all around the table. I am surprised and disturbed that Compton doesn’t repeat and emphasize his point.Finally, at the end, Tolman, who’s the chairman, would say “Well, having heard all these arguments, I guess it’s true that Compton’s argument is the best of all, and now we have to go ahead”.

        “It was such a shock to me to see that a committee of men could present a whole lot of ideas, each one thinking of a new facet, while remembering what the other fella said, so that, at the end, the decision was made as to which idea was the best – summing it all up – without having to say it three times. These were very great men indeed”

        “It was ultimately decided that this project was not to be the one they were going to use to separate uranium…..”

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Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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