Courtesy Julia Galef, a great friend of mine and a gifted writer. Look for a joint blogging operation between Ms. Galef, myself, and a few others sometime in the not-so-distant future. In the meantime, read this post of hers, exploring the perilous situations that emerge when America’s anti-elitist tradition falsely flags science as an enemy. An excerpt:
Dubious scientific claims also get a boost from an attitude that scientific theories merit the same pluralistic treatment as personal beliefs. America’s respect for diverse opinions and value systems is one of our core democratic principles. But science isn’t democratic. It has right answers, and it has wrong ones. “Maybe it’s the logical extension of the American ideal of wanting to be open-minded and fair. The instinct is good, it just doesn’t work in science,” says Offit. American populism and pride in autonomy have made the CRC’s second brainchild, “Teach the Controversy,” another wildly successful sound bite for creationism. The implication is: “Let us make up our own mind, we don’t want somebody in an ivory tower telling us what to think,” says Scheufele. And just as the ambiguity of the word “theory” helps the anti-evolutionists’ case, so does the ambiguity of the word “belief.” Whether unthinkingly or in an effort to be extra-judicious, journalists have been known to refer to people “believing in” evolution (as opposed to accepting it), adding more fuel to the fallacy that science is a matter of personal opinion.
That misguided pluralism in science coverage plays right into the media’s natural love of conflict. “The problem on the global warming story is that the science just keeps confirming that we’re in a tough situation and it’s getting worse, and that news does not lend itself to the kind of reporting that the media likes to do,” says Dr. Joseph Romm, editor of the blog Climate Progress. So in the name of “balance” and an interesting story, the media turns clear-cut scientific issues into he-said, she-said stories. “Frankly, it’s intellectually lazy,” Offit opines. Just like the instinct to treat all views equally, seeking a compromise may be a fine way of accommodating different preferences in a democracy. But it’s a misplaced impulse in science, where a “compromise” between a right answer and a wrong answer still yields a wrong answer. Elizabeth Culotta, contributing news editor at Science magazine, recalls, “I was once misquoted by a local reporter on intelligent design and called him to complain, and he apologized, then said, ‘But I was looking for some sort of middle ground.’”
Well done. In Adams’ words, “fact’s are deaf — deaf as adders! — to the clamor of the populace.”