The March for Science yesterday prompted several interesting debates. Is Bill Nye a scientist? Why aren’t pro-science liberals pro-GMOs? The answer to the first question, “not really,” and the answer to the second, liberals don’t understand what they mean when they say “pro-science” and, frankly, neither does anyone else.
The debate between “pro-science” views and being skeptical is not new. Agitators abuse science to discredit religion, political views, and other science they don’t like. (A fetus is a human baby, people! Yes, that’s science.) However, this grossly misses the point of science—to further human understanding of our world, from past to future. Using science as a tool can lead to societal advancement and increase the welfare of individuals. However, science remains as imperfect as the humans who develop it.
Whether they admit it or not, all scientists know that science reeks of imperfection. It’s not completely their fault—science is hard. That’s why most of those who marched yesterday probably did not choose science majors. (Just my intuition.) However, the incentives to become a researcher may not be purely angelic. (Wait. Scientists aren’t divine beings?) Not that I blame them. Why would anyone not want to be published? Given all the juicy perks that come with being published in a world renowned journal, I suspect “for the good of humankind” falls further and further down the list for reasons to go into research.
Liberals, still adamantly anti-GMOs, are actually referring to climate change when they say “pro-science.” Apparently, being skeptical of climate change science is really, really bad. (Almost as evil as being opposed to abortion.) Oddly, according to scientists, skepticism is how we should approach modern science. The prevalence of p-hacking—adjusting variables to get a significance level under .05—suggests that the many recent studies may yield overestimated results. While many scientists understand this and some even devising ways to improve the integrity of the field, we still should proceed with caution. As if p-hacking is not concerning enough, politics likely corrupts many of today’s popular studies. Skepticism and criticism improve science; therefore, non-scientists should engage their critical thinking skills.
The truth about climate change science—we don’t know a lot. Does this mean we should completely ignore it? Probably not. We should, however, be leery of any absolute claims or policies based on incomplete studies; especially if the results of these studies claim higher significance than the true effects. Besides not knowing a lot about climate change effects, scientists remain in the dark on how to reverse it. While there have been several arbitrary “goals”—like the two degrees’ target—realistically, we have a long way to go before science and technology catch up to our “ideals.”
Science as a discipline, although respectable, does not produce an answer to every problem in society. In fact, most science is not absolute. Worshiping “science” simply means that you worship an imperfect scientist, like worshipping a CEO of a corporation. The idea of science as a solid and absolute answer to everything, not a tool in need of improvement, discourages scientific advancement. Therefore, “pro-science” may hinder the very field they claim to defend. As always, remain skeptical.
Just a gaggle of people from all over who have similar interests and loud opinions mixed with a dose of humor. We met on Twitter.