Science: on the march or in retreat?

In around 600 locations around the world, on 22 April 2017, there were demonstrations described as ‘marches for science’. These marches were organised to make the following point:

‘We marched because science is critical to our health, economies, food security, and safety. We marched to defend the role of science in policy and society.’

More specifically, the organisers wanted to reinforce one of the key characteristics of an enlightened society, that public policy (and other) decisions should be taken on the basis of evidence.

Less than two weeks later in the United States of America, the Environmental Protection Agency has dismissed from its scientific review board all its academic members, replacing them with representatives of the industries that the EPA was set up to regulate.

In the development and implementation of environmental policy there are, as in all areas of scientific investigation, reasons for ensuring that points of view contradicting received wisdom are given consideration. But in this as in every other area, such consideration should be based on evidence rather than assertion, and certainly should not overlook the vested interests of those expressing the points of view in question.

Social, scientific and cultural enlightenment was not won easily through the course of human history. It is very easily lost. Universities have a very special responsibility to make the case – the unarguable case – that clear evidence should be sought and given priority in all matters of public policy. Dismissing from view those able to provide that evidence should and must be seen as a scandal, to be highlighted as such.

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7 Comments on “Science: on the march or in retreat?”

  1. Greg Foley’s own claim, alongside the article he cites, is indeed fake news. Of a kind that is, indeed, a problem.

    But that’s not the point. Politically motivated scientists think that chickens should be considered when designing henhouses, whereas it should be obvious that the right people to trust on this issue are the foxes. And at last, the US has a President who is willing to act on this principle.

    • Greg Foley Says:

      You’ve lost me I’m afraid.

      • You said that the article you cite shows that “Science has its own problem with fake news”. All it shows is that scientists are more agressively using positive language to describe their work. This may (or may not) be regrettable, but is completely different from fake news, which is making false claims.

        Clear now?

        • Greg Foley Says:

          It’s not a simple question of being true or false. It’s more subtle than that. It’s about being ‘economical with the truth’. It’s a particular problem in the biomedical sciences where advances of all kinds, even those in very basic sciences (especially human genetics) are inevitably accompanied by talks of ‘cures’, often within ridiculously short time-frames. This increases the apparent ‘impact’ of the work but forgotten in all of this are the patients.

          But that’s part of a wider debate around altmetrics and whether they will act as an incentive for all scientists to hype their work

          • I think I see where you are coming from, and may have done you an injustice. Problems of self-promotion are real, people being what they are, and require counter-action. But the unattainable ideal should not be the enemy of the mediocre reality of science as a human activity, in the face of their common enemy which is the unmitigated evil of contempt for reality.

  2. Vince Says:

    For what it’s worth I don’t think the people who vote against the Liberal consensus are against the thoughtful organisation of science or society. Nor do they think that things occur just ’cause. They know darn well that if their lives are being adversely affected then ‘somebody’ is at the other end to it. Whether they know who exactly or why is another matter.
    In the UK since the early 70s the EEC and then the EU was a very handy target to paint blame and one that was utterly incapable to explain itself in a sexy way that would cause people to reject the propaganda. It became a creature infested with ultra serious and utterly boring civil servants probably sent to Brussels and Strasbourg to keep their workmates in the home capital sane.
    That we have opportunists who took advantage of the results of the way the last 10 years were handled should’ve been a given. And anyone with an ounce of political awareness should’ve been able to predict it.
    As to the EPA. It would be a very foolish Board who doesn’t utterly ignore these developments for there is nothing more certain than within 10 years they will be paying vastly more than that saved to put right anything they do under this regime.

    I read this the other day but I had to contemplate a bit on it.

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