Friday, June 04, 2004

Scientists speaking out

Nothing annoys me more than people pretending they're experts when they're not. Well, okay, stating speculation as fact annoys me more, but it's closely related.

What brought this to mind is something Joe Carter at the Evangelical Outpost said:
John Marburger, the science advisor for the Bush Administration, would make an excellent blogger. After the Union of Concerned Scientists (USC) issued a report, "Scientific Integrity In Policy Making", that listed instances of what it described as the administration's "misuse of science", Marburger fired back with a point-by-point fisking of the USC’s claims.
The true "misuse of science" is when reputable scientists make false claims about their area of knowledge in order to further a political agenda. The public has already grown wary of authoritative claim by scientists on such areas as politics and ethics. If they continue to erode their credibility in this manner we may find that we can't trust them on issues of science either.

[Incidentally, I think it's UCS, not USC.] What I'd like to know is whether these scientists really are making claims, false or not, about their area of knowledge. "Scientist" is a general and highly misleading term. Scientist, whether theorists or experimentalists, know a lot about their particular fields of study. When it comes to things outside their fields, even areas of scientific research outside their fields, they generally don't know much more than the well-educated layman. They may have a better generic understanding of the manner in which research is done, but they rarely know the specifics of the facts and procedures and caveats of fields other than their own. Thus I'm very reluctant to take a physicist's word on what the results of CDC research, or a biologist's word on the philosophical ramifications of quantum physics (on this subject, I'm reluctant to take anyone's word). I get very annoyed when scientists use their moniker to pretend they're knowledgeable in all things science.

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