Thursday, September 15, 2011

Commentary on Science

I stumbled onto this story via Twitter. Apparently some scientists have discovered a crystaline planet out there somewhere: essentially, a planet made of diamond. This catches people's fancy, and they accept the science behind it without question.

The discoverer points out that, were he to have made a discovery about, say, the climate of Earth, it would have gone through the same scientific process, but many people would choose to dismiss his conclusions, though they be just as valid scientifically.

The secton at the end discusses method, including this:
But on occasion those from the fringe of the scientific community will push a position that is simply not credible against the weight of evidence.

This occurs within any discipline. But it seems it’s only in the field of climate science that such people are given airtime and column inches to espouse their views.

Those who want to ignore what’s happening to Earth feel they need to be able to quote “alternative studies”, regardless of the scientific merit of those studies.

In all fields of science, papers are challenged and statistics are debated. If there is any basis to these challenges they stand, but if not they fall by the wayside and the field continues to advance.

When big theories fall, it isn’t because of business or political pressures – it’s because of the scientific process.
At times like this, I hear the echoes of one of my Rhetoric professors, quoting David Hume in his A Treatise of Human Nature:
Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.
In short, we believe what we want to believe. Seems like people are fine with science, as long as it doesn't tell them they need to change their behavior. There is also a link to another article on the same site about the value of peer review. That excites considerable discussion.

By the way, several of the commenters on the "diamond planet" article are quite good. There is a discussion of analogous situations. Find the one about people falling out of planes and believing in gravity. I particularly like this add-on:
the variation is the faller who calls out $1000, $5000, $20000, $100000 ...... in the belief that once he price gets high enough, market forces will produce a parachute
Indeed. I like the concept of the Free(-Falling) Market.

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