Friday, June 08, 2007

Helpful Tips from PZ Myers: How To Build Trust In Scientists

One of the bloggers who commented on the article that was the subject of my last post was PZ Myers. He has this suggestion to help persuade those who are the so-called "science resisters" to trust scientists more:
Another tactic not mentioned, though, is that I think we also need to work to undermine the trust in the clergy. They are not qualified authorities, and in most cases they are anti-authorities who encourage belief in falsehoods. In this case, people like Ken Ham and various money-grubbing televangelists are our best friends; they are one of the levers we use to expose the rotten core of religion and the falsity of religious indoctrination, and help us to remove one corrupting influence on children's minds.

Notice all the great science he packs in one paragraph: attacking religion in the name of science, attacking clergy, guilt-by-association tactics, ad hominem argumentation, promotion of metaphysical beliefs and calling it "science," and at least a suggestion that scientists should interfere in parent-child relationships. Makes you want to run right out and trust a scientist, doesn't it?


At June 09, 2007 6:45 AM, Anonymous Beast Rabban said...

Myer's seems to have a knack for missing the point. Arguably what has done the most to erode confidence in science is the behaviour and pronouncements of scientists themselves.

Way back in the 1920s there was considerable discussion amongst the chattering classes about the idea that the world should be run by a scientific priesthood, rather than the usual ignorami like politicians. The result was the bizarre and unpleasant fantasies of B.H. Skinner's utopian Walden Two, and the claims by J.D. Bernal, and more recently, Steven Weinberg, that scientists are destined to fly off and evolve into a superior species.

Christians and theists aren't the only people to find these fantasies offensive. I've come across Humanist scientists who find the narcissism and anti-human sentiment in them revolting. One of these was a cosmologist who wrote sarcastically that he had no doubt there were millions of people who would just love to spend their waking hours in laboratory pouring over computer print-outs looking for something that was statistically significant. This particular scientist praised instead ordinary people, like the cellist in Sarajevo, who continued to play despite the killing of the rest of his string quartet during the break up of the former Yugoslavia, because he did not want to see culture and humanity die in the besieged city. That particular cosmologist felt this was far more praiseworthy than the self-congratulatory fantasies of Weinberg and his ilk.

At June 09, 2007 6:53 AM, Anonymous Beast Rabban said...

One could also point to the conspicuous failure of science to live up to some of the inflated claims made in science name. You only have to go back a few years to recall the claims for nuclear energy which promised clean, safe electrical power which would be too cheap to measure, holidays on the Moon, and robot friends and companions. And rather than being modern Babylons of crime and disaffection, the city of the future would be a wondrous utopia of arcologies and spires.

Well, we're still waiting for the holidays on the Moon and the robots, while nuclear power has proven to be expensive and with very serious risks to health and the ecology. As for the Futurist cities of excitement and scientific stimulation, well, the result of this has been a succession of poorly executed housing policies which have often destroyed genuine communities and left architectural eyesores and further social isolation and despair.

At June 09, 2007 6:59 AM, Anonymous Beast Rabban said...

What has also shaken public confidence in science is the moral behaviour of scientists themselves. In the case of Darwinism, this spawned the eugenics movement. 70 per cent of doctors in the Third Reich were involved in its sterilisation programme, while physical anthropologists and surgeons were willing recipients of organs harvested from the bodies of the disabled and retarded souls murdered by the Nazis as part of their 'euthanasia' and eugenics programme.

More recently there have been the debates about cloning. In the 1970s the scientists involved in the development of the technology were so shocked at its moral implications that many of them resigned and sought jobs elsewhere. Now it's being hyped as another potential panacea.

At June 09, 2007 7:05 AM, Anonymous Beast Rabban said...

Now it's obvious that science and technology has done much to improve the quality of people's lives over the past century. No-one denies that. However, there are rational reasons why a certain scepticism towards some aspects of science, and its claims are justified, reasons which are held by very many people across the range of society, regardless of their religious beliefs. Myers in his hatred of religion fails to appreciate, or even recognise this.

Instead of any recognition of the deep reasons why people may be distrustful of science, all we get is a rant against the clergy. It's shallow, bigoted, and, paradoxically, not very rational or scientific.

At June 09, 2007 9:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where is the nearest lab?!! I will repent and convert to materialism!!



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