« links for 2008-12-03 | Main | "The State of Financial Engineering" »

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

"Undoing the Damage"

Let's hope the war is coming to an end:

Back to Reality, by Olivia Judson: President-elect Obama already has a long to-do list. But here’s another item for it: to restore science in government.

The most notable characteristic of the Bush administration’s science policy has been the repeated distortion and suppression of scientific evidence in order to fit ideological preferences about how the world should be, rather than how it is. ...

The distortion and suppression of science is dangerous ... because it is an assault on ... a method of thought and inquiry on which our modern civilization is based and which has been hugely successful... In many respects science has been the dominant force — for good and ill — that has transformed human lives over the past two centuries.

In schools, science is often taught as a body of knowledge — a set of facts and equations. But all that is just a consequence of scientific activity.

Science itself is something else... It is an attitude, a stance towards measuring, evaluating and describing the world that is based on skepticism, investigation and evidence. The hallmark is curiosity; the aim, to see the world as it is. ... And it is not something taught so much as acquired during a training in research or by keeping company with scientists.

Now, I don’t want to idealize this. To claim that scientists are free of bias, ambition or desires would be ridiculous. Everyone has pet ideas that they hope are right; and scientists are not famous for humility. ...

Moreover, to downplay evidence that doesn’t fit your ideas, and to place more weight on evidence that does — this is something that human brains just seem to do. ...

However, the beauty of the scientific approach is that even when individuals do succumb to bias or partiality, others can correct them using a framework of evidence that everyone broadly agrees on. (Admittedly, this can sometimes be a slow process.) But arguing over data is different from suppressing it. Or changing it. Or ignoring it. For these activities debase the whole enterprise and threaten its credibility. When data can’t be accessed or trusted, when “facts” are actually illusions — well, this threatens the nature of knowledge itself. And a society without knowledge is steering blind.

The rubbishing of science is far more serious than any particular decision over whether to fund research into stem cells, the sexual behavior of fruit flies or the quarks and quirks of particle physics. Undoing the damage of the past eight years may take another eight. But it must be done. We are probably one of the last generations that will be able to use our knowledge and methods to guide human civilization to a sustainable future. This is our time. ...

    Posted by on Wednesday, December 3, 2008 at 01:35 AM in Economics, Politics, Science | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (26)

    TrackBack

    TrackBack URL for this entry:
    https://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451b33869e20105362c3efb970b

    Listed below are links to weblogs that reference "Undoing the Damage":


    Comments

    Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.