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← Beddington goes to war against bad science

Beddington goes to war against bad science - Comments

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 1 by AtheistEgbert

Intolerance of intolerance. Sounds good. Will be fun to watch the morally dubious criticisms against John Beddington.

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 11:01:15 UTC | #594302

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 2 by Steve Zara

I know Beddington personally quite well. He's a thoroughly good chap. It's good to see this. I'm very tolerant of his intolerance.

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 11:19:53 UTC | #594309

Roger J. Stanyard's Avatar Comment 3 by Roger J. Stanyard

Clearly as an aniti-creationist I can't but agree with what he is saying. Science does need to stand up for itself in the face on onslaught by nutters who don't even understand their own "creation science".

But scientists should be open to criticism and questioining by non-scientists because science is at the core of the society, culture and economies in which we live and has huge ramifications for all three.

I'm not a scientist but I reserve my right to question whether the latest fom to cure baldness has been "scientifically shown" to work. (I'm not bald, btw, but the stuff is being advertised on TV at the moment). I reserve the right to question scientists about proposals on Climate Change as they have economic consequences (my speciality), are by necessity, political in their impact (I'm a voter!)..

What worries me about his position is that science is not just a "scientific" activity - it's an economic, social, business and political activity and it's participants are equally prone to being as self serving as the rest of us humanity.. We all have to be free to question science even if that involves huge errors of judgement, seriously flawed science and mistakes.

I don't like him using the term intollerence - "robustness" of view or position seems a better alternative.

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 13:11:01 UTC | #594350

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 4 by Alan4discussion

Research Fortnight Ernst said that the analogy with racism was a good one and that he, like Beddington, questioned why journalists have what he called “a pathological need” to balance a scientific opinion with one from outside of science.

He gets to the crux of the problem here, when the opinion of world leading scientists needs to be "balanced" in the media by the views of the village idiot, the local fringe nutters, or some hired maverick.

Beddington also had harsh words for journalists who treat the opinions of non-scientist commentators as being equivalent to the opinions of what he called “properly trained, properly assessed” scientists. “The media see the discussions about really important scientific events as if it’s a bloody football match. It is ridiculous".

Media cheerleaders of stupidity need to be jumped on and squashed back into their corners of ignorance, wearing the appropriate dunces cap!

”I really would urge you to be grossly intolerant...We should not tolerate what is potentially something that can seriously undermine our ability to address important problems.

“There are enough difficult and important problems out there without having to… deal with what is politically or morally or religiously motivated nonsense.”

Time to educate and inform the public about real science. We should not tolerate intolerable deception and perversion of information.

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 13:13:17 UTC | #594353

sanban's Avatar Comment 5 by sanban

I reserve the right to question scientists about proposals on Climate Change as they have economic consequences (my speciality), are by necessity, political in their impact (I'm a voter!)..

Sure an economist has the right to give forth on the economic implications of some scientific discovery. She does NOT have the right to be accorded any credence on the whether the science is valid.

A voter has the right to question the impact a scientific discovery will have on his life. If he isn't a scientist, he criticisms of the science do not have to be tolerated.

This intolerance would mean journalists wouldn't be quoting theologians on cosmology nor PhDs (Literature) on biology.

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 14:03:25 UTC | #594377

SaganTheCat's Avatar Comment 6 by SaganTheCat

3

you do have the right to question scientists but you should be questioning those delivering scientific opinion first. of course you care about climate change and how robust the science is but right now most of the information you are being fed that makes you want to question science on economic and political grounds come with their own economic and political bias.

The current method as seen with the recent "scandal" is to use the FOI act to get in the way of letting scientists do their work and instead run around producing data that already exists in the public domain.

If you're not a scientist you still should be able to understand what science is. intollerence is a perfectly good word to use. homophobia and racism are lazy group-think activities and the way science is misrepresented in the press taking an anti-science view is the acceptable face of discrimination now.

When all else fails, when matters are too complex to deliver an opinion in one headline simply blame the boffins, after all they invented bombs. when the slow and labourious process of scientific research fails to produce wonder-drugs on demand, make a best guess as to whether they're saying it gives you cancer or cures it and or best of all find some bit of obscure research that confirms "what we all knew already" and let everyone know what a waste of money science is.

Intollerance of this behaviour is not only appropriate but obligitory. Everyone want's to "question science" as if it's some new crusade and once in a while it's a good thing we do but the problem here isn't questioning science it's what happens when you question belief systems that make scientific claims. you can expect libel action, smear campaigns and terrorism.

Science exists to be questioned, that much is a given

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 14:03:55 UTC | #594378

SaganTheCat's Avatar Comment 7 by SaganTheCat

5

are you the same sanban discussing this on the guardian science forum? if so please continue to not pull punches!

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 14:22:37 UTC | #594392

sanban's Avatar Comment 8 by sanban

are you the same sanban discussing this on the guardian science forum? if so please continue to not pull punches!

Outed!

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 14:42:25 UTC | #594402

DocWebster's Avatar Comment 9 by DocWebster

My mom and I recently had a conversation apropos of this. She started criticizing my lack of curiosity for only accepting scientific explanations for the world. This was a new argument for her in our long-standing battle where she pushes for me to accept her truth ( Jehovah's Witless) and I deftly refuse. I asked her what proof she had that anything other than science could explain what happened in the universe. She jumped right in with verse and had a hell of a time going there so I had to help her arguments against science along when she stumbled. She finally stops and says " I think you've heard this already". That was not the end though. She started telling me how a friend started using a new homeopathic medicine for anxiety which her doctor flatly refused to believe was having any real effect. The doctor, it seemed, was calling the medicine "sugar pills" and admonishing the person to restart the medicine he had prescribed for her. The upshot was that the lady dropped her doctor to go to a homeopath and her insurance wouldn't pay. Even though she knew she was feeling better than when she was on "the doctors pills" and the treatments were cheaper (color me surprised) the company refused to pay for the homeopath. My mom had a real hardon going for people that only believe in science because of her friends situation. I tried to tell her just how homeopathy works and eve suggested a James Randi video but she refused to listen unless I started going to meetings so I could "educate myself" as to what I'm losing out on by remaining atheist. I don't like to see any person fall into the clutches of charlatans but some prices are just too high.

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 15:33:42 UTC | #594427

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 10 by Alan4discussion

Comment 6 by Daniel Clear

you do have the right to question scientists but you should be questioning those delivering scientific opinion first.

When I was on a scrutiny panel, I was questioning those who had drawn up plans to spend £millions of public money.

Searching questions directed at people who have or should have answers is quite proper. Journalists asking assertive ignoramuses for opinions and then presenting this as an informed debate is something quite different.

On threads here, insistent media fed climate change deniers have claimed the calculations of climatologists are wrong, but when pressed, they were unable to name at least SIX of the factors needed to input data for the calculations, let alone have ANY perception of how calculations were worked out. Never the less they were adamant that the calculations and thousands of independent studies were wrong or were conspiracies! Thoroughly disinformed media generated bigots!

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 15:34:41 UTC | #594428

irate_atheist's Avatar Comment 11 by irate_atheist

Comment 3 by Roger J. Stanyard -

What worries me about his position is that science is not just a "scientific" activity - it's an economic, social, business and political activity and it's participants are equally prone to being as self serving as the rest of us humanity.. We all have to be free to question science even if that involves huge errors of judgement, seriously flawed science and mistakes.

Sorry Roger, I'll have to disagree with you on this to some extent.

I don't doubt we should be free to discuss, robustly, the practical real-world response to scientific findings and conclusions, but we are not entitled to make up crap and claim our opinion is valid. Nor should undue credence be given to crap spouters. This, I think, is the gist of the statement.

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 15:59:19 UTC | #594440

nykos's Avatar Comment 12 by nykos

We should not be politically-correct towards religion, but we also shouldn't be intolerant to criticism of new (and "hot") topics in science. Science can be (and some of it must undoubtedly be) politicized.

We shouldn't forget about the fact that it took more than 100 years from Darwin's hint of treating psychology as an evolutionary science, to E.O. Wilson's Sociobiology and beginnings of Evolutionary Psychology.

We shouldn't forget how people suddenly forgot that James Watson discovered DNA after he suggested that black people might have lower IQ that white people -- a direct attack on Egalitarian dogma, sadly still common among academics (the implicit assumption of Egalitarians, i.e that finding out that other people might be inferior to others can be a justification to treat them badly, is utterly abhorrent).

We shouldn't forget how many people got paid from taxpayers' money to theorize about String Theory, without actually coming up with an experiment that can prove their existence, while other avenues of research might be researched by only a few eccentric people, because grant money always goes to "consensus" theoretical physics (read The Trouble With Physics, by Lee Smolin). I hear that, finally, an Albanian professor managed to verify a few predictions of her theory based on String Theory - regardless, it wasn't a good thing to willingly neglect other avenues of research not approved by the "big names" in physics.

We shouldn't forget how skeptics of climate change are branded the same way as creationists, despite climate scientists not having any clear, repeatedly tested experiments confirming their hypotheses to show to the world. These are the kind of "scientists" who would have ostracized Einstein for questioning Newtonian physics, if it conflicted with their interests.

We shouldn't forget about the "Dysmal" Science, Economics. Dysmal, indeed. Politicized to its core. While physicists are asking for billion-dollar, kilometer-long particle accelerators and getting them, hardly any economists are asking for some neighboring plots of land in order to create independent societies and legal systems and actually see how they evolve over time. The few ones that do are not having an easy time with actually getting sovereignty and having some actual experiments done. Instead, we bicker and argue on historical events and our interpretations of them, while there is no actual science of good governance.

Here's a great article about a few heuristics to decide the validity of certain areas in Science: Some Heuristics for Evaluating the Soundness of the Academic Mainstream in Unfamiliar Fields

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 17:23:00 UTC | #594468

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 13 by Stevehill

This is the chief scientific adviser to the same government who just sold out their own Parliamentary committee by refusing to stop funding homeopathy on the NHS?

Perhaps Beddington should shout a bit louder...

But I do sense a little elitism in his argument that the press, or religious groups, or the hoi polloi, should just butt out of science because their little heads are too simple to understand it. It affects us all, and we can all have perfectly valid ethical, cultural and social views on the uses to which science is put - from nuclear weapons, to human embryos, via drugs.

The media especially write about complex issues in terms that their lay readers will hopefully understand. Not only scientists have good grounds to claim they are consequently often misrepresented

I'm very wary of people who want to gag critical opinions in advance. If he wants a "blasphemy" law. he can sod off.

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 18:15:16 UTC | #594486

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 14 by Alan4discussion

Comment 12 by nykos

We shouldn't forget how skeptics of climate change are branded the same way as creationists, despite climate scientists not having any clear, repeatedly tested experiments confirming their hypotheses to show to the world. These are the kind of "scientists" who would have ostracized Einstein for questioning Newtonian physics, if it conflicted with their interests.

We need to keep things in perspective. Most of the world runs on Newtonian physics, which is accurate to enough decimal places for almost all practical purposes. Certain specialist fiels need other areas.

Most of the self acclaimed "climate sceptics" I have encountered are ignorant denialists, media muppets, or carbon industry mavericks.

The genuine scientific sceptics know the factors involved and can ask a relevant RANGE of questions and then constructively consider the results.

We only have one habitable planet, so the suggestion we DELIBERATELY carry out an experiment to see if past calamities repeat is not a reasonable option. Collective political stupidity, may accidentally make this decision anyway!

History suggests that the benefits of pure scientific research cannot be accurately predicted. Certainly in any large organisations there will be politics.

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 18:25:27 UTC | #594495

crookedshoes's Avatar Comment 15 by crookedshoes

All Questions welcome. Here is the big deal/difference: When I/science do not know the answer I'll/science will say the following phrase:

I Don't Know

The woo-ists and woo-ites do not welcome all questions. They welcome only pre-rehearsed distilled questions that the person answering is prepared for. When they do not know or are stumped they say:

Godidit

Or "he works in mysterious ways" or some phrase that:

  1. dismisses the question immediately
  2. devalues the question
  3. attempts to strengthen their position with out answering anything at all.

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 19:34:27 UTC | #594541

crookedshoes's Avatar Comment 16 by crookedshoes

Oh, I also am "grossly intolerant" (of certain things).

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 19:35:32 UTC | #594542

GBile's Avatar Comment 17 by GBile

First and foremost: get pseudoscience out of the classrooms !

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 20:45:13 UTC | #594591

Daniel Williams's Avatar Comment 18 by Daniel Williams

I wonder just like the original poster on this site how long this man will still have a job....

http://richarddawkins.net/discussions/594277-uk-chief-scientific-adviser-declares-war-on-woo

Looking at what happened with their drugs expert when he said the only solution was legalisation....

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 20:46:50 UTC | #594592

frax71's Avatar Comment 19 by frax71

Comment Removed by Author

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 20:48:03 UTC | #594593

Stafford Gordon's Avatar Comment 20 by Stafford Gordon

Way to go! I like the cut of this chaps jib. Take no prisoners.

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 20:56:18 UTC | #594597

Richie P's Avatar Comment 21 by Richie P

John Beddington- my kind of Scientist!!

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 21:03:15 UTC | #594604

SheilaC's Avatar Comment 22 by SheilaC

Go John Beddington!

And while we're about it, I think we should grossly intolerant of people who slander scientists for producing data inconvenient to religious or political groups. Like calling NASA scientists "traitors" for collecting data which shows that the planet is warming.

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 21:13:40 UTC | #594610

prettygoodformonkeys's Avatar Comment 23 by prettygoodformonkeys

Yes! Finally, scientists are lifting their heads from their studies and are getting angry!

'ang on a sec'! Isn't this "Anti-Catholicism"?

I'd better make some popcorn, and get myself a good seat!

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 21:27:10 UTC | #594623

alaskansee's Avatar Comment 24 by alaskansee

Yippee! Good for Beddington.

I too have been trying not to let this type of pish slip by. Just last week I was engaged in a discussion about "organic" food (you know, not all food - which is organic, just the bit that is currently called "organic" because it doesn't have any "artificial" herbicides or pesticides. Whoa it's hard to even describe this crap) Anyway the discussion ended when the 2 people I was talking to said it was 2 against 1 so they had "won", I reminded them that facts were not a popularity contest and it didn't mater how many wrong people they could find they'd still be wrong.

Everyone left happy, them because they "won" and me because I "won". We're all winners, well except modern farming techniques and common sense.

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 21:35:21 UTC | #594626

Bishop Hill's Avatar Comment 25 by Bishop Hill

Beddington's argument about “properly trained, properly assessed” scientists is just a big argumentum ad authoritam isn't it? His whole case seems to be rather fallacious to me.

The other problem with his way of thinking is that university scientists are bureaucrats - their economic incentive is to exaggerate in order to increase funding flows in their direction. Beddington himself has noted exaggeration by scientists in the area of climate science. By trying to prevent those free of these perverse incentives from challenging the mainstream he blocks a valuable safety valve. But then of course he too is a bureaucrat with perverse incentives.

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 21:40:21 UTC | #594627

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 26 by Steve Zara

I have known Beddington personally for many years. He's a thoroughly decent chap, and was a great choice for chief scientist. I'm delighted that he has started this campaign. He will be a formidable promoter of anti-woo.

The media see the discussions about really important scientific events as if it’s a bloody football match. It is ridiculous.

That's certainly the kind of Beddington language I am familiar with :)

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 21:45:28 UTC | #594630

kev_s's Avatar Comment 27 by kev_s

Great article. Let's hope notice is taken.

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 21:49:08 UTC | #594634

Vorlund's Avatar Comment 28 by Vorlund

Bravo I say! Make pseudo science as unacceptable as catholicism.

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 21:52:16 UTC | #594636

hungarianelephant's Avatar Comment 29 by hungarianelephant

The media see the discussions about really important scientific events as if it’s a bloody football match.

Yes, but more Lincoln v. Chesterfield than Brazil v. Germany.

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 21:58:28 UTC | #594638

kev_s's Avatar Comment 30 by kev_s

Re: Comment 7 by prettygoodformonkeys
Be careful of your company when you eat that popcorn! ... Man shot dead in Latvian cinema for eating popcorn too loudly

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 22:01:19 UTC | #594639