Monday, April 08, 2019

don't believe in science

Best to read the whole thing: Why I Don’t “Believe” in “Science” by Robert Tracinski. I'll quote one section below:
The problem is the word “belief.” Science isn’t about “belief.” It’s about facts, evidence, theories, experiments. You don’t say, “I believe in thermodynamics.” You understand its laws and the evidence for them, or you don’t. “Belief” doesn’t really enter into it.

So as a proper formulation, saying “I understand science” would be a start. “I understand the science on this issue” would be better. That implies that you have engaged in a first-hand study of the specific scientific questions involved in, say, global warming, which would give you the basis to support a conclusion. If you don’t understand the basis for your conclusion and instead have to accept it as a “belief,” then you don’t really know it, and you certainly are in no position to lecture others about how they must believe it, too.

Because science is about evidence, this also means that it carries no “authority.” The motto of the Royal Society is nullius in verba—”on no one’s word”—which is intended to capture the “determination of Fellows to withstand the domination of authority and to verify all statements by an appeal to facts determined by experiment.”

That’s the opposite of what “I believe in science” is intended to convey. “I believe in science” is meant to use the reputation of “science” in general to give authority to one specific scientific claim in particular, shielding it from questioning or skepticism.

“I believe in science” is almost always invoked these days in support of one particular scientific claim: catastrophic anthropogenic global warming. And in support of one particular political solution: massive government regulations to limit or ban fossil fuels.

But these two positions involve a complex series of separate scientific claims—that global temperatures are rising, that humans are primarily responsible, that the results are going to be catastrophic for human life, that rising temperatures can be halted—combined with a series of economic and political propositions. For example: that action to ban fossil fuels would be more efficacious than using the wealth made possibly by fossil fuels to help humans adapt to future climatic changes.

The purpose of the trope is to bypass any meaningful discussion of these separate questions, rolling them all into one package deal–and one political party ticket.

The trick is to make it look as though disagreement on any of these specific questions is equivalent to a rejection of the scientific method and the scientific worldview itself.

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