Monday, December 31, 2007

However virtuous, virtual science is no substitute for the real thing

Lots of science that is reported in the media suffers from two constraints:
  • it is issued by an individual or group with a vested interest in having people interpret the results in a certain way, and
  • the numbers used are the results of models or projections and not measured, observed, empirical data.
A nice commentary on this phenomenon is here. (A more humorous take is here)

As Lomborg showed, refuting such misleading data with the real facts is a long, tedious and ultimately fruitless experience: people's perspective doesn't change with the awareness of new data.

For people to change their perspective, their fundamental ideology must change. They must be willing to open up their controlling constructs to review and examination: only then when their mind is open to alternatives, do they view new data with an open mind.

Zealous advocates of the status quo seek to prevent people from exercising their faculty for independent thought by:
  • appeals to authority
  • disciplinary restriction
  • intimidation
Of course, these are not the standard protocols for science. But they are common place practices in the world of political spin, a sphere many scientists are embarrassingly naive about.

The biggest hypocrisy is those scientists who protest long and loud about people commenting on science without the "proper" qualifications, while they themselves profess vociferously in the area of political policy without any commensurate education.

Personally, I do not think that any subject is intrinsically difficult to understand if one is sufficiently motivated and engaged in the subject matter. Neither does the possession of a university degree, let alone a degree from any particular institution, confer on any individual divine intuition, insight or omnipresent wisdom on any subject.

In my experience, those with the greatest intellect are always those with great humility about the limits of what they know and an appreciation for learning from all that they meet, not just those with titles, degrees and positions of authority.