Friday, May 30, 2014

You have no business challenging scientists

For my conservative friends who fancy themselves level-11 paladins at Googling self-affirming summaries or excerpts of somebody's scientific articles, this article will dismay and disappoint. That's the point [emphasis mine]:

Read all the online stuff you want, Collins argues—or even read the professional scientific literature from the perspective of an outsider or amateur. You'll absorb a lot of information, but you'll still never have what he terms "interactional expertise," which is the sort of expertise developed by getting to know a community of scientists intimately, and getting a feeling for what they think.

"If you get your information only from the journals, you can't tell whether a paper is being taken seriously by the scientific community or not," says Collins. "You cannot get a good picture of what is going on in science from the literature," he continues. And of course, biased and ideological internet commentaries on that literature are more dangerous still.

That's why we can't listen to climate change skeptics or creationists. It's why vaccine deniers don't have a leg to stand on.

So you and I can't debate scientific research because we're not scientific experts, we're not part of the scientific community. We can only acknowledge or ignore the scientific consensus. But that's not a real debate; it's recognition vs. denial.

If you feel left out then, well, tough. That's the choice you (or your parents) made when you decided to study business or psychology instead of a higher education in a hard science. You're also left out of the NFL, NASA and a lot of other closed groups that influence your life. Deal with it. Maybe in some other group or hierarchy you're a big deal, just not in this group.

The good news is twofold.  First, these guys really care about what they do; there is intense international competition and human rivalry; yes, corporations do have their say in it all; and somehow, little by little and through intense collaboration (not through "eureka" moments) scientific knowledge is advanced all the time. Indirectly, we all reap the rewards of their collective efforts.

Second, the policy debate belongs to us: we must decide what to do about the reality of man-made climate change, for example. Certainly we should consult with scientists, economists and other experts, but ultimately what we do about it is ours, a political decision.  

I for one tip my hat to these scientists and don't imagine that I can tell them their business. As I've said before, if there were any justice in the world, we'd have statues dedicated to physicists instead of athletes in our cities....

By Chris Mooney
May 30, 2014 | Mother Jones

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