Science denialism on rise




   Steven Newton NAILS IT.


   An excerpt:


   Even when a scientific consensus based on evidence emerges–as it has for evolution and climate change–there is opportunity for dissent. As the great physicist Richard Feynman noted, “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”


   Science requires conclusions about how nature works to be rooted in evidence-based testing. Sometimes progress is slow. But through a difficult and often frustrating process, we learn more about the world.


   Science denialism works differently. Creationists are unmoved by the wealth of fossil, molecular, and anatomical evidence for evolution. Global-warming denialists are unimpressed by mountains of climate data. Denialists ignore overwhelming evidence, focusing instead on a few hoaxes, such as Piltdown Man, or a few stolen e-mails. For denialists, opinion polls and talk radio are more important than thousands of peer-reviewed journal articles.




  1. Interesting post, but coincidentally, I just read this in one of my medical journals (yes,written by a scientist) talking about the pitfalls of evidence based decision making.

    “The concept of trying to determine the efficacy of medical treatment has its roots in antiquity. The current term used to reference this quest is evidence-based medicine. It is relatively new and is variously attributed to a number of medical researchers working in the early 1990s. The concept of evidence-based medicine encompasses the use of the best available evidence developed through scientific medical research for medical decision making. Some observers distinguish between evidence-based guidelines and evidence-based individual decision making, but fundamentally the underlying concept is the same: using the results of scientific medical research to increase the objectivity of medical practice and medical decision making.

    The ways the principles of evidence-based medicine have been applied remind me of one of Yogi Berra’s great sayings: “In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is.” The fundamental Achilles’ heel in the concept of evidence-based medicine is that the evidence is in the form of statistics that are subject to variable interpretation. As such, evidence-based medicine in many respects looks more like an accounting exercise in which differing assumptions can shape the outcome rather than a scientific pursuit that predictably arrives at the same result whenever and by whomever the experiment is performed. In theory, all observers with access to the same data should come to the same “evidence-based” conclusions. In practice, they do not.

    In practice, the development of evidence-based guidelines for medical care is heavily dependent on the specific choices observers make in applying the available evidence. Observers must make assumptions and choices about what data should be excluded or included and just how to use the included data. They also must determine what assumptions to make to fill in the blanks when data do not exist. These choices and assumptions can be influenced by underlying biases in outlook.

    There are now at least 4 remarkable examples related to medical imaging in which people have promulgated supposedly evidence-based conclusions that on further review hinge on highly selective manipulations of data or assumptions not warranted by available data. Past examples include work from CMS on coronary CT angiography that deliberately left out data from 64-slice scanners and on CT colonography that excluded substantial available clinical trials data and work by others on radiation-induced cancer equating the violent, instantaneous, multisource whole-body exposures sustained by atom bomb victims with the radiation received during CT scanning.

    The most recent example of an apparent point of view triumphing over available science is the report of the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) containing new recommendations for mammographic screening. The USPSTF no longer supports routine screening for women aged 40 to 49 or >74 years and has modified its recommendations for women aged 50 to 74 years to screening every other year. These new recommendations are startling for the lack of evidence to support them.”

  2. shawnnews

    Pat, I appreciate your campaign to inform people about science. I think the ridiculous positions of science deniers are somewhat dangerous because once we stop believing evidence, and just what makes us feel good or bad, we are open to fraud. However, once you’ve finished lampooning the other guys’ views, they will probably still have the same opinion and just think you are a jerk for making fun of them.
    I really think th RRStar needs a science blogger or columnist.
    Guys on the right are going to read you and disbelieve you just because you’re a liberal. People like Bob Trojan will continue to post science criticisms under the “Manufacturing 2.0” blog and think it’s true because someone gave him a blog.
    My suggestion of getting ascience guy to write and talk about science issues is correct. Especially if he or she avoids partisanship.
    Republicans used to be all for science in the sense of manufacturing technology which could make them money and investing in technology during the cold war.
    Right now people think TV weathermen are scientists.
    If you could forward and promote this suggestion to the RRS management that would be great.

  3. shawnnews: Speaking of TV weathermen (or women), have you ever noticed that lots of them can’t even correctly pronounce the word “meteorologist”?

    Some of them pronounce it with five syllables (“me-ter-ol-o-gist”) rather than six (“me-tee-or-ol-o-gist”).

  4. shawnnews

    It’s probably dialect, but I’ll listen closer. I wonder if a nu-cue-lar winter will cool off some of this global warming.

  5. Craig Knauss

    Snuss says, “ … B. Hussein Obama’s lack of effort to halt the Iranian nuclear program.” Snuss how do you know there’s a “lack of effort”? Are you on the National Security Council? And what do you know about atomic energy anyway? Are you one of those idiots who thinks a nuclear power plant can be turned into a bomb? Do you even know what the difference is between power plant fuel and weapons materials? It sure doesn’t sound like it.

  6. Craig,

    Just out of curiousity: Do you think the Iranians are only developing nuclear technology to combat global warming? By that I mean, do you think they only want to generate power for their country? What I really mean is do you think they only want to generate electricity?

  7. Craig Knauss

    I’m not Iranian. Are you? They don’t tell me what they’re up to and I suspect they don’t inform you either. That’s what the National Security Council is supposed to determine. But I do know they need the power. Just like we need it. We are planning to restart the construction of nuclear power plants. Does that mean we’re going to build nuclear bombs from them? And there’s a big gap between wanting to build “the bomb” and actually doing it. If it was easy, everybody would have done it by now. (You would be amazed at how many sites there are in the U.S. that were for weapons production. Each one had a specific function.) And just because the Iranians are enriching uranium doesn’t necessarily mean it’s for weapons production. Some enrichment is required for commercial fuel as well. Like I said, there’s a big difference between power plant fuel and weapons material.

  8. Well Craig you didn’t really answer the question. I’m not Iranian, I’m American of mixed descent. BTW we already have a nuclear bomb, I think we’ve had it for a few years.

    Now, back to my question. Do you think, personally, that the Iranians want to build a nuclear weapon? Let me give you some help.


    To be precise, they show the internal memoranda of the dictatorship as they bear on the crucial question of a “neutron initiator.” Small as this device may be, it is the technical expression used for the “trigger” mechanism of a workable nuclear weapon. The critical element of the “trigger” is uranium deuteride or UD3. And uranium deuteride has no other purpose. To quote David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington: “Although Iran might claim that this work is for civil purposes, there is no civil application. This is a very strong indicator of weapons work.”

  9. Craig Knauss

    Doc, I know we’ve had “the bomb” for a few years. I’ve been involved in nuclear waste management for almost 20 years. I currently work at one of DoE’s sites for national defense nuclear materials. We made some of the plutonium for one of the two bombs dropped on Japan. Like I clearly said, I’m not Iranian and I don’t know what Iran is trying to do. It does look like they want a bomb. But I also believe they want power stations as well. And my opinion on it doesn’t mean squat. Neither does yours. The fact remains, processed uranium isn’t necessarily for bombs. It is also for commercial fuel. And like I clearly said, wanting the bomb and getting one are two different things. They are not going to get one overnight. They could still be years away. And I believe their government is getting increasingly unstable. They are losing the support of the population. The crazy barber running the country could be on his way out pretty soon, in one way or another.
    So whether I answered your question or not, the end result is processing uranium doesn’t automatically lead to nuclear weapons.

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