Guest opinion from Kip Hansen – October 12, 2020
Judith Curry recently featured Matt Ridley's Wall Street Journal, October 9, 2020, entitled “What The Pandemic Taught Us About Science”. (It's annoyingly paywalled, so Dr. Curry provides extensive excerpts on her own blog, Climate Etc.)
The Ridley piece, intentional or not, is a slide for a science pillar posted on Forbes on July 30, 2020 by Ethan Siegel, Senior Contributor, explained in the headline "You must not" do your own research "when it comes to science". The piece is marked by Forbes as "Editor's Pick".
I encourage readers to take their time Read these two lovely essaysin its entirety. Please don't just stop if you find something that you disagree with (and you will find things, I promise). If you have access to the Wall Street Journal, read Ridley's full article there. If not, you can read Judith Curry's extensive excerpts here. The seal column is available from Forbes.
What follows is a rather long Opinion on the topic:
Should we "do our own research when it comes to science"?
Both essays are valuable – and contain truths that we must know and accept. But they also represent the problem we see with all human endeavors in today's rather complicated world, and especially in scientific fields: It's not that easy.
The counter-arguments can be simplified to these two quotations:
SIEGEL – "When it comes to science, you are not allowed to do your own research":
“The reason is simple: most of us, even those of us who are scientists, lack the relevant scientific expertise necessary to adequately evaluate this research ourselves. In our own areas, we are aware of the entire series of data, how these pieces of the puzzle fit together and where the limits of our knowledge are. When laypeople have opinions on these issues, it is immediately clear to us where the gaps lie in their understanding and where they have misled their considerations. If they take up the arguments of a contrary scientist, we can see what they overlook, misinterpret, or omit. If we do not begin to evaluate the real expertise that legitimate experts have developed throughout their lives, “doing our own research” could lead to immeasurable, unnecessary suffering. "(The link is given by Siegel in the original – kh)
RIDLEY – "What The Pandemic Taught Us About Science":
“The Covid-19 pandemic has strengthened the link between the public and the scientific profession like never before. It has been found that scientists are not omniscient demigods whose opinions automatically outweigh any political disagreement, nor are unscrupulous fraudsters who pursue a political agenda under the guise of impartiality. Somewhere between the two lies the truth: science is flawed and all too human, but it can produce timeless truths and reliable practical guidance in ways that other approaches cannot. "
“Indeed, organized science is able to extract sufficient expertise from the debate to solve practical problems. It does so imperfectly and with wrong turns, but it still does. …. How should the public begin to understand the flurry of sometimes conflicting scientific views generated by the Covid-19 crisis? The only way to be absolutely certain that one scientific statement is reliable and another is not is to examine the evidence for yourself. Relying on the reputation of the scientist or the reporter is the path many of us go and it is better than nothing, but it is not infallible. When in doubt, do your homework.”(My courage – kh)
I agree with these two good, well-meaning people.
Who are you?
Matt Ridley is a scientist (DPhil or PhD in Zoology from Oxford), author of several science books, a celebrated British journalist and a conservative hereditary peer based in the UK House of Lords since 2013. He has been called a "heretic" on most points.
Ethan Siegel is a theoretical astrophysicist and professional science journalist. He studied physics in the Northwest and received his PhD in astrophysics from the University of Florida. For a fuller picture of the man, see his personal science blog: Starts With A Bang !.
I agree . . . but . . .
Ethan Siegel makes most of the points I would make about the average Joe or Jill who "do their own research". I speak from experience… I do a lot of research myself. And here at WUWT I deal with family, friends and readers who “do their own research”. I wrote the following comment in response to the WUWT republication of Judith Curry's essay on Frosted Ridley's piece::
“Do your own research!
This idea of common sense is also highly controversial.
You are not allowed to “do your own research” when it comes to science by Ethan Siegel – Senior Contributor – Forbes Editors & # 39; Pick – July 30, 2020 (link in text above)
I always do my own research when it's important or when a recent proclamation or debate sets my BS meter to full.
However, in the real world, many people are unable to conduct their own research – either due to a lack of adequate general and / or specific training or due to a low IQ (which is dangerous to understand here) I understand complex data.
Instead of “doing their own research”, these people do what they think they are (they do their own research), but in reality they just surf the internet or the channel looking for opinions on TV that match their own prejudices or match new information that appears to be "true" to them – something that fits in well with their jumbled understanding of reality.
Gads – that sounds so elitist, doesn't it? Unfortunately, all of this is too true.
I have relatives who are great people – do anything to help people in need – but who for various reasons would find it utterly impossible to research and reach a reasonable evidence-based or fact-based opinion on any of today's complexes get problems. They just don't have the educational background, don't have enough basic understanding of basic science, political theory and practice, biology, physics, philosophy, etc. – and frankly they never learned to think clearly or critically. This includes people who are “professionals” – but only in their narrow areas.
Asking many of our neighbors and relatives – people on the street – or even professional journalists and columnists – to "do research" is like YoYo Ma asking them to "play the cello like me!"
I agree with Dr. Curry and Matt Ridley too – with the above caveat. "
At first glance, I agree with Siegel that many people are unable to “do their own research”. The call to people to do their own research is hindered by the above points and other simple facets of the human condition. What does that mean?
PROUD: Many, if not most, if not all of the people suffer from pride. In this sense, it means that they believe they already know and do not read, research or accept information that does not coincide with their already existing "knowledge" – in quotation marks, because this knowledge almost always becomes a tendency that further prevents learning and understanding. This also applies to scientists and specialists even more vulnerable to believe that their existing knowledge is superior to any contrary knowledge offered by others, even by other professionals in the same field.
IDLENESS: Let's admit it – far too many of us (including the occasional me) are just too lazy to check facts, read original sources, or compare the worth of evidence offered by different voices – too lazy even if it is important is. This laziness often leads to an instant acceptance of "consensus science" – we can be sure that what "the experts say …" is correct – even when we are fully aware that the consensus is political, not science-based.
BUSYNESS: Many people just don't have the time to "do their own research", even when motivated to do so. Busy professionals, busy students, busy mothers and fathers. How many of us don't even read the entire essay or column on a topic we are interested in, but skip to leave a comment only to find out that the answer is in the essay? Unsure about global warming? For sure! Do your own research! If you already have all the basic sciences and mathematics under control and have a year….
As Ridley points out, we are human. Scientists are people. Doctors are people. Astrophysicists are people. And we are all fallible. We make mistakes, we get things wrong, we are proud, we are Hubristian, we fall in love with our own theories and opinions, we have “better things to do”. And as humans we all have different abilities – some are mathematical, some artistic, some philosophical, some spiritual, some intellectual, some mechanically practical.
In that sense, Ethan Siegel is right. Siegel's column, however, is spoiled by his selection of examples (be sure to read his essay) that expose and lead him to discover his prejudices and misunderstandings a conclusion that is unsupported by his reasoning.
It does not follow from this
- Because for many people it is difficult or even "impossible" to "do your own research"
- And “doing your own research” can even be done incorrectly by scientists
- So that means, "You must … turn to the consensus of scientific experts" and we must "all agree that we should base our policies on the scientific consensus".
I call that "almost true". The most dangerous kind of mendacity. Of course, in practical terms we can all agree with Newton's laws of motion. But not because there is a “scientific consensus” on this topic, but because they have been found to be true (sufficient) in actual practice through countless tests and trials.
Siegel concludes: "Always stick to the obvious consensus."
I say “obviously” because, in many areas, there is almost always a big difference between the publicly perceived – presented in the media – obvious consensus and the actual consensus between professionals and scientists. See my series on Modern Scientific Controversy.
Even worse is Siegel's suggestion: "If they (people) take up the arguments of a contrary scientist, we recognize what they overlook, misinterpret or leave out." Hiergel Siegel uses the "Royal We" so often used in statements in support of consensus science – a use with the definition of "Us Right-Thinking Scientific Elites". Somehow Siegel overlooks the fact that his own field, theoretical astrophysics, is filled with contradicting theories, "contrary scientists", and that many Siegel themselves would assign this category to.
Matt Ridley is correct: He urges us to “examine the evidence for ourselves. … when in doubt, do your homework. "
Why? Because in the end "The only way to be absolutely certain that one scientific statement is reliable and another is not is to examine the evidence for yourself. Relying on the reputation of the scientist or the reporter is the path many of us go and it is better than nothing, but it is not infallible. When in doubt, do your homework.”
Matt Ridley is pragmatic. For example, his take on the virus is straightforward:
“The health of science depends on tolerating or even encouraging at least some disagreement. In practice, science is prevented from turning into a religion by not asking scientists to question their own theories but by making them challenge one another, sometimes with gusto. Where science goes political, like in climate change and in Covid-19, this diversity of opinion is sometimes obliterated in order to achieve consensus to be presented to a politician or press conference and to deny the cranks the oxygen of the public. This year the message went home like never before that there is no such thing as “science”; There are different scientific views about how to suppress the virus. "
I claim that there are "different scientific views" on almost all modern scientific questions. Why? For for these questions we are just beginning the necessary scientific path to discover the basic truths of these subjects. When we are unsure of what to believe, what to think, or how to understand any of these topics, as Matt Ridley suggests, we can try: “Relying on the reputation of the scientist or reporter reporting this, is the way many of us go and is better than nothing ”.
Or if it is important enough to us individually or socially and we are able to we should examine the evidence ourselves – we should do our own homework.
However, we should acknowledge that not everyone is able to do so, for the reasons I identified at the beginning of this essay. Some people can overcome their shortcomings, learn, read a lot, retrain their minds to think clearly and critically, and learn to ignore their own prejudices. Others may not be able to. In this case, they need to call others who are able to help them review the evidence – honest brokers.
This task is the responsibility of science journalists. People like me and many other professional writers, paid and unpaid. It is not our job to dictate what "science" says. It is our job to be public Examine the evidence on various subjects in a way that the general public can understand – carefully set out the various key viewpoints and expose the evidence for all to see so that they can understand and come to their own understanding.
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It's interesting to me that Ethan Siegel might be right about the details of the human condition that hinder research efforts, yet come to the precisely wrong conclusion, preventing people from examining the evidence for themselves. Failing to follow Matt Ridley's advice and not reviewing the evidence for himself, he ultimately resorts to “Listen to us, we are the experts! "and denigrates all other professionals who disagree with" us "as" contrary scientists "who are not worthy of serious consideration. And that last part, my friends, is a most vicious intellectual crime.
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