IPSO FACTOID: Well That’s It Then, Science Is Over

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Pack up the Bunsen burners and power down the computers because Science Is Dying! This wonderfully nonsensical claim is thanks to Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal. Bearing in mind the WSJ is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, who also run that beacon of respectable truth-telling, Fox News, Mr Henninger appears to have skillfully observed that *gasp* scientists are human! I know, I was shocked too. Here I was thinking that they were specially cloned in gleaming tanks to be unfeeling, thinking machines. But no, they’re normal, every day people like you and me. You might even have touched one once without realising it. Terrifying stuff (the geeks over at /. have a typically rambling discussion of the article up if you’re interested).

Mr Henninger comes to his conclusion on the basis of this year’s most terribly named news phenomena: “Climategate“. Due to the fact that the private e-mails of the people at East Anglia Climate Research Unit have raised some interesting questions about their research methods (or not), our friend at The Journal thinks that “hard science has become just another faction, as politicized and “messy” as, say, gender studies.” First off, and at the risk of offending any climate researchers amongst our readers (been a tough year guys, stick in there), climatology is far from a hard science. We don’t know exactly what the weather is going to do tomorrow in London, never mind globally on a time-scale of decades. Yes we can measure it, and observe trends, and build predictive models. But a hard science? I think not.

And secondly, any person who honestly thinks that science is not politicized and messy has never spent any time with people who do science for a living! Academic conferences can get plain nasty.

Mr Henninger also writes: “The public was told repeatedly that something called “the scientific community” had affirmed the science beneath this inquiry [global warming]. Indeed, and who exactly was it that kept telling us what the “scientific community” was thinking? Could it have possibly been the media Mr Henninger? The media who label anyone who does basic research a scientist (or a boffin, if it’s The Sun)? It is this over-simplified presentation of science as a single unified entity where all researchers are stuck with a single label, which has mislead the public into thinking that science is a series of well defined truths that are released to the press on a regular schedule. It’s for this very reason that people understandably get exasperated when the press report that “scientists” claim substance X cures cancer, only to have “scientists” a few weeks later announce substance X in fact causes cancer.

Science is not a thing, it’s a process. The sooner the media understand this, and more importantly begin to educate their readers, the sooner we’ll be done with stupid claims that science is dying.

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