The “Science Trump Card”

Lately I have noticed more and more people of good academic repute offering up “science” as an answer or refutation to just about anything. It’s to the point where every time I hear someone drop the “Science Trump Card” a red flag goes up that this person probably has no other defense or answer so we just say the magic words and presto! An instant scientific refutation emerges.

The knowing entrprise doesn’t work that way. To simply announce “science” as a refutation is to commit something like a fallacious appeal to authority. The problem is that scientests are just as prone as anyone else to exclude contrary evidence. I think the article below by Michael Crichton plainly points that out. Tell me what you think.

 

Testimony of Michael Crichton before the United States Senate
Committee on Environment and Public Works
September 28, 2005.

Thank you Mr. Chairman, and members of the Committee. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss the important subject of politicization of research. In that regard, what I would like to emphasize to the committee today is the importance of independent verification to science.

In essence, science is nothing more than a method of inquiry. The method says an assertion is valid-and merits universal acceptance-only if it can be independently verified. The impersonal rigor of the method means it is utterly apolitical. A truth in science is verifiable whether you are black or white, male or female, old or young. It’s verifiable whether you like the results of a study, or you don’t.

Thus, when adhered to, the scientific method can transcend politics. And the converse may also be true: when politics takes precedent over content, it is often because the primacy of independent verification has been overwhelmed by competing interests.

Verification may take several forms. I come from medicine, where the gold standard is the randomized double-blind study, which has been the paradigm of medical research since the 1940s.

In that vein, let me tell you a story. It’s 1991, I am flying home from Germany, sitting next to a man who is almost in tears, he is so upset. He’s a physician involved in an FDA study of a new drug. It’s a double-blind study involving four separate teams—one plans the study, another administers the drug to patients, a third assesses the effect on patients, and a fourth analyzes results. The teams do not know each other, and are prohibited from personal contact of any sort, on peril of contaminating the results. This man had been sitting in the Frankfurt airport, innocently chatting with another man, when they discovered to their mutual horror they are on two different teams studying the same drug. They were required to report their encounter to the FDA. And my companion was now waiting to see if the FDA would declare their multi-year, multi-million dollar study invalid because of this chance contact.

For a person with a medical background, accustomed to this degree of rigor in research, the protocols of climate science appear considerably more relaxed. In climate science, it’s permissible for raw data to be “touched,” or modified, by many hands. Gaps in temperature and proxy records are filled in. Suspect values are deleted because a scientist deems them erroneous. A researcher may elect to use parts of existing records, ignoring other parts. But the fact that the data has been modified in so many ways inevitably raises the question of whether the results of a given study are wholly or partially caused by the modifications themselves.

Continue reading here.

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