Tuesday 17 May 2016

Science, Philosophy and Politics

It is popular these days to start with a narrative and make the data fit in. Rarely do we think about alternative hypotheses other than our own already established professional narrative. Because researchers today rely on their reputation they must defend their theories or apparently loose credibility. Ironically, the most credible scientists are those willing to admit they may be incorrect.

Scientists today often delve into the areas of political intrigue. When this happens the scientists pet narrative becomes a fortress that must be protected. No one can criticize it because the scientist will see it as a personal affront since his whole credibility has been placed on the line. This in turn turns peers off from suggesting alternative hypotheses because they know if they make such a suggestion the whole thing will become a fight. Even suggesting an alternative that is not as popular as the politically expedient one can result in aggression, ostracism and public ridicule. No wonder scientists often find hiding in their laboratories the most rewarding experience!

When scientific concepts are backed by politics you know that you are onto ground that is not necessarily scientific. So with that in mind, here is a diagram that covers all the issues today that arise during scientific inquiry. This includes the moral, philosophical and political reasons for undertaking scientific research.
As a geological example that was publicized a couple of years ago in Nature on the problems with the mantle plume hypothesis. Even though the article recognizes many problems with the theory it demeans a group of scientists who have proposed alternatives that fit a wider range of data. It gently denegrates an alternative hypothesis by suggesting only a small number and therefore fringe group have advanced the hypothesis:
"No matter what the RĂ©union study finds, its results are unlikely to convince the few critics of the plume hypothesis."
Essentially, it is the anti-scientific idea of "consensus science" that is beginning to pervade all areas of inquiry. Some of these scientists responded  here is a link to a letter to the journal Nature. Unfortunately for the general public even to view this correspondence requires $18 just to read it (such is the nature of journals these days).


  1. I loved that cartoon and it is so true. Looks like everything has to fit into a political agenda these days. It annoys me how, "intelligent" people toe the line to get their grant money.

  2. Yes - this is so true! Consensus science has real sway not only within academia but also in the media and social media. Might is right, even if the science is incorrect!
    I am a self taught physics genius without a degree and so I am perceived as either non-existent or "scum" to the scientific community. I went to a top Australian university to enrol in a physics degree to get the magical piece of paper that makes me being begun to listened to in academia but soon realised that even with a PhD the system is fatally flawed and only those with theories that "fit the system" get accepted.
    In my view, it is the level of consciousness of "consensus science" that prevents it from looking outside the box. Control for power stems from a closed heart and fearful mind... Most scientists need to evolve themselves before science can truly evolve.

  3. It's true but hard to comprehend. Ethics officers at 3 unis have defended a published unethical conclusion. A head of dept told me one topic can't be discussed as "it's controversial". Galileo has been there , done that.