“Settled Science” Claim Not Scientific

by Wesley J. Smith

The science uber alles crowd is at it again. Real Clear Science has published a list of “settled” area of science that really are not “debatable.” Posh.

Many of the “science” issues are actually ethical or policy questions–or statements that are, in themselves, unscientific. From “Settled Science That is ‘Controversial’:”

- Evolution United All Biology: Evolution is certainly a science issue–depending on what is meant by the term. When it is used as alleged proof of atheism and materialism–or disproof of transcendence–“evolution” isn’t science but belief or ideology. 

Animal Testing is Necessary: It is true that PETA lies about the value of animal research–through their teeth!–but the objection to “vivisection” is ethical, not scientific. Proof: The NIH recently stopped funding chimpanzee research with only the most muted objections from “the scientists.” Why? They agree with the ethics of the decision.

- Embryonic Stem Cell Research is Necessary: Once again, Real Clear Science conflates an ethics debate with a science debate. Not the same thing.

- Vaccines Don’t Cause Autism: True. The main paper so claiming has been shown to be fraudulent. A definite science issue.

Alternative Medicine is Bunk: That’s a real non-scientific statement. The author claims, “Alternative medicine, encompassing practices like acupuncture, chiropractic and homeopathy, by definition refers to treatments that have not been proven using scientific methods. Let me reiterate that: They have not been proven.” Perhaps. However, it is interesting that osteopathy, which uses body manipulation, is accepted. Besides, something that hasn’t been “proven” isn’t the same thing as ”bunk.” 

- Cold Fusion Isn’t Real: Apparently, there is a controversy in physics about whether cold fusion has been invented, with “most physicists” saying no. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t “real,” just that it hasn’t been accomplished–which isn’t the same thing as saying it can’t be accomplished. 

Nuclear Power is Safe: That depends on what the meaning of “safe” is. But whether we should take the very real risks–hello Fukushima–is not a science question, but one of policy. 

Climate Change is Largely Manmade: This is a science question, but the matter is not settled. The actual climate is not following the computer models, calling the “consensus” hypothesis into question. The jury remains out. 

GMOs are Safe: Again, that depends on the meaning of “safe.” Moreover, it is a legitimate ethics issue to decide how and whether to allow GMOs to have widespread real world application. 

Articles like this one are not only hubristic, not only conflate science with ethical and policy issues, but are written to push non-scientists out the decisions involving scientific questions. Sorry, in a free society that isn’t (yet) a scientocracy, scientists don’t get to be the sole “deciders.”

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