Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Lame Science 2.0 Again on the Attack


This is getting boring, and pardon the length of this post, but records must be kept straight. 

I smacked Hank Campbell, who runs Science 2.0, pretty good a few weeks ago for claiming ludicrously that I am “anti-science” and believe that biology is a “tool of Lucifer.” Utter nonsense.

Campbell’s diatribe was sparked by my measured response disagreeing with a column by Campbell’s pal and co/author Alex Berezow–who runs Real Clear Science–in which Berezow argued that we should permit the creation of 3-parent embryos. The entire brouhaha led to my writing, “The Anti Science Canard.”

The other day, I criticized Berezow again for conflating ethical and policy questions with somehow denying facts of “settled science.” I also noted that he used very sloppy language, not good in a science post. For example, Berezow labeled alternative medicine, such as chiropractic, “bunk” because they have not been proven scientifically. From my post (new emphasis):

- 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.”

Note–for those who can read–I am clearly not claiming that acupuncture, chiropractic and homeopathy have been proven scientifically, but merely pointing out that “not proven” isn’t the same thing as “bunk,” which is short for “bunkum,” meaning demonstrated “nonsense.”

That led to a Tweet by Berezow giving Campbell marching orders to take another run at me. From @AlexBerezow:

Why is allowing to defend alternative med? Yikes. Have fun with this,

Campbell dutifully came at me again claiming both that I “undermine science,” and that I defended homeopathy as efficacious, which Berezow quickly posted on Real Clear Science. From,”Undermine Science by Redefining It:” 

He also uses a logical fallacy to rationalize his apparent belief in homeopathy. You’d think a conservative publication like National Review would want to get rid of a goofy branch of government like NCCAM that costs taxpayers $120 million per year and is the darling of Democrats but, no, homeopathy and all those other alternative medicines may be legitimate because you can’t prove it doesn’t work.

Actually, I don’t believe in homeopathy. Campbell’s claim that I so stated–or even implied–is nothing less than willfully misreading me to try and make the false brand of “anti-science” somehow stick.

Moreover, I am not the one redefining science, Campbell is by claiming that ethical issues or policy disputes are “science;”

His complaint is about a ‘Top 10 List’ on Real Clear Science “settled science that is controversial.” He disagrees that 8 of them are settled at all, even really goofy stuff like homeopathy, after hundreds of years of helping no one. But how he does it is key. He makes sure he can’t be wrong on his opinion about settled science by insisting his personal definition of science is different or that it’s not a science issue, it’s an ethics one.

Clearly–and to repeat myself- I did not claim to “disagree” with supposed points of “settled science,” but demonstrated that Berezow used sloppy and unscientific language (conflating “bunk” with “not proven”) as well as confused issues of “settled science” with ethics and policy disputes. 

Here’s another example: I pointed out that rather than being a fight against “settled science,” opposition to animal research claims that regardless of the scientific merit, it is unethical:

- 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.

Yet, Campbell’s muddled mind translates my point about ethics into somehow having me claim that the act of animal research isn’t “science:”

Hasn’t he grown? Previously he declared for National Review readers that not performing animal research was an ethical crime against humanity Now he is saying that animal research is not science. Back then he declared animal research was going to cure Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and stroke if liberals against animal research would just get out of the way. Today, nope, animal research is not science at all.

Good grief. You have to work hard to be that obtuse. Of course animal research, per se, is science. Objections to it are based in ethics. Those are not the same thing! Silly me: I thought a science education taught critical thinking.

To make it easy for Campbell to understand the distinction between science and these other matters–which one would think would not be hard for a scientist–allow me to quote Science Made Simple defining the term (my emphasis):

The word science comes from the Latin “scientia,” meaning knowledge.

How do we define science? According to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, the definition of science is “knowledge attained through study or practice,” or “knowledge covering general truths of the operation of general laws, esp. as obtained and tested through scientific method [and] concerned with the physical world.”

What does that really mean? Science refers to a system of acquiring knowledge. This system uses observation and experimentation to describe and explain natural phenomena. The term science also refers to the organized body of knowledge people have gained using that system. Less formally, the word science often describes any systematic field of study or the knowledge gained from it.

Hence, whether we should federally fund embryonic stem cell research and/or research on chimps, do not involve “settled science” but ethics. Certainly, science can help inform our ethical deliberation-e.g., what is the nature of the research, what do we hope to gain, etc, but they are not actual “science” questions since science can’t tell us the moral value of embryos or chimpanzees.

Similarly, as I noted in the piece attacked by Campbell, whether nuclear power is “safe” depends on the definition of “safe.” Settled science can tell us the potential risks–it certainly isn’t risk free!–how many accidents have happened before, their causes, and safety mechanisms to reduce risk, but it is not a question of “settled science” that they are truly “safe” enough to deploy. That’s a policy issue.

I write these criticisms because I respect science and am concerned that writers like Campbell and Berezow undermine the sector (properly understood) by trying to redefine it into scientism, so as to harness the public’s respect for science in support their policy and ideological preferences.

Campbell is just attacking the messenger. If he wants to see why so much of the public has lost trust in ”science,” he and Berezow should look in a mirror.


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