Human Exceptionalism

Less Conflating “Ethics” and “Science”

We are beginning to get somewhere. 

Readers may recall that a bit ago, Alex Berezow–of Real Clear Science–wrote a piece claiming that certain issues shouldn’t be “controversial” because they are “settled science.”

The problem was that he conflated “science” with things that were mostly ethical issues–embryonic stem cell research–and policy disputes. I pointed out the distinction and was attacked (ridiculously) for the second time in a month by Hank Campbell of Science 2.0.

Berezow now has an interesting follow-up article about “genuine controversies in science.” Note the difference in terminology from “settled science.” 

Two of the “controversies” he mentions illustrate the difference between a “science” issue and something that may involve a scientific subject, but that is really about something else. From, “Genuine Controversies in Science:”

“Is Most Published Research Wrong?” In 2005, John Loannidis shook up the scientific community with a paper in PLoS Medicine poignantly titled: “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False.” He has since made a career showing why the scientific literature, specifically the biomedical literature, is plagued with incorrect information.

That’s a “science” question because it involves knowledge and accurate facts. This isn’t:

“Should We Bring Back Extinct Species?” Many years ago, our forebears drove species like the passenger pigeon and the woolly mammoth to extinction. Now, science may be able to offer a very real chance to bring them, and other extinct species, back. Should we do it?

Do you see the difference between the two portions I italicized? 

I also note with approval that Berezow has changed his premises. In this article he didn’t call the controversies about which he wrote “unsettled science,” but rather, “things that are controversial among scientists.” He also redefined his original (objectionable) piece as having been about what  ”topics…not considered controversial among most scientists…”

Good. That’s a different species of fish. 

It doesn’t settle whether society should follow “the scientists’” lead on controversial moral or policy issues involving science. But it allows us to have a fruitful discussion.


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