by Judith Curry
” ‘I believe in science’ is an homage given to science by people who generally don’t understand much about it. Science is used here not to describe specific methods or theories, but to provide a badge of tribal identity. Which serves, ironically, to demonstrate a lack of interest in the guiding principles of actual science.” – Robert Tracinski
Robert Tracinski has published a superb essay entitled Why I don’t ‘believe’ in ‘science’. Excerpts:
For some years now, one of the left’s favorite tropes has been the phrase “I believe in science.” Elizabeth Warren stated it recently in a pretty typical form: “I believe in science. And anyone who doesn’t has no business making decisions about our environment.” This was in response to news that scientists who are skeptical of global warming might be allowed to have a voice in shaping public policy.
[I]t captures a lot of what annoys the rest of us about the “I believe in science” crowd. It reduces a serious intellectual issue—a whole worldview and method of thought—to a signifier of social group identity.
Some people may use “I believe in science” as vague shorthand for confidence in the ability of the scientific method to achieve valid results, or maybe for the view that the universe is governed by natural laws which are discoverable through observation and reasoning.
But the way most people use it today—especially in a political context—is pretty much the opposite. They use it as a way of declaring belief in a proposition which is outside their knowledge and which they do not understand.
There are a lot of people these days who like things that sound science-y, but have little patience for actual science.
The problem is the word “belief.” Science isn’t about “belief.” It’s about facts, evidence, theories, experiments. You don’t say, “I believe in thermodynamics.” You understand its laws and the evidence for them, or you don’t. “Belief” doesn’t really enter into it.
So as a proper formulation, saying “I understand science” would be a start. “I understand the science on this issue” would be better. That implies that you have engaged in a first-hand study of the specific scientific questions involved in, say, global warming, which would give you the basis to support a conclusion. If you don’t understand the basis for your conclusion and instead have to accept it as a “belief,” then you don’t really know it, and you certainly are in no position to lecture others about how they must believe it, too.
Because science is about evidence, this also means that it carries no “authority.” The motto of the Royal Society is nullius in verba—”on no one’s word”—which is intended to capture the “determination of Fellows to withstand the domination of authority and to verify all statements by an appeal to facts determined by experiment.”
That’s the opposite of what “I believe in science” is intended to convey. “I believe in science” is meant to use the reputation of “science” in general to give authority to one specific scientific claim in particular, shielding it from questioning or skepticism.
“I believe in science” is almost always invoked these days in support of one particular scientific claim: catastrophic anthropogenic global warming. And in support of one particular political solution: massive government regulations to limit or ban fossil fuels.
The purpose of the trope is to bypass any meaningful discussion of these separate questions, rolling them all into one package deal–and one political party ticket.
The trick is to make it look as though disagreement on any of these specific questions is equivalent to a rejection of the scientific method and the scientific worldview itself.
But when people in politics proclaim “I believe in science” what they’re doing is proclaiming a belief in the current consensus. Do you think Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang have given serious study to climate science? No, they believe in global warming and its preferred political solutions because they have been told that a consensus of scientists believes it (and because this belief confirms their own political biases). Notice that Warren’s statement was about a panel of scientists who are skeptical of global warming, led by a distinguished physicist, William Happer. When does a scientist count as someone who “doesn’t believe in science”? When he departs from the “consensus.”
The ‘I believe in science’ crowd is very enthusiastic about labelling as ‘pseudoscience’ any actual science that has implications that are counter to their political beliefs.
Sources in the Conspiracy-Pseudoscience category may publish unverifiable information that is not always supported by evidence. These sources may be untrustworthy for credible/verifiable information, therefore fact checking and further investigation is recommended on a per article basis when obtaining information from these sources. See all Conspiracy-Pseudoscience sources.
Factual Reporting: MIXED
Notes: Climate Etc is the blog of Judith A. Curry who is an American climatologist and former chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology. The Climate Etc blog publishes news and information regarding climate science and climate change. The majority of articles minimize or deny the impacts of human driven climate change. According to a Scientific American interview, Judith Curry admits to receiving funding from the fossil fuel industry. This article also labeled her a “climate heretic.” Judith Curry has also been invited by Republicans to testify at climate change hearings regarding alleged uncertainties regarding man-made climate change. Climate Feedback, a climate change fact checker, debunked much of Curry’s testimonials. Further, Skeptical Science has labeled Judith Curry as a “Climate Misinformer.” Judith Curry is also cited in a Pants on Fire claim by Politifact. Overall, we rate Climate Etc as a pseudoscience website due to its promotion of anti-climate science propaganda. (D. Van Zandt 10/14/2017) Updated (1/28/2018)
Well, Climate Etc. didn’t quite make it into the ‘Tin Foil Hat, Quackery’ category.
The Wikipedia isn’t too impressed:
“The Columbia Journalism Review describes Media Bias/Fact Check as an amateur attempt at categorizing media bias and the owner of the site, Dave Van Zandt, as an “armchair media analyst.” Van Zandt describes himself as someone with “more than 20 years as an arm chair researcher on media bias and its role in political influence.” The Poynter Institute notes, “Media Bias/Fact Check is a widely cited source for news stories and even studies about misinformation, despite the fact that its method is in no way scientific.” ”
With regards to me personally, I have seen numerous statements on twitter or wherever that I have ‘abandoned science’ or have ‘stopped being a scientist’ since I began publicly questioning aspects of the so-called scientific consensus on climate change (whatever the ‘consensus’ means at any given time to any particular person).
Tracinski’s essay does a superb job of identify the intellectual laziness, tribalism and politics surrounding these ignorant ‘arbiters of science,’ who are easily identified by their statements ‘I believe in science.’