In a column at the New York Times (or is it an advertorial for Watts up With That?), Virginia Heffernan uses the Pepsi affair to refight the postmodernist Science Wars. It seems that she’s still upset by the Sokal hoax and wants some payback against the scientists.
Heffernan writes (and if you are wondering what this has to do with Derrida, I don’t know either, but this is what she wrote after she donned “the old Derridean cloak”):
I was nonplussed by the high dudgeon of the so-called SciBlings. The bloggers evidently write often enough for ad-free academic journals that they still fume about adjacencies, advertorial and infomercials. Most writers for “legacy” media like newspapers, magazines and TV see brush fires over business-editorial crossings as an occupational hazard. They don’t quit anytime there’s an ad that looks so much like an article it has to be marked “this is an advertisement.”
Next, Heffernan goes quote mining:
Recently a blogger called GrrlScientist, on Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted), expressed her disgust at the “flock of hugely protruding bellies and jiggling posteriors everywhere I go.” Gratuitous contempt like this is typical. Mark Hoofnagle on Denialism Blog sideswiped those who question antibiotics, writing, “their particular ideology requires them to believe in the primacy of religion (Christian Science, New Age Nonsense) or in the magical properties of nature.”
And claims that they were jeering at “fat people and churchgoers”.
But GrrlScientist wasn’t jeering at fat people, but pointing out that PepsiCo’s products cause obesity:
It’s taken me a few hours to cool off enough to write coherently and without using (too much) profanity after I learned that ScienceBlogs added a corporate PR “blog” about nutrition written by PepsiCo. I think I’ve learned all I care to know about corporate “food” giants’ definition of what is “nutrition” by being confronted daily by a flock of hugely protruding bellies and jiggling posteriors everywhere I go (yes, even here in Germany)
And Mark Hoofnagle wasn’t jeering at churchgoers, but responding to a claim that “There is no denial of antibiotics”:
This is demonstrably false, as we have encountered denialists who do deny the efficacy of antibiotics and all of Western medicine, as their particular ideology requires them to believe in the primacy of religion (Christian Science, New Age Nonsense) or in the magical properties of nature.
Heffernan may feel that this view of antibiotics is equally valid to that of Western medicine, but Hoofnagle was not jeering at them; rather he was explaining why they reject antibiotics.
Heffernan goes on to complain:
What’s bothersome is that the site is misleading. It’s not science by scientists, not even remotely; it’s science blogging by science bloggers. And science blogging, apparently, is a form of redundant and effortfully incendiary rhetoric that draws bad-faith moral authority from the word “science” and from occasional invocations of “peer-reviewed” thises and thats.
Here’s the thing. Science works. Antibiotics work. And we know they work not because of any “bad-faith moral authority” by scientists but because they collected evidence and conducted experiments and drew conclusions that survived review by their peers.
But what really takes the cake is this:
For science that’s accessible but credible, steer clear of polarizing hatefests like atheist or eco-apocalypse blogs. Instead, check out scientificamerican.com, discovermagazine.com and Anthony Watts’s blog, Watts Up With That?
Heffernan reckons that Whats Up With That presents credible science. This is a blog that argues that Venus is hot, not because of the greenhouse effect, but because of the high pressure in the atmosphere (so hence Jupiter and Saturn are the hottest planets right?) . Look:
If there were no Sun (or other external energy source) atmospheric temperature would approach absolute zero. As a result there would be almost no atmospheric pressure on any planet -> PV = nRT
Only if there was no such thing as gravity. Air pressure is determined by the weight of the column of air above a particular point. If the pressure is insufficient to support that column, then gravity compresses the column, decreasing the volume and increasing the pressure until it is enough to support the column. So if you turned off the Sun and cooled down the atmosphere, the pressure would not change. Actual credible science on this from Chris Colose is here. Again, this isn’t “bad-faith moral authority”, physics tells us what the right answer is, while Watts Up With That consistently gets it wrong. For example, accusing NOAA scientists of fraud, arguing that “up is flat“, hiding the decline in snow cover, and fabricating false temperature trends. And if you want more, Peter Sinclair’s video debunking Watts was so good that Watt’s abused the DMCA to try to have it supressed.
Now to be fair, Heffernan also recommended some good science blogs, like David Dobbs, who promptly wrote an post on why Heffernan was wrong about the Pepsi affair and about scienceblogs (with a response from Heffernan in comments).