Respectful Insolence

I’m busy working on a talk today, but there is a tidbit that lends itself to a brief (and hopefully amusing and educational) Sunday exercise. It comes, not surprisingly, from the anti-vaccine blog Age of Autism. It doesn’t actually have anything to do with vaccines per se, but it is a perfect encapsulation of the sort of fallacious statements and arguments that pseudoscientists in general make. Indeed, this comment could easily have come from a creationist, religious, alternative medicine, New Age, or 9/11 Truther website, among others and fit right in.

Specifically, it is a comment that the machers at AoA liked so much that they actually gave it an award for commenter of the week:

This whole “science has spoken” business is absurd and misses the point of what “science” is supposed to be. Somehow this country has traded religion for science apparently ignoring the fact that they are two totally separate things. Science isn’t something to be worshipped or even worse, to have faith in. Science is a method of questioning. To say “science has spoken” on an issue is to betray the very meaning of science.

Perhaps I’ll weigh in tonight or tomorrow; that is, unless you all have, as I expect you will do, so thoroughly and brilliantly deconstructed what is wrong about this burningly stupid quote that I don’t need to add anything. All I can say without giving too much away is that this quote demonstrates a profound lack of understanding of what science is and does, all wrapped up in a classic example of crank false equivalency.

No wonder AoA liked it so much.

Comments

  1. #1 JD
    June 7, 2009

    Two separate things indeed. One works and the other obfuscates via emotional fantasy.

  2. #2 heather sf
    June 7, 2009

    Welp, I’m not familiar with the ins and outs of what makes something a logical fallacy or deconstructing arguments, but I will give this a try:
    Science is a method of testing ideas about the world. Bizarrely, the argument above seems to suppose that true science doesn’t come up with any answers. Then, if science does, that we shouldn’t have ‘faith’ in them.
    That seems to me to be exactly NOT what science is about. Science is not random, blind, continous questioning like some idealogical version of a three year old.
    Science is a systematic way of asking and answering questions about the world. It doesn’t require faith, it is reproducible. Or you can challenge it.
    Then the poster also seems to be saying that religion is what we should turn to for answers and telling us what is “spoken”, and that we have confusedly put science in religion’s place.
    Is confusedly a word?
    Ok, I’ve got to go, thanks for letting me take a shot at deconstructing this…On my list of things to do over the summer is read about the exact meaning of different terms used in argument deconstructing or rebuttal….

  3. #3 Joseph
    June 7, 2009

    Broadly replicated scientific results should be tentatively accepted as true; otherwise, what is the use of science?

    This in no way makes science a religion.

    By way of example, suppose science says a hurricane is heading your way, with 90% probability. Should you (a) get the hell out, or (b) pontificate about “science as religion” and “science has been wrong before” at this point?

  4. #4 AZSkeptic
    June 7, 2009

    Science is a method of questioning.

    Well, that’s a big chunk of teh stoopid right there.

    You might, in a fit of over-simplification, define the “scientific method” as a method of questioning. But, science isn’t just a method. It’s also all of the knowledge we gain by applying that scientific method–a process of generating hypotheses, performing rigorous tests of those hypotheses, and refining our knowledge by rejecting the hypotheses that don’t fit experimental results and keeping/refining the ones that do.

    All the attempts at painting science as a kind of religion demonstrate their complete lack of understanding in just those simple concepts. Science tests, rejects what doesn’t work, and builds on what does. As opposed to creationist, anti-vax, 9/11 “truthers” who start with a conclusion and reject anything and everything that conflicts with that conclusion.

  5. #5 Sastra
    June 7, 2009

    This whole “science has spoken” business is absurd and misses the point of what “science” is supposed to be. Somehow this country has traded religion for science apparently ignoring the fact that they are two totally separate things. Science isn’t something to be worshipped or even worse, to have faith in. Science is a method of questioning. To say “science has spoken” on an issue is to betray the very meaning of science.

    Oh, where to start? The problem is that they’re right part of the way, and then veer off.

    First error is the Straw-man Argument: nobody has said “science has spoken” in that authoritative, we’ve-closed-our-mind way. Science isn’t a person, and those who criticize pseudoscience from a scientific perspective don’t think it is. The writer is projecting his or her own mindset onto the opposition.

    Science is indeed a “method of questioning” — it’s a self-correcting method that tries to eliminate the errors of bias and be as objective as possible. When someone approvingly cites “other ways of knowing,” they’re using methods which can’t be cross-checked, and which enshrine subjective bias. “I know what I know.” I’m special. I don’t have to worry about mistakes. I’ve got the mommy-instinct.

    Science is the antidote to that. All scientific conclusions are tentative and open to change — as the writer acknowledges. But the conclusions will only change if the evidence is strong and rigorous, and the chain of reasoning followed with strict honesty. It’s not “anything goes” or “all beliefs are equal.” There are levels of probability and, at some point, things can be known with such certainty that it’s perverse to insist that the question is still “open” just because it can’t be 100% certain. Some beliefs — even those which are deeply-held — can be wrong.

    Accepting that isn’t “worshiping science.” It’s refusing to worship yourself. Science takes that kind of power away from us.

    Folks who sneer that science is just like a religion seem to accept that religion is unacceptable. And then they apparently argue that their religion is better than those of others, because they’re more sincere.

  6. #6 Doazic
    June 7, 2009

    Doesn’t that argument apply to just about everything in life?

    Who are Scientists to tell me that having sex without a condom will result in pregnancy or STD’s?

  7. #7 happeh
    June 7, 2009

    Why is it stupid? I translate it as saying “Scientists are close minded and will not tolerate questioning, in the same way religious believers are close minded and will not tolerate questioning”.

    That is a true statement as a perusal of the comments on just about any entry in this blog will show.

    There is a difference between strongly putting forward your own opinion, and stomping on the opinion of others. In one situation you win because your opinion is strongest by virtue of being correct. In the other situation, your opinion is only correct because you do not allow any other opinions to compete with you.

  8. #8 Imprecator
    June 7, 2009

    This whole “science has spoken” business is absurd and misses the point of what “science” is supposed to be.

    Somehow this country has traded religion for science apparently ignoring the fact that they are two totally separate things. Science isn’t something to be worshipped or even worse, to have faith in.

    Science is a method of questioning. To say “science has spoken” on an issue is to betray the very meaning of science.

    Science is a method used to understand natural phenomena, PERIOD.

    Never heard ANYONE with any decent scientific training even attempt to say “science has spoken”

    Nobody (that I know of) that has even passing knowledge of what science is, thinks otherwise

    If SOME people in the US (since the AoA article points this out explicitly) think science is some sort of religion it seems to be the very people who pretend to have their beliefs accepted without question, so in essence they are shifting the burden of proof.

  9. #9 Alesa
    June 7, 2009

    Simple really. Science is literally knowledge. You don’t need to worship knowledge, but if you choose to ignore knowledge that just makes you ignorant. Because ignorance is a lack of knowledge.

  10. #10 truthfulli
    June 7, 2009

    happeh said: “Why is it stupid? I translate it as saying “Scientists are close minded and will not tolerate questioning, in the same way religious believers are close minded and will not tolerate questioning”.

    That is a true statement as a perusal of the comments on just about any entry in this blog will show.”

    Of course it’s true that some individual scientists–having the horrible human conditions of bias and ego–are close minded and will not tolerate questioning, but it is NOT in the same way that religious believers are close minded and will not tolerate questioning.

    The difference is this:

    Religion, as carried out by several individuals, is properly run when it is intolerant to questions. The whole concept of faith is to believe without evidence, and to discredit or ignore any contradicting evidence.

    Science, as carried out by several individuals, is properly run when it is as tolerant as possible to questioning. That is why science has the safeguards against individual bias (double-blind studies, replicable tests, peer review, etc.) to sift its way to the truth.

  11. #11 natural cynic
    June 7, 2009

    Why is it stupid? I translate it as saying “Scientists are close minded and will not tolerate questioning, in the same way religious believers are close minded and will not tolerate questioning”.

    Wronnnggggg. At first, scientists do tolerate a lot of questioning. Then find more data. And if that data backs up the preliminary conclusions, they tolerate a little less questioning. And so on. finally, you have to have a really good reason and some data to back up your questioning, if you do raise questions. You don’t.

    There is a difference between strongly putting forward your own opinion, and stomping on the opinion of others. In one situation you win because your opinion is strongest by virtue of being correct. In the other situation, your opinion is only correct because you do not allow any other opinions to compete with you.

    Wronngggg. Some opinions are merely opinions and some opinions have the weight of evidence. Unless you are a PoMo. And if you think that your opinion is correct simply because you stomp on others, you’re naive and arrogant. After all, there must have been WMDs in Iraq since so many were suckered into thinking so. An opinion that has prevailed by majority rules and turns out to be incorrect is still incorrect. At some point, the evidence piles up and turns opinions into reasonable facsimiles of facts. But if you refuse to see or understand the evidence and make reasonable inferences, then it’s all stays as just opinions to you. At some time, the competition is over. Like if we decide to play a series and 3 out of 5 wins. I win the first 3 decisively and you decide that we should continue to play the best out of 9. Then I beat you two more times and you want to play the best out of 15.

  12. #12 Sastra
    June 7, 2009

    happeh #7 wrote:

    Why is it stupid? I translate it as saying “Scientists are close minded and will not tolerate questioning, in the same way religious believers are close minded and will not tolerate questioning”.

    And that’s wrong. Science does not just tolerate, it encourages questioning. It’s a method that’s devoted to asking questions, and then deriving honest and careful answers through rigorous methods which don’t depend on the special ‘spiritual’ characteristics of the person asking the question.

    What doesn’t go down well is when people don’t like the answer, and thus hypocritically try to shift ground to an area which is friendlier to the errors of self-delusion. That means they weren’t ‘asking questions’ at all. They were looking for support for something they already believed, and are not prepared to be wrong.

    There is a difference between strongly putting forward your own opinion, and stomping on the opinion of others.

    “Stomping on the opinion of others” is a loaded phrase, and could be taken different ways.

    One way entails debate: “You are (probably) wrong, and here is why. The problem with your argument is here. And here. And here.” The other view has been “stomped” the right way.

    The other way shuts down debate: “You are wrong, and I don’t need to listen to you. The issue is closed. The problem with your argument is you. It’s you. It’s you.” The other viewpoint is “stomped” by bluster and character assassination.

    Science follows that first one. Religion — and pseudoscience — will start out with the first, and then, when it fails, follow that second one. The only people who whine that “science is a dogma” are the ones who are protecting a weak case. When they think science is on their side, they use it eagerly — and would scorn anyone who tried to use the very same tactics they are so quick to resort to themselves.

  13. #13 Pareidolius
    June 7, 2009

    Sastra said it perfectly in 5, but I’m a creative director and always have to make sure campaigns go out the door without too many false claims . . .

    This whole “science has spoken” business is absurd and misses the point of what “science” is supposed to be.

    Correct, if some blowhard had used the “science has spoken” tactic, they should be called on it. That would be conflating science and a religious viewpoint . . . only, I have no idea if someone had actually said that science had spoken. Oh, and two wrongs don’t make a right.

    Somehow this country has traded religion for science apparently ignoring the fact that they are two totally separate things.

    My but that’s a broad brush you’re wielding there. In the interest of accuracy, you might have said “some in this country have traded religion for science” and given some examples. But I’ll give you that science and religion are, in fact, two separate things.

    Science isn’t something to be worshipped or even worse, to have faith in.

    Right again. How can someone so right be so wrong in the end? By using lots of little bits of right, but putting them together in a manipulative and dubious way, that’s how.

    Science is a method of questioning. To say “science has spoken” on an issue is to betray the very meaning of science.

    Well, more right bits mixed together in a fallacious stew. Yes, science is a method of questioning, but it’s more than that, it’s a process that when rigorously applied allows us the best chance we have to determine facts from falsehoods. It’s also open to constant revision and correction. In that last sentence, I’d avoid the Lifetime™ Movie of the Week word choice of “betray” and go for the more down-to-earth “misrepresent”.

    Oh, and everyone try remember, don’t feed the happeh.

  14. #14 freelancer
    June 7, 2009

    I’ve gotten pretty good at this, somewhat from philosophy courses in college, but mostly from listening to the SGU podcast.

    “This whole “science has spoken” business is absurd and misses the point of what “science” is supposed to be.”

    This is a false premise, and a strawman. There are few scientists in the world that claim science is the end all, be all of knowledge. It is an ongoing process.

    “Science isn’t something to be worshipped or even worse, to have faith in. Science is a method of questioning. To say “science has spoken” on an issue is to betray the very meaning of science.”

    Here is the ultimate strawman in the commenter’s argument. He grants the premise that almost everyone, on either side of the ideological fence give both Science and Faith the same equal weight of Authority. He also posits that the scientific method comprises itself of nothing more than closed-minded skepticism, pure doubt at all times. Using these to premises, he concludes that Science has no real claim to authority or knowledge.

    Total Strawman.

  15. #15 benandcoopersdad
    June 7, 2009

    I think dissection of this comment will get really redundant, really fast. Anything I might add is simply rephrasing what’s said already.

    I’ve been surfing AoA a bit to see if they make any points worth considering. Mostly I come away pissed off. That comment was in defense of Dr. Andrew Wakefield, after his post in which he (not making this up) accused the UK govt of treating him and other anti-vax-ers just as the Nazi’s treated the jews. I’m not exaggerating. He actually used the word holocaust.

    Any-hoo, that comment was apparently the most coherent of the absurd comments that followed and won for the week. Based on the others, I might agree. Maybe half defended the holocaust analogy, most saying that what vaccines are doing to kids is another holocaust. (sigh)

    However, the comment that most irked me was from “cloesmom” and read:

    “Dr. Wakefield, we appreciate how tirelessly you continue to fight for our children. Sadly, if the current trend in autism rates continues, one day there will be no children to teach their propaganda to. I hope we never reach this point.”

    AAgh! Somehow in the middle of fighting absurd fights, they forgot that their kids are still people, capable of learning, growing up, and being healthy members of society. Autism is not a death sentence, but if people who claim to be the Autism Community keep passing opinions around that the Autistic Community is incapable of thinking or contributing, then they’re really hurting the ones they love. I want my son to be able to get work when he grows up, and not be rejected immediately because he has autism. He’s better at noticing the details of his environment and of assignments than any of his neurotypical peers, and I think that will serve him well.

  16. #16 freelancer
    June 7, 2009

    I’ve gotten pretty good at this, somewhat from philosophy courses in college, but mostly from listening to the SGU podcast.

    “This whole “science has spoken” business is absurd and misses the point of what “science” is supposed to be.”

    This is a false premise, and a strawman. There are few scientists in the world that claim science is the end all, be all of knowledge. It is an ongoing process.

    “Science isn’t something to be worshipped or even worse, to have faith in. Science is a method of questioning. To say “science has spoken” on an issue is to betray the very meaning of science.”

    Here is the ultimate strawman in the commenter’s argument. He grants the premise that almost everyone, on either side of the ideological fence give both Science and Faith the same equal weight of Authority. He also posits that the scientific method comprises itself of nothing more than closed-minded skepticism, pure doubt at all times. Using these to premises, he concludes that Science has no real claim to authority or knowledge.

    Total Strawman.

  17. #17 Valerie
    June 7, 2009

    Haven’t read the other comments so forgive me if I repeat something.

    This is one of those insidious little quips that sounds so reasonable, which, of course, is what makes it so dangerous.

    First, he makes a point about “this whole ‘science has spoken’ business.” So he comes across as questioning an evil, inflexible science authority somewhere. Questioning inflexible authority is often a good thing, so he can be perceived as questioning dogma.

    But…hmm. Who said that “Science has spoken?” And even if someone did, what, precisely, does this statement mean? How can all of science “speak?” Is there a big Book of Science-Said-So Authority somewhere? And if “science” is such a huge authority, why do scientists constantly question each other’s conclusions/methods/etc?

    On top of this, the comment claims that science has been traded for religion and that they are “two totally separate things.” This stuff has great appeal to people who are afraid of science; the first part, in particular, is a popular idea among the evolution deniers in our society. The “totally separate” thing makes him come across as understanding an important point that’s true — but not in the way he’s claiming.

    Of course they’re totally separate. Scientists use evidence to make decisions. Religious belief, on the other hand, is based on faith in the absence of evidence. Yet he’s implying that scientists are denying “evidence” when the opposite is true. The anti-vaccine people are the ones doing the denying.

    This distinction should be obvious to Mr. Russell, who claims to have an MS in molecular biology. If he doesn’t know the difference between these two approaches, he doesn’t really understand science. If he does, he’s using a pretty cynical ploy aimed at less sophisticated readers. Ouch!

    Perhaps the vaccine deniers should join forces with the young earth crowd. They have so much in common.

    One more thing: I couldn’t actually find the comment attributed to Mr. Russell. He doesn’t seem to have written any comments on the AoA site since 2008, either. The scientist in me would love to see the original quote and the context in which it was written!

  18. #18 benandcoopersdad
    June 7, 2009

    Oh, and I posted a comment asking AoA-ers please not to further stigmatize people with autism and to think about the effects of their comments, but theirs is a moderated discussion, and my comment hasn’t made it up yet. (holding breath, fingers crossed)

    I do notice that happeh can post whatever he likes here. So much for encouraging discussion and questioning over at AoA.

  19. #19 Valerie
    June 7, 2009

    Haven’t read the other comments so forgive me if I repeat something.

    This is one of those insidious little quips that sounds so reasonable, which, of course, is what makes it so dangerous.

    First, he makes a point about “this whole ‘science has spoken’ business.” So he comes across as questioning an evil, inflexible science authority somewhere. Questioning inflexible authority is often a good thing, so he can be perceived as questioning dogma.

    But…hmm. Who said that “Science has spoken?” And even if someone did, what, precisely, does this statement mean? How can all of science “speak?” Is there a big Book of Science-Said-So Authority somewhere? And if “science” is such a huge authority, why do scientists constantly question each other’s conclusions/methods/etc?

    On top of this, the comment claims that science has been traded for religion and that they are “two totally separate things.” This stuff has great appeal to people who are afraid of science; the first part, in particular, is a popular idea among the evolution deniers in our society. The “totally separate” thing makes him come across as understanding an important point that’s true — but not in the way he’s claiming.

    Of course they’re totally separate. Scientists use evidence to make decisions. Religious belief, on the other hand, is based on faith in the absence of evidence. Yet he’s implying that scientists are denying “evidence” when the opposite is true. The anti-vaccine people are the ones doing the denying.

    This distinction should be obvious to Mr. Russell, who claims to have an MS in molecular biology. If he doesn’t know the difference between these two approaches, he doesn’t really understand science. If he does, he’s using a pretty cynical ploy aimed at less sophisticated readers. Ouch!

    Perhaps the vaccine deniers should join forces with the young earth crowd. They have so much in common.

    One more thing: I couldn’t actually find the comment attributed to Mr. Russell. He doesn’t seem to have written any comments on the AoA site since 2008, either. The scientist in me would love to see the original quote and the context in which it was written!

  20. #20 freelancer
    June 7, 2009

    I’ve gotten pretty good at this, somewhat from philosophy courses in college, but mostly from listening to the SGU podcast.

    “This whole “science has spoken” business is absurd and misses the point of what “science” is supposed to be.”

    This is a false premise, and a strawman. There are few scientists in the world that claim science is the end all, be all of knowledge. It is an ongoing process.

    “Science isn’t something to be worshipped or even worse, to have faith in. Science is a method of questioning. To say “science has spoken” on an issue is to betray the very meaning of science.”

    Here is the ultimate strawman in the commenter’s argument. He grants the premise that almost everyone, on either side of the ideological fence give both Science and Faith the same equal weight of Authority. He also posits that the scientific method comprises itself of nothing more than closed-minded skepticism, pure doubt at all times. Using these to premises, he concludes that Science has no real claim to authority or knowledge.

    Total Strawman.

  21. #21 Joseph
    June 7, 2009

    Why is it stupid? I translate it as saying “Scientists are close minded and will not tolerate questioning, in the same way religious believers are close minded and will not tolerate questioning”.

    Happeh has obviously never read criticisms of papers and some of the responses to those criticisms.

  22. #22 Valerie
    June 7, 2009

    Oops. Sorry for the multiple comments. The system was telling me that my submissions weren’t being accepted!

  23. #23 Danimal
    June 7, 2009

    Science in a method for viewing and testing what we experience in the natural world. It has to be testable for a positive or negative result. Religion is based on faith and does not have to be testable and in fact is not testable. The only accurate statement is “they are two totally separate things.” One based on reality the other based on faith. Saying science is a religion is just completely wrong as we can provide proof that can be tested by others and must be repeatable.

  24. #24 Azkyroth
    June 7, 2009

    When “science has spoken” this is shorthand for “the question HAS been asked and an answer has been produced which is so strongly supported as to render further dispute, in the absence of genuinely new and genuinely compelling genuine facts, idiotic or perverse.”

    Scientists ask questions to get answers that are demonstrably true, not to ask over and over until they get the answer they were hoping to hear.

  25. #25 Azkyroth
    June 7, 2009

    Ok, I’ve got to go, thanks for letting me take a shot at deconstructing this…On my list of things to do over the summer is read about the exact meaning of different terms used in argument deconstructing or rebuttal….

    Don’t overdo it. A lot of writing on such subjects is purely masturbatory.

  26. #26 Melody
    June 7, 2009

    Okay, that comment was so incomprehensible that I don’t even know where to begin.

    But, two things: 1) science isn’t a way of coming up with answers that we just conclude “This is the way things must be and nothing can change it”, as the “science has spoken” bit implies and 2) it conflates the ways of religion with the ways of science, despite the insistence that they are “two totally separate things.” This whole argument is just flooded with strawmen, explaining why it is so utterly incomprehensible upon the first five readings of it.

  27. #27 kathleen
    June 7, 2009

    How about we all just say that AoA is absurd and leave it at that.

  28. #28 Kaleberg
    June 7, 2009

    Weird. Taken out of context, the quote seems to be an attack on those who claim an equivalence of science and religion.

    “This whole ‘science has spoken’ business is absurd and misses the point of what ‘science’ is supposed to be.”
    I read that as arguing that science does not work by appeal to authority. That is sensible. Scientific arguments are supported by facts and observations.

    “Somehow this country has traded religion for science apparently ignoring the fact that they are two totally separate things.”
    I read that as a direct attack on the equivalence argument and its increasing popularity. No, science is not like religion even though a lot of people seem to think so.

    “Science isn’t something to be worshipped or even worse, to have faith in.”
    This is in the same vein. Science is not about faith in which one’s belief somehow influences reality. Science deals with things that are true whether one believes in them or not. (Philip K. Dick, the science fiction writer, picked up on this with his “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”)

    “Science is a method of questioning.”
    That seems to match a lot of the descriptions I’ve run into. Lewis Thomas, the medical writer, used this description in his essays, and I’m sure I’ve read it elsewhere. Wasn’t the Royal Society’s choice of “nullius in verbum” as a motto a reflection of the need to question the world, rather than seek answers in ancient words?

    “To say ‘science has spoken’ on an issue is to betray the very meaning of science.”
    I read this as a recapitulation. Science is not about appealing to authority, but about questioning and interpreting the answers. Science doesn’t speak. It listens and lets us hear.

    Judging from the comments, I’m sure I’m taking the quote out of context, but it seems to be a fairly run of the mill statement that science is not about authority and belief like religion, but that all too many people are arguing that it is. Maybe I need to figure out how those hyperlinks work and check out the original?

  29. #29 Kaleberg
    June 7, 2009

    Weird. Taken out of context, the quote seems to be an attack on those who claim an equivalence of science and religion.

    “This whole ‘science has spoken’ business is absurd and misses the point of what ‘science’ is supposed to be.”
    I read that as arguing that science does not work by appeal to authority. That is sensible. Scientific arguments are supported by facts and observations.

    “Somehow this country has traded religion for science apparently ignoring the fact that they are two totally separate things.”
    I read that as a direct attack on the equivalence argument and its increasing popularity. No, science is not like religion even though a lot of people seem to think so.

    “Science isn’t something to be worshipped or even worse, to have faith in.”
    This is in the same vein. Science is not about faith in which one’s belief somehow influences reality. Science deals with things that are true whether one believes in them or not. (Philip K. Dick, the science fiction writer, picked up on this with his “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”)

    “Science is a method of questioning.”
    That seems to match a lot of the descriptions I’ve run into. Lewis Thomas, the medical writer, used this description in his essays, and I’m sure I’ve read it elsewhere. Wasn’t the Royal Society’s choice of “nullius in verbum” as a motto a reflection of the need to question the world, rather than seek answers in ancient words?

    “To say ‘science has spoken’ on an issue is to betray the very meaning of science.”
    I read this as a recapitulation. Science is not about appealing to authority, but about questioning and interpreting the answers. Science doesn’t speak. It listens and lets us hear.

    Judging from the comments, I’m sure I’m taking the quote out of context, but it seems to be a fairly run of the mill statement that science is not about authority and belief like religion, but that all too many people are arguing that it is. Maybe I need to figure out how those hyperlinks work and check out the original?

  30. #30 DebinOz
    June 7, 2009

    Happeh should sit in conferences where epidemiologists present research papers. A huge part of the education for epidemiologists is the critical analysis of papers, and questioning the results.

    Nothing is more daunting than presenting your research to a bunch of fellow epidemiologists!

  31. #31 Chris
    June 7, 2009

    To say “science has spoken” on an issue is to betray the very meaning of science.

    What is actually said is that the evidence that vaccines have nothing to do with autism greatly outweighs any other evidence. It is more of a balance thing.

    Also, it is more of checking the relative risks. Right now there is no shown risk between vaccines and autism, but there are demonstrable risks between certain diseases and permanent disability. If you doubt this check this comment from a pediatrician who now has a former normal child as patient, who is now permanently disabled.

    Also, there is an incident that happened in my last year of college, which shows how science sometimes work. A conference was being held in our city that was pertinent to our department. The head of the department convinced several of us students to run the slide projectors during the talks, and we got a free meal during one of the luncheons as payment. As I was running the slide projector in one room, a shouting match started up in the next room. It was so loud I had to wait a bit while the presenter went over to ask them to tone it down. Yikes!

    Oh, about four years later I ended up working for the guy who started the shouting match. He was quite a character, and a great boss!

  32. #32 DLC
    June 7, 2009

    First off, see How does a Scientist become a crank . Written by our host, it describes how a scientist should behave.

    Scientists are supposed to be willing to give up cherished hypotheses if that’s what evidence and experimental results show. – Orac

    This is how science is supposed to work. If someone proves a given hypothesis or theory wrong, scientists accept this and move on. Even today, if someone were to somehow come up with a solid refutation of Einstein’s relativity theories, physicists would look at the refutation honestly. If it actually did refute relativity then honest physicists would rush to re-define one of the fundamental “rules” of physics. Some with more reluctance than others, but you would certainly see it happen.

    Can the happy folks at AoA say the same for when their cherished hypothesis is shown to be incorrect ?

  33. #33 MadScientist
    June 8, 2009

    Using my newfangled Idiot-to-English translator:

    “This whole “science has spoken” business is absurd and misses the point of what “science” is supposed to be.”

    * * * Science claims to doubt claims and others’ evidence, and therefore I expect that it cannot make any definitive statements because that would, you know, throw the doubt out with the bathwater.

    [Just ignore the fact that when you do get a bunch of competent scientists to agree on something, it is often very difficult to disprove the claims given the evidence at hand.]

    “Somehow this country has traded religion for science apparently ignoring the fact that they are two totally separate things.”

    * * * WARNING: The english translation of this phrase of idiotese is indistinguishable from the original idiotese.

    [Yes, I blame the "science is just another religion" band of idiots for that one. Perhaps one of the biggest proponents of the myth is the Discover Institute - an institute explicitly dedicated to wilful ignorance.]

    “Science isn’t something to be worshipped or even worse, to have faith in.”

    * * * Those “science” people don’t have any evidence; all they have is their religion and their holy bible says “vaccines do not cause autism”.

    [Obviously these people have never been properly introduced to science. A True Scientist starts out every morning facing the rising sun, chattering like a monkey tossed into a vat of molten lead, and then spends the rest of the day repeating the mantra "vaccines do not cause autism". If only they knew The Truth about the worldwide science conspiracy.]

    “Science is a method of questioning.”

    * * * There was this one time at band camp, I heard some rumor that science is a method of questioning. You know, like waterboarding.

    [It's always fun to see science reduced to a simple-minded phrase like "a method of questioning" - it makes it easy for simple minds to parrot. As someone once said "make the explanation as simple as possible - but not simpler". Unfortunately simpletons like to make an explanation simpler than possible or as contorted as imaginable, depending on which they believe serves their interest at the moment. Scientists get slapped silly if they try such cheap stunts.]

    “To say “science has spoken” on an issue is to betray the very meaning of science.”

    * * * science can make no proclamations based on presented evidence and anyone who says otherwise is a liar, liar with pants on fire! Nyah nyah nyah!

    [Well, science couldn't care less than an ignoramus wants to live in a delusion because the real world doesn't fit in with their imaginary world. All independent evidence is that vaccines do not cause autism; not even a hint that some might cause autism sometimes. Let's see the evidence for the anti-vax camp. HOLY CRAP! Are those Jenny's TITS! Oh, yeah, baby, I'm converted! Then again maybe not; I can get nicer bags of silicone from the hardware store.]

  34. #34 Alan Kellogg
    June 8, 2009

    John,

    Are you disagreeing with the statement because of what it said, or where it was said?

  35. #35 J TODD DESHONG
    June 8, 2009

    AZSkeptic said it perfectly above:
    “It’s also all of the knowledge we gain by applying that scientific method–a process of generating hypotheses, performing rigorous tests of those hypotheses, and refining our knowledge by rejecting the hypotheses that don’t fit experimental results and keeping/refining the ones that do.”
    I have been expressing that exact thought in my head recently when I read HIV/AIDS Denialists who pounce on science when new knowledge comes about thru rigorous tests which refine what we already know about HIV/AIDS. However, the Denialists (a term I know they hate!), seem to think this is a weakness of the science of HIV and not a perfect demonstration of exactly what the scientific method is meant to do, and that is expound on our current knowledge as well as lead us in new directions to new discoveries!
    Thanks,
    JTD

  36. #36 Grendel
    June 8, 2009

    BenandCoopersdad – I’m with you. Autism is not a ending but a challenge.

    I want the same opportunities for my son and will not permit the close minded to limit his potential to what they think it should be.

    And as for science – the crowd at AoA really don’t seem to have grasped that concept at all.

  37. #37 H2N2
    June 8, 2009

    Cool. Does this mean that there is technically no proof of gravity?

    Back on the topic:
    Science may be a ‘method of questioning,’ but the ultimate goal is discovery, is it not? And if the same results keep cropping up after a massive barrage of tests, then that result must be true, at least under most sensible circumstances. Well, it would be if you had a brain in your head.

  38. #38 Pablo
    June 8, 2009

    When “science has spoken” this is shorthand for “the question HAS been asked and an answer has been produced which is so strongly supported as to render further dispute, in the absence of genuinely new and genuinely compelling genuine facts, idiotic or perverse.”

    Scientists ask questions to get answers that are demonstrably true, not to ask over and over until they get the answer they were hoping to hear.

    This hints to what I see the biggest flaw in the comment. In fact, it IS about scientists “questioning claims.” In particular, when Wakefield made the claim about vaccines and autism, scientists questioned it. Then they went off to test it.

    In fact, given the nature of science, all of the studies that have been carried out have been designed to disprove the hypothesis that vaccines do NOT cause autism. However, no evidence has been obtained to establish that conclusion.

    Scientists have indeed “questioned” the safety of vaccines, including with respect to autism. In that regard, they came up with nothing. So the claim that the science is unquestioned is a strawman. Actually, I wouldn’t say that. It is probably more a case of ignorance, for most people, with the leaders creating the strawman.

  39. #39 David
    June 8, 2009

    There are times when “science has spoken” comes close to being an accurate description of the practice of medicine. Practice committees staffed by experts issue standard-of-care guidelines, or a systematic literature review summarizes evidence on a topic, and thus “science” speaks.

    In these cases, you can find little footnote markers, which point to references that provide the supporting evidence. If you want to follow through, you can find the evidence to support the statement. And if the authority did the job right, he/she also provided rebuttals to, or placed in context, all non-confirming evidence.

    When quacks, woo-ers, denialists, and cranks speak, they don’t have the little footnote marks. Although these days, the most sophisticated of them create fake documents to make it look like they do.

  40. #40 Dustin
    June 8, 2009

    This was written before reading the comments because I wanted to try my hand at deconstructing it before seeing what other people did.
    Numbers are added to the beginning of sentences in the quotes so that I can refer to them later.

    [1] This whole “science has spoken” business is absurd and misses the point of what “science” is supposed to be.

    Since we are talking about science, I’ll call this statement the hypothesis. Since it is the commenter’s hypothesis I will not refute it directly and instead look at what argument he uses to prove it.

    [2] Somehow this country has traded religion for science apparently ignoring the fact that they are two totally separate things. [3] Science isn’t something to be worshipped or even worse, to have faith in.

    I’m going to hope (not pray) that we didn’t trade Religion for Science because trade implies that some other country gained Religion and lost Science because I would have to feel pity for that country. (I think that the commenter simply meant this country lost Religion and gained Science, so forgive the bad joke.)

    Sentences 2 & 3 fail as an argument for the hypothesis. They doesn’t provide any evidence that “science has spoken” is absurd. They doesn’t even try to argue that “religion has spoken” is not absurd as a contrasting point.

    They doesn’t provide any argument at all that “science has spoken” is absurd, so they are non sequitur logical fallacy. They try to imply that we have faith in science and that somehow validates the hypothesis, however they never directly says this or provides any argument that it is true.

    [4] Science is a method of questioning. [5] To say “science has spoken” on an issue is to betray the very meaning of science.

    The use of Science refers to both Scientific Method and Scientific Knowledge. Since the commenter refers to Science as a method I will assume that he is referring to the Scientific Method.

    [4] I’d say that Scientific Method is a method of answering questions instead of asking questions, however I will give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that this is what the commenter meant.

    If the Scientific Method is a method of answering questions and many people ask the same question and get the same answer then using the phrase “science has spoken” does not seem absurd. (It certainly sounds cooler then ‘Numerous Peer Reviewed Research Papers has Agreed’)

    I can not find any argument that the commenter makes that shows that the phrase “science has spoke” is absurd, In fact all I find are either irrelevant statements [2&3], definitions [4], and a restatement of the hypothesis [5]. In short, the commenter makes no argument at all but just asserts that he is right. The commenter doesn’t even define the meaning/point of science so that he could prove his point. I would say the point of Science is to discover answers about the world that are probably true and to change those answers if we later discover they are untrue (Subjective definition of the point of Science).

    Certainly using “science has spoken” as a reason for rejecting new data or refusing to ask new questions is a betrayal of scientific principles (Though I won’t argue why). Future research papers may indeed change the current scientific consensus, however that requires real scientific research not antidotal experiences and internet speculation.

    I find that “Science has Spoken” can be generally translated to “Listen friend, the scientific community has lots of evidence to show that this is true. If you still think you are right you had better put your money where your mouth is and do some experiments and publish in a reputable scientific journal.” (Again, I won’t argue why)

  41. #41 Pablo
    June 8, 2009

    When I see the comment “science has spoken” what it tells me is that science has actually looked at the question, and that it has consistently obtained the same answer. Now, that doesn’t mean it always will, but it does say that the question has been examined, and to a pretty good extent. If you want to suggest the scientific answer is wrong, then the burden is on you to establish that, and it is not enough to just sit on the sidelines and take potshots.

    “Science has spoken” means that we have passed the stage where it is enough to introduce uncertainty by “questioning the results.” It means that you actually have to have some meat of your own to contribute, aside from holding your breath and chanting “I don’t believe it.”

    Then again, I guess you could just deny the validity of science…

  42. #42 James Sweet
    June 8, 2009

    I see two logical fallacies: Strawman and equivocation (the latter is enabling the former).

    The comment takes the rather vague phrase “the science has spoken” and equivocates it to mean “the matter is settled forever and anon and can never be modified or revisited.” This, of course, is not what is meant by “the science has spoken” — the commenter correctly points out that science is a process rather than a collection of facts, and it is conceivable that even the most settled questions of science, e.g. like force being equal to mass times acceleration, could be turned on its head by new data (I’m being sneaky here in my choice of example, wait for it…)

    This process of equivocation allows the commenter to create a straw man — a hypothetical pro-vax advocate who rejects even the minute possibility of our current understanding of vaccine risks being overturned by new data. Quite the opposite, the real pro-vax position holds that if the current understanding is to be overturned, it would require significant new data.

    I chose force = mass * acceleration for a reason, because this most fundamental and well-understood law of classical physics HAS been proven to be false… or at least, inaccurate at relativistic speeds (and technically speaking, there are relativistic effects at any speed, it’s just you can ignore them at classical speeds). I pick this because, realistically, if something that was previously very well settled (“the science has spoken”) is overturned by new data, the truth doesn’t tend to be very much different from what was previously thought, at least under the conditions under which the overturned idea was understood.

  43. #43 Ryan Biggs
    June 8, 2009

    Sastra wrote:
    > That means they weren’t ‘asking questions’ at all. They were looking for support for something they already believed, and are not prepared to be wrong.

    Right on the money.

  44. #44 BlueMonday
    June 8, 2009

    Others have addressed this comment very well, and I’m giving a special nod of appreciation to Sastra for being so eloquent.

    My 2 cents is that the tone of the comment itself is conflating reasonable doubt and blind skepticism. Evidence gathered via scientific means is what has spoken about the lack of a link between vaccines and autism. And that evidence has done so to the point that defying it is employing unreasonable doubt. Of course we can come up with endless hypotheses and declare that each one must be ruled out. But it’s a monumental waste of time and resources. Do we insist that every human’s fingerprints be taken in order to be certain that the accused is the only one with that set?

  45. #45 Phoenix Woman
    June 9, 2009

    If science = religion as the commenter implies, then Piltdown Man would never have been debunked. Yet we find woo-addicts fanatically clinging to their woo after similarly-conclusive debunkings.

    Let’s compare and contrast the self-correction track record for science and woo. Science not only self-corrects, but its self-correcting happens on an increasingly sped-up time frame. Woo almost never self-corrects, because the woomeisters by and large aren’t seeking knowledge, but validation. “Let the chips fall where they may” is not their motto. (Granted, I know a number of herbalists who are very knowledgeable about herbs, but they are among the rare exceptions in the woo world.)

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