Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Real Science Versus Post-Normal Science

A little over a year ago I wrote an article titled “Wanted for Premeditated Murder: How Post-Normal Science Stabbed Real Science in the Back on the Way to the Illusion of ‘Scientific Consensus’ on Global Warming.” The article explained the difference between real science and “post-normal science” and referred to another article on the subject by British scientist Kevin McGrane. Understanding that difference is, I believe, one of the most important things for Christians—indeed for everybody—to grasp in today’s world, for a great deal of dangerous nonsense now masquerades as science and undeservedly gets the respect real science has earned, and the consequences for mankind are deadly.

Now another scientist friend, John Swayze, a research chemist, having read about the hyper-politicized, misanthropic views of the editors of one scientific journal, has written two paragraphs that state that difference between science and “post-normal science” about as clearly, simply, and concisely as anything I’ve seen:
Traditionally, science worked something like this: "I was curious, asked a question, and had an idea. So, I tested that idea through experiment and observation, obtaining some results. Those results caused me to ask more questions, posit more ideas (including some which contradicted one another), and test them all through further experiment and observation. After examining all the data, I have reached this conclusion which I am sharing with you. Feel free to examine my data and conclusions, have alternate ideas, test yours and mine, and reach your own conclusions, even if they contradict mine. Eventually, a range of ideas and conclusions may coalesce into a coherent whole, which we will regard as true until a countervailing argument is found to be more compelling. I acknowledge that this process may take generations, also knowing that an upstart with new ideas may upset the applecart at any time. That is a good thing."

Unfortunately, the system has been transformed in many ways to be this: "I had an idea. I liked it a lot because it could transform politics and economics, in ways I would like, if people believed it. So, I set out to find only those data which supported it. When I found data which didn't support my idea, I sought other sources which would allow me to reach the conclusion I wanted. By combining some sources of data and information, and ignoring others, I was able to support the conclusion I had already reached. By joining forces with like-minded others and obtaining public support from news media and politicians, I was able to claim ‘overwhelming scientific consensus,’ drowning out voices raised in disagreement. As I had become a prophet uttering profound oracular claims, it was both reasonable and necessary to stifle dissenting views. The truth is what I say it is. Anyone who disagrees is, therefore, a liar and a scoundrel. It is reasonable to use both the courts and the court of public opinion to silence heretics."
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