A comment left on Reddit

by w3woody

In response to the link to the following article:

Neil deGrasse Tyson: Science deniers in power are a profound threat to democracy | “You don’t have the option to say you don’t believe E=mc2. It’s true whether or not you believe it.”

What bothers me is the implication that just because there is scientific evidence that a problem exists, that there is only one “scientifically” acceptable political solution to solve the problem.

Politicians, which Dr. Tyson is implicitly attacking with his statement, are charged with the process of coming up with an acceptable solution to issues that face them. For example, take the problem of rising sea levels in Venice, Italy. The city is sinking, and it is causing the tide waters to overflow.

That Venice is flooding is clearly observable. That Venice is sinking is a scientific fact.

But politics is the art of solving this problem. To suggest that there is only one answer here–which we often see when we see people claim our politicians are being anti-science–is absurd. With Venice you can raise the city by injecting material underneath. You can create a sea wall. You can evacuate the city. You can leave it alone and allow the flooding to be a tourist attraction.

Solving Venice’s flooding problem is an engineering problem, not a science problem. Deciding which engineering solution to employ (and how to pay for it and how to coordinate repairs) is a political problem, not a science problem.

Sure, it is true there are sizable numbers of the population who deny scientific opinion when they formulate their solutions. Despite this last week’s protests the problem exists just as profoundly on the Left (with denial of nuclear energy and GMOs just to pick two) as it does on the Right.

And even with the primary issue the Left keeps bringing up that somehow the Right is “anti-scientific”, global warming, it seems to me the Left insists on trying to solve this problem through inter-country wealth redistribution and through greater political controls on the economy (either through regulations or through introducing things like carbon markets). And when someone on the Right points out there may be other engineering solutions to the problem rather than economic ones (which start smelling like top-down economic control), they are lumped in as “deniers”–despite the fact that a sizable percentage of commentators on the Right do not deny the earth is warming.

Worse, when engineering solutions are proposed, or when someone suggests that a warmer climate may be beneficial in some corners of the Earth–they are labeled “deniers”, and worse: the idea of “tipping points” are trotted out.

And let’s be honest: tipping points are inherently unscientific because they presuppose that at some undefined point in the future, at some undefined temperature point, some previously-unobserved phenomenon will take place at a global scale which will ruin any potential benefits of a slightly warmer world.

Tipping points are about as unscientific as they come: most people who write about them sound to me like ancient scholars quoting the Book of Revelations. We will suffer for our sins of consuming too much and being too wealthy by the Earth reaching a tipping point which will shoot up sea levels a hundred feet or cause certain insects to reproduce exponentially.

While flooding and locusts are quite biblical, it strikes me as not very scientific.

Fundamentally it strikes me the version of Scientism that Dr. Tyson is peddling is a close-minded faith that has One True Answer, handed to us by men in lab coats–a high priesthood which decided to start protesting only when it seemed the Trump Administration would cut their funding.

And in the recent protests I didn’t see very many comments about the replication crisis that faces a large amount of scientific research, or anyone discussing the problems with the increased misuse of statistics to test hypothesis and seek correlations without causation. I saw few complaints about errors in modeling as a scientific method, and a number of comments about the scientific method suggests it is reserved for the few, the elite who subscribe to a liberal-elite ideology, rather than being a practice that can be adopted by anyone with a methodological eye and careful record keeping.

By treating Science as a sort of religion with One True Way of Believing–a belief that encompasses everything from one’s personal religious faith to the political agenda and party one is supposed to vote for–I believe people like Dr. Tyson or Mr. Nye are doing science a great disservice. Rather than sharing the lesson that science is about careful observation and formulating a hypothesis which can later be tested (as Mythbusters did), but instead treating Science as a Fundamental Truth that Shall Not Be Questioned–they are actually undermining the core ideas of scientific discovery, and creating a generation of people who will not question the folks in lab coats.