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Rob Sheldon responds to Nature’s decision to go political: Are they really scientists or just political hacks?

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Recently, we talked about the journal Nature (owned by the same outfit as Scientific American) allowing us to know that it has the right to “cover politics” — in the context, to get political. The house view here has been, fine, sure. Go right ahead. Plunge. Go nuts. But then don’t pretend to the Objective Voice of Science any more.

Well, our physics color commentator Rob Sheldon wrote to say,


Am I the only one, or does this now appear to be a 180-degree turn in the “science is objective” narrative?

“Science and politics have always depended on each other. The decisions and actions of politicians affect research funding and research-policy priorities. At the same time, science and research inform and shape a spectrum of public policies, from environmental protection to data ethics.”

The Long Ascent: Genesis 1–11 in Science & Myth, Volume 1 by [Robert Sheldon, David Mackie]

It would seem that the argument is that we scientists can wrestle the pig and win. After thinking about it, and remembering the previous arguments why science has to be above the fray, I concluded that this is an argument from desperation. They know that, should their political choice not succeed, these same arguments can be used against them by the winning political party. They know that competing journals will arise to scoop up the disenfranchised scientists who don’t agree with their political choices. They know that research funding will then go to their disenfranchised competitors. They know that a splintered scientific endeavor will have the same chilling effect as Lysenko had on Russian biology. Yet they think now is the time to act. Why?

My best explanation is that the editors of Nature, SciAm, NEJM are themselves not research scientists, but political hacks—hired under the supposition that good relations with government funders required not science but PR. I certainly saw that takeover of the American Geophysical Union 20 years ago. And, perhaps in my less sober moments, I would say many of the University department chairs were chosen for the same properties. It’s been a long time since scientists ran the science departments.

Note: Rob Sheldon is the author of Genesis: The Long Ascent and The Long Ascent, Volume II


From News: These editorial teams will probably, if permitted, turn science into a sort of high priesthood of Wokeness, where evidence is whatever addresses strongly felt needs. It’s probably an easy groove to fall into because “science advances” can then be measured by their Wokeness, not by whether we learned much about the world outside of ourselves that we did not know before. Most research stalemates will continue but they will no longer be recognized as such.

The big problem for ID folk is that if ID prevails, we will inherit the mess. Is that a good thing? Maybe it’s a bit like that time Christians took over the late Roman Empire. They didn’t so much conquer the empire as… eventually, every sensible person who wasn’t a professing Jew was a Christian or something like that. At least, a sensible person would realize that there must be a God but why bother with goat gods and bird gods? Christianity offered a monotheistic religion and didn’t require keeping the Jewish law.

But the Empire itself, now,that was past saving. Well, we shall see.


See also: The journal Nature defends its right to cover politics. No one says Nature can’t be active in politics and publish screeds of this type. What its staff can’t do—because nobody can—is be both a participant and a referee. They’ve chosen to be participants, fine. Then, “Listen to science” has as much clout as “Listen to the union boss” and “Listen to the corporate head office.” Which is to say, the next time they bellyache that people don’t listen to science, all one can respond is, “Take a number and wait. Meanwhile, suck it up.”

and

Scientific American breaks with 175-year tradition, endorses Joe Biden for US President.

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