Hanging in the Louvre Museum in Paris is an imposing painting, The Preaching of St Paul at Ephesus. In this 1649 work by Eustache Le Sueur, the fiery apostle lifts his right hand as if scolding the audience, while clutching a book of scripture in his left. Among the rapt or fearful listeners are people busily throwing books into a fire. Look carefully, and you see geometric images on some of the pages.Robert P. Crease, “The rise and fall of scientific authority — and how to bring it back” at Nature
Paul is, of course, responsible for what someone painted over 1500 years later. For the record, St. Paul was a learned man but counted it all loss compared to believing that his sins were forgiven in Christ. Blaise Pascal had a similar experience. It’s not rare. Anyway, now that our author thinks he has established a common bond with his audience, he goes on to say,
Today, St Paul is making a comeback: the authority of science is again under attack. In areas of national and global consequence — from climate to medicine —political leaders feel confident that they can reject scientific claims, substituting myths and cherry-picked facts. I have spent five years investigating why this has happened and what can be done. Robert P. Crease, “The rise and fall of scientific authority — and how to bring it back” at Nature
Well, if Dr. Crease has not yet tumbled to the idea of avoiding dragging in historical figures who are, in reality, unrelated to the immediate problem, we can only wonder what solutions he will propose. He tells us that “Science denial, however, is like crime: combating it requires both short-term and long-term strategies.”
A friend offers a summary of the strategies implied by his comments:
- “Preaching, denouncing or shouting ‘Science works!’ won’t help. Neither will
throwingaround statistics, graphs and charts.” He’s right, but it doesn’t follow that facts don’t convince anyone. When important, well-known facts are omitted from a discussion, their signal can be louder than the permitted signals.
- “If the entire range of such vulnerabilities is not understood, attacking science denial is a frustrating game of whack-a-mole: it simply crops up elsewhere. To curb it, we have to comprehend what makes the whack-a-mole machine tick.” The metaphor of pointless conflict makes clear that the author does not come prepared to listen or learn anything; a bad beginning to a discussion between parties in conflict.
- “Contemporary science deniers have not one (religious) motive, but many — greed, fear, bias, convenience, profits, politics — to which they cling with various degrees of sincerity and cynicism.” Like all attacks on motives, this one causes a thoughtful reader to wonder about the author’s own co-belligerents’ motives. Given that they make a living out of science, would’;t many of them have roughly the same motives. It doesn;t hbear either way on who is more correct on the facts.
- “Science denial, however, is like crime: combating it requires both short-term and long-term strategies.” Implying that “science denial” is like crime could translate roughly as “It is a crime to disagree with my faction’s positions.” That approach has a history.
- “Only by retelling that story — of how the authority of the scientific workshop was promoted, attacked, defended, coupled with society and then diminished — can we have an idea of how to respond when it decouples.” Offhand, it sounds as though Crease is trying to make his patriotic history of science into a popular legend. But he has certainly gone about it the wrong way.
Dr. Crease certainly serves a purpose. Listening to him helps us understand why so many people doubt orthodox science.
Sadly, there is a war on science, of sorts, afoot. Social justice warriors, for example, are taking dead aim at math. And at objectivity generally. It’s as if, unable or unwilling to even name, let alone withstand the threat, establishment science types hope to distract themselves with a different story until it goes away. Good luck with that. They see you have funding. And they always need more money.
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See also: The war on math,
Which side will atheists choose in the war on science? They need to re-evaluate their alliance with progressivism, which is doing science no favours.