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At Nature: Worries aired about “truth decay”, Rob Sheldon responds

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Cover for 

The Triumph of Doubt

In a review of David Michaels’s The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception, we are told of the dangers of doubt:

The principles of scientific inquiry involve testing a hypothesis by exploring uncertainty around it until there is a sufficient weight of evidence to reach a reasonable conclusion. Proof can be much longer in coming, and consensus still longer. The product-defence industry subverts these principles, weaponizing the uncertainty inherent in the process. Its tricks include stressing dissent where little remains, cherry-picking data, reanalysing results to reach different conclusions and hiring people prepared to rig methodologies to produce funders’ desired results.

Michaels acknowledges other doubt scholarship. This includes that of science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway in Merchants of Doubt (2010); nutritional scientist Marion Nestle’s numerous books on the food industry, such as Soda Politics (2015) and Unsavory Truth (2018); and journalist Jane Mayer’s 2016 Dark Money. That last book traced the funding that links climate-change denial to the libertarian right’s ideological drive to shrink the state and deregulate industry.

Felicity Lawrence, “Truth decay: when uncertainty is weaponized” at Nature

Our physics color commentator Rob Sheldon, offers,

Just a warning on this article.

“Denial” has become the catchword for attributing evil motives to your detractors. When Nature uses the term, it becomes the very thing they despise: “truth decay”. After all, Nature is in denial that detractors have real data. Likewise, warm reviews of Michael’s books and especially “Merchants of Doubt” proves my point—nearly every statement of fact in Oreskes book has been debunked, and yet it is held up as worthy of imitation. What is really evident in this essay, is not the “truth decay” of today’s scientists (a separate issue) but the political weaponization of what should be neutral scientific models.

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

One way of looking at it: To the extent that doubt is important for arriving at correct conclusions, some people are bound to take advantage of it. One must be wary of that. But casting doubt on doubt merely because some people take advantage of it makes science sound like just another propaganda mill. So the science establishment will end up supporting different nonsense from the corporate establishment – but still nonsense.

2 Replies to “At Nature: Worries aired about “truth decay”, Rob Sheldon responds

  1. 1
    pw says:

    Interesting. Welcome to the world.

  2. 2

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