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What, minion, you thought you could judge for yourself?

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From Chris Mooney at, where else ,New Scientist:

What we need to do is separate the concept of science engagement from that of science denial – to pull apart dazzling and fascinating from convincing and persuading. Why? Because then we will see that science denial is a personal and psychological phenomenon, rooted in belief and identity, which can’t be washed away by a wave of science boosterism.

Maybe, then, this ends with a message back to science’s influential friends in showbiz. We can’t thank you enough for showing that science is cool again. But if this matters to you as much as it appears to, then please recognise that the task has just begun. Now comes the hard part: show us not just that science is cool and fascinating, but that science denial is destructive or even immoral. Show us that it amounts to succumbing to one of the least flattering aspects of the human psyche: putting self-serving beliefs ahead of facts and ahead of people.

Presumably, too many of us have been engaging in the sin of thinking for ourselves.

13 Replies to “What, minion, you thought you could judge for yourself?

  1. 1
    Mapou says:

    The pompous elitism of the scientific community has always been repugnant. Elitism engenders despotism and despotism engenders corruption. We’ve seen it in the history of religion and we see it now in the scientific community. As Paul Feyerabend wrote in Against Method, “it’s time to cut them down to size and to give them a lower position in society.”

  2. 2
    lpadron says:

    I wonder if Mooney could tell us if his view is scientifically proved and how he, as a non-scientist is qualified to determine such a thing.

  3. 3
    Dr JDD says:

    There is this astonishingly common fallacy that scientists are pure, noble seekers of truth that put aside personal views, feelings and emotion and let themselves be guided by the data. This in fact may be an idealistic view of what scientists should be like, but it is utopian and we all know no such system works in reality. In fact, science could not be further from this ideology.

    Take into account the pressures of funding, publication and competition and the way this system works. If you do not publish (especially significant findings in high-impact journals), you do not get funding, therefore you have no career. But publishing is not a simple case of a “scientific finding is published.” There are many issues to consider of why work is hindered from publication:

    The journal (reviewers) does not “consider” it high impact enough (although some journals now allow publication not based on impact as much as scientific rigour with novel results)

    You can very rarely publish negative findings (often more useful than positive findings!)

    It is peer-reviewed and the reviewers know who you are but they are anonymised, protected from risk of being called out over favouritism (lay-people really do not have a clue how flawed this process is and how often a paper will not get published because the reviewer does not like the researcher, or disagrees with them, or has work in their own lab that conflicts, or is working on the same thing and doesn’t want to get beaten to publication). Appealing publication rejection based on poor reviewer’s comments is mostly unsuccessful.

    It is political (see point above), including editorial boards

    Publishing results that go against current thinking or “concensus” despite the rigidity of the scientific methodology used is rarely successful

    Work is written up very differently to how it was performed (sequence of experiments, motivation behind doing experiments, “representative data of n=3” means always show the best one…etc)

    That is not even to go into the whole aspect of science that someone has an idea, moulded by their own wants/wishes/thoughts on how something could work as a mechanism, and they then go looking to prove that. Data that contradicts is omitted from report, easily forgotten as it must be erroneous. This does not apply simply to the field we are most interested in (evolutionary biology and origins science), but is a universal theme in biological sciences where mathematical models to prove data are not required. Independent of your world view, one person may look at a phenomenon and lean towards one explanation, and another a very different, and both will pursue their own idea as scientists are often quite arrogant, full of self-importance and think they must be right on many things as they are the “experts”.

    Science was meant to be serving the public, however it is all about self-serve these days shrouded in the falsehood that noble and pure scientists are doing it for the greater good of humanity. Rather it is prestige and pride more than that. Indeed there are plenty of cases where this is not true, however if anyone has been to a scientific conference and observed the “big characters” and the famous people in that field, you see every young PhD student and post-doc and young investigator sucking up and brown-nosing those esteemed players in the field. They need them on their side as that could make your career – grant applications, publications, etc – you need them to like you. Consequently, the inner circle of greatness that everyone out of it wants to get into (and everyone in it wants to be the leader of) creates the arrogance of self-importance and self-authoritarian humans who care more about being the great ones in that field than they do about the actual science. There are of course exceptions to this, but as said, they are not the norm.

    So if this is the case, how can we say that science really is pure and true and only the experts have the right to comment and challenge data? Their motivations are more often than not self-preservation over truth therefore even without entertaining their own world-views (which, in evolutionary biology features heavily as to the implication of findings) they are already biased.

    We always joke here in the UK that you get into science for helping others and certainly not for the money as it is not well paid considering your level of education and apparent expertise. The sad truth is though, you may start out with good intentions but human pride is too easily tickled and especially in academia you certainly end up staying in science for the prestige more than anything else, in most cases I would argue. That alone should be all the more reason we need people outside of the field to hold those inside a field accountable, by interrogating their work and data, probing their motivations and questioning appropriately. Even more so considering the public (tax-payer) money funds most of their research, and they have huge influences on other public-money spending strategies.

  4. 4
    Dionisio says:


    I wonder if Mooney could tell us if his view is scientifically proved and how he, as a non-scientist is qualified to determine such a thing.

    That’s a good point. However, better watch out, because by asking such direct, common sense, straightforward questions, you might end up being labeled ‘exorcist’ and ‘Spanish inquisitor’ 😉
    c’est la vie, mon ami… Welcome to this world.
    Sometimes things are difficult to understand… for example, in Russian language they say ‘horror show’ but they mean ‘good’ 😉

  5. 5
    Henry Crun says:

    So if the Creationists here insist on maintaining their belief that the Earth is 6000 years old, is that a good thing because they are thinking for themselves?

  6. 6
    Dionisio says:

    5. Henry Crun

    So if the Creationists here insist on maintaining their belief that the Earth is 6000 years old, is that a good thing because they are thinking for themselves?

    Apparently the folks who run this blog allow people with different beliefs. Maybe that’s a reason both you and I can post comments in this blog. Apparently your belief system is based on a worldview that is completely opposite to mine. However, both of us are allowed to write comments in this blog. BTW, I don’t recall seeing that number 6K written in the Bible (not yet), but I want to respect everyone, including those who make that number so important.
    If you prefer really heavy duty evidence-based science discussion, you may want to take a look at the thread about ‘the third way’ and see if you can help to understand the real issues posted in there. Or you might prefer to give a hand to the 3rd. way folks, who have a much harder task ahead. Either way is fine 😉 Thanks.

  7. 7
    Henry Crun says:


    There’s a difference between respecting people, and our rights to hold differing views, and respecting those views. We as individuals can hold whatever views we want. And can challenge other views accordingly.

  8. 8
    ppolish says:

    Henry, Climate Change year to year in a 6000 year old World is many orders of magnitude more significant than in a 4500000012 year old World. Be afraid.

  9. 9
    ppolish says:

    Henry, challenging a view and disrespecting a view are different. Disrespecting a view you do not understand is impolite at best.

  10. 10
    Henry Crun says:


    It is quite easy to understand the view that the Earth is 6000 years old. But I do not respect the view that the Earth is 6000 years old. It is total nonsense and completely disproved by all the evidence. You might as well say we should respect the view that 2+2=5.

  11. 11
    ppolish says:

    Most have no issues with lack of respect. Not so with disrespect though. Disrespect is lame really. Especially the cliches like the “I don’t have to respect your stupid belief” blah blah.

  12. 12
    StephenA says:

    So if the Creationists here insist on maintaining their belief that the Earth is 6000 years old, is that a good thing because they are thinking for themselves?

    Presumably yes, as long as they actually did think it through for themselves and didn’t just accept it solely on someone else’s authority.

    RE: respect for views –
    You are of course free to declare that creationism is not just wrong but also stupid or even evil, just as I am free to declare the same things about darwinism. However, unless your goal is to humiliate people rather than pursuade them, you should probably refrain from doing so.
    Nothing makes people less inclined to listen than feeling like your words are being used to attack.

  13. 13
    Henry Crun says:

    Stephen A,

    Would you respect the view that 2+2=5 if it meant the holder of the view had thought it through for themselves and didn’t rely on authority?

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