How science lost the public trust…

British science writer Matt Ridley argues that “scientists” have become disconnected from “science”.

Loyal readers may remember Mr. Ridley — a self-proclaimed “science critic” —  from a 2019 series of HomaFiles  posts.

I credited Mr. Ridley for inspiring the series and  and I adopted his coining as a “lukewarmer” on climate change.

Recap: 16 Reasons why I’m lukewarm on climate change

In a recent WSJ weekend interview, Mr. Ridley gives his take on “How Science Lost the Public Trust”.

Ridley’s core conclusion:

Politics and hubris have disconnected scientists and  scientific institutions  from the philosophy and method that ought to guide them.

More specifically, Ridley draws a pointed distinction between “science as a philosophy” and “science as an institution.”

The former grows out of the Enlightenment, which Mr. Ridley defines as “the primacy of rational and objective reasoning.”

The latter, like all human institutions, is erratic, prone to falling well short of its stated principles.

The Covid pandemic has “thrown into sharp focus the disconnect between science as a philosophy and science as an institution.”

People inside (the institution) not only have been “disappointingly incurious” but have tried to shut down the inquiry “to protect the reputation of science as an institution.”

Science — as a profession — has become “rather off-puttingly arrogant and political, permeated by motivated reasoning and confirmation bias.”

Mr. Ridley fears “that the pandemic has, for the first time, seriously politicized epidemiology.”

There is a palatable “tension between scientists wanting to present a unified and authoritative voice,” on the one hand, and science-as-philosophy, which is obligated to “remain open-minded and be prepared to change its mind.”

“It’s largely the fault of epidemiologists themselves, deliberately publishing things that fit with their political prejudices or ignoring things that don’t.”

In Mr. Ridley’s view, the scientific establishment has always had a tendency “to turn into a church, enforcing obedience to the latest dogma and expelling heretics and blasphemers.”

This tendency was previously kept in check by the fragmented nature of the scientific enterprise: Prof. A at one university built his career by saying that Prof. B’s ideas somewhere else were wrong.

In the age of social media, however, “the space for heterodoxy is evaporating.”

Forced conformity But, an is the enemy of scientific progress, which depends on disagreement and challenge.

Increasing numbers of scientists seem to fall prey to groupthink and dogmatic gate-keeping gets in the way of new ideas and open-minded challenge.

So, Ridley concludes: “Those who believe in science as philosophy are increasingly estranged from scientists and science as an institution.”

And, that’s “How Science Lost the Public Trust”.

Again, the whole article is worth reading.


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