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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Science and Scientists

Dilbert's first excursion into Intelligent Design, upon which I commented favourably in the Knowledge and Uncertainty blog, has provoked a large and often critical postbag. However, Dilbert has expressed himself carefully, with the intention of framing much of the criticism as confirming his thesis.

In his second excusion into Intelligent Design, he reiterates his point about science and scientists. Although he is inclined to believe in evolution, he is uncomfortable about accepting the authority of the men and women in white coats.
I’d be surprised if 90%+ of scientists are wrong about the evidence for Darwinism. But if you think it’s impossible, you’ve lived a sheltered life.

Let me say very clearly here that I’m not denying the EXISTENCE of slam-dunk credible evidence for evolution. What I’m denying is the existence of credible PEOPLE to inform me of this evidence. The people who purport to have evidence of evolution do a spectacular job of making themselves non-credible.
The public has often been disappointed by the men and women in white coats. Most scientists get funding from political or commercial sources, and may be subject to political or commercial pressure. We have frequently been assured of the absolute safety of various things, we have been told that there is "no scientific evidence" of any risk, only to discover later that this reassurance was at best incomplete. No wonder if many intelligent non-scientists reserve judgement.

Meanwhile, scientists themselves are indignant at such suggestions, and strongly resist the idea that scientific truth might be regarded as a social construction. Scientists are taught to present their findings using a dry and impersonal third-person rhetoric, as if to emphasize an idealized independence from worldly matters, and an absolute trustworthiness.

Dilbert has clearly touched a raw nerve. Why else would so much energy and emotion be invested in arguing with a cartoonist?

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