Sunday, April 22, 2012

My job isn't "inside the BELTWAY" ...

Michael Marshall
My job, as I see it , isn't "inside the BELTWAY" of peer-reviewed science.

Whenever I do peer inside that Beltway (ie when reading the articles in our leading science journals) I see little to complain about.

And I am a great one for complaining.

Instead I see provisional results, I see uncertainty, doubts, probabilities, possibilities, unknowns.

I see, in other words, scientists admitting that there are limits and restraints on what we can know and what we can do vis a vis the physical world.

(I am not naive and I know that these admissions are themselves frequently only provisional, necessitated by the need to be accepted into peer-reviewed journals.)

No, my concern is the science of our day-to-day world (POPULAR rather than PUBLIC science in my definition of those terms) and here I see big, literally "Life-Threatening", problems.

Most of us pick up what little notions of science's potential and methods we retain, from textbook teaching in high school or from a few undergraduate intro courses.

We supplement this with the occasional news item  and magazine article, perhaps even with that best-seller book from that famous scientist we've seen on the telly.

Out here in the real world, the science we get is still mostly Whiggish Science, Newtonian Science , a science that sunnily dismisses any possibility of limits to Man's knowledge of reality (given enough time and money thrown at the scientists' labs).

(Let me give you a mild example, from an article I recently read with admiration, until this short passage jarred me into alarm ; it's
from STEVEN WEINBERG, Nobel prize winner and a key architect of The Standard Model of physics:

"...I think that we'll get to the point where there are no puzzles of this sort. And that will be quite a remarkable turning point in the intellectual history of the human race."

To his credit, Dr Weinberg didn't quite say the physicists' equivalent of the medical doctors' "we can close the book on infectious disease", but in his quiet, cautious way, he came damn close.)

Most other examples are far more blatant.

And I see all this hot air hubris as what is driving our world to meet its Climate-Changed-Doom.

Not so oddly enough (given my previously stated lack of naivety) most of this Blue Sky Science wind is generated by the same chappies as what wrote those carefully constipated peer-reviewed articles: Drs Hyde & Jeckel, PhD,FRS .

My job then is to expose split-personality scientists and ask the real one to stand up: either stand up and admit they really see no limits to what Man can do or stand up and reaffirm that Reality will always be a bit of a mirage forever slightly beyond our grasp.

That is, I only want our scientists to be consistent: to say outside the Beltway of peer-reviewed journals what they say inside it.

Is that too much to ask ?

And once our Stevensonian pair have made their admissions , we will then be better forearmed as how to trust their handling of the Climate Change brief....

No comments:

Post a Comment