David Levinson and I chatted via Facebook yesterday about something I posted on scientific illiteracy. I think he and I basically argued the same thing. He argued, succinctly, that scientists often overstate the certainty of their findings and should be questioned. I don’t actually disagree, but I’d argue that pretty much no one group can be trusted, not singly, and that’s why deliberation matters to both knowledge formation and policy. The goals of academic success are not necessarily social goals or even institutional goals, for one. However, I’d argue that mistrust of professional scientists should lead us to a different point than where we are: it should lead us to demand higher levels of personal literacy on math and science than the attrition to where I think we are: full-blown, hands-up-in-the-air, no-bloody-clue what’s going on or how to evaluate claims at a level more sophisticated than relating to personal experience.
Anyway, the interwebs are abuzz with hacked emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Change Research Unit that supposedly prove a worldwide conspiracy to promote anthropogenic climate theories and downplay evidence to the contrary. I’ll link you to BoingBoing, as they have a lot of links you can follow. I urge particularly to read the material from Science Insider and the New York Times.
I read through bits and honestly…tempest in a pot of tea. The takeaway lesson:
1. High-profile, successful scientists try to present their findings in a way that has maximum impact; and
2. People are sloppy with what they put in emails.
3. Scholars form camps around theories and methods and thus disagree with scholars from other camps.
4. Scholars debate things. Seriously, nothing I’ve happened on–yet–in the these emails gets as heated as mine with Peter Gordon do. And I believe that Peter and I are cheerful colleagues who like and respect each other but who simply disagree about what the same data mean.
5. This is type of thing makes you look like even bigger jerks when you refuse to release models and information, which they should have done prior to this, period, the end.
Here are all of the emails if you have a lot of time on your hands. When you start reading, you’ll wish this conspiracy had Elvis because the reading gets dull pretty fast.