Wednesday, February 23, 2011

UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser criticizes “journalists wilfully misusing science, distorting evidence by cherry-picking data that suits their view, giving bogus authority to people who misrepresent the absolute basics of science, and worse”

Government Chief Scientific Adviser John Beddington is stepping up the war on pseudoscience with a call to his fellow government scientists to be “grossly intolerant” if science is being misused by religious or political groups.

In closing remarks to an annual conference of around 300 scientific civil servants on 3 February, in London, Beddington said that selective use of science ought to be treated in the same way as racism and homophobia. “We are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of racism. We are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of people who [are] anti-homosexuality…. We are not—and I genuinely think we should think about how we do this—grossly intolerant of pseudo-science, the building up of what purports to be science by the cherry-picking of the facts and the failure to use scientific evidence and the failure to use scientific method,” he said.

Beddington said he intends to take this agenda forward with his fellow chief scientists and also with the research councils. “I really believe that… we need to recognise that this is a pernicious influence, it is an increasingly pernicious influence and we need to be thinking about how we can actually deal with it.

I first reported on Beddington back in 2009 when he warned that by 2030, “A ‘perfect storm’ of food shortages, scarce water and insufficient energy resources threaten to unleash public unrest, cross-border conflicts and mass migration as people flee from the worst-affected regions.” See “When the global Ponzi scheme collapses (circa 2030), the only jobs left will be green” for an amazing speech explaining why.

No doubt Beddington is thinking of UK journalists like David Rose and Richard North (see links below) — and James Delingpole, who recently melted down on the BBC and said, “It is not my job to sit down and read peer-reviewed papers because I simply haven’t got the time…. I am an interpreter of interpretations.”

Here’s more from the UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser:

“We should not tolerate what is potentially something that can seriously undermine our ability to address important problems.“There are enough difficult and important problems out there without having to… deal with what is politically or morally or religiously motivated nonsense.”

Beddington also had harsh words for journalists who treat the opinions of non-scientist commentators as being equivalent to the opinions of what he called “properly trained, properly assessed” scientists. “The media see the discussions about really important scientific events as if it’s a bloody football match. It is ridiculous.”

His call has been welcomed by science groups, including the Campaign for Science and Engineering.

Edzard Ernst, professor of the study of complementary medicine at Exeter University, whose department is being closed down, said he was “delighted that somebody in [Beddington’s] position speaks out”. In an interview with Research Fortnight Ernst said that the analogy with racism was a good one and that he, like Beddington, questioned why journalists have what he called “a pathological need” to balance a scientific opinion with one from outside of science.

“You don’t have that balance in racism,” he said. “You’re not finishing [an article] by quoting the Ku Klux Klan when it is an article about racist ideas,” Ernst said.

“This is strong language because the frustration is so huge and because scientists are being misunderstood. For far too long we have been tolerant of these post-modern ideas that more than one truth is valid. All this sort of nonsense does make you very frustrated in the end.”

Ben Goldacre, a science journalist and medical doctor, agrees. “Society has been far too tolerant of politicians, lobbyists, and journalists wilfully misusing science, distorting evidence by cherry-picking data that suits their view, giving bogus authority to people who misrepresent the absolute basics of science, and worse,” he told Research Fortnight. “This distorted evidence has real world implications, because people need good evidence to make informed decisions on policy, health, and more. Beddington is frustrated, and rightly so: for years I’ve had journalists and politicians repeatedly try to brush my concerns on these issues under the carpet.” Scientists need to fight back, he says.

(http://climateprogress.org/2011/02/21/uks-chief-scientific-adviser-criticizes-journalists-wilfully-misusing-science/)

21 comments:

  1. Does this mean there will be no more mythbusters?

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  2. sounds like govt research results.

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  3. what ever happened to unbiased journalism?

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  4. Unfortunately true. THere really isn't any such thing as unbiased journalism anymore.

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  5. That has been done forever, it's nothing new.

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  6. If it makes good reading and grabs attention then journalists don't care much for the accuracy of their points.

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  7. /signed
    It's disgusting how many times "experts" in news articles are barely even acquainted with the research in the subject they're talking about. Not to beat a dead horse, but Fox News does this rampantly.

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  8. yeah they've done this a lot, and all over the world too.

    @Chuck
    Yup. Exactly.

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  9. No surprise here. People will always cherry pick to make their argument.

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  10. Yes, get rid of the data that doesn't fit into preconceived hypotheses.

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  11. Good post. There's a very good book on this called "The Republican War on Science." You should check it out.

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  12. lol I hate it when you read something and just have to stop in the middle and think "Where the hell did that come from?" There's some massive missed steps in logic sometimes.

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  13. ya heard they do this for global warming

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  14. some desperate journalists out there

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  15. This has been a problem for a while now.

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  16. People controlling the sources and views of information, nothing new, nice to see it documented and talked about though.

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  17. Probably one of the reasons we are all gonna get our butts kicked by global warming is because of "journalists" like these were pretty much on the payroll of the American right wing.

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  18. This is one of the worst things that can happen in modern science. Thank you for posting this.

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