From the pedestal – take 2

Updated at 10:30 am

Following my brief and angry post last week about Simon Jenkins’ wayward accusations against scientists in The Guardian, Bill Hanage and I have written a more temperate but no less strongly felt response that has appeared in today’s paper (page 33 if you have a copy).

The article has now appeared online (thanks to Richard for spotting it – see comments) but here below is the copy that we submitted (the printed version was slightly curtailed in the edit). I’ve also restored our original title since I prefer it to the one used by the paper (‘We’re not on a pedestal: peer review keeps scientists grounded.’)

Pedestals are not part of the scientific apparatus

Simon Jenkins is dismayed by reports of the lax behaviour of some IPCC scientists and the allegations of some stem cell researchers that their work is being held up by rivals during peer review. Conflating these stories with his ill-founded distrust of epidemiology he paints a grim picture of science and scientists as corrupting and corruptible: “They cheat. They make mistakes. They suppress truth and suggest falsity, especially when a cheque or a plane ticket is on offer.” According to Jenkins, the profession is a dangerous ‘clerisy’ that “wants the public to regard its role in society and the economy as axiomatic — with no obligation to prove it.”

If Jenkins aimed his rhetorical flourishes to get a rise out of scientists then, judging by the comment thread beneath the online version of his article, he succeeded admirably. The howls of protest are not so much from righteous anger however, as our frustration with his misrepresentation of the scientific process. Jenkins is an intelligent writer with an avowed love of popular science: why then does he have so little appreciation of how science really works? His closing statement betrays the scale of his misunderstanding: “Only when science comes off its pedestal and joins the common herd will it see the virtue of self criticism.”

If he had taken the trouble to talk to some real scientists, Jenkins would have discovered that very few are sat on pedestals—the vast majority live and breathe in a daily scrum with our intensely sceptical colleagues, whom we must convince of the logic and quality of our experiments. The fear of being found wanting by your peers is a powerful incentive for exactly the self-criticism Jenkins claims is lacking. We have no experience of the “two decades of uncritical flattery” that he alleges to have blunted scientific rigour. The peer-review process, unique to science, may be an imperfect and controversial mechanism for weeding out error but it is a powerful one. The great strength of science in the long run is its ability to transcend the acknowledged frailties of individual scientists. This is clearly seen in the fact that most of their mistakes are unearthed not by journalists or sceptical bloggers but by other scientists.

Jenkins might also have learned that scientists are a heterogeneous and rambunctious lot—people in white coats should not be mistaken for sheep. Popular science can sometimes give the mistaken impression that science is a linear progression from ignorance to glossy fact. But no human endeavour ever works so smoothly or can claim to be perfect. Science is not above criticism or argument— it is our stock-in-trade—but if you are going to take swipes at it, Mr Jenkins, you should take a harder look at the evidence.

The fact remains that science offers us the best hope of informing society’s difficult choices in an uncertain world, so it is important that scientific knowledge is communicated accurately to the public. Scientists are not in the business of handing down incontrovertible truths. We deal in observations and theories, couched in uncertainty and bracketed by error bars, to produce our best models of how the world works. Science is a messy and difficult business so the explanations that we have to offer are not always easy to digest. Talk to real scientists about their work and you will frequently find yourself deep within a narrative that is swathed in caveats and unknowns. These complex stories demand good communicators; scientists could do better at this themselves but we also need to enlist the help of talented writers who will take the trouble to engage with the reality of science. Mr Jenkins, we need to talk.

 

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78 Responses to From the pedestal – take 2

  1. Jim Caryl says:

    Fantastic retort; well said.

  2. Nicolas Fanget says:

    If I may jump on your bandwagon Stephen, there is a great article about diphtheria vaccination in the UK in the latest issue of Microbiology Today (Achtung! PDF!). It shows how important epidemiology and vaccination are, with the great advantage of 20/20 vision afforded by hindsight. It is written in a way that lay people can understand too, so feel free to distribute/link around (although dropping a word at SGM would be nice if you do so).
    Since you are interest in virus proteins, you could check out the article about viruses and geometry (link, weary PDF warning as well.)

  3. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Customers who liked Stephen and Bill’s piece may also enjoy this related rebuttal by Krebs a few days ago…
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article7018438.ece
    Well done for defending us all, guys.

  4. Stephen Curry says:

    Thanks Jim – please say hi to Dave Rowlands for me if you bump into him in the corridors at Leeds…
    Well done to Richard for spotting the link that finally appeared on the Guardian web-site. I’ve now updated the post accordingly.
    Cheers Jenny, the Krebs piece was great reply. You do sound a bit like you’ve been spending too much time on Amazon though…!
    Thanks for the links to those articles Nicolas – I had heard Reidun Twarock speak at last year’s SGM on virus symmetry and frankly hadn’t got the point (even though I think I know a thing or two about icosahedral symmetry!). I’ll have another look to see if I can make sense of it.

  5. Stephen Curry says:

    Ah, the power of peer review: one of my more sceptical colleagues has just pointed out that peer-review is not ‘unique’ to science (as we have written). Of course it is used widely in many other fields of academic publishing, such as history!
    Point taken.

  6. Richard P. Grant says:

    … peer review in action. Science FTW. \o/

  7. Bob O'Hara says:

    Ah, but will the Grauniad print a correction?

  8. Richard P. Grant says:

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH
    wheeze
    Good one, Bob.

  9. Maxine Clarke says:

    Good piece, Stephen and Bill – and good on the Graun for publishing it.

  10. Eva Amsen says:

    Oh, good job Stephen!

  11. Lee Turnpenny says:

    ‘… misrepresentation of the scientific process.’
    Ay, there’s the rub.
    Very nice work, Stephen and Bill.

  12. Samantha Alsbury says:

    Great response and as Jennifer said thanks for defending us.

  13. Stephen Curry says:

    Thanks everyone. It’s been an interesting day so far. Got a call just after noon asking if I would agree to speak on Gaby Logan’s radio 5 chat show in a discussion on scientific issues arising from ‘climategate’. Got a brief chance to speak at about 12:20 (may be on iPlayer later). Heart was thumping but hope I didn’t come across as too much of an eejit!

  14. Åsa Karlström says:

    I love it. Very well written. (I wanted to write eloquently but got unsure of the spelling…) 😉
    Good luck this afternoon (now I see you already have recorded it so – hopefully there is a link soon).

  15. Bill Hanage says:

    thanks all.
    At a meeting so not really in a position to respond to anything beneath the article. Glad that you’re upping the media profile of sensible scientists Stephen! Today 5 live, tomorrow Today!

  16. Richard P. Grant says:

    Heh, top show Stephen. No need to ask you to post the iPlayer link I guess 🙂

  17. Bart Penders says:

    Stephen, your discussion with Jenkins reminded me of a comment the Canadian philosopher of science, Ian Hacking, once made about the scientific method (which, in his opinion included some form of peer review). I quote:

    […] There then arises a suspicion of circularity […]. For there is an odd way in which [a scientific method is] self-authenticating. The tuth is what we find in such and such a way. We recognize it as truth because of how we find it. And how do we know that the method is good? Because it gets us at the truth”.

    Peer review is only an internal review and thus cannot question the logic that operates within a practice. It does do with great power. It cannot question that logic. This requires exteral critique/review/comment/etc. Perhaps that is what Jenkins wanted to refer to. Perhaps.

  18. Bart Penders says:

    Ah, the source of my quote went missing…

    Hacking, Ian. (1992). In The Social Dimensions of Science, edited by E. McMullin. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, p. 130-157. Quote drawn from p. 135.

  19. Richard P. Grant says:

    Wow. That zazar character is a complete dweeb, eh?

  20. Irene Hames says:

    Bravo, Stephen!

  21. Nicolas Fanget says:

    Linky to today’s BBC5 news. “Climategate” starts at 18 min in. You sound just fine Stephen!

  22. Stephen Curry says:

    @Richard- yes, you can rely on my steadily inflating ego (soon to be punctured no doubt). Here’s the iPlayer link (active for the next 7 days). The discussion starts at 11:40 and I get called into the fray at 25:10…
    Just listened back and am not too ashamed…

  23. Nicolas Fanget says:

    Oops, cross posting…

  24. Stephen Curry says:

    Ha, Bill -nice to hear from you (where are you anyway?). As I hope you’ve seen, there’s been plenty of positive reaction here and on Twitter and in the comment thread beneath our article.
    Bart – you’re giving way too much credit to Jenkins there. I don’t think he was making a philosophical point. I’m not even sure I agree with your Canadian philosopher – science has on several occasions been able to invent entirely new paradigms to describe the world – quantum mechanics, anyone? I suspect there’s a long and interesting discussion to be had on this but I really must try to get some work done…!
    Richard – about zazar (in the comments thread at the Guardian) – slightly wayward on some points but not sure I entirely disagree with him/her. But not really had a chance to follow the thread closely yet…

  25. Cath Ennis says:

    Nice work, Stephen – the article and the interview!
    Just wondering whether the “pubic” typo in the Jenkins quote in the first paragraph is one of his…? 😉

  26. Bill Hanage says:

    I’m in South Africa. It’s hot and sunny
    Sorry everyone. If it makes you feel better, I’m in a meeting room looking out at the sun

  27. Stephen Curry says:

    Trust you to spot that Cath… I’ve checked – that error was ours! Corrected above for the sake of decency.

  28. Cath Ennis says:

    sorry!

  29. Richard P. Grant says:

    Anyone who thinks that people go into science to get rich, or who think that science is lucrative, is not living on my planet. Yes, it’s a decent living (if you can get it), but no more than many less skilled careers and a lot less than most careers requiring a similar amount of training, skill and dedication.

  30. Mike Fowler says:

    Hmmm, a slightly odd discussion, particularly towards the end. The BBC environment correspondent and another guy spent a lot of time telling us we have to give citizen bloggers a bigger say in interpreting climate science… because they might have spent 100 hours investigating the subject online.[1]
    Now, I’ve watched a few episodes of House, ER and Angels over the years, possibly even 100 hours or more. I hope the same guys would allow me to carry out some emergency medical procedures on them. Perhaps a lobotomy.
    Gabby Logan made some good points though. And Stephen’s got a good face voice for radio.
    1 Don’t they realise that blogs also spell the death of traditional journalism? Cutting, noses, spite and face?

  31. Alyssa Gilbert says:

    Fantastic work!

  32. Maxine Clarke says:

    Yes, I wonder how many 100s of hours the typical climate scientist have spent investigating the subject, compared with 100 hours of a citizen blogger? (And what the quality of the material being investigated is, comparatively.)

  33. Maxine Clarke says:

    has, not have, sorry.

  34. Stephen Curry says:

    Mike – the BBC correspondent on the Radio show was Roger Harrabin. I agree with you and Maxine that you cannot really compare 100 hrs spent on the internet with the career of an atmospheric physicist or other professional climate scientist.
    But I’m guess there must be genuine bloggers out there who have a serious attitude to inquiring about this matter. That’s not to say that they should be entitled to equal air-play but scientists need to be careful to explain why a scientific approach should be more rigorous and better-informed. I do think that all this brouhaha is a good opportunity to get some basic points across about the doings of science.

  35. Mike Fowler says:

    Stephen, thanks for the correction. I got a little lost about who was talking, when. And I even listened to the section twice.
    But this was one of the important points Gabby Logan made, how can we compare a blogger’s opinion to a researcher who’s had hands on experience? I think this was brushed off unfairly, by blaming scientists for not explaining themselves very clearly.
    Now, if only all the primary research material were freely available to the public…

  36. Austin Elliott says:

    Maxine wrote:

    “Yes, I wonder how many 100s of hours the typical climate scientist have spent investigating the subject, compared with 100 hours of a citizen blogger? (And what the quality of the material being investigated is, comparatively.)”

    And also their ability to interpret the material, sort wheat from chaff, and give it “context”. I was going on about this the other day over here.
    A lot of the madder anti-vaccine bloggers in particular clearly feel that their hours of obsession give them an ability to interpret data which, as a scientific observer, I would say they quite evidently don’t possess. There are some real “Citizen Journalist” types in the autism field, but the ones who are not nuts are all from the neurodiversity camp. One thing this latter group of bloggers tend to have is a non-egotistical (or more realistic) view of their own expertise relative to that of others, notably the experts.
    I actually think this is a key skill for scientists, too; you have to be able to gauge when someone knows more than you, and when they know less. In the first case you will largely be learning; in the second case you will largely be teaching
    The self-assumed expertise of bug-eyed “internet experts” is a regular topic of discussion in the bad science arena, where one of the key ideas is the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

  37. Stephen Curry says:

    @Maxine, Mike & Austin – yes, when I listened to that 100 hour comment again it did seem pretty feeble.
    It would be good, Mike, it the data were freely available (they should be automatically if findings based on them are published – as in crystallography).
    Thanks for the links Austin – you have clearly been doing good work out there in the boondocks! Your comment about the “internet experts” reminded me of a bit in Goldacre’s BadScience book that my brother picked up on in his blog (and illustrated with a graph) – the point about intelligence not correlating with self-assessment of performance in exams. Smart people tend to be overly self-critical, whereas the opposite is true for unintelligent people.
    At what point do you decide it’s no longer worth talking to someone because you realise their mind is too closed/small to take on board a different perspective? Hopefully scientists are more open-minded than most…

  38. Alejandro Correa says:

    Bah, Humbug!

  39. Stephen Curry says:

    Care to elaborate Alejandro…?

  40. Alejandro Correa says:

    The only one who decides is Jehovah, not mere mortals like us. Everything else is mere speculation.

  41. Alejandro Correa says:

    What makes me laugh is that Stephen and Elliot is so sure he’s right he sees no reason to engage in any discussion because he knows he has all the answers anyway, and is quite boastful about saying so. Think he lacks humility. With their doctoral language convinces some. I’ve completly disagree with you.

  42. Alejandro Correa says:

    The other cause, what irritates me most about this attitude is how this stance translate science. As if all that you saying is the correct there is no doubt at the respect.

  43. Grant Jacobs says:

    I know it’s way out of line to promote one’s own blog, but… your article’s question of “why then does he have so little appreciation of how science really works?” reminds me a little (and very polite) rant of my own I wrote not long after I first started my blog those long 4 months ago (it seems like forever): “Three kinds of knowledge about science and journalism” ( http://sciblogs.co.nz/code-for-life/2009/10/26/three-kinds-of-knowledge-about-science-and-journalism/ ), with the three kinds of knowledge John Durant espoused in his chapter in Investigating science communication in the information age: implications for public engagement and popular media being:
    1. essential facts
    2. how science works
    3. how science really works
    While Durant argued that “journalists reporting science could help throw light on how science really works”, I begged to differ… To be fair, they could, it’s just they rarely do.
    On the subject of data availability, one thing that good if it’s open is that curmudgeons like me can come along and analyse the data independently of those who created it. (I’m a computational biologist.)

  44. Stephen Curry says:

    Well, thanks be to Jehovah for some disagreement in this thread!
    Perhaps I expressed myself badly in my penultimate comment, Alejandro, because you have completely misunderstood my stance. You are accusing me of the same kind of arrogance that Jenkins alleged science to be guilty of. I have to wonder whether you have read the article that Bill and I wrote in reply to him (see above) because our intention was to deny Jenkins’ mis-representatuon of all scientists as god-like and to invite him to have some proper dialogue with us. As scientists we welcome argument! Bring it on, as one says in the moving pictures.
    Austin is more than capable of defending his comments but his point, as I understood it, he was saying that there is a wide spectrum of opinion and ability out there on the web. Indeed he praised some it. But at one end of that spectrum you have the nutters who are convinced they are right and who are simply not prepared to engage in reasoned debate. On this point I was agreeing with him in my comment (have your every tried to engage with Dana Ullman on the evidence for homeopathy?). I did not mean to suggest that scientists should never engage with any non-specialist. Indeed the primary motivation for my own blog (and the article and the radio spot) is to get involved in that engagement.
    The point about the comparison between a blogger who’s spent 100 hrs reading up on climate science vs a climate scientist who has spent a whole career in the field stands, as far as I am concerned – though please feel free to challenge it. But it should not be mis-construed as a claim that bloggers never have anything interesting to contribute to the discussion. Far from it!

  45. Stephen Curry says:

    Hi Grant – great to have an antipodean viewpoint. It is not at all bad form to promote your own blog posts. Your piece makes some interesting practical suggestions about improving the interface between scientists and journalists. This is a topic that has been covered in a recent govt-commissioned report in the UK (should be a pdf download link somewhere but can’t find it at the moment).

  46. Stephen Curry says:

    For some reason, I feel compelled to add this to the discussion, from the incomparable XKCD

  47. Nicolas Fanget says:

    This talk about considering the opinions of the mythical “100 hrs research blogger” (do they realise that’s about 2 weeks of work for a full-time pro, and probably less?) keeps reminding me of Dara O’briain’s skit about “balance”. Look for Dara O’briain + homeopath on the tube that lives in the net, it is part of a larger point about science.

  48. Grant Jacobs says:

    Thanks for the welcome Stephen. I sort-of know it OK to point at your own blog, if you’re polite about it; I’m just heading off any criticism that I’m blatantly promoting myself!
    Thanks for pointing out that report. Hadn’t seen that one and I’ll stick my nose into it. There’s a download link right at the top of the page you linked 😉 I have several of these reports stashed away to get through now!
    If people are interested in the science-communication / scientists-as-writers topic, there’s a list of other (slightly older) articles I’ve written on the topic at the end of this article: For those interested in science journalism (The article itself won’t be of much interest.)
    Your reply to Alejandro reminds me of quite a few blog posts I have lined up. If I’m motivated I’ll get some of this up over the next few days.
    I’ll choose a different one, but I think I might pinch your idea of a scientific valentine cartoon! (I’ve got Non-sequitur’s “preconceptual science” up at the moment, partly as a bit of the homeopathy nonsense has been doing the rounds out our way too.)

  49. Mike Fowler says:

    I think some of the above discussion really highlights a serious difficulty when scientists ‘engage’ with the public. We’re often pitted against someone with a contrary view in a deliberately confrontational manner – makes for good radio/tv but not necessarily for robust science. Weight of evidence is given as much weight as the power of one’s voice.
    Scientists are also trained from birth the start of our career to make statements that we know can be backed up with data. I’m not sure those with opposite views are always burdened with that responsibility. I’d sure like to know who these 100 hour geniuses are who have deeper insight into the trails of humanity and the planet than those who have built an entire career out of studying them.

  50. Stephen Curry says:

    Thanks for the links Grant. The one that immediately caught my eye was the plea for journalists to ask of scientists ‘what is known’ rather than ‘what is their opinion. That’s a better way to initiate the discussion; might forestall some of the problems in presentation that Mike is alluding to.
    And as for “a bit of the homeopathy nonsense has been doing the rounds out our way too.
    Do you mean the 10:23 Overdose event? I gather there was one in NZ…
    Thanks for the tip-off Nicolas – I think you mean this video (which I’ve already seen and enjoyed!)

  51. Brian Clegg says:

    Rather late in the day, as I’ve been out of online reach, but excellent stuff. To avoid being too repetitious, it would be useful to have a Facebook style ‘Like’ button…

  52. Alejandro Correa says:

    Thanks for your reply Stephen’s. I agree with Brian.

  53. Åsa Karlström says:

    Stephen> That xkcd is killing me…. so sad…. or whatever one can say 😉
    [I wonder how you measure 🙂 in the graph though. As a scientist I mean…]

  54. Stephen Curry says:

    Cor, Alejando – what a softie you are! I was all gearing up for a fight debate…!
    Åsa – I think we should accept that science has its limitations and not try to let it invade our romantic lives. I know my wife wouldn’t stand for it!

  55. Alejandro Correa says:

    Want to fight:
    First you said: “Jenkins would have discovered that very few are sat on pedestals” too: “Jenkins is an intelligent writer with an avowed love of popular science”.
    Maybe by that deep, in main, (in the deep such as said an younger brother, he is editor). You admire Jenkins. I invite you to admit.
    Second: Austin continue your comments (stephen) and falls into the same words of the doctoral verbal sovereignty of Jenkins, but as an accomplice of Stephan.
    Third: Finally both are accomplices of Jenkins and shoot anything that comes to mind them, as if away the supreme truth.

    Jenkins finally has two potential partners.
    That.

  56. Stephen Curry says:

    1. I don’t admire Jenkins, at least not when he has written about science. I am bemused that an evidently intelligent man can be so uninformed about the business of science.
    2. I had tried to clarify mine and Austin’s views above but you don’t seem to have taken this on board.
    3. I am unarmed and do not ‘shoot anything that comes to mind’. If you take any critical comment to mean that I am shooting someone from a position of authority, then I deny it. As evidence in my defence, I did invite you (twice now) to challenge my views. Not the actions of a supreme being.

  57. Alejandro Correa says:

    No talking of Jenkins is boring. Jenkins is nothing, …. well is a person.
    Have to ignore much publicity is given. This is my opinion maybe it is better not to participate.

  58. Austin Elliott says:

    Errm? I’m afraid I’m not seeing quite what Alejandro is getting at.
    If you mean it is better to ignore Jenkins, Alejandro, then the problem is that he is a well-known commentator in the UK, whose words people read. I think they do need opposing / counterpointing, so I am glad Krebs, and now Stephen and Bill, have responded.

  59. Alejandro Correa says:

    Austin – The problem is that you is making a big publicity propaganda either negative or positive and Jenkins is more known with your blogs of NN.

  60. Stephen Curry says:

    Alejando – you credit us with way too much influence. And, in any case, I agree with Austin that it is important to challenge mis-conceptions of science, wherever they come from. I don’t see that the tiny, tiny bit of publicity that might arise from this thread will have a positive impact on Jenkins’ reputation for science reporting.

  61. Alejandro Correa says:

    Oh my god!, but I insist that the way in which these issues is not treat delegitimize other people from other areas that make Hard Science or Computer Science and so on with other tools, as if each one of us being able to express the supreme and absolute truth.
    Opinions are not absolute truth and others persons they will feel humiliated and prefer not to comment for fear (that irritate me), more care with words is saying.

  62. Maxine Clarke says:

    I’m a bit confused by Alejandro’s points, particularly that Jehovah should decide – should “not” decide, I would think. But maybe I have misunderstood you, Alejandro.
    But, returning to the 100 hours business, I cannot bear to link to it because of my low opinion of it, but the fiction author Susan Hill is simiarly of the opinion that because of her investigations into climate science and her perusal of Nigel Lawson’s (erroneous) book, she knows that global warming is not happening. She wrote a very rude post about Oxfam recently, in which this point was made with great assurance, in passing.
    It often surprises me, that those who are the loudest to accuse scientsits of being “priests” or over-confident of their views, are themselves extremely confident that, say, global warming is made-up, or the MMR vaccine causes autism, or similar “fact” (not).
    Something inconsistent here, surely, ed?

  63. Alejandro Correa says:

    Maxine – Me was wrong, was upset. Really should write: “Please let something let for god”. For those who are not atheists.

  64. Alejandro Correa says:

    En otras palabras, Maxine: “Por favor Dejenle algo a Dios, no sean tan egoistas”.

  65. Alejandro Correa says:

    Maxine- It often surprises me, that those…..
    Indeed those who think that are priests of the science are the ones who do harm to science, his voice is the truth as well as Dawkins and so on, etc, etc, etc.But the characteristics of these personage are common: magnificently, grandiloquent,convictedly, great verbal skills in language,strong character to impose ideas, pompous in definitive unscrupulous.

  66. Austin Elliott says:

    Alejandro, scientists don’t claim to know everything. I’m sure we all agree that can never be true.
    It is just that some people understand/know more about some things than others do. Often because they have trained in them and then studied them over many years.
    See my comment back up the thread about “I actually think this is a key skill for scientists, too…”. The degree of anyone’s knowledge (in any field) is relative. But one cannot deny that that means some know a lot more than others, though never all there is to know.
    Being aware of your limitations (and the limits of what you know) is therefore rather important.
    At the risk of looking stupid, I shall try and express this idea in my bad Spanish (corrections welcome):

    “Deme la penetración a comprender lo que sé, y lo que yo no sé, y para poder conocer la diferencia.”

  67. Alejandro Correa says:

    This Spanish well, Austin. I am pleased to understand that what I know, and what I do not know. But sometimes you are wrong.

  68. Austin Elliott says:

    An occupational hazard of living, I fear…

  69. Stephen Curry says:

    Re my comment above about our mistaken claim in the article that peer review is “unique” to science”, I see that an historian Dr Joyce Macadam, has written to the Guardian today to pick us up on precisely that point.
    It’s a nice example of (post-publication) peer review in action!

  70. Grant Jacobs says:

    Hi Stephen,
    Thanks for the links Grant. The one that immediately caught my eye was the plea for journalists to ask of scientists ‘what is known’ rather than ‘what is their opinion. That’s a better way to initiate the discussion; might forestall some of the problems in presentation that Mike is alluding to.
    I agree. I feel slightly embarrassed at the time it took me to get around to thinking that the question asked was a critical point, but I guess we get there eventually…
    _And as for “a bit of the homeopathy nonsense has been doing the rounds out our way too.
    Do you mean the 10:23 Overdose event? I gather there was one in NZ…_
    There was a small event out here. I wrote earlier about the plans for the UK event, then an article objecting to pharmacies in NZ selling homeopathic remedies, adding that what might be useful is for the bottles to be labelled with what was actually in them. Short of getting pharmacies to stop selling them, getting these companies to accurately state the contents might help. Giving the ingredients as the starting ingredients (say, ‘XXX’) and a dilution factor, has the effect of implying to people that don’t understand that ingredient ‘XXX’ is actually in the bottle, when it’s not. If it’s not in the bottle, it shouldn’t be listed. I’d like to think that most people would think differently if they saw the ingredients as “100% sugar”.

  71. Joerg Kurt Wegner says:

    I love this sentence and will for sure find a use for it the next time someone will ask me about a rational opinion about innovation – “The fact remains that science offers us the best hope of informing society’s difficult choices in an uncertain world”.

  72. Stephen Curry says:

    You’re absolutely right Grant – one of the best things to have come out of the 10:23 overdose campaign here is greater public awareness of what homeopathic medicines actually contain. There was good coverage in the press, most recently this in the Daily Mirror from well-know media-doc, Miriam Stoppard.
    Ha – many thanks Joerg: yours to use, free of charge!

  73. Linda Lin says:

    oh wow, lotsa comments…I’ll just add one more..
    Glad you stood up to Jenkins and published a response, I think it’s sth that needs to be done. I’d read your earlier post and followed the link to his article. It does indeed make science sound like a conspiracy theory from a Dan Brown novel, which is beyond ludicrous. I wish it was sth everyone could just ignore and rise above, but so many less informed people would actually take it seriously (on the other hand, some educated groups would too I suppose, like the Perth Group and other AIDs conspiracy theorists.)

  74. Stephen Curry says:

    Thanks Linda – I do think it’s important that more scientists stick their heads above the parapet to let the public know how science really goes about its business. I suspect part of Jenkins aim was to stir up a response but partly he seemed to write out of genuine ignorance of the topic. His comparison of peer review with Ford having to submit trade secrets to GM, for example; well, peer review is sometimes as shockingly transparent as that (even though we know we can ask—but not insist—that certain reviewers are not shown our submitted manuscripts and even though some individuals will abuse the privilege for their own advantage). Not perfect by any means but not yet improved upon by another system.

  75. khalid humayun says:

    Stephen you said you don’t like Jenkins, doesn’t it look uncivil and harsh? However, what I think you meant you didn’t like his perceptions and point of view. Climategate has opened the floodgate of criticism from skeptics. Why IPCC scientists are not ready to let the masses know the other point of view. The stolen e-mails tells a villianeous behavior of enthusiasts. There are dissents, resignations within the IPCC inc. My only point is that in this free world every man has a right to have their own opinion. If it is based on logics, facts and figures, some independent readers would like it some won’t, that is the necessary ingredient of a healthy society. Take for yourself, your arguments in this blog have been appreciated by many but quite a few have disagreed. One more thing, debate on “man made climate change” and “an inconvenient truth” is not over, it continues.
    About the claim that science is imperfect – of course it is imperfect. Science is the name of evolution all the time. On the basis of theories experiments are made. Many a time they fail, but sometimes they succeed. On the theoricized formula of Einstein (E=mc^2) nuclear fission and nuclear energy have become reality.

  76. Stephen Curry says:

    Hi Khalid – where did I say that I “don’t like Jenkins”? I think that, apart from this initial erroneous assertion, we agree on most things. In fact, your comment seems to echo many of the points that I tried to make in the article with Bill.
    Debate and discussion are at the core of science (that’s why the libel reform campaign is so important) and, “of course”, many who work in science know well it’s imperfections. But it is perhaps less obvious to those outside the profession—Jenkins certainly missed it and, as a result, painted a a very inaccurate picture—so I agree with you that it is important for scientists to lay their wares more openly before the public.

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