In Response to: Science Under Attack

Published online July 6, 2017

In “Science Under Attack” (feature, March 22), Seth Shostak ’65 defends the ramparts of his castle with a patchwork of generalizations.

His assertion that “science autocorrects” rings hollow when one considers that a slow process affects an individual’s decision-making: 18 years from the 1946 article by Ochsner and DeBakey linking cigarettes and lung cancer to the 1964 Surgeon General’s official consensus.

In his first paragraph, Shostak announces, “Only 13 percent of [climate scientists] dispute that climate change is largely wrought by man,” without offering a source. How many of the other 87 percent of experts were undecided?

A widely echoed figure of “97 percent consensus” derives from Cook et al. (http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/8/2/024024/meta) who openly admitted in their abstract “66.4 percent of abstracts expressed no position” and 35.5 percent of “self-rated papers expressed no position.”

To address the issue of mistrust, we need to ask, “Why is a hyperbole about overwhelming consensus propagated instead of simply saying most scientists agree?” The tendency toward exaggeration might be provoking a greater degree of “resistance” than religiosity supposedly does.

Further, why have scientists resorted to victimology (“under attack”) in the present century? A more relevant framework is the old joke about one teacher complaining to another, “I taught them but they didn’t learn it.”

If the populace “fails” to appreciate science, then science writers should do a better job. A good place to start would be discussing specific evidence for and against a claim, instead of assuming “We all know x is true.”