I completely agree with Henry Gee’s review (below). I have a lot of respect for Brian Cox, but he is an astrophysicist not an evolutionary biologist and unfortunately this handsomely-produced documentary is worse than an empty vessel, it is a cracked one. “Exceptionalism” is scientifically nonsense, though valid in a more philosophical context. Claiming a species or phenomenon is “exceptional” begs the question of “why”. It is also unfalsifiable as it is reasonable to assume that other species like ours exist in the universe, but currently impossible to prove.
Hooray for the BBC! Now if only Channel 4 would follow suit.
A challenging column from George Monibot, in which he opines that government policy is so often in utter conflict with prevailing scientific knowledge that being strident in dissent is the only reasonable position for scientists to take. He refers to the views of Professor Ian Boyd, chief scientific adviser at the UK’s Department for Environment, who reportedly said scientists should be:
“…the voice of reason, rather than dissent, in the public arena… [or risk] a chronically deep-seated mistrust of scientists that can undermine the delicate foundation upon which science builds relevance… [and] could set back the cause of science in government… [scientists should avoid] suggesting that policies are either right or wrong… [and should only speak out through] embedded advisers (such as myself), and by being the voice of reason, rather than dissent, in the public arena”.
It is hard not to sympathise with George. In these selective quotes, Boyd comes across as a mealy-mouthed turncoat, abandoning scientific principles and ethics to opportunistically curry favour with his political masters. David Nutt, he is not.
Tragically however, his words, slimy though they seem, are not entirely devoid of a Machiavellian sense. George is an advocate of the firebrand protest on many issues, but the dark art of changing minds and winning arguments through more subtle strategies cannot be dismissed out of hand. The problem is, Boyd’s blatant promotion of such tactics triggers a knee-jerk revulsion in those who naively wish politics and policy-making were purer pursuits and all decisions would be evidence-based.
Henry Gee (a Senior Editor at Nature) has written in today’s Guardian on the awkward public status of science, stemming from an ongoing but worsening failure of the general public, the media and the political classes to understand how science really works. Jumbo jets, damp-proofing, the arch, plastic, moon landings and nuclear power – not to mention countless other modern achievements and taken-for-granted features of everyday life – owe their utility, reliability, ubiquity or even existence to science, in one form or another. As a result, we see the pronouncements of science in terms of absolute certainty, unquestionable fact, or “Truth”. Continue reading
Prince Charles will, I’m sure, be heavily criticised in the media for his attack “corporate lobbyists” and climate change sceptics for turning the earth into a “dying patient”, in his most direct speech yet on the world’s failure to tackle global warming, delivered during a conference he was hosting for scientists at St. James’s Palace. Whether on farming and land management, architecture, alternative medicine or environmental issues, the Prince is a passionate exponent of his views. Many of them invite disagreement – I, for example, strongly disagree with his views on alternative medicine.
But as I’ve said before, he has a perfect right to express his views and can’t be criticised simply because he takes advantage of a platform available to him. When he is King, he may have to be more restrained. Or maybe he won’t. But he isn’t King yet. I salute his fearless confrontation of entrenched interests.
The issue of climate change is a charged one in my extended household, as one particular member of it (my father, if you must know) is a strident denier. I take a more “mainstream” view – the reality of climate change has been convincingly demonstrated, and it’s causes are partly cyclical but probably exacerbated by global industrial activity. Some form of strategy aimed at mitigating its effects as well as adapting to them is undoubtedly an urgent priority.
My father is a baby boomer consumer par excellence and, threatened by the implications of climate change for his economic worldview, chooses to swallow wholesale the dissenting views of a small minority who continue to pedal untruths, half-truths and conspiracy theories to a public largely unaware of the nuances of the science.
So it is that I find myself saddened and disturbed by Graham Redfearn’s article: