Sunday, November 24, 2013

Stuart Newman: handwaving arguments undermine public trust

(about halfway through the Youtube video)

Stuart Newman speaks out on the negative effects of "entrenched old science":
Suzan Mazur: What is the danger in mediocre science being pushed on the public, aside from the wasting of public funds at a time of serious economic downturn in America?
Stuart Newman: It seems to me that if somebody is predisposed to be skeptical, perhaps because they are religious, and are told that the vertebrate column, for example, had to have evolved incrementally – they may not be persuaded by it because it’s not true, even though their motivation not to be persuaded might come from their religion. Then scientists who are working on this embryonic mechanism who have shown that there are non-incremental mechanisms that produce these things come along, and therefore everybody who’s been assuring this skeptic that it’s all incremental turns out to be wrong.
It really undermines confidence in science if people are always being subjected to what we call "handwaving arguments" that all complexity had to have had an incremental origin.
Suzan Mazur: Sam Smith of Progressive Review recently said the following: “[Scientists] are also subject to that most pernicious of academic temptations: the desires and biases of their funders.” He refers to the “distorting role of the Defense Department, agribusiness and pharmaceutical corporations in supposedly objective science.” Would you comment on that?
Stuart Newman: That’s true. I don’t know how pertinent it is to the evolution debate. I don’t think the pharmaceutical companies have a role in steering the field away from self-organization. In fact, if it’s true and you can patent it and make money on it, they’ll chase after that. So I don’t think the businesses, although they do have this grip on scientific development – I don’t believe they’re ideological in that way. The ideology really comes from entrenched old science – people who are educated in biology with no sense of physical sciences. The inertia and obduracy comes from the side of the scientific establishment rather than from industry.

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