The March That Trampled Science

The march was never about science. It's about political activism masquerading as science.

Outside American Geophysical Union's (AGU) annual conference in San Francisco, December 13, 2016. Event organizers claimed that "Science is under attack." Now the AGU is an official partner of the upcoming March for Science, which has shut out scientists who dissent from majority consensus on issues like climate change.

By Douglas Axe Published on April 20, 2017

The march on April 22nd was never really about science. From its inception it gave every appearance of being just another case of political activism masquerading as science — one more reason to be suspicious of scientists (as if that were helpful).

The March web site shows that the organizers know better. They acknowledge that science should be self-critical rather than dogmatic: “We support science education that teaches children and adults to think critically, ask questions, and evaluate truth based on the weight of evidence.”

An earlier version of the site even went so far as to encourage different views: “Our diversity is our greatest strength: a wealth of opinions, perspectives, and ideas is critical for the scientific process.”

But openness like that leaves no room for dogma, and what good is a protest without dogma? After all, alarm over climate-change policy was the first motive for the March (though they’ve added more). How do you promote the beating of that drum without also insisting it’s the right drum?

Science is about the long haul — a humble walk, not an attention-seeking march.

You don’t. Instead, if you really love science, you give the drum a rest. Science is about the long haul — a humble walk, not an attention-seeking march. It may not draw big crowds, but the value it brings to those who are patient is more lasting than viral popularity.

In time, maybe science will show that the marchers’ view of climate change is right. Maybe humans will be shown beyond doubt to have messed up the weather. I don’t know. What I do know is that efforts to shut that debate down only delay the science. Science needs experts who disagree with the majority view. Even when they prove wrong, they play a critical role in getting things right. When supporters of the majority view pretend these dissenters don’t exist, people are right to be suspicious.

Bowing to Consensus Isn’t Marching for Science

The dissenters do exist, of course. A study titled Scientists’ Views about Attribution of Global Warming makes this clear. According to that study, the view that humans are the main cause of recent global warming has solid majority support. And yet one in ten experts disagrees. Those minority thinkers amount to a large group in themselves  — hundreds of scientists.

So, it’s one thing to say there’s a consensus view on the cause of climate change but another to say the matter has been settled. If science were an academic popularity contest, then one side of this issue is currently winning. But science clearly isn’t that. At its heart science is radically undemocrati. It’s the pursuit of correct answers regardless of popularity.

Consensus by weight of evidence is a good thing, but consensus by peer pressure isn’t.

The March organizers know this full well. “Science should neither serve special interests nor be rejected based on personal convictions,” they claim. And yet they fail to see that the majority and minority views of climate change are science in the same way. Both sides apply scientific reasoning to the evidence. They just reach different conclusions. The impulse to dismiss one side simply because it’s the other side is familiar. We all experience this. But if we want to do justice either to science or to democracy, we must rise above it.

In the end, consensus isn’t always worth celebrating. Consensus by weight of evidence is a good thing, but consensus by peer pressure isn’t. Marches and protests, being all about pressure and power, tend to signal the latter.

So, when the March organizers say, “It is time for people who support science to take a public stand and be counted,” what they really seem to mean is it’s time to let the majority opinion of scientists dictate public policy.

In other words — think for yourself, but make sure your thinking conforms to that majority opinion if you don’t want to be labeled an enemy of science.

In other words — don’t think for yourself.

Champion Science by Welcoming Civil Debate

My experience comes from another controversy. The work I and others have done on evolution shows that the consensus view that life is an accident is wrong — even obviously wrong. My part in that work once cost me my job at a top research center. So I know firsthand how hard is it to go against the flow. Even so, the cost of slavishly going with the flow is surely greater. If I could go back in time, then I would lose my job again — not happily, but resolutely.

I know how difficult it is to go against the flow. My work criticizing evolution cost me my job at a top research center. 

As I said, I don’t claim to know the answer on climate change. I do know that the controversy is very much alive and that pretending otherwise only harms science. Instead of trying to shut debate down, anyone who thinks the case for human-caused global warming is rock solid should welcome open critical dialog as an chance to convince the rest of us.

I’ve always favored that open approach for the debate between Darwin and design. Recently I asked Darwin’s followers to assemble their best team to show that unguided evolution really can invent living things. No evolutionary stories disguised as evidence. No appeals to consensus. No condescension. No demonizing. And don’t bother to bluff either (we know the science).

Of course, if Darwin’s followers really have the evidence they won’t need to bluff, or demonize, or condescend or appeal to consensus. The science will speak for itself, which is all I’m asking for — straight up demonstration: Show us how it works.

So far, they haven’t taken me up on it.

 

Douglas Axe is director of Biologic Institute and author of Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed (HarperOne). Follow him on Twitter @DougAxe.

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  • Gary

    Everyone looks at things through the lens of their worldview. The disagreements about science are mainly about disagreements in worldviews.

    • Drew Riggio

      No. Actual science is not strongly affected by world view. It is affected by evidence. Junk science is affected strongly by world view. There is a huge difference.

      • Rebecca Albrecht Brewer

        Yet Timothy Horton’s posts are dripping with world view. He can’t get through a paragraph without an insult thrown in.

        • Hannah

          Because that’s all he’s got – insults and factoids from the Internet. I have yet to see a single source provided for any of his claims, though they tend to err towards Appeal to Pity as well as Appeal to the Popular, Appeal to Tradition, and, worst of the worst, Begging the Question.

          In short: he got nuffin’.

          • Timothy Horton

            I have yet to see a single source provided for any of his claims;

            Stream doesn’t allow links and every time I’ve posted the title and author of a scientific paper the post mysteriously vanished by the next day. It’s almost like the RW Fundamentalists who run this place don’t want to see anyone source real science to rebut the IC-Creationist and anti-gay woo you guys thrive on.

        • Timothy Horton

          LOL! Yeah, my “world view” is I can’t stand blatant professional liars like the Discovery Institute who are doing their best to undermine science education in my country. If you understood anything about science you’d be pretty PO’ed too.

        • Timothy Horton

          delete, cat on the keyboard

    • Beth Van

      I have to disagree. This isn’t just about opinion. Science is about facts. Someone has their facts wrong. Someone wants “science” to be about opinion while someone wants “science” to be independent from opinion and based on evidence. That is very different from a difference of opinion based on a worldview.

  • Timothy Horton

    Ahh, now we’re going to have tag team whining from the DI about how science is so mean to them!

    The work I and others have done on evolution shows that the consensus view that life is an accident is wrong — even obviously wrong.

    LOL! You mean the woo you self-published in the DI’s phony science journal instead of submitting for any proper scientific review? The stuff that got you and Gauger laughed at, then ignored, all over the scientific community? That work?

    You should go talk to the Flat Earth crowd. They complain they’ve challenged NASA to a debate and demanded NASA prove the “ball Earth” theory. So far NASA has ignored them which proves the Flat Earth loons are right and science is afraid. Sounds just like your whines and has just as much credibility.

    I’ve always favored that open approach for the debate between Darwin and design.

    Darwin has been dead for over 135 years. Gonna be pretty tough to get him to debate.

    The simple fact is you or any of the ID crowd could get a debate any time you want. All you have to do is write up your positive evidence for Design (or your falsification of modern evolutionary theory), submit it to any reputable science journal, and have it published. Serious scientific debate is done on the pages of such journals, not by grandstanding on RW religious web sites, the popular press, or YouTube. But you won’t. You know you have nothing to offer, we know you have nothing to offer. It’s all a big PR game with you ID pushers, a big propaganda-fest aimed at gulling the ignorant religious True Believers and keeping those donation coming.

    • Charles Burge

      You seem to hold up peer review as some sort of vaunted gold status of dissemination for science, but in fact, it’s been criticized even by people who don’t question Darwinism. See here: www nature com/news/peer-review-troubled-from-the-start-1.19763 and here: www ncbi nlm nih gov/pmc/articles/PMC1420798/ for just two of many examples. I would also note that Darwin’s theory of evolution was presented in a book, not a scientific journal. Doesn’t that fact put other books, such as Darwin’s Doubt on equal footing?

      • Timothy Horton

        Peer review isn’t perfect but it’s by far the best system we have for vetting scientific claims and sorting the real results from the woo. It’s pretty telling the IDiots won’t even bother to try getting anything through a critical review but shovel their woo directly to the lay public.

        I would also note that Darwin’s theory of evolution was presented in a book, not a scientific journal.

        OOS was published over 150 years ago before any peer reviewed scientific journals existed. Darwin’s ideas were peer reviewed as much as was possible in the day by scientific organizations like the Royal Society. It’s also withstood 150+ years of critical scrutiny since then.

        • Charles Burge

          OOS was published over 150 years ago before any peer reviewed scientific journals existed.

          Wrong. The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society was first published in 1665 (and is still published today).

          It’s also withstood 150+ years of critical scrutiny since then.

          Well that’s certainly debatable. In particular, recent discoveries in the field of genetics have brought to light heretofore unknown staggering complexity in genes that strain the credibility of any notion of such systems arising through random chaotic processes. You’d have a better chance of throwing a bunch of Scrabble tiles on the floor and coming up with a 60-word sentence.

          errors and outright lies

          Would you care to provide a concrete example?

          • Timothy Horton

            In particular, recent discoveries in the field of genetics have brought to light heretofore unknown staggering complexity in genes that strain the credibility of any notion of such systems arising through random chaotic processes. You’d have a better chance of throwing a bunch of Scrabble tiles on the floor and coming up with a 60-word sentence.

            (facepalm) Evolution didn’t proceed by random chaotic processes. Evolution has a random component (genetic variation) and a non-random component (selection). The feedback provided by selection causes beneficial and neutral variations to accumulate and weeds out deleterious ones. The result is a population is driven towards local fitness maxima. As the environment changes the feedback make the population follow the local maxima as long as it can. The process can and does produce amazingly complex results with no external intelligence required.

            Just once I like to meet a Creationist who didn’t parrot back the stupidity “science says everything evolved by CHANCE!”

          • Charles Burge

            Science doesn’t say that, but Darwinism does. You can’t select until you have something to select from. You’re essentially presenting a tautology. Your constant derisions and mocking do nothing to change the fact that the criticisms of Darwinism are cogent, well-presented, and logical.

          • Timothy Horton

            Science doesn’t say that, but Darwinism does

            No it doesn’t. Making such a stupid and wrong claim automatically disqualifies you from any serious discussion of evolutionary theory.

          • Charles Burge

            That’s all just hand-waving until someone provides a concrete example of an organism possessing specific, usable information in its gene sequence that wasn’t present in its parent(s). Guess what: there are no such examples.

          • Timothy Horton

            Look up APO-A1 Milano. It’s a mutation which helps reduce high cholesterol. It was traced back to a single individual who lived in a small village near Milano, Italy (hence the name) in the 1700’s. Currently the mutation is spreading throughout the populations in Northern Italy. The mutation is so beneficial several drug companies have tried to manufacture it artificially to help high-cholesterol patients.

            Your ignorance of basic science is astounding.

          • Charles Burge

            That’s an example of a beneficial mutation, but not an example of new information or new proteins being coded for. It’s similar to the case of sickle-cell anemia causing immunity to malaria. Beneficial side effect: yes. But still a degradation and loss of normal function.

          • Timothy Horton

            LOL! It was an example of new, specific, useable information in a gene sequence not present in the parents. Exactly the thing you claimed didn’t exist. Now you’re trying to move the goalposts to hide your failure.

            Too late, this bit of your ignorance is on the record.

          • Charles Burge

            From www2 lbl gov/Science-Articles/Archive/LSD-Milano-Bielicki.html

            Somehow, this tiny change enables a handful of Italians to possess low HDL levels and remain free of cardiovascular disease. But how?

            In pursuit of the answer, most researchers have focused on the most common form of the protein. About 70 percent of proteins with the Milano mutation come in pairs: one protein attaches to another to form a dimeric complex. The key to this pairing is a disulfide bridge in which the sulfhydryl group from one protein links with the sulfhydryl from another. This pairing restricts HDL size and growth and has been attributed to the HDL deficiency observed in people who have the mutation.

            But 30 percent of proteins with the Milano mutation don’t form dimeric complexes. They remain unattached as monomeric complexes. In this solo configuration, the sulfhydryl isn’t occupied in a disulfide bond. It’s free, which enables it to partake in other reactions, says Bielicki. And one of these reactions is quenching ions with unpaired electrons.

            In other words, no new information. Some of the proteins simply fail to do what they are supposed to do. That’s woefully inadequate for an example of how fish turn into people.

          • Timothy Horton

            In other words, no new information
            Of course it’s new information. It’s a never before genetic sequence that arose through a well documented mutation and performing a new function it’s predecessors didn’t possess.
            Creationist ignorance knows no bounds.

          • Charles Burge

            This is likely a fool’s errand, since you’ve already made your prejudice clear, but here’s a more detailed explanation from creation dot com:

            What has happened? One amino acid has been replaced with a cysteine residue in a protein that normally assembles high density lipoproteins (HDLs), which are involved in removing ‘bad’ cholesterol from arteries. The mutant form of the protein is less effective at what it is supposed to do, but it does act as an antioxidant, which seems to prevent atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries). In fact, because of the added -SH on the cysteine, 70% of the proteins manufactured bind together in pairs (called dimers), restricting their usefulness. The 30% remaining do the job as an antioxidant. Because the protein is cleverly designed to target ‘hot spots’ in arteries and this targeting is preserved in the mutant form, the antioxidant activity is delivered to the same sites as the cholesterol-transporting HDLs. In other words, specificity of the antioxidant activity (for lipids) does not lie with the mutation itself, but with the protein structure, which already existed, in which the mutation occurred. The specificity already existed in the wild-type A-I protein before the mutation occurred.

            I think it’s relevant to ask: how did the human genome get to the point where this particular protein could first be built? Or, working backward, how many base pairs can you take away before it doesn’t do anything at all? I couldn’t find any information on how many base pairs are involved in coding for this protein, but I’m informed enough about genetics to hazard a guess that’s it’s several hundred. To posit that proteins get built up from scratch over multiple generations strains credulity.

          • Timothy Horton

            but here’s a more detailed explanation from creation dot com:

            BIG LOL! If you hadn’t destroyed your scientific credibility before, offering some “science” from creation(dot)com seals the deal!

            how did the human genome get to the point where this particular protein could first be built?

            It evolved over 3.8+ billion years.

            To posit that proteins get built up from scratch over multiple generations strains credulity.

            Scientifically determined reality isn’t affected by your ignorance-based personal incredulity.

          • Charles Burge

            BIG LOL! If you hadn’t destroyed your scientific credibility before, offering some “science” from creation(dot)com seals the deal!

            Translation: “Nothing of value could possibly come from them, because they’re all stupid.”

            The only deal that’s sealed is your closed-minded prejudice.

          • Timothy Horton

            Getting your science knowledge from YEC sites like creation(dot)com is like learning brain surgery from Mortimer Snerd. It does explain a lot about your woeful scientific ignorance however.

          • Drew Riggio

            I’m enjoying watching Timothy trounce Charles. Charles, keep posting your idiocy. I have popcorn ready to go.

          • Thomas Smith

            Are you so foolish to believe that scientists only believe in evolution? Many don’t and in their spare time write for Creationist web sites. Timothy is a dunce when it comes to science and puts out the standard line from talk origins web site, which often gets the information wrong! So feel free to follow his posts but remember he is a propagandizer obtuse to his closed mind, due to his zealous faith in evolution!

          • Timothy Horton

            LOL! Have you looked up endothermic chemical reactions yet? Or still too afraid?

            Are we going to get Part 2 of your “2LoT proves evolution is IMPOSSIBLE!!” Creationist idiocy?

          • Thomas Smith

            Ho do endothermic chemical reactions actually help evolution? Yes, energy from the environment can lead to chemical reactions but that same heat can be used to tear apart those molecules so you get nowhere. Again, the natural environment can have simple entropy decreasing processes locally but they are very simple because the environment cannot constrain things in a detailed fashion!
            Again you lose! Take that you evolutionary beast! LOL!

          • Timothy Horton

            Yes, energy from the environment can lead to chemical reactions but that
            same heat can be used to tear apart those molecules so you get nowhere.

            It obviously doesn’t or the reactions wouldn’t happen.

            Answer me this – you’ve already said several times micro-evolution is real and does happen. How does micro-evolution work and not violate the 2LoT?

            You stuck your foot into your mouth up to the kneecap on that one.

          • Hannah

            Ad hominem attack. Try again.

          • Timothy Horton

            You’re welcome to defend Burge’s pitiful scientifically ignorant claims instead of hiding on the sidelines flinging your poo.

          • Hannah

            Another ad hominem. Try again.

          • Timothy Horton

            LOL! You don’t even understand what the term means. Go crawl back under your rock.

          • Hannah

            Even if I did post the exact definition, you’d still find a way to be right. No matter what, fools never regard wisdom as anything but folly.

  • NewWest 123

    There’s one in Seattle this weekend and friends are letting their daughter go. She is 17 and so sweet. Our friends are conservative but polically uninformed. I think this is the biggest issue we have. There still are millions completely ignorant to what is happening. That’s not a put down to them and frankly I like to zone out with them. I just make sure I read and listen to informed honest educated people…

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