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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Novelist Michael Crichton: Science has nothing to do with consensus

In a screed against politicized science, best-selling novelist Michael Crichton
trashes SETI, the search for extraterrestrial life, as merely a religion:

... the Drake equation can have any value from "billions and billions" to zero. An expression that can mean anything means nothing. Speaking precisely, the Drake equation is literally meaningless, and has nothing to do with science. I take the hard view that science involves the creation of testable hypotheses. The Drake equation cannot be tested and therefore SETI is not science. SETI is unquestionably a religion. Faith is defined as the firm belief in something for which there is no proof. The belief that the Koran is the word of God is a matter of faith. The belief that God created the universe in seven days is a matter of faith. The belief that there are other life forms in the universe is a matter of faith. There is not a single shred of evidence for any other life forms, and in forty years of searching, none has been discovered. There is absolutely no evidentiary reason to maintain this belief. SETI is a religion.

[ ... ]

Back in the sixties, SETI had its critics, although not among astrophysicists and astronomers. The biologists and paleontologists were harshest. George Gaylord Simpson of Harvard sneered that SETI was a "study without a subject," and it remains so to the present day.

Crichton notes the marked unwillingness of science boffins to criticize SETI:
The fact that the Drake equation was not greeted with screams of outrage-similar to the screams of outrage that greet each Creationist new claim, for example-meant that now there was a crack in the door, a loosening of the definition of what constituted legitimate scientific procedure. And soon enough, pernicious garbage began to squeeze through the cracks.

But Michael, SETI did not threaten materialism. Indeed, many believed that SETI would uphold it. Anyway, Crichton argues that the gullibility index shot up through nuclear winter, second-hand smoke, and now lands us with global warming. The real problem, he thinks, is consensus:
Let's be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

Well then, the ID guys are either stars or dogs, depending on whether they are right in saying that information is a real input into nature.

Overall, a most interesting essay. Note his treatment of the much-maligned Bjorn Lomborg, who questioned global warming and became Scientific American's whipping boy:
Further attacks since have made it clear what is going on. Lomborg is charged with heresy. That's why none of his critics needs to substantiate their attacks in any detail. That's why the facts don't matter. That's why they can attack him in the most vicious personal terms. He's a heretic.

Of course, any scientist can be charged as Galileo was charged. I just never thought I'd see the Scientific American in the role of mother church.

Oh, that's nothing new, Michael. Scientific American is a flagship congregation of the Assembly of the Churches of Darwin, and behaves accordingly. Thus, I am sure the mag slid easily enough into the role of persecutor of Lomborg.

Incidentally, I heard Lomborg speak at the 4th World Science Journalists conference and thought he made some sensible (and important) observations on how we need to make real-world decisions about how to understand and tackle global warming, or we risk further damage Third World countries. The treatment of him as been a disgrace. Unfortunately, there is such a thing as consensus journalism, as well as consensus science. But at least we know what to call them. We call them the rat pack.
If you like this blog, check out my award-winning book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

Are you looking for one of the following stories?

The Pope using the term "intelligent design" to describe the Catholic view of origins, go here.

Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams attacked by Darwinist, hits back. Will he now cartoon on the subject?

"Academic Freedom Watch : Here's the real, ugly story behind the claim that 'intelligent design isn't science'?".

Roseville, California, lawyer Larry Caldwell is suing over the use of tax money by Darwin lobby groups to promote religious views that accept Darwinian evolution (as opposed to ones that don’t). I’m pegging this one as the next big story. See also the ruling on tax funds. Note the line that the “free speech” people take.
How to freak out your bio prof? What happened when a student bypassed the usual route of getting frogs drunk and dropping them down the chancellor’s robes, and tried questioning Darwinism instead.

Christoph, Cardinal Schonbon is not backing down from his contention that Darwinism is incompatible with Catholic faith, and Pope Benedict XVI probably thinks that’s just fine. Major US media have been trying to reach rewrite for months, with no success.

Museum tour guides to be trained to "respond" to those who question Darwinism. Read this item for an example of what at least one museum hopes to have them say.

World class chemist dissed at Catholic university because he sympathizes with intelligent design.
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