You sure seem like a very smart guy andgood devils advocate.
Philipp Markolin
1

It is very easy to criticize things, especially old systems that do not work any more and need an update. I am not denying there are problems in the way science is run at the moment, even quite severe problems, we both seem to agree that neither science nor scientists are the demons in the room. It is inequality of power, be it financial, political or otherwise.

It is not very easy to criticize things. It requires perceiving things, and then having the ability and freedom to speak up about them. You and I may take that for granted sometimes, but it’s not something everyone can do. What’s more, it can make people defensive if they are too invested in dubious ideas about how the world works, and that comes with its own boatload of blowback.

Consider the previous studies cited that said 14% of scientists reported that they knew of at least one colleague who had falsified data or otherwise corrupted science. Suppose they were working under that scientist? Would it be so easy for them to be critical?

I think developing a voice that is critical of a failing system takes time, effort, and a willingness to sift through a lot of falsehoods to get to a kernel of truth. It also does not become incumbent on me or other critics to solve all the problems we can identify. We simply do what we can. I have posted on here explaining the physical processes behind global warming, for instance, because I think a major problem with the way science communicators speak about global warming is fallacious, in that they appeal to authority instead of explaining phenomena. As you say, it is better if people can take a closer look at science rather than simply trust scientists. But, I realize that not a lot of people have the time to spend reading something I write, and, on the other side of the equation, not a lot of scientists have the time or tools to engage in science communication.

Yet when I read your words, it sounds like all hope is lost unless we burn down everything and hope something better will rise from the ashes. Which I can emphasize with, after all you as an American are experiencing the decline of an empire currently and only see how things come apart or get destroyed by ignorant idiots. In your position I’d be madly angry and extreme too about these issues. Please excuse my presumption.

I have in no way advocated burning anything down, and I’m not here on Medium because I’m motivated by anger. I don’t think pointing out how corruption is inevitable in a capitalistic system is extreme. Do you? If we just bury our heads in the sand and ignore the real mechanisms of action behind the things we don’t like, we’re never going to get anywhere.

There is no logic in assuming I believe all hope is lost; if I did, would I bother writing any of this at all?

I just happen to have the luxery to see things more globally which can be a boost for optimism and hope. For example, I know as a fact, that for every problem out there, there exists a set of people willing to tackle them.

Willing, but able? I studied the natural sciences in school, too. I recall the idealism of studying the multibillion year lifecycles of stars and thinking how science was so above the fray, how the scope of physics was so beyond petty human squabbling. It was a fun, innocent time. But, it was an illusion. The truth is science, like anything else, is caught in the web of politics. It is deeply interconnected with a human history of iniquity. Today, as in previous times, the work of scientists serves as much as a lever for power as it does as a force for enlightenment and liberation. This is the case even if the scientists in question are honest and well-meaning.

I tell people that I think everybody (including myself) is an ignorant idiot, without exception, about most things, most of the time. And only some people are less idiotic about a small amount of issues some of the time. These are the people we need to put in charge of whatever subject they are not idiots in. Which is tricky, no doubt, because we are idiots (about most subjects) we have trouble identifying people who are actually competent.

This seems defeatist. Are you sure I’m the negative one here? The natural question to ask in response to your outlook is “why is it this way?” Does it have to be the case that people are idiotic? Why is science communication so damned ineffective? Why do people cling to Dark Age mysticism and reject ideas like evolution or climate change despite decades of science communicators talking about these ideas? Why do we not learn more?

I realize there is a mathematical argument here as well as a social one. If there are over a septillion stars in the universe, there’s no way any of us could know about each and every one of them. Ignorance from that perspective is inevitable. But, idiocy transcends ignorance and becomes a willful denial of the few things we do know about them.

My point is, while it is good to think critically and criticize things that do not go right, it is not the endpoint, but the start for working on better solutions. And burning everything down is a dangerous fantasy but not an implementable solution for change.

Right, and you can’t get there until you acknowledge reality such as it is. Corrupt scientists are part and parcel to destroying public trust in science. It may be beyond the scope of the scientific community to regulate on its own, but it is a thing that will have to be addressed if science is to thrive and continue to serve the public interest. I think we are too quick to infantilize or judge people (such as calling them idiotic, even if we self-deprecate in the process) and blame anti-scientific thinking on people like Jenny McCarthy instead of thinking critically about structural flaws that brought us to this point. Why does Jenny McCarthy believe what Jenny McCarthy believes? There are, unfortunately, social limits to scientific progress, and some of those limits can be found in the answer to that question.

I would urge you to come up with solutions to all the problems you have implicated, as an intellectual challenge, but also because this is the only way how things could ever turn for the better. Just know, that out there, there are many many more good people who would be happy to work for a better world for everybody. If they just knew what to do or where to start.

If a scientist somewhere recognizes the importance of speaking up against corruption in the laboratory or his or her own university department because discussions like this take place more frequently, then that’s a win. It is not really on me as an outsider to the professional scientific community to create solutions or tell scientists what to do; I’m just here making a point about why scientists are so mistrusted. It’s up to you if you want to ask from a position of tremendous privilege of having been able to study science that people “take a closer look,” or if you want to acknowledge that the scientific community has major internal problems and take concrete actions toward rectifying them, thereby making it more of a realistic possibility for ordinary people to take a closer look at science.