Saturday, March 10, 2007

Japanese TV Show Fakes Science

Scientific American has a great blog post about a Japanese television show that has been cancelled and is being investigated for faking science in the name of entertainment. Both the post and the comments (Always read the comments.) have great points to make about the popularization of science as entertainment both in Japan and here in the U.S.

The pervasiveness of these types of manipulation reveals the complexity of the modern debate over science and its role in our society. All too often, the debate is presented as anti-scientific forces v. the defenders of reason or (as mentioned in my post on scientific illiteracy) g-dless science v. stupid religion.

These representations are highly unrealistic. The truth is that many who manipulate and distort science do so because they recognize the value of science as a tool for (at the very least) gaining public acceptance of their ideas or furthering their political, religious, ideological, and economic goals.

Science is valued in our society. We respect the authority of its practitioners. If this were not true, those who disseminate falsehoods in its name would not feel the need to claim membership in its ranks. Unfortunately, science is also poorly understood (much like religion ironically).

When those who manipulate science use it to promote unscientific theories, they are not opposing science, but taking advantage of general public ignorance about science to further their own interests (much like those who manipulate religion ironically). Even many who claim to be the great defenders of science and reason are merely using these tools to further their own agenda (much like those who claim to defend religion, ironically). Few are actually opposed to science itself.

Some examples:

Drug companies love the science that makes profits but hate the science that reveals the problems with their products.

Oil companies love the science that helps them find and exploit new oil fields cheaply and efficiently. They hate the science that shows how dangerous our dependence on fossil fuels is to our economy, our environment, our political autonomy and our national security.

"Documentary" makers love the science that makes a big splash and brings in the viewers and the money. They hate the science that demands boring caveats and explanations that detract from the big "Wow! Isn't this cool?" effect.

Some religious people use intelligent design to further their religious crusade. Others reject it in the name of faith in a G-d who is more than a garden shed tinkerer and in the name of a science that allows us to truly know creation and thus, perhaps, its creator.

Some atheists use the public's confusion over science to further their philosophy of reductivist materialism and their anti-religous crusade. Others revere science as the finest tool humans have ever devised for exploring the depth and complexity of the universe, regardless of its hands-off or "We just don't know." stances on existential questions.

Need I say more?


Blogger Canardius said...

You are right, many laud science as objective, and treat its conclusions as gospel. And many theologians and scientists like the intelligent design idea. Perhaps most of all, that rare blending of faith and reason, Thomas Aquinas. And you and Anna are on the short list of people with whom I've ever been able to have a conversation about Aquinas.

I can't find your email address to send the results of my sister's testing... so please e-mail me.

3:24 PM  

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