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There Are No Such Things as ‘Scientists’

We should get rid of the word and simply replace it with "some guy."

by
Frank J. Fleming

Bio

April 14, 2014 - 11:29 pm
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Our society holds scientists in high esteem. When scientists say something — whether it’s about the composition of matter, the beginning of the universe, or who would win a fight between a giant gorilla and a T. Rex — we all sit up and listen. And it doesn’t matter if they say something that sounds completely ridiculous; as long as a statement is preceded with “scientists say,” we assume it is truth.

There’s just one problem with that: There are no such things as scientists.

Okay, you’re probably saying, “What? Scientists are real! I’ve seen them before! There’s even a famous, blurry photo of a man in a lab coat walking through the woods.” Well, yes, there are people known as scientists and who call themselves such, but the word is pretty much meaningless.

What is a scientist? It’s some guy who works in scientific research. That’s it. Scientist isn’t like some official title. There isn’t an International White Lab Coat Authority which only hands out white coats to people who pass rigorous tests and then monitors these people to make sure their methods remain sound.

I want you to do something right now. Find a book. Hold it over the floor. Now release it. Write down what you observe.

Boom! You’ve just become a scientist. Congratulations. Because a scientist is basically anyone.

Again, I’ll bet you’re protesting. “Scientists aren’t just anyone! They’re people who have used science to give us great things, like lasers and computers and seedless watermelons!” Yes, some people have used science to do some remarkable accomplishments… but how many of the people who go by the name “scientist” have actually done anything practical? How many are nearing the cure for cancer, versus how many are those idiots who tell us for years that some food causes cancer and then suddenly say the food prevents cancer? How many scientists help society, and how many are just throwing out noise and filling up AP copy?

You don’t know. This is something you should know — especially if you want to put meaning behind the word “scientist” — but you don’t. Not only that, but think of the most famous living scientists. Like Stephen Hawking. I mean, everyone has heard of him. He has to be an outstanding scientist doing useful things, right? Well, do you have evidence of that? What has Stephen Hawking’s science led to? Maybe one day it will help us make a warp drive or something, but if I said, “Stephen Hawking is a complete and utter fraud. Everything he says is nonsense,” would you have any way to prove me right or wrong? Hawking’s stuff is all far out theory built upon more far out theory. What are you going to do? Blow up a black hole and demonstrate that he’s wrong?

Which brings us back to our problem. So much of science these days seems to be built on faith — faith being something that doesn’t have anything to do with science. Yet everyone apparently has faith that all these scientists we hear about follow good methods and are smart and logical and unbiased — when we can’t actually know any of that. So often news articles contain phrases such as, “scientists say,” “scientists have proven,” “scientists agree” — and people treat those phrases like they mean something by themselves, when they don’t mean anything at all. It’s like if you wanted music for your wedding, and someone came up to you and said, “I know a guy. He’s a musician.”

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Top Rated Comments   
I'm reminded of a conversation I had in academia...this was after there had been a decade+ of no additional warming and this senior scientist I was having lunch with was bemoaning the public's skepticism (Deniers!).

I said: "Well, why shouldn't they be skeptical...the models are wrong."

He replied: "No they aren't!"

Me: "Yes they are, they didn't predict the last decade and a a half."

Him: "But they aren't wrong...there's just some mechanism we are missing!"

Me: "Yes, that's probably true...so the models are wrong, then."

Him: "No they aren't!"

Me: "It's a predictive model...if it fails to predict, the model is wrong. It doesn't matter that you missed a mechanism or a feedback or something...it doesn't matter why the model is wrong, but if a predictive models doesn't correctly predict, it's wrong. That's kind of the definition of...you know...wrong. That's what wrong means."

Him: "DENIER!"
24 weeks ago
24 weeks ago Link To Comment
Whomever uses the expression "settled science" just shows he knows nothing about science.

Settled Science has another synonym: Dogma. No science is settled. There are "current models and theories" that work, until they are replaced by better ones.

A model or theory that fails to predict or explain the latest 15 years of no change in temperature is not valid in my opinion.
24 weeks ago
24 weeks ago Link To Comment
Science is simply a quest for factual information that has yet to be articulated. Once it has been VERIFIED by others who have duplicated your method (requires openly and freely sharing your total methodology) can it move from from HYPOTHESIS to THEORY. If Mann was a true scientist he would have published everything he had and openly shared all of his data. He didn't so he isn't. A huge red flag should go up anytime a self identified "scientist" refuses to share/release his data pool as this is the only thing to support your hypothesis ( or maybe just a wild idea). If you refuse you should be ignored/shunned by your peers. This is why I refuse to listen to most "climate scientists" no real data to back up what they say, only more hypotheses (ideas).
And besides it should be an engineer's job to apply that information, why they went to college. The definitions used of a scientist and an engineer and frequently misused by the press....and their lack of any kind do knowledge is a whole other problem.
24 weeks ago
24 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (142)
All Comments   (142)
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So the scientist who had just died said "I'm not spending eternity with a theoretical physicist!" To which St. Peter replied "No choice, they're his chickens"
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
Remember back around '98 when the editor of Nature warned scientists that this global warming craze was getting politicized? For 15 years we've dealt with a political system that has generously rewarded their True Believers and harshly punished the Deniers of the faith. Climate change is no longer the issue, it's whether there's enough consensus behind it to CASH IN ON HYSTERIA, and accumulate the 3 G's: Gold, Guns, and Girls (h/t CS Lewis)
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
An AGW believer, a drummer and a scientist all died and went to heaven.

At the gates St. Peter said "I'm afraid you'll have to drop your beliefs about global warming if you want in. You see the Big Guy has it all figured out. That's why he invented the Sun."

The AGW believer said "Ok, I guess I won't argue with him." So St. Peter let him in.

Next the drummer walked up and asked if he could get in. St. Pete said, "Didn't I kick you out the other day for punching me in the nose? The drummer answered "Yeah, but they through me out of hell for playing "Wipe Out" all night long!"

St. Peter laughed- he always appreciated getting one over on the competition. "Go right on in, we're starting a new band and maybe you'd like to try out." The drummer marches right on in.

So now it's the scientist's turn but he doesn't even make a move to talk to St. Peter. "Don't you want to know how to get past these Pearly Gates?" asked St. Peter?

"I'm a scientist", the scientist replied, "I'm not sure I want to spend the rest of eternity in a place that welcomes AGW believers and drummers."

"Don't worry" said St. Peter. "We have a special room all set up for scientists. It's perfect as long as you don't mind living in a vacuum and sharing it with 10 billion spherical chickens!"
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
Once upon a time, when they were taking us to the moon and inventing boner pills, scientists could be trusted; but now that most of them have come to conclusions that are injurious to Republican campaign donors' interests, they're just another bunch of moochers.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
All climate scientists have been bought; human nature at work---
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
What is it with so many people who classify themselves as "scientists" taking this as a personal insult that their work has no value?

Any time someone makes a general statement this happens. Even if the point of the article were "Many scientists suck" (which it isn't) the fact that some DON'T suck means precisely nothing and does nothing to contradict the point, which is a valid one that no one seems to deny.

And the point is, ironically, that consumers of scientific conclusions often lack a healthy curiousity about how the conclusion was reached. There is very little here reflecting on the scientists themselves, but instead is a critique of the people listening to them without question.

But why the sensitivity?
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
The truth is, that there really are scientists out there (in spite of one of my seminary professor's quips that placing "ist" after any word is automatically a lie :)) A scientist is one who works out conclusions using logic and the scientific method. Many who most abuse our trust in science fail on both counts.
The scientific method can best be described as a brutal skeptical attack on any theory with the sole intention of disproving it. It is entirely negative. A "credible theory" is simply one which has not had enough contradictory data collected yet. True scientists not only attempt to disprove their theories by collecting contrary data, but, failing to do so, turn their theories over to others who also intend to discredit them.
There is a name for a discipline that creates theories and attempts only to "prove" them by gathering collaborative data. Those folks are called "lawyers."
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
when a wall street firm recommends a stock, it is conveyed "merrill lynch has raise xyz to a buy" Think about that for a moment. Merrill and Lynch are dead!Hmmm???? So who really is behind the recommendation? It usually is some second rate analyst reading the same research as everybody else who just is following the pack to cover his butt. Same as scientist
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
I've always found that funny. I have seen the same thing in inter-agency meetings where I work. The representative of Agency A says something, and it is repeated "Agency A says..." or in inter-department meetings "The quality group says..." I often have to premise thoughts with a disclaimer "Speaking for myself and not my employer..."
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm a scientist by training. Without scientists, you'd not have the monitor you're reading this post on. Nor a cell phone, because the science of the technology would not exist, and that includes quantum mechanics. Yup, the science of silicon and doping chemistry has changed our world dramatically. Science does indeed investigate, using the scientific method, and create new realities (GPS satellites) as well as helping us to understand old ones, such as understanding eclipses which used to startle early man.

I understand his point, we need to maintain skepticism, but science leads us into new directions. There are many doctors who are charlatans too. The scientist proposes new ideas to be investigated and proven right or wrong. Also, science does propose and discuss theories. But that's the point, they are theories until proven right or wrong.

Happily, at least, we have something plausible to work with. And, BTW, good or evil, scientists brought an end to WWII.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
It may look like that to you but millions of dead soldiers and Japan's navy and Germany's U-boat fleet and Tank battalions in ruins and cities in flames because the Wright brothers and successors tinkered in bike shops might be more accurate than to attribute it solely to scientists. A joint effort at most. A blockade of Japan without the Atom bomb would have worked just as well.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
just a thought, but how many of the things you mention were invented by scientists (I am one too, btw), and how many by engineers?
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
Once upon a time, academic scientists wouldn't accept government funding. I think the reason for that is now transparently clear.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
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