Saturday, January 04, 2003

Now this is what I'm talking about. From the NYT editorials:
Scientists are as much victims of fashion as ordinary mortals are — a fact illustrated by the rich history of junk science and false alarms of the last 30 years. Recall a few instances:

In the mid-1970's, many climatologists warned of an ice age that would severely diminish agricultural productivity by the year 2000.

In 1972, the United States banned DDT, only to find out, years later, that the evidence of the pesticide's harmful effects on human beings is inconclusive. In the meantime, millions of people — 1 in 20 African children, for example — have died of malaria, as Europe and the United States remain reluctant to support controlling mosquitoes with DDT.

And let's not forget the dire warnings about natural resources. In the 1970's, we were told that there would be essentially no oil left by the 1990's.

Science retains its alarmist streak today. The scuttlebutt among the scientists I know is that they have a better chance of getting a government or private grant if they indicate that their research might uncover a serious threat or problem. Media fascination with bad news is partly to blame, along with the principled gloominess and nagging of nongovernmental pressure groups. But government itself has played its natural part.

The point is not to be cynical about science fads but to know enough to choose wisely when it comes to supporting pure science, along with research that can give us beneficial technologies.

— Denis Dutton, Department of Philosophy, University of Canterbury, New Zealand.

It's so much harder to make money in science or media telling people things have gotten slightly better. It's either "much better" which causes inflated expectations and then disappointments, or "slightly" to "much worse" which of course is dismaying.

No comments:

Blog Archive

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.