Does Science Matter?
The Democratic Case
The justification of the role of science in daily life.
Narrator : Lesley Judd
Lesley Judd : If we don't need scientific knowledge to work in a
technological factory,do we need it to be citizens in a technological democracy?
John Durant : You only have to think about environmental issues like
global warming or economic issues like transport, like energy to realise
that wherever we turn we faced with political decisions that involve science
[Example : Our local paper ran the fox hunting
debate,and one fox hunter tried to argue the case for hunting foxes.I
wrote back explaining the role of differential calculus in population dynamics
and Robert May's work,seemingly this person was
oblivious to population dynamics and the propensity of foxes numbers to be
autonomously kept in check by Nature.Had he known about this,perhaps he wouldn't
have been so quick to put his foot in his mouth -LB]
You cannot have informed public debate and informed public participation
unless people themselves are fairly well-educated in the issues that they
have to make decisions about,and that's true for science and technology just
as it's true for economics and other aspects of current affairs.
Advert : This is a glass of pure water......
John Durant : And I think it's not just understanding the facts of
science that's important,in fact I would say the facts themselves are the
least important thing.Thank goodness,because most of us,even scientists forget
them pretty quickly.
Lesley Judd : In surveys,public perceptions of who is telling the
truth are perhaps surprising.Industry scientists - most people seem fairly
cynical.Government scientists -almost equally cynical. it's environmental
scientists that appear to win the public confidence sweepstakes.
Interviewer : If two scientists go on telly,and they've got different
theories,how do you judge which one's telling the truth?
Man : Oh they're probably both liars.
Policeman : Well the one that agrees with me I suppose. [That's very
enlightening about the police's attitude to deciding guilt or innocence isn't
Man : Body language, I suppose.
Lesley Judd : One example of how public pressure was brought to bear
on government policy,is when the European Union changed tap water
regulations,just to be on the safe side in the early 90s,after pressure from
environmental groups,lobbying the media.But journalists James le Fanu believes
the pressure groups hoodwinked the public,with misleading propaganda about
concentrations of contaminants in tap water.
James le Fanu : If one is an environmentalist,activist or you know
trouble-maker,then water is a very useful thing to get into,because of course
water is full of millions of chemicals,and some of which are there in such
small quantities as to be virtually immeasurable.But as far as the
environmentalists are concerned,if you can find chemical A for example even
in the concentrations of for example equivalent to dissolving a aspirin in
this sort of sheet of water behind us (James indicates reservoir/treatment
plant),and you can prove that its been carcinogenic in rats or something
like that,then this is the basis obviously for a campaign to get it either
removed or the concentration minimised even further.I mean the classic one
for example, is that nitrates in water cause blue baby disease or blue baby
syndrome.Here we have a vast edifice of you know anxiety-mongering based
upon the allegations that something present in infinitely small amounts in
the water supply is responsible for a syndrome,the last case of which in
Britain was in 1972,and that I think is a,you know,a sort of fascinating
example the way in which science can be distorted.
[Whilst I agree with most of what James is saying (except perhaps the
"trouble-maker" part),it should be noted that absolute quantities are not
necessarily the important aspect of a chemical pollutant.If James takes account
of Chaos theory,then perhaps a mild amount of one chemical over the top of
normal concentrations could give rise to say an algal bloom which then may
create further problems.James himself is making it seem that parts per million
or billion is the only consideration.Having said that he's probably right
that we're over cautious about this type of thing.As I've said elsewhere,more
people die through smoking and car deaths than most of these pollution-based
scenarios. Even though BSE and Salmonella outbreaks were cause for concern,how
many people died compared to road deaths? Lois Wolpert's following analogy
perhaps overlooks as I have here,the idea of "the potential for disaster"
as opposed to the actual number of deaths caused. One nuclear power station
irradiating hundreds of square kilometres for thousands of years is a bigger
problem than a couple of deaths from polluted water,even though if no deaths
result from a power station leak,it is classed as a lower risk -LB]
Lesley Judd : Tap water is traditionally first filtered through sand
to purify it,but some water filtration plants had to invest billions in new
technology to purify yet further,to new EU limits.
James le Fanu : I think one of the question is,on of the things is,well
you know,"why does this matter?" really.It matters because the truth is being
distorted,of course,and because the public is getting a misleading understanding
of science,because it's actually very difficult to get nitrates out of water
in the way they want,and it's paid for by the poor old consumer.Every slightest
smidgen of suggestion that ,you know,something out there is you know,giving
us some deadly disease,is necessarily picked up by the Green party or Friends
of the Earth,or whoever it might be,and channelled into the public domain.
Lesley Judd : When the public feels scientific experts are talking
rubbish on environmental issues,once again the researchers in Leeds felt
the experts should listen to the public.
[Notice the prioritisation of "feelings" rather than "thoughts".Whatever
people's vague intuitions are,unless you can state actually what concerns
you,those feelings aren't giving you any actual information.This is similar
to the nurse in "To make a decision first you have
to get angry" who couldn't explain how she helped patients.Lack of
communication skills is not and end in itself. Similarly those who seek to
hang paedophiles because of "feelings" should actually try thinking about
the hypocrisy that they are advocating,and that the same rules that go for
the murderers also apply to themselves should they find themselves in court,and
as Kevin Callan (see "Breaking the Science Barrier")
found,if the baying mob had their way, possibly Kevin would not be alive,and
all through not understanding science,and using "feelings" not "thoughts"
Edgar Jenkins : What we have here is a very typical large landfill
site which generates a great deal of Methane by decomposition of the material
that's been deposited. Methane a well-known chemical substance,familiar in
coal mines as fire- (indistinct),generally seen as non-toxic,but clearly
something that can be explosive.Methane needs, therefore to be kept under
control.Just occasionally the gas which is produced,local residents have
cause for complaint about it,because the gas has a smell,it makes them feel
unwell,and over a period of time they relate their symptoms to the production
of the gas.Now the difficulty here is that all the known properties of
Methane,really don't account for these kinds of symptoms.
[Whether or not there is an unknown attribute causing the symptoms,this is
similar to my assertion of various symptoms being attributable to Roaccutane
after having been treated with it.The doctor assured me that the drug was
incapable of creating the things that I witnessed. I think that a lot of
my "symptoms" were spawned through worry at having a drug that I had little
understanding of entering my body,thus the most insignificant variation in
my normal circumstances were then blamed on the drug.This hyper-anxiety can
lead to inventing correlations and creating causes and effects where none
exist. Homeopathy for instance waters down a drug to the point where no molecule
of a chemical can feasibly exist in the water,and one is relying on some
presumed "memory of water" supposed to exist in the solution. Any perceived
change in symptoms will thus be attributed to the supposed curative powers
of the water,even though it maybe just a placebo effect. Similarly the local
residents maybe having real symptoms from something else and blaming the
Methane,or inventing symptoms because they do not understand what Methane
is and isn't capable of doing.The residents therefore, should not be accommodated
purely on the basis of their perceptions,and attempt should be made to prove
cause and effect -LB]
Edgar Jenkins : The issue that quickly came to the surface,was very
much this,that the experts kept saying this was not a problem,it was not
very pleasant but it was basically safe,and the councillors who would normally
be quite properly guided by expert advice,felt that they had in this case,to
overrule that advice,and in doing so,they took into account all sorts of
other elements of risk,which strictly speaking in
narrow scientific terms would be inadmissible.But from their point of view,and
looking at the health of residents and their concerns,they regarded it as
[For some time,the local town of Hyde has suffered the noxious emissions
of a bone factory,which like as not causes no toxic effects,but the smell
is sickening. The factory was subject to enforcement of controls on the emissions
and may have even been close altogether. No one should have to put up with
smells that they consider offensive,or indeed knock them sick to the stomach.The
production here, as with Methane,may not actually be toxic,but it has sufficient
effect on a person for them to "feel ill" since nominally we breathe Oxygen
and Nitrogen, not Methane or gases from burnt corpses. Even though it may
look as though the decision to desist is based on unscientific information,a
case could be made for saying that these gases are not what we breathe and
therefore are contaminating our air supply,and possibly interfering with
our respiratory system.This would be a scientific argument and regardless
of whether it is exploited,it applies. The fact that the councillors were
guided by vague notions of the residents is only indicative that the residents
fail to put their vague feelings into scientific terms to make their case.This
is reason for them to be scientifically educated, the councillors should
not acquiesce to vague feelings. There maybe effects from power lines causing
headaches and nausea,but should we pull down power lines and make everyone
lose electricity,because someone has a head or stomach ache? And then find
after everyone has been inconvenienced that it wasn't power lines that were
the cause,and that the persons ills were due to epilepsy or a bad curry?
Again this inverts the innocence until proven guilty process,and presumes
a cause without proving it. People are going off what they believe rather
than what they can prove -LB]
It isn't the narrow description,the orthodox understanding of the chemistry
or its production.It is the way in which that knowledge has to be taken by
lay citizens,they're not experts,and fitted in with their own other local
understandings, about their health,about their priorities, about their children's
well-being and so on,and their own perceptions of risk.
[The only way I can see that Edgar is right,is in cases like enforced Fluoride
in water.This may indeed help teeth,but it should be MY choice as to whether
I get Fluoride in my water. If it is put in compulsorarily by government
this defeats my rights as an individual to make free choices in a democratic
society. If people can stop Methane regardless of toxicity,then people can
stop Fluoride regardless of benefit. If I wish to have unhealthy teeth or
if I wish to look after them and control my own Fluoride intake,that's my
problem,not the government's. In this sense no statistics proving Fluoride's
benefits to teeth would defeat my right to personal self determination.Science
can provide the information,but it is up to the citizen as to whether they
make use of it.It's just that in most cases people don't understand the
implications of the information,and make an uninformed choice,which usually
is the wrong one.People's "perceptions of risk" is half the problem,what
they perceive and what is true are two different things,and as was said
above,science is a means to approximate to the truth,so it becomes obvious
that one must do science to make a good decision -LB]
(At the racetrack again)
Man : Risky things? Getting married!
Man : Sleeping with other partners.
Man : I've just had one of them rolls,you see,but I'll let that young
lady eat that one first,if she collapses to the floor,then I won't have one
will I? (laughter)
Man : I don't assess risk,I mean you know,it doesn't bother me really.
Woman : You never drive fast in the rain? Husband : No I drive...
Wife : Yes you do! You do.
Man : The most dangerous thing I do is disagree with my wife.
Man : I never drink and drive ever.
Man : Drinking is a risk.Sex is a risk.
Lesley Judd : A typical scientist's view of how the public misunderstand
scientific issues in the news is to quote examples of how the public
misunderstand risk.Biologist Lois Wolpert,a strong defender of genetic
engineering ,is a doyenne of spokespeople on behalf of science.
Lois Wolpert : I'm a cyclist,riding in London,and I cycle in London
virtually every day,is dangerous - I take a risk.I'm afraid with some food
additives and fertilisers you make on some and you lose on others.
[It's slightly farcical therefore for those who play the lottery to not
understand that this applies in life as well,and the odds vary a great deal
more dynamically than the largely fixed ones of the lottery -LB]
I'm for caution,yes,but these are the choices that everybody must make for
themselves.If you don't want to eat food with food additives,don't.But I
think in general the dangers are grossly over rated. I'm very aware of pot
holes,they are a real social danger,and I know friends of mine who have been
very severely injured. In fact I would argue that pot holes for cyclist are
a much danger than genetic engineering which has yet damaged no one,and unlike
pot holes actually could have enormous benefits for society,pot holes have
none. So in assessing these risks,I think...or how to assess these risks,and
the over emphasis on the risks of genetic engineering is something I think
the public understanding of science could help with.
Sue Blackmore : I've locked my bike up with this padlock (shows a
four - digit combination lock),alright?
Man : Yes.
Sue Blackmore : And it's got all these numbers here.What d'you thinks
the chance of someone coming up...
Lesley Judd : In Bristol,Dr Sue Blackmore used a scientific approach
to research evidence for paranormal beliefs.But a lot of people's experiences
didn't stand up to scientific scrutiny,so she switched to studying people's
ability to understand probability.
Sue Blackmore : ..and I wondered what's the chance of someone just
walking up to my bike,getting hold of this and getting the right number straight
Man : Um,40,000? Sue Blackmore : 40,000? You think like a 40,000 to
1 chance of it,so it would be pretty safe,if you'd locked your bike up with
Sue Blackmore : What d'you think?
Woman : It'd take them a couple of hours,but they could come along
and just do it,you know luck,and all that.
Sue Blackmore : Well what about psychic powers,d'you think they might
get it by sort of telepathy or something like that? D'you believe in that?
Woman : Yeah.
Sue Blackmore : You do?
Man : I don't believe in things like that.
Sue Blackmore : You don't?
Man : No not personally no.
Sue Blackmore : Why's that?
Man : Um,I've never had anything in my life that sort of proved it
Sue Blackmore : So you won't believe it until something like that
happened to you?
Man : Yeah.
Sue Blackmore : When I began my research 20 years ago,I was a strong
believer in the paranormal,and gradually when I didn't find any evidence
for it,I became more sceptical,and then I began to think,well we know 50-60%
of people believe in the paranormal,but if there are no such phenomena,or
they are very rare,why do all those people believe in it? And one idea I
came up with is that it's all to do with misjudgements of probability.You
see we're very bad at even simple things like knowing what will happen if
we throw a dice a few times,certainly more difficult things like "What's
the chances of me dreaming of particular person one night,and then bumping
into that person the next day",and I thought that it could be that people
misjudge probabilities,underestimate coincidences,and then,when the coincidences
happen,they think "Oh wow,that must be paranormal".
Woman : Because I do lots of odd things like think about someone and
then they turn up.
Sue Blackmore : Yeah?
Woman : And it happened this morning,this morning I had a dream about
a mate I hadn't seen for ages...
Sue Blackmore : Yeah?
Woman : ...and all of a sudden there was a knock on the window,and
I sort of crawled out of bed,and it was her,just as I was dreaming about
her,it was really weird,things like that.
[The shocking thing would be if this didn't happen (See
innumer.html ) -LB]
Man : It's just coincidence.
Woman : Shut up.
Sue Blackmore : If we're right in this research,what it shows is that
by very simple misunderstandings of probability,people can come to have what
most scientists would say are "rather odd views of the world". ["Warped reality
models" -LB] They can come to believe that they can communicate with someone
else mind to mind,or that they can have dreams that really come true.
Lesley Judd : Dr Blackmore did a number of tests about probability.
Sue Blackmore : Now this is a very simple question I'm going to ask
you.Imagine I'm going to roll this three times in a row,imagine it's a
fair die as well.
[The notion of a fair die is more complex than one would imagine also,as
is a fair coin,and I am quite certain that those of mystic persuasion have
no knowledge of anything about how one determines the fairness of a die or
coin and thus they have no right to say what is happening,never having
investigated it (see "The Coin of Tyche"
Davis and Hersh) -LB]
Lesley Judd : In this test with a die,people were asked which of two
sequences were more likely.People with a good understanding of probability
say "the same".
Woman : Same.
Sue Blackmore : You think "the same"? They're equally likely?
Man : Yeah.
Sue Blackmore : Well you got it right.Do either of you believe in
Woman : No.
Man : No.
Sue Blackmore : No neither of you?
Man : She's a scientist!
Sue Blackmore : We did some experiments with schoolchildren,with students
and with other people,and asked them very simple questions about rolling
dice,about throwing coins,taking Smarties out of jars,and numbers out of
hats,and generally speaking we found what we had predicted - that is the
believers did worse on these questions. Come down here on the floor and imagine
I'm going to roll it,come down here as well,sorry it's difficult with your
bags and everything.Imagine I'm going to roll this three times,which d'you
think is more likely to come up,say 5,3,2,or 6,6,6?
Woman : 5,3,2.
Sue Blackmore : You think so? And tell me,d'you believe in the paranormal?
Woman : Yes.
[What Sue has shown is that believers and mystics can't count and have very
poor maths skills,and are likely to be the people who said "maths will never
be any use to me when I grow up",and now they are paying for that assertion,by
being unable to discriminate between what's true and what they believe.Maths
is NOT JUST a means of counting,it is a means of understanding things in
the real world.This can lead to silly ideas like the number of times a coin
has come up so far,influences its future outcomes,and thinking that they
have a reasonable chance of winning the Lottery because "someone's got to
win haven't they?" -LB]
Sue Blackmore : You do? Well thanks. Do you think it's more likely
that it's going to come up say 5,2,1,or that it's going to come up 6,6,6?
Girl : Erm,5,2,1.
Sue Blackmore : Right,do you believe in the paranormal?
Girl : Yeah.
Sue Blackmore : You do?
Girl : Yeah.
Sue Blackmore : D'you think you could influence it by the power of
your mind,if you really tried?
Girl : I don't know I'll try.
[And what would she use to discern that in fact she HAD influenced it? If
it came out 5,2,1? How absurd are these people? It's really scary that such
idiots are on this planet. 5,2,1 has a discrete chance of occurring
ANYWAY,regardless of influence,so how would anyone show what had brought
5,2,1 about? The scientific method functions as Mike Baum said,to rule out
what you may believe may be operating,to find out what actually IS operating
1st Man : I'd say the 5,3,2.
Sue Blackmore : Is more likely than the 6,6,6? Do you agree with him?
2nd Man : Yeah definitely.
Sue Blackmore : You think that's more likely.What about you?
3rd Man : Yeah same as them. [What Sue hasn't ruled out here is peer
conformity.From the video it appears that the third man is going along with
the other two so as not to feel like the odd man out,rather than positing
his own view.Psychological work with groups,suggests that people are loathe
to speak out of turn,and will follow the general consensus.It might have
been better to test one person at a time so as not to skew the results -LB]
Sue Blackmore : Do any of you believe in the paranormal?
1st Man : Yeah.
Policeman : Probably the same likelihood.
Sue Blackmore : You think the same likelihood,do you? Tell me,do you
believe in the paranormal? Psychic phenomena?
Policeman : Errrrm no,not really,no.
[There was an not very reassuring hesitation from the policeman,why is he
not certain of the outcome and not certain there are no so such things as
paranormal phenomena? If he has any doubt,this puts in question his ability
to decide properly,not a healthy attribute in a policeman -LB]
Sue Blackmore : All around us all the time,we're called on to make
decisions about important issues,like ecological issues,about energy usage,about
whether we should have more cars or less roads or whatever it is,and to make
those decisions we have to listen to the information we're given,but unless
we've got some kind of a training in the basic scientific methods,we can't
draw proper conclusions from those. Let's take a simple example of you might
read in the newspaper on day,that there are more deaths from cancer in a
town near a nuclear power station.Most people,and most journalists indeed,will
jump to the conclusion that that is because the radiation causes the cancer.
Of course there are at least two other possible explanations,the cause could
be the other way around.It could be something like,the people with cancer
are attracted to that town because it's got a wonderful hospital or something
[For those who think that stretches credibility,perhaps your first reaction
is to say "What are the chances of that?" and if you can't calculate them,and
believe mystic rubbish,perhaps that's why you're asking a question that you're
not equipped to answer -LB]
Or it could be that something else has caused both of them.Now unless we're
trained to think that way,we're not going to be critical of those claims
and therefore be able to make our own decisions about driving our cars,eating
the food we eat,or voting on energy policy. If I throw this die on the
floor,which d'you think is more likely to happen.Let's say I threw it three
times in a row,d'you think it's more likely to come up 3,5,1 or 6,6,6.....
Jane Gregory : There are some areas of science which appear to be
really quite complicated,and are there are some things,and risk is one of
them,that scientists have a great deal of trouble in deciding upon amongst
themselves,and coming up with some concrete statements about,but what tends
to happen when knowledge about risk is used,in specific circumstances,is
that people find it perfectly reasonable and straightforward and easy enough
to understand and use. For instance,when people bet on a horse race for
instance,the odds represent a fairly sophisticated piece of mathematics,but
when those odds are attached to a horse race,people who put bets on horse
races find them very easy to understand and use and sometimes benefit from.
[To borrow your phrase Jane - "bollocks".What happens is that they generate
their own colloquial language and understanding of what is happening and
develop the same "warped reality models" about the circumstances.It is these
that they find easy to use,since these ideas fit into their own world schemes.The
fact that gambling can become addictive is shown by
Polly Toynbee's review of "Jackpot" where the
young guy is convinced that a one armed bandit is "overdue to payoff". This
is a fundamental misunderstanding of chance.It is the same as thinking after
so many heads "tails are overdue".This is not so,and many gamblers think
like this,and even those that don't nevertheless do not see that variously
they stand to make a net loss depending on what game they are playing. Roulette
biases the wheel in the houses favour via the green zero. Horse racing odds
do not add up to 100%,and so again it is fixed to pay a percentage to the
bookie.It's a con whichever way you look at it,and uninformed punters will
like as not lose more than informed ones. Those who avail themselves of the
maths,can create ploys which exploit the weaknesses of the various gambling
games. Those that don't are at the behest of sheer luck and the house bias.
They haven't developed "another way of seeing it" that is just as good as
maths,even if they understand the gambling game through playing it for some
time. Those professional punters may have invented schemes that come close
to the ideal through experimentation,rather like a joiner rediscovering
Pythagoras's Theorem to make right-angles,or coming close,but this is not
a system that is "just as good",since it is vague stabbing in the dark,rather
than systematic analysis -LB]
Man : Well I have survived out of backing horses,National Hunt horses,not
the flat,for nearly 40 years. (sounds of bookie taking bets)
Lesley Judd : However when assessing risk the public maybe looking
at different issues from scientists.
Richard Shepherd : Scientists tend to have a very narrow view of what
risks and hazards are,and tend to look at them within their current
understanding.They don't think about wider issues.What the public tend to
do is to tend to put this within a much,much broader context. They tend to
bring in their own values,
[That's what's WRONG with it!! It becomes subjective as opposed to objective.What
one person's value judgement is shouldn't affect what society does,because
it's not "true" it's just a personally biased view.Mike Baum showed how his
personal views have to be omitted -LB]
and they also tend to think about things like equity - whether the risks
are fair,whether the same people suffer the risks as derive the benefits,and
there are concerns like that that do need to be taken into account.
[That's like saying we should hang paedophiles because people's values make
them hate paedophilism,what utter baloney. How about doing what makes sense?
If people examined where their hatred came from,they'd find for the most
part that they'd just be saying "But it's wrong it shouldn't happen",without
ever forming a "reason" and getting emotionally choked up, without a reason
it isn't "reasonable" and thus is the act of unreasonable people,I don't
want a society whose decisions are made by unreasonable people -LB]
But don't tend to be taken into account in a narrow scientific view of risk.So
consequently it's not possible just to say the public are stupid,that they
don't understand risk.They seem to have a different view of risk.
[Yes a wrong view of risk,as Sue Blackmore has clearly demonstrated.They
can't add up,and so form wrong conclusions based on misjudgements and
misperceptions. Edgar,Richard and Jane are just finding excuses for them
to remain scientifically uninformed -LB]
Lesley Judd : Rather than learning facts,perhaps the goal for voters
grasping for certainty on current scientific issues is to get to understand
the nature of the scientific process and why it seems to produce competing
answers.Long standing critic of the scientific community,Harry Collins, wants
science to be displayed for what it is,warts and all.
Harry Collins : For a long time, the standard definition of science
had to do with a subject standing on a very high pedestal and delivering
certainties in a way that other kinds cultural endeavour can't deliver
certainties.Now it's time that science was knocked off that pedestal. But
it's a mistake to knock it so far down that it falls on the ground and comes
to be seen as worthless.A better definition of science,a useful definition
of science is it's an activity done by people who have wisdom,experience,practice
in dealing with the matters of the natural world. [ I'd like to know if science
has ever tried to deliver certainty,or if that is just a public myth.I agree
that science should not be knocked to the floor,and that it is different
from other kinds of cultural activities in that it "would like to" deliver
certainty or "the truth" ie that it's as close an approximation to certainty
or the truth as you can hope to get. I don't think any scientist would lay
claim to 100% certainty,and I don't know that anyone ever has -LB] Some years
ago the Central Electricity Generating Board - the CEGB,took a train,ran
it up to about 70 mph,and crashed it into a nuclear fuel flask,the sort of
flask that's used for carrying nuclear fuel around our railway system. (loud
crash) This crash was shown on television,in the news.
James Wilkinson (BBC) : The flask ended up here,battered but virtually
undamaged,the train itself was a total write-off.
Harry Collins : Greenpeace said this "If you look at the train crash
organised by the CEGB,you'll see that the locomotive,a type 46,was off a
certain type,and this",said Greenpeace,"was a type that had a particularly
soft nose,unlikely to damage the fuel flask".They pointed out that the wheels
had been removed,and they pointed out that the rails and sleepers had been
removed beyond the low loader.So there was nothing to stop the fuel flask
jumping into the air and being pushed along by the locomotive.
[As I recall they also pointed to the fact that the flask was at 45 degrees
to the locomotive. If you do the maths as presumably Greenpeace did,this
will be a glaringly obvious ploy to try to keep the flask intact.If you aren't
trained (so to speak) you might not spot this manipulation.In this instance
I agree with all the criticisms.But only an informed person who was
scientifically literate would be able to take the CEGB to task for its attempted
cons.Any lay person might have been suitably impressed by the SINGLE test,when
scientific scrutiny demands a series of tests anyway -LB]
Harry Collins : Now we don't know that Greenpeace were right,but what
we do know is that a single demonstration of this sort can't prove the sort
of general thesis that the CEGB was trying to prove,that the transport of
nuclear fuel is safe.
[So if the CEGB was the equivalent of a public moaning about Methane,should
we acquiesce to the CEGBs alternative ideas of "safety" or should they be
taught how to do it properly? If people were versed in scientific methodology
they'd know to chastise the CEGB over only doing a single test with a soft-nosed
loco and a 45 degree flask.As it was the CEGB could have pulled the wool
over the public's eyes,and they'd be none the wiser -LB]
It's important to know that there is a judgement to be made.That scientific
discoveries are not made at single points in time,and at single places with
single demonstrations.They're made through a process of
argument,disagreement,they're made within the scientific community coming
slowly toward a consensus.
[That's not quite true.The serendipitous discoveries are made at a single
point in time in one place.Other discoveries like the double helix of DNA
come about through a process of theorising and testing,modelling and
revising,until a "Eureka" moment happens as Richard Dawkins chronicles in
"Breaking the Science Barrier".It's best to hear
how science is done from a scientist,not from a science critic who has no
first hand experience of how it happens - LB]
Simon Wessley : Most people do not understand that one study doesn't
make a summer,to mix metaphors slightly,that before something should be accepted
it needs to be replicated by different groups in different conditions at
[It's funny that mystics demand this for their food and their environment
where scientists are concerned,but not for their shoddy made up world views,which
are taken on without replication,without scrutiny and without testing.If
we were to apply their thinking to food safety and the environment and "just
believed" that nuclear flasks were safe,we'd all no doubt be suffering the
effects of radiation spills.Thus is the double standards shown up as the
farce that it is in mysticism -LB]
It's all too easy to have a flash breakthrough on a small paper,trumpeted
in the Lancet or the British Medical Journal,as the years go by,one realises
that it actually couldn't be replicated.It's important that people realise
that good science is reproducible,bad science isn't.
School programme : No one is arguing about that,the real problem is
that radiation does produce an increase in harmful chemicals,these chemicals
can cause genetic changes...
Lesley Judd : Even 6th formers wrestling with contentious science
issues,all too often imagine that disputes arise over hard and fast facts,rather
than differing interpretations that express different points of view.One
example,part of a major study by a team from Leeds and York Universities
who researched attitudes of pupils,was the issue of irradiated food.
Robin Millar :There is something of a gap in what we do at present
that leaves many children with this view of science as a rather straightforward
process of data collection from which theory follows,and it's getting across
within the curriculum some sense of the gap between evidence and theory,of
the sense in which science is conjectural.
Girl : I'd say that they have some facts,and they haven't .....
Robin Millar : So you feel that if they had the facts from research
that was done,I think "fairly" was the word that you used,then they would
be able to reach agreement?
Girl : Mmm,yeah.
Robin Millar : Chris do you agree with that,or do you take a different
point of view?
Chris : No,I'd agree.
Robin Millar : I think one has to be careful about pushing the idea
that science and scientific theory is conjectural too strongly if you're
talking about a curriculum for young people up to the age of 16,because their
are some bits of scientific knowledge that we would want,I think quite
legitimately, to include within the school curriculum.Things like the germ
theory of disease or ideas about nutrition and balanced diet and so on [What
about evolution? -LB]. And some of these are based on pieces of scientific
knowledge which are as well attested and as consensually agreed,as any knowledge
that we have.
Girl : You still can't decide which you think sort of ...who has the
best point,and I think if they had more facts they'd be able to make a clearer
decision between the two.
Girl : They don't have all the facts though,we've found that out.
Boy : It's a cross between Peter and Mary I think.
Boy : Yeah.
Boy : The both got their own opinions but they don't have all the
Robin Millar : If we're going to cut through that interpretation of
disagreement between scientists as either due to bias one the one hand or
incompetence on the other,then some sense of the problematic nature of getting
usable data which can lead to believable results is clearly important as
a part of public understanding of science.
Intro | The
Practical Case | The Economic Case |
The Democratic Case | The