Are the knives out yet?

(by which I don’t refer to Lord Rees’s comments about the STFC having incompetent and inept leadership in this podcast, we know this, especially as one board member asked a visiting science professional what ‘Planck‘ was – the answer being one of the highest profile space telescopes that STFC members deal with, launched last year to a blaze of publicity)

The budget was published today, with savage cuts promised and quite a few delivered. But what about science? There was little direct mention of science itself, that will have to wait until the Comprehensive Spending Review, but some points were mentioned that got a cautiously good review from CaSE, albeit one tempered by the point that a decadal plan for revitalising science is now needed.

More relevant news came from an event that preceded parliament called Science and the New Parliament, which involved parliamentarians from all the main parties making promises and pledges. The review by CaSE is here.

One of the hopes of such events is to enable parliamentarians to distinguish between proper science and the siren voices that merely offer to support preexisting views. This sort of thing is the subject of a book reviewed yesterday in the Economist. An interesting point raised in the comments section of that review concentrated on how to identify anti-science masquerading as science. Taken from this link and this link the points were:

  1. Allege that there’s a conspiracy. Claim that scientific consensus has arisen through collusion rather than the accumulation of evidence.
  2. Use fake experts to support your story. “Denial always starts with a cadre of pseudo-experts with some credentials that create a facade of credibility,” says Seth Kalichman of the University of Connecticut.
  3. Cherry-pick the evidence: trumpet whatever appears to support your case and ignore or rubbish the rest. Carry on trotting out supportive evidence even after it has been discredited.
  4. Create impossible standards for your opponents. Claim that the existing evidence is not good enough and demand more. If your opponent comes up with evidence you have demanded, move the goalposts.
  5. Use logical fallacies. Hitler opposed smoking, so anti-smoking measures are Nazi. Deliberately misrepresent the scientific consensus and then knock down your straw man.
  6. Manufacture doubt. Falsely portray scientists as so divided that basing policy on their advice would be premature. Insist “both sides” must be heard and cry censorship when “dissenting” arguments or experts are rejected.

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