northernwalker: (Default)

I have been musing on a passage from CP Snow's The Search since the verdict came out. Snow was an English chemist and physicist, and also a well-known novelist. “The only ethical principle which has made science possible is that the truth shall be told all the time. If we do not penalize false statements made in error, don't you see, we open up the way for false statements by intention. And a false statement of fact, made deliberately, is the most serious crime a scientist can commit.”

I would agree wholeheartedly with the last sentence and the first. However, the middle one is where I'm hitting a sticking point. There's a big difference between "I thought, based on the evidence, that A would be the result and instead B happened because of factors I was not aware of at the time," and "I deliberately suppressed evidence that supported B being the result."

I am an Alaskan. I lived in a place that, like Italy, is geologically active. You cannot live in such a region without potential risk. Do I like that fact? No. Does it mean that I should blame the scientists when an earthquake happens? No. I get that the survivors want someone to be at fault, but they're targeting the wrong people. Why not go after the builders who put up substandard housing that collapsed? Why not recognize that a prediction is just that- what the scientist thinks will happen?

This verdict is a foolish, childish reaction. Scientists will now be feel constrained to overpredict to cover themselves, therefore triggering an inevitable "boy who cried wolf" scenario. Or, they will be too afraid to predict at all, knowing they could end up in jail if people don't like their responses.


northernwalker: (Default)

June 2017

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