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Selling Confabulation as Science

Science is supposed to be all about demonstrable proof through experiment. Should some scientists get away with confabulation – mere storytelling? Look at these recent headlines published on science news sites and consider whether some serious housecleaning is in order.

Man, Mammals, and Ice Ages

What do scientists really know about early man and the creatures in his habitat?  Some clues can be found by following science news in a historical fashion: that is, to look for reversals of previously-held opinions, surprises in fossils, and other evidences that scientists are not really making progress in their theories, despite the common […]

Psych-Man Fraud Exposed

A popular social psychologist in the Netherlands has been exposed of committing “fraud on an astonishing scale,” forging data in dozens of scientific papers for nearly a decade. The exposè doesn’t just destroy his reputation. The fraud will cause “huge damage,” said Susan Fiske, a social psychologist at Princeton University,” because “His work is very central—or was.”

Spin or Sin

You are bureau chief for a science news organization. Your job is to convince the public that science is right, and their doubts are wrong. You believe in reason and evidence, but you are frustrated that large segments of the population doubt the scientific consensus on certain hot-topic issues. The way to reach them, you say, is by coaxing people they already respect to convey the message, and use graphics to present the evidence. Sound reasonable?

Aliens Among Us

Some SETI researchers are looking for intelligent design on Earth – by aliens! Paul Davies has written seriously about the possibility of “alien bioengineering” that could be detected in DNA. NASA’s tax-supported Astrobiology Institute gave the idea good press, apparently unaware that most SETI researchers and astrobiologists vociferously reject the theory of intelligent design.

Objectivity of Science Undermined

Science has no boast if not objective. It is objectivity that supposedly sets science apart from all other modes of inquiry: following a “scientific method” that guarantees objective truth about the natural world. Results are reported in peer-reviewed journals that weed out mistaken ideas. After publication, other scientists can replicate any published results, making science a self-correcting process that refines its objectivity over time. Most insiders and philosophers know that the picture is highly flawed, but the vision persists that science is objective. Recent articles raise awareness of some of the problems with the portrayal of scientific objectivity.

NCSE Takes on Creation Geologists

The science of geology operates in parallel universes. There are the mainstream, secular geologists in the Geological Society of America who have complete hegemony in the secular universities, the mainline journals and the secular press. Then there are the creation geologists, who publish in their own journals; these hardly enter the awareness of the other geologists. Once in a while, though, like disturbances in the Force, emanations from the creation universe into the secular universe are felt. The National Center for Science Education has become so alarmed at these emanations that they have warned secular geologists to (1) pay them no attention, and (2) pay attention.

Comety Show: Oceans from Space

Finally, a comet has been found with a deuterium-to-hydrogen ratio that is close to that found in Earth’s oceans. That had not been true of many other comets. Astrobiologists claim this ration in Comet Hartley 2 as “proof” that our water came special delivery from water-balloon comets. But why do they believe that, what constitutes proof, and what new problems does the “proof” lead to?

Evolution Fits Any Data

At first blush, it might seem a wonderful thing when many different kinds of evidence can be explained by one simple, elegant theory. Actually, though, too much confirmation can be a theory’s downfall. When a theory explains too much – even opposite things – it really explains nothing. For instance, everything in the universe can be explained by the phrase, “Stuff happens.” Such a theory is useless, even if true. That’s why any theory that explains too much should be looked at askance. Here are some recent observations offered in support of the theory of evolution:

Stretching Credibility in Evolutionary Stories

Improbable events happening numerous times; selective extinctions; voodoo phylogenetics – at what point do evolutionary explanations exceed the threshold of credibility a trusting public grants to the gurus of the culture, scientists?

Grebe Left Imaginary Dinosaur Feathers in Amber

“Dinosaur feathers” are all over the news again, thanks to a paper in Science revealing feathers in amber found in Canada. But whose feathers are they? Inferences from other sources, not from the amber, were brought into the interpretation, even though the discoverers admitted, “There is currently no way to refer the feathers in amber with certainty to either birds or the rare small theropods from the area.” And modern-looking feathers of diving birds like grebes were also found in the same amber, leading to numerous questions about what can rightly be inferred from the fossils themselves. No matter; most of the media loved the evolutionary implications and trotted out their headlines that feather evolution from dinosaur to bird has been proven.

Are Embryonic Stem Cells Obsolete?

Adult stem cells can apparently do everything embryonic stem cells can – and they are moving regenerative medicine forward faster, with more results. Since the use of human embryos for research is ethically repugnant to many people, what motivations remain to continue the practice? Here is a rapid-fire list of stem cell news this month:

Science Supports Traditional Values

It is well known that liberals outnumber conservatives in academia, but sometimes, scientific studies support traditional values, not leftist ideology. Imagine the surprise of some of these researchers who went looking and found that conservative Christian family organizations have evidence to support their views.

Media Respond Predictably to Latest Ape-Man

A new law of nature has been revealed: the Law of Predictable Media Reactions to Missing Link Announcements. Once again, the science news media have gone ape over the latest bone story emerging from the paleoanthropology industry. In keeping with tradition, reporters are saying this will “rewrite the steps of our evolution.” And once again, a contender gets his 15 minutes of fame, showered in media hype. If the LPMR law holds, we can expect to see his claim discredited when the next contender gets his or her turn.

Science Without an Object: Astrobiology, Alien Science

Can science exist without an observable object? In recent years we have seen serious scientists ponder alternate universes and parallel universes, dark matter, dark energy and other imponderable entities. String theory has yet to rest on observable data, and physicists at CERN are getting worried about not finding the hypothetical Higgs boson. Sooner or later, these theories need to detect their subjects or lose credibility in the science club. Perhaps nowhere else has the disconnect between hype and observation reached the absurd limits of astrobiology and alien science.
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