Friday, December 1, 2006
It is not
unethical to be wrong. Every scientist will at times be wrong, but we
assume that authors of science papers THINK they got it right. The
rewards of success are so high in certain areas, however, that it must be
tempting to guess the answer without doing the research. We saw it in
2002 with Jan Hendrik Schoen at Bell Labs, and again in 2004 with the stem
cell work of Woo Suk Hwang at Seoul National University. In the Hwang
case, Science, which published the work, immediately retracted the two
papers and began a thorough review of the peer review procedure. The
report urges scientists to give special attention to research results that
are especially visible or influential. Today, in a Science editorial,
Donald Kennedy invites comments.
haven't seen it, Al Gore made a film about global warming. It received
overwhelming endorsement by scientists. On Sunday, the Wash Post ran an
opinion piece by Laurie David, a producer of the film. She thought it was
educational. Of course, so did the Discovery Institute when it
distributed, Unlocking “The Mystery of Life: The Scientific Case for
Intelligent Design.” When the company that made Inconvenient Truth
offered the National Science Teachers Association 50,000 free DVDs for use
in classrooms, the NSTA said “no.” I wouldn't want them pushing Mystery
of Life either, but NSTA seemed more worried about its “capital campaign”
contributors, including Exxon, Shell and the coal industry.
American scientists endured the barbs of colleagues in Europe about
fundamentalist Christianity in the US. A Special Report in Nature this
week warns that creationism is beginning to threaten science in Europe.
Teaching creationism in public schools was outlawed by the Supreme Court
in 1968 in Epperson v. Arkansas. It has been in retreat ever since with
one name change after another. The latest was “intelligent design.”
Meanwhile, the UK is finding it necessary to teach remedial evolution to
college students. Turks, and Islamic immigrants throughout Europe, cannot
imagine anything happening except by God hand.
Yesterday in the
NY Times, Thomas Homer-Dixon reminded us of a famous wager 26 years ago.
Nobel Prize winner Paul Ehrlich bet the price of certain metals would
increase in a decade as they were depleted. The late Julian Simon, a U.
Maryland professor, bet they would get cheaper as substitutes and new
deposits were found. Simon won. He asked me why the physicists had all
bet with Ehrlich. “Because, Julian, they understand exponentials,” I
said. Today, Homer-Dixon points out, Ehrlich would win easily.