Structuring society to counteract science denialism

The essay below is my entry to the OeAW’s (Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften/ Austrian Academy of Sciences) 2022 Preisfrage. The topic was “Fact or fiction: How to deal with scientific scepticism?”

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The problem of scientific scepticism, or, more accurately, science denialism, is a major one that has serious implications, particularly in modern society where so much is driven by scientific advances, and it is heartening that the Austrian Academy of Sciences has chosen it as a topic for this year’s Preisfrage. Before addressing the topic, I think it is necessary to clarify exactly what I do and don’t mean by certain terms to ensure that we all enter this discussion from the same starting point.

First, I will say that scepticism—questioning established knowledge—is good. Indeed, scepticism is a core principle of science itself. In science, all our knowledge is provisional, should be treated with scepticism and is accepted only to the extent that the current evidence supports it. However, the scientific scepticism that is of interest to the academy goes beyond this, to the extent that people, who lack the deep knowledge and training required to assess the evidence, doubt the scientific consensus in a manner that is disproportionate to the actual uncertainty of the conclusion. For this reason, I will not use the term scientific scepticism, which is a virtue that all scientists should share, and instead use science denialism which better captures that the problem is not scepticism itself but an unjustified denial of the scientific consensus.

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A Mexican flag in America!

I’ve mentioned, quite a few times, on this blog that causing offence should not be a reason to limit someone’s speech. Just because someone takes offence at something doesn’t mean that it is offensive. That is quite clearly illustrated by a particularly bigoted woman in California.

Tressy Capps was so offended by a house flying a Mexican flag in the United States of America that she actually stopped her car, went up to the house and told them off. She called it disrespectful and that if the house wanted to fly the Mexican flag then they should move to Mexico! I hope for her sake that she never travels to New York because that’s where the headquarters of the United Nations is and there are 192 foreign flags flying proudly. Continue reading

What about demographic representation?

South African politics can be amusing and it can also be surprising what upsets people. The new big controversy has been a cartoon published by Eye Witness News which has been condemned as racist. Even more ridiculous, the ANC actually claims the cartoon undermines the democratic process. Sure, it’s going to upset some people but it’s hardly undermining democracy. Continue reading

Spying leftovers

Sorry for the sparse posting. I’ve been spending time with family and friends over the Christmas/New Year’s period. I was away for New Year’s with some of my family and am currently away again, staying with a friend. I will be home later this week and should then be able to start posting regularly again.

Over the past few months, I took note of a number of stories regarding how the US and UK were spying on essentially everyone. Many of them have already been posted (see here, here, here and here) but I still have a couple more that were not always focussed on the spying themselves or which were particularly interesting in light of the NSA’s actions. I’m posting all of them together here. Continue reading

A step closer to internet right to privacy

The resolution for internet privacy, which I mentioned before, has been passed by UN rights committee and will now head to the UN General Assembly. This is a great step, which is why I’m giving it it’s own post, however, I want to express disappointment at one point.

The US and key allies Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand joined a consensus vote passing the resolution after language which suggested that foreign spying would be a rights violation was weakened.

All I hear there is some countries saying, “Foreigners don’t deserve the same rights as our citizens.” That attitude, that it’s acceptable to spy on other countries’ citizens but not your own, is a problem. That’s a xenophobic attitude. It shouldn’t matter where someone was born. Americans and Iraqis should share the same rights. It’s not okay that we allow governments to say that just because one lives in a foreign country that they don’t get a right to privacy.

Similarly, shouldn’t one be as outraged at passports as at the Apartheid pass laws? Both limit movement according to an arbitrary characteristics. The pass laws according to race and passports according to nationality. Why are country boundaries seen as something so real?

The road to hell

What is legal and what is ethical are two different things. It should be obvious but the two are often conflated. During Apartheid, certain beaches were reserved for Whites only and mixed marriages were illegal. At that time, something which was unethical was legal and something which was ethical was illegal. We are less inclined to look at the present and our own actions in the same way and, of course, even when we do we are unlikely to decide our own actions are unethical. We also seldom think through all the possible outcomes of a particular course of action and what effects it could have on other people. There is a reason we have the saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Continue reading

Exaggerated and misguided statements by ANC

One can seemingly always rely on the ANC to say something stupid. I had planned to ignore the most recent example of this until I saw it get even worse. They have taken issue with an art project by some high school students. Some of the T-shirts on display had unflattering depictions and captions of ANC members. They’ve since decided to ignore the constitutional right to freedom of expression, that the ANC members are public figures and all that entails, that the artists are high school students and that the syllabus includes a section on political commentary. Continue reading

Falling nations

To say that, on the whole, the UK and US are falling is perhaps premature. I can, however, say that my opinion of them has certainly fallen quite a bit in the past few weeks. The UK has its problematic porn policy, which you should see as problematic regardless of your view of porn because of the direction it suggests the government is moving in. The UK has also been wrapped up in the, mostly US, issue of extensive surveillance conducted by the NSA. Continue reading