The Inconveniently Boring Truth

At the end of his inevitable post on the horrors of Emily Yoffe, Chris Mooney goes on to make a great point about the intersection of science and political commentary:

If I’m being a bit hard on Emily Yoffe, it’s because there’s a larger point here. Yoffe’s piece strikes me as indicative of how some aspects of the Washington journalism culture treat scientific information. A lot of the time, what’s prized in that world is the ability to make a clever argument — to turn conventional wisdom on its head.When you apply this approach to science, however, there’s an utter mismatch. In science, “conventional wisdom” is a consensus perspective that has withstood repeated expert attempts to unseat it. In this context, being “counterintuitive” — especially when one is doing so well outside of the traditional channels of scientific discourse — usually amounts to little more than being just plain wrong.

Yes, exactly. It’s obviously the case that scientists sometimes do reach startling, revolutionary findings that upend conventional ways of thinking. But most science — Kuhn’s normal science — involves incrementally refining, testing, or expanding existing knowledge that’s been painstakingly built up by a community of researchers over a period of time. An amateur sitting at home trying to think up an interesting column topic just isn’t going to be able to debunk it using Google and a clever turn of phrase.

Also: Storm World — check it out. But don’t spend all your money on other people’s political books, because soon enough I’ll be begging you to buy mine.


Photo by Flickr user Marc Gutierrez used under a Creative Commons license