A comment I have posted at Scientific American’s “Cross-check” blog by John Horgan, in reply to the entry titled “The truth we’ll doubt: Does the “decline effect” mean that all science is “truthy“?“. Reposted here for future memory:
> Jonah Lehrer dismisses the notion that “The Truth Wears Off”
> implicitly undermines the status of the theory of
> evolution by natural selection and global warming,
> which are “two of the most robust and widely
> tested theories of modern science.”
I wish people were more confident in their science and less defensive on subjects that they consider “robust” and “widely tested”. To me, it is obvious that the “Truth that wore off” about evolution was Eugenics. It has all the characteristics indicated by Lehrer, including Galton’s “dramatic correlation” and a huge bandwagon that was eliminated only by the horrors of WWII.
Likewise for “global warming”: a misnomer as everybody now agrees, should be “climate change” at least, and it has evolved from simplistic claims of an increase in temperatures everywhere to a whole load of nuances and lots of studies still to be carried out at a regional (and even more, local!) level. The “Truth” that is wearing off “climate change” is the idea that it only takes a few years to properly understand the behavior in the free atmosphere of something that can be seen in the lab. Other “global warming Truths”/bandwagons that are slowly disappearing include the notions that (a) every environmental phenomenon is caused by increases in CO2 emissions, (b) we have all the technology we need to stop emitting CO2, (c) cap-and-trade is the solution to CO2 emissions, (d) it is ok to present data devoid of uncertainty for policy reasons, (e) reconstructions of past temperatures can be done without involving statisticians, etc etc.
Please do note that Evolution (in a modern form) has survived the demise of Eugenics, just like “climate change” will likely survive (in an updated form) all semi-idiotic studies forever linking it to the disappearance of mostly-cute animals.
Sometimes I feel like we have learned nothing of the useless debates of old, Newtonians vs Leibnitzians, light-is-a-particle vs light-is-a-wave, relativity vs quantum mechanics. Science shouldn’t be a place where people sacrifice themselves and their principles for pet theories, closing their minds rather than accepting the challenge: rather, Science should be an open battlefield where the truly powerful ideas don’t even need defending. But I suppose that might not chime right if the worry is the preservation of the status quo.