Friday, May 05, 2006

Sound Science Under Attack

In the Friday edition of the Detroit Free Press is a supposed news story on the Nation & World page titled "What constitutes sound science? No one can really say."
The subtitle is "For Bush, term is all about politics."

Not only is this a Bush bashing effort, it is also an attempt to obliterate the concept of "sound science." Also, in a 2 page section on Nation and World news, you'd think there would be somthing more important in the world to report on than an opportunity to bash Bush, but, silly me, there obviously isn't. Knight Ridder reporter Iris Kuo begins:

**Washington-- The Bush administration, senators, industrialists and farmers repeatedly invoke the term sound science to delay or deep-six policies they oppose and dismiss criticism of those they favor.

The administration has waved it at such diverse issues as global warming, beef imports, air pollution and arsenic in drinking water.

Last Thursday, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta used the phrase to slow a congressional bid to raise the U.S. passenger vehicle mileage standard. "An administrative process based on sound science" should precede any change, Mineta said.

No one, however, is sure what the term means.**

I'm sure. At least in fundamental terms, "sound science" is science that conforms to reality. Unsound science would be science that does not conform to reality. My Webster's New World Dictionary College Edition gives several definitions of sound.
Aside from audio meanings and wide channel and measuring ocean depth meanings, there is this: "based on truth or valid reasoning, reliable..." So why is Ms. Kuo confused?


**The phrase has more to do with antiregulatory lobbying than with laboratory results, said Donald Kennedy, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration and now the editor-in-chief of the influential magazine Science.

"Sound science is whatever somebody likes," Kennedy said. "It's essentially a politically useful term, but it doesn't have any normative meaning whatsoever. My science is sound science, and the science of my enemies is junk science."**

There you have it. Right from the horses mouth, sound science is not rooted in reality but in feelings, whatever someone "likes." And sound science has "no normative meaning whatsoever." So scientific truth is to be determined how? Obviously by whatever the establishment scientists and their mouthpieces like Kennedy, say it is.

Ms. Kuo goes on to show several instances where the bush administration has used its demand for sound science to slow or stop environmental regulations. But instead of framing this practice in the context of the president demanding that the American people be told the truth, she frames it in the context that the president is obstructing the science establishment's desire to indulge in their feelings. She then goes on to repeat a popular lie:

**For example, while there's nearly unanimous agreement that global warming is caused largely by human activity, the administration, in the name of sound science, has stressed the arguments of a few dissenters.**

Actually, there is not near unanimous agreement. In fact the agreement is lessening every day as new evidence comes in and as more people find out about the dishonesty of the IPCC in all of their assessment reports to date. For more info on the so-called "consensus," Professor Philip Stott has more at EnviroSpin Watch here. (Scroll down to Monday, May 1.)

Not only is it distressing to see a reporter defending the establishment against the American people, it is also disappointing to see a reporter champion the idea that truth is to be determined by numbers (consensus). Reporters should know better. In fact, there's an inside saying in science that says, "If you need a consensus, your evidence isn't good enough."

Mr. Donald Kennedy, by the way, has recently been the target of criticism from climate experts for championing the establishment's global warming agenda and giving only scant access to papers by scientists who disagree with said agenda. For more on this, SEPP has a good article here.

Readers may still be wondering how it is that an educated reporter and the editor of a supposedly prominent science journal could not know the meaning of sound (true).
It's been common practice in philosophy departments to teach students that concepts don't have refferents in reality; that a concept (like sound) is just an arbitrary construct and can have any meaning anyone "likes" to give it. We now know there are two people who have learned their lesson well.
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