For some time, I’ve been aware that the way the media use “science” and what I was taught was meant by “science” are now two very different things. And it comes down to headlines like this:
The problem here, is that science (as I was taught it), is a method whereby we try to totally eliminate observer bias and that includes our political views. So you must choose, either you are a politician, or you are a scientist. That is not to say that a real scientist cannot have a political view, just as a juror cannot have a political view about a criminal trial in which they are a juror. But whilst you are acting as a scientist, just as when you are acting as a juror – you leave your politics outside the courtroom/lab.
But that seems to be increasingly untrue these days in “science”. And what is worse, these days, anyone from academia seems to be called a “scientist”. Maybe that’s because I’m reading more articles from the US where it seems to have a far more lax usage. But I’ve even heard “science” used for an archaeologist who I’ve little doubt would not have used the term themselves. Instead it was some cheap journalist using a catch all term for “academic” (not from the arts). It is now almost meaningless as a term. it doesn’t imply any actual standards or techniques or quality.
And so to the vast majority of the population and most journalists – “science” is a pretty meaningless term these days. When I try to define it, I end up with the same basic definition: it’s almost exclusively used for the group of government/University employees who’ve done a non-arts degree. And, whether or not they use the scientific method, whether or not they allow their own political views to colour their public statements, whether or not they’ve actually talking about a subject they know about or in some cases have been taught any science at all – whatever their actual knowledge or the quality of their work, they are all scientists to the press and public.
What then is a sceptic?
I’m more and more coming to the view, that a sceptic is what I used to call a “scientist”. Or what I’m increasing having to call a “Real scientist”. By that I mean someone who requires evidence before accepting an assertion. They require high standards of evidence using for example, the “scientific method” – trying to disprove an assertion, rather than moulding the data to fit. Someone who tries to remove their own personal, political and observational biases. Basically someone for whom “science” means a quality standard.
In simple terms, the difference between a sceptic and a “scientist” is this: a sceptic starts from a sceptical position and requires good impartial evidence to change their mind. In contrast, a “scientist” is now little more than a group identity for certain academics and researchers who’s only group attribute is they “measure things” and use maths.
Scepticism is a philosophy demanding a rigorous intellectual approach.
And to put it very crudely: Science is now a paypacket and/or a ticket into the media.
As such I am seriously considering changing my terminology. What I value as high quality work is “scepticism” not science. And those who adhere to this philosophy may belong to the academic clan called “science”, but if they use the sceptic method, their highest accolade is to be hailed as a true sceptic not as another no-quality-control “scientist”.