Look who's talking

This week, we began to see a concerted effort to “frame the debate” about SEA and minimize its impact. On Thursday, the conservative Weekly Standard magazine published an article, titled Political Science written by Wesley J. Smith contending that SEA was “a front group for vested interests” and “crossing the crucial line that separates science from special interest advocacy.” As a senior fellow to the Discovery Institute, the proponent of Intelligent Design curriculum, Smith should be very familiar with front groups for vested interests and is certainly familiar with crossing the line that separates science from special interest advocacy. To be blunt, the Discovery Institute’s attempt to force its non-scientific curriculum into biology classes is a perfect example of the problem SEA was created to address.

On Friday, part two of the campaign against SEA came out. This was in the form of an editorial by the Wall Street Journal entitled “Under the Microscope.” The editorial correctly identifies the importance of creating a society that “encourages independent thinking, open debate and an unbounded spirit of inquiry” and then criticizes SEA for allegedly closing the debate on scientific policy.

Nothing could be further from the truth. As one who is familiar with SEA and its mission, I must confess that I had to read the editorial three or four times before I had any idea what it was talking about. In fact, it was not until I re-read the Weekly Standard article that I understood the “debate” we were allegedly closing. This is the debate about whether scientists and engineers should engage in public policy and actively address the misuse and politicization of science or whether they should remain silent when their voices are censured, their findings are misused, and scientific integrity itself is attacked. This is a debate that is open, ongoing---and that we join with enthusiasm.


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  1. Rurouni says:

    It's what we've come to expect when dealing with groups like the Discovery Institute. SEforA is still a 'young' group, but as it grows and becomes more well known, it will become harder for people to make such base accusations.

  2. Scott+ says:

    I think that the articles mentioned above hit the nail on the head. SeforA direction would appear to be going toward a liberal action group. I am so disappointed because, I was hoping for a group where honest discussion of science and government science policy would occur.

    The dismissal of theories because they are viewed religious is a sign of the problems I discern exists. Does it matter if the person making a hypothesis is religious? I would say a true scientist would say no, but that SeforA would say yes. True science goes for the truth, not the secular humanist orthodoxy.

    Science does not trump moral values. Moral values are for most people the result of religion. Religion is a part of most people’s life. Science investigation should be subjected to ethical and moral consideration. This is especially true when we publically fund the investigation. People should not have the force of government make them pay for immoral research. These are values which SEforA seems to reject.

    Science is not a be all and end all. Science is not the only understanding of truth. SEforA if it continues on the path it seems to be heading is doing seeking truth a disservice

  3. n00854180t says:

    "Theories" based on religion are not even that, since (at least and specifically in the case of so called "Intelligent Design") they pose no falsifiable hypotheses. It would appear Scott+ is merely a paid neo-con/religious schill, and following the same misguided logic as those writers of the articles mentioned above.

    Religion represents the opposite of truth, willful ignorance.

  4. Scott+ says:

    My question was: Does it matter if the person making a hypothesis is religious? It was not about theories based on religion. There is nothing specifically religious about intelligent design. It support no specific religion over another. It does not require the intelligent force to be moral or ethical. It basically challenges the unproven hypothesis that random events caused the world to be as we know it.

    Your statement “Religion represents the opposite of truth, willful ignorance,” is telling. You have closed your mind to the truth and for that I, with this, pray for you. If you see religion as willful ignorance, then you loose much credibility to engage in the intersection of religion and science. The credibility lost is at least as much as you imply my status as a Christian does.

    I wrote a generalized response to you and the posting. It appears here as post thread 4.

  5. Peter says:

    Scott+, the problem is not with one's personal religious beliefs, the issue is whether or not a "hypothesis" is based on religion or any other supernatural explanation. This is clearly not useful in deciding policy affecting the natural, observable, and testable world we live in which, in case you hadn't noticed, is what this organization is about.

  6. Geoffrey Hicks says:

    The hypothesis (not theory) of intelligent design requires a belief in something that there is no scientific evidence of. At best, it is a philosophical theory, not a scientific one.

    Moreover, intelligent design is not scientifically significant; declaring the existence of a deity to explain some phenomenon precludes any further understanding of it. Real scientific theories - like evolution - exist to explain and predict events, and to provide a model to work from for further scientific discoveries. Intelligent design provides none of these, because the entire field is reduced to one claim: "God did it."

    There may or may not be problems with macroevolutionary theory, and these issues should be discussed in a science class - but intelligent design has NO scientific basis or significance, and should NOT be taught as if it does. It's not an issue of "liberal" versus "conservative," or even "atheist" versus "religious" - it's an issue of "good science" versus "bad science."

  7. Daniel Morgan says:

    I really hope this blog doesn't become a cre-ev war. This site and group aren't about debating pseudoscience or the supernatural -- there are a million boards out there for that express purpose...

    That said:

    People like Scott+ are the sort we contend with daily -- who think that we give a crap one way or another if an random speculation (without empirical backing), or unfalsifiable idea comes from someone who is religious. The fact that the idea is unscientific is enough to drive them to the "he's just a secular humanist masquerading as a scientist!" bit that my ears are clogged with day in and day out.

    So far, the DI and its supporters (like Scott+) are just as scientifically empty-handed as the dolts who gave them $4 M to spend. And I think this group is a good start towards getting that kind of mind-clogging silliness out into the open.

  8. Mike Brown says:

    While the ID movement demonstrates part of the reason why a group like SEA is necessary, this blog and SEA will not simply be another forum for the evolution versus creationism "debate". The term debate is in quotes because there really is no scientific debate on this issue.

    We are permitting the multiple and often redundant posts on this subject because the Weekly Standard piece was written by a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and, thus, the evolution v. ID discussion is appropriate.

  9. Patrick says:

    Assuming that the Federal government follows No 1 in the so-called Bill of Rights, there is no need for the Nos. 2,3,4,5,6,8, proposed rights except to establish a forum for government employed scientists or engineers to publicly complain that their studies were not used as the basis for public policy decisions while remaining employed. Private industry would not put up with an employee, disgruntled because his/her pet project was considered and rejected, going public. Resignation is the honorable path, not establishing a public forum to question and undermine a government policy that fails to meet their own ideological beliefs in the rightness of their results.
    No 7 is particularly onerous as it presumes that there is or will be, SEA? possibly, an authority that will be able to decide what scientificc ideas and concepts are 'ideological' and even more chilling, whose ideology is acceptable.

  10. Scott+ says:

    n00854180t said “Religion represents the opposite of truth, willful ignorance.” This is not a scientific statement. It is a philosophical statement pure and simple. At its best science is about truth in the very limited area of the physical world. The scope of science has no meaning of good or evil. Within the meaning of science there is no right or wrong. The alleged superiority of science knowledge is something which is not subject to the method of science. Even if it were, such self validating efforts would be rightly suspect.

    n00854180t has said that hypothesis like Intelligent Design is not science because of they pose no falsifiable hypotheses. This is also a philosophical statement. I just did a quick look to refresh my memory. The idea of a falsifiable hypothesis comes from the philosophy of Karl Popper. Popper was a philosopher of science and politics.

    For a hypothesis to be falsifiable, there must be an observation that would the hypothesis false, even if that we have not made observation. Intelligent Design has a falsifiable hypothesis that is someday we could understand all that is happening absence an intelligent agent acting. This is as least as falsifiable as the theory of evolution which makes no falsifiable hypothesis to the occurrence of random events.

    I here contend that the Popper philosophy is not the only method by which we can establish a theory as truth. If you want to establish the notion that such establishment of truth is outside your definition of science, then so be it. I would also here contend that two hypotheses that are in direct conflict can coexist because each theory has created an unobtainable falsifiable hypothesis.

    Evolution is just such a theory. First it is a statical-based theory. Therefore, single event observations are not proof against the theory. I have been thinking about it and I think the only falsifiable hypothesis for evolution theory is the observation of an intelligent force. While in theory this does give evolution a falsifiable hypothesis, it is not reasonable.

    The existence of a falsifiable hypothesis does not make a theory useful. I have said herein that evolution is a theory that has had practical applications in the real world. It is the extension of this to explain the whole of the biological world that is problematic. Evolution presupposes there is such a thing as a random event. The existence of a random event has itself no falsifiable hypothesis I can find. I here contend that to assume the existence of a truly random event is no more logical or illogical than to assume the existence of an intelligent force.

    To accept Popper, science theory must have falsifiable hypotheses. Popper philosophy in effect says to be scientific, there must be a manner in which it can be demonstrated the theory is untrue. It is necessary that we must then TRY TO prove that hypothesis wrong. When it comes to evolution, the liberal orthodox is not trying to prove the theory wrong. I point to several comments on this blog that suggest the discussion be closed as my evidence.

    n00854180 said: “ It would appear Scott+ is merely a paid neo-con/religious schill, and following the same misguided logic as those writers of the articles mentioned above.”

    My choice of identity (Scott+) makes it clear who I am so I have real problems with the claim I am a shill. To be a shill, I would have to me masking something relevant.

    My only source of income comes from being an engineer. Therefore, the paid adjective is wrong. Such wrong disparagements weaken n00854180's position considerably. If someone was paying me to write here, what would be wrong with that? What is the moral difference between that and writing here to keep the flow of government money to certain pet projects?

    It is only natural that people want to protect their source of income. However, when people with a personal stake in protecting their source of income masks that fact it is dishonest. I discern just such masking. Does such masking make one a shill? SEA is looking like a political action group. One of whose goals is to keep the flow of government dollars into various area of research.

    The logic of the mentioned articles is for the most part good logic. It is not my intent with the context of a comment to dissect the logic of the articles. n00854180t's axiomatic assertion that his definition of science is good and the logic of people who accept that there are truths beyond science is false, goes to support the ideas of the Weekly Standard article. I bring up here again that this is the position of secular humanism which has no more claim to truth than Christianity.

    What I see as kook groups like moveon.org have their followers, supporters, and those who take the ideas on as a religion. In SEA I see two elements, liberal orthodoxy and secular humanism. These two elements are presented as axiomatically good, albeit in a cloaked manner. I see some who have commented on this blog who hold to liberal orthodoxy like a religion. Of course secular humanism is best viewed as a religion.

    The heretofore primary poster on this blog from evidence here and other places on the internet clearly is an anti-Christian secular humanist, who holds to a liberal orthodoxy. I truly cannot see how to base my thinking about SEA absence my understanding of the heretofore primary writer for its website.

    It is clear SEA is trying to close the debate on scientific policy. This is at least true when it comes to allowing for morals and ethics to have influence on science. I would be pleased to be wrong, but I think the assertion that SEA is a self-serving group, who want to keep government money flowing towards the field in which they are employed is correct.

    This writing is my true belief. The basics of truth is discernment. Inference and implication of others writing are valid for usage in this context. I write it here to challenge those who might be subject to what I see as the deception which is SEA as present on these web pages.

    God bless all here who are honestly seeking the truth.


  11. Garrett says:

    I'm not sure I understand your fascination with randomness as it concerns the process of evolution.

    The primary motivator of evolution is natural selection, which is anything but random. Very certain and real environmental pressures such as predators, geography, and climactic changes ensure that some creatures are better suited to survive than others. They are more likely to produce offspring, their most suited offspring are more likely to reproduce in turn, and so on. Over millions of years, then, creatures become better at surviving and reproducing in their specific environments.

    If the "randomness" of genetic mutation is what makes you uncomfortable about evolution, rest assured that it isn't necessarily random. Mutations are caused by radiation, viruses, and a host of other real and verifiable biological processes which are simply beyond our computational ability. With complete information (apologies to Heisenberg) and enough time, it could be possible to determine exactly which genes would be present in each reproductive cell in an animal's body.

    Evolution could be disproved by showing that the Earth is only a few thousand years old, or by somehow showing that modern animals existed at the same time as their supposed ancestors. Intelligent design could not be disproved by understanding "all that is happening," because the designer could have simply made it appear to have happened that way. In fact, if we are to accept the intelligent designer hypothesis, we can't trust any scientific results (perhaps the designer placed fossils as red herrings to trick us into believing in evolution).

    I agree that the group is secular, but don't believe it to be "anti-Christian." I am completely supportive of your rights to your own beliefs, but I think that government should have a scientific and secular voice to offset corporate and religious vested interests. Children should learn secular science in public schools, and government policies regarding technology should be made with sound scientific advice. That's the group's mission as I see it.

  12. Scott+ says:


    I understand your position, I may not fully agree but you stated your case well.

    You addressed my question on being random. I would disagree in part. Absent so intelligent force, what sperm meets with the egg is a random event. I would say after the fact we can analysis what happened in natural selection but I question if we can predict natural selection because of the randomness of breeding.

    Not withstanding the causes you mentioned, there is still a randomness to mutation. I can radiate a living cell, but I do not think I can predict its mutation.

    As to SEA being anti-Christian I point to the personal blog of the heretofore primary poster to this blog. I also point to several anti-Christian comments made herein. They have mostly been allowed to stand.

    I wish to make a closing though on evolution, intelligent design, and religion. Natural selection could clearly account for much of what we can observe in the biological past. It could have all happened by chance. The pocket watch which was found could have also happened by chance. However, we assume if we find a pocket watch hat exists because of human activity. To infer an intelligent force is the same as assuming the pocket watch is the result of human activity.

    I wish that the Biblical Literalists would stay on the sideline. Intelligent design is not a support for a literal understanding of the first book of Holy Scripture. First intelligent design best fits, albeit not the only way to fit, an evolution of life. It does not necessarily conflict with the ideas of natural selection. There is clear imperial evidence of natural selection at work, right up to the cross species events.

    I really wish that both sides would stop the equation of intelligent design with specific religions.

    God bless

  13. Peter says:

    To specifically address your comments claiming ID is not inherently theistic (specifically Christian):

    "Other statements of Johnson's [Phillip E. Johnson, the "father" of ID] acknowledge that the goal of the intelligent design movement is to promote a theistic and creationist agenda cast as a scientific concept.

    -"Our strategy has been to change the subject a bit so that we can get the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God, before the academic world and into the schools."

    -"This isn't really, and never has been a debate about science. Its about religion and philosophy."

    -"The objective (of the wedge strategy) is to convince people that Darwinism is inherently atheistic, thus shifting the debate from creationism vs. evolution to the existence of God vs. the non-existence of God. From there people are introduced to 'the truth' of the Bible and then 'the question of sin' and finally 'introduced to Jesus.'""
    (I hardly find Wikipedia the most credible source, but it works just fine for finding quotes)

    Also, the 'pocketwatch "analogy"', very flawed.

  14. Jesse C. says:

    Scott has already played this debate out in previous threads. His strategy here is twofold:

    First, he can flood threads with dissenting posts, making it appear as if there is real debate.

    Second, if anyone becomes angry, frustrated, or loses their cool, Scott wins because a single angry, irrational response casts the entire community in a negative light.

    Please don't mistake his intensions for anything other than deliberate sabotage of this thread. His purpose is simply to disrupt discussions and cause as much chaos as possible.

  15. Peter says:

    Yeah, I know. I ordinarily wouldn't have bothered but, well, I'm kind of bored.

  16. Scott+ says:

    This is after all a political website. SEA is a 527 organization. Trying to steer the discussion is a valid political tactic. I have used some hyperbole but I have posted what I believe, as a religious person and an engineer for thirty-one years.

    I really want good science to be part of public debate. Good science is part of public debate. It does not necessarily take over the debate. Religion, morals, ethics, and ideology also are players. Good science is different from the current trends in the closed academic community. Good science comes from the government, universities, and much comes from industry.

  17. Jesse C. says:


    I'm curious about where you find this "closed academic community." Many researchers get their funding from academic institutions, industry, and government sources. It is quite common for people to start their careers in industry, become professors, and then move into a government agency. There is no way to make a meaningful distinction between them. Interestingly, there is very little funding available from anyone except the government and industry.

    Perhaps you're confused by the media coverage of certain special advocacy groups. Many advocacy groups invoke the image and name of science, but have no actual scientific basis. This includes people like the Discovery Institute, which, while it purports to advocate “creation science,” does not produce any research or peer-reviewed articles. The American Petroleum Institute also spends large amounts of money on organizations that are strictly focused on advocacy. They likewise produce no new research, and publish no papers. Their purpose is to create doubt in the public mind about the state of current science. Given that the scientific community is generally accepting of the global warming phenomenon, the best way for the petroleum industry to influence public policy is to fund a dozen people to call newspapers and dispute every inconvenient story about global warming. These are not scientists, and should not be mistaken for anything other than paid political operatives.

  18. Scott+ says:

    Peter et al,

    In what way is the pocket watch analog very flawed? The pocket watch analog does not say it could not have been the result of random events. It only says another assumption is more reasonable. Without the a priori assumption that the natural world is all there is, how does one summary dismiss the pocket watch analog?

    As to your wedge strategy discussion, I reject both sides that use such tactics. You point out the tactic of some who are Biblical Literalists. I have already distanced myself from their position. On the other hand similar tactics are used by some secular humanist to attempt to use science overall and evolution in particular to “disprove” in some way religion. It is when the secular humanist agenda becomes intermixed with the teaching of science that I have a problem.

    Statements have been made in comments to this blog to the equate religion with ignorance. Few here have distanced themselves from those statements. You inferred/implied that intelligent design is really Christianity. I could, using the equation of religion and ignorance, with the same validity infer that SEA is secular humanist. The truth is that intelligent design is attractive to many Christians and SEA is attractive to many secular humanists. Stronger statements are not supportable.

  19. Scott+ says:


    I missed two points in the above. I really do think that life is an evolving process. I do not think the fossil record is an illusion. It only I question that it all happened by chance. I have great problems with people who claim the fossil record is an illusion.

    My fascination on random comes from being reminded by a television show within the last few years, about Albert Eienstein’s comments to the effect that he had problems thinking God plays roulette with the universe. This is why he spent much of his life trying to replace the theory of quantum mechanics. You are right it is a fascination, but fascination to me is a good quality in a scientist or engineer.

    It is time for me to let SEA go. I have said most everything, I would want to say already. I am sure I will be back. Likely I will look at things again the next time I wake up early can do not go back asleep. I might work some of what has been said here into a posting to my blog, but that blog being mostly religious, I not sure I have not posted enough on this topic there already.

    Until then, God bless

  20. Scott+ says:

    From Political Science A new political action committee enters the fray. by Wesley J. Smith

    WHEN CRITICS BEMOAN the politicization of science, they usually point a bitter finger at the Bush administration. Their condemnation should actually be aimed in the opposite direction. Increasingly, it is the scientists themselves--or better stated the leaders of the science sector--who are devolving science from the apolitical pursuit of knowledge into a distinctly ideological enterprise.

    I think that the point is right on. If they view SEA as the leaders of the science sector, then it is clearly so. Except for the apt called accomplices in the main stream press, the world will soon see SEA for what it is, namely a liberal political action group.

    I think the closure of debate discussion in the Weekly Standard article is the closure of debate on evolution, global warming, and the like. I think the characterization of what the debate is the above posting is wrong.

  21. charles hsu says:

    I reading all of the above, I am reminded of the school of ancient greek philosophers known as the Sophists. In simplistic terms, their goal was to show that by clever use of words, anyone could argue even the most inane position. This is the origin of the term "sophistry", which seems an appropriate description of the arguments of folks like Scott, who are desparate to invalidate what Sefora is all about.

    First, the "liberal" label: Science has had its share of tribulations dealing with the notional "left"--from animal rights terrorists to the constant avalanche of fake medical cures sold based on suspicion of the pharmaceutical industry. Unfortunately, the threat from those quarters has been dwarfed by the systematic undermining of science from the "right" in recent years. It is not idealogical to resist right-wing attacks on rationality, it is simply realistic--the left's kooks are impotent and irrelevant in today's world.

    Scott and others conflate defense of rationality with hatred of religion, based on extreme statements by a few fringe commentators. Yet as they themselves point out, scientists such as Einstein had faith of one kind or another. They admit that the fossil record is "not an illusion". Ok, so then what is the fight about?

    The unfortunate truth is that the attack from the "right" is not coming from people like Scott who believe we must fit the fossil record into our conception of the divine plan. It is coming from people who do, in fact, maintain that the world is 6000 years old and the fossil record is some kind of trick.

    Sorry, but we have to fight the battle that has been brought to us. As a fiscal conservative and a businessman, I do not consider this a partisan issue. We just have to be realistic. It is a tragedy that the Republican party has been taken over by zealots who would return us to a pre-enlightenment understanding of the world. If the Left ever take over power and want to make us all sleep under pyramids instead of seeing real doctors, we will fight them too.

  22. John Furie Zacharias says:

    Very well put. Political labels are becoming meaningless in opposition to a number of issues over the span of the Bush administration. When a government acts the way the current administration has acted on so many issues, it should expect opposition from rational people of all political stripes.

  23. Scott+ says:

    charles hsu says:. . . This is the origin of the term "sophistry", which seems an appropriate description of the arguments of folks like Scott, who are desparate to invalidate what Sefora is all about.

    Statements like this make self evident the secular humanist position which I see within SEA. A you progress though life, may God grant you wisdom.


  24. Rurouni says:

    In the end, being a relgious man has very little to do with, at least from what I understand, what SEforA is all about. The biggest issue at hand is the suppression of valid scientific research/reports due to political agendas. SEforA is trying to fight that.

    The Intelligent Design question is moot in my opinion. Evolution has been taught in our schools for quite a long time, yet like charles hsu said, there is a significant number of people who believe that the world is only 6000 years old. If the roles were to switch, and only Intelligent design was taught in schools, I highly doubt that evolution would vanish over night.

    Intelligent design aside, there are far more important things for SEforA to focus on, such as the radical climate change our world is undergoing and fighting suppression of said research. People will believe what they want to believe, but Global Warming constitutes a genuine threat (despite what many politicans today openly say about global warming)

  25. Tom Bradley says:

    As an ex-scientist/engineer who now makes most of his money from the stock market, I am 100% in favor of SEFORA’s position over that of the Wall Street Journal. The Journal is well known to be highly outspoken against anything they think may hurt next quarter’s corporate profits. Irrationally so, in my experience. While I am all for open discussion of what to do about scientific results, or even if the results are truly valid, I am highly opposed to suppression or distortion of those results by people who dislike what they are hearing.

    SEFORA’s apparent liberal bias comes, I think, from the simple fact that there are a number of significant scientific studies which give answers that the Republican Party does not like. I think it is the nature of politicians and politics rather than the Party itself that is the problem. For example, a quote from Winston Churchill:

    “…when I call for statistics about the rate of infant mortality, what I want is proof that fewer babies died when I was Prime Minister than when anyone else was Prime Minister.”

    If anything, I would like to see SEFORA’s policy expand to promote the use of the scientific method in all aspects of public policy, not just listening to scientists. Right now policies are set primarily by guesswork where there is typically little supporting evidence and any contradicting evidence is ignored or declare incorrect. I think this approach is every bit as bad in politics as it would be if used in science or engineering.

  26. Patrick says:

    The following was posted at SEA's blog post "Time to stop political influence on NOAA and NASA reports" to highlight the fact that scientific studies that do not toe the liberal line are routinely censored by the scientific community and the main stream media.
    "After leading scientists at Scientific American conducted a personal vendetta against Bjorn Lomborg, author of 'the skeptical environmentalist,' refused to allow him to defend himself in the magazine and refused to allow him to publish their attacks on his website, there is a great fear of 'real' scientists entering into the political arena. When renowned scientists, such as Richard Lindzen Alfred P Sloan Professor of Meteorology at MIT, points out that censorship is rampant in the scientific community of those whose scholarship questions the 'politically correct' position on hot button topics,ie, global warming, embryonic stem cell research, renewable resources, etc., it is clear that ideology and probably the search for government grants/funding are more
    important than the science. When scientists refrain from or refuse to rebuke the media for hyping only the worst case disaster scenarios extracted from computer generated studies programs based on theories and assumptions, their silence
    signifies assent to the use of scare tactics for political, ideological or financial gain. At one time scientific discourse was treated with great respect and public interest, e.g., Einstein and Bohr on quantum mechanics. Today, instead of open discussions, scientists turned politicians attempt to silence their dissenting brethren instead of engaging them on the field of scientific facts."
    When has the scientific work of Dr Robert Balling or Dr Paul Brekke, publications such as "Restructuring Climatic and Environmental Changes of the Past 1000 Years: A Reappraisal" by climate scientists at Harvard, the University of Delaware and elsewhere, the "The Real Environmental Crisis" by Jack Hollander, an emiterous professor of energy and resources at te hUniversity of California-Berkeley or the devasting critique of the original IPCC report by Frederick Seitz, President Emeritus of Rockefeller University and past President of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) been featured and praised.
    The President and administration are responsible for establishing policies based on a number of factors, economic, political, practical and all available scientific studies not just those that support an ideological view of some government scientists. The charge that the administration suppresses or distorts scientific results for political purposes easily and actually applies in a greater degree to those scientists bringing such charges since they choose to deliberately ignore or censor scientific results that do not meet their political agenda.

  27. Kyle Hovance says:

    I too am an ex-engineer/scientist turned businessman/salesman and completely stand by charles hsu's and Tom Bradley's positions. I think that, in essence, what neeeds to be done is to bring science to the masses. In addition to lobbying, creating awareness of the powerful benefits of science is absolutely necessary. Science sells itself... it is up to us to translate the benefts for everyone to understand.

    I do not intend to turn this into a science vs. religion arguement or attack religion in any way but religion is and has been successful mainly due to oration and propaganda. I am not ensuing that science should be compared to any religion or operate like one. However, by applying a progressive approach to fundamentally raising awareness, as religion does, science can be become very popular. I am simply saying that if and when science can be communicated with more simplicity and more focus on all of the benefits, then we would have a large advantage in trying to change scientific policy.

  28. Craig Hubley says:

    Toxicity of the debate could be reduced. There are legitimate reasons to oppose a few of SEFORA's goals, as some of them are very clumsily stated and have perhaps unintended implications. For one thing, the rights of scientists and engineers do not outweigh those of the victims of what they create, and some acknowledgement that living things are sometimes affected very negatively by "progress" would help.

    A statement that all scientists and engineers accept the need to limit at least some of their actions for ethical rather than technical reasons might help. It also might help to restate the demand that "appointments to federal scientific advisory committees shall be based on the candidate’s scientific qualifications, not political affiliation or ideology". One read of this is that a scientific advisor may not, by definition, have more than technical qualification, and must report only on technical feasibilities to the political level, and not on "ideological"/ethical problems arising from the technologies. By SEFORA's definition, they can't be very qualified at that, since they were selected for their technical skills only.

    Demanding that "science education program that includes instruction in concepts that are derived from ideology and not science" also goes too far. It is easy to interpret as calling for no instruction in ethics nor methods of decision-making that may vary from the scientific method as it is construed at teaching time. The use of "for America" in the group's name is perhaps unfortunate. Most American science insists on relying on individual consciences as its only line of defense against ethical breaches, as if somehow individuals were always the least corrupt entities involved in ethical decisions:

    SEFORA notes that individual "scientists may elect to withhold methods or studies that might be misused" but it offers no way of deciding this, and insists there shall be "no prohibition on publication of basic research results." So Americans might decide not to proceed on a dangerous course of research or development based on the basic research, but others could: Fermi, for instance, could publish on atomic piles in the 1930s. But it seems impossible that the US could not pursue applied research if the Germans were doing so based on the basic research - in fact, they were.

    The idea of collective dangers arising from science is very dangerously narrow in SEFORA's view: "Decisions made about blocking the release of information about specific applied research and technologies for reasons of national security shall be the result of a transparent process" but presumably other reasons like extreme hardships caused in other countries have no such guarantees.

    That said, they are correct to demand that "classification decisions shall be made by trained professionals using a clear set of published criteria and there shall be a clear process for challenging decisions and a process for remedying mistakes and abuses of the classification system." What makes them wrong is the belief that "classification as in Classified" is a greater threat than "classification as in categories". To declare that certain types of biological research are inherently weapon-enabling, or that certain types of computer science, psychology or AI ARE weapons (this has already happened) is
    possibly the only present way to hide research in these fields - while qualifying them for more funding, "for strategic and defensive reasons." In other words, to be sure that "we" acquire the weapons first. This all needs rewrites.

    SEFORA seemingly allows, however unintended, for no ethical oversight other than the judgement of scientists and engineers themselves. And only US ones at that. The group is "Scientists and Engineers For America" as opposed to "for humanity" or "for all life on Earth". Science, ultimately, requires treason of us all - betrayal of national and ethnic loyalties in favour of duties to the basic stuff of which we are made...
    whether we see that as ecological, spiritual, or simple mechanical continuations of certain amino acids.

    Religion may not be well-behaved in its ethical oversight imperial role, but it has that role nonetheless. Some of you might want to read "Galileo's Mistake", as you seem to be repeating it.

    All that said, here's where all reasonable people should agree: "Effective government depends on accurate, honest and timely advice from scientists and engineers. Science demands an open, transparent process of review and access to the best scholars from around the nation and the world. Mistakes dangerous to the nation’s welfare and security have been made when governments prevent scientists from presenting the best evidence and analysis." But worse ones have arguably been made. Some would say to let science decide whether to exchange advice sufficient to create, say, fission bombs, means inevitably a lot more North Koreas.

    Basically, science as it was construed in the 20th century didn't have the safeguards it needs in this millenium, and it certainly did not have the tools to educate the public and representatives of the public of what all the issues are. We can agree that diluting or inhibiting this education is a bad thing, but there will be no agreement hopefully that scientists and engineers get to make the sole determination of what to research and what the ethical limits are.

    Effectiveness is more than reaction. An effective government also depends on the anticipation of decisions, so they are not made in total ignorance of the consequences, and without meaningful public dialogue. Historically, only scientists and engineers have been in possession of the skills and knowledge and imagination required to make decisions about their work.

    There is, however, some sign that this is changing: a generation raised on science fiction, comfortable with speculative engineering and simulation, should be less unwilling to ask hard questions about danger arising from untested technologies and irresponsible experiment. It already embraces prediction markets (in the form at least of fantasy sports and HSX.com) and technology trees (part of every strategy game).

    That generation will be asking hard questions about the process of making major decisions.

    SEFORA should restate its goals, and maybe rename itself, to focus more on the use of scientific method to analyze major decisions, and the sanctity of that method for addressing scientific questions. NOT on new "rights" for those who are part of the professional community of scientists and engineers. In those terms, SEFORA can indeed be seen as just another special interest group.

    If that's not what it is, it had better correct its manifesto. Immediately.

    Craig Hubley

  29. Jesse C. says:

    The opening statement of the Bill of Rights for Scientists and Engineers reads, “Effective government depends on accurate, honest and timely advice from scientists and engineers.” In the context of this post, I feel it necessary to emphasize “advice.” It does not seem to me that the organization has a specific policy agenda. Rather, they seem to advocate rational analysis and evidence-based decision making.

    Stem cell research resides in an ethically grey area. It is up to responsible scientists to explain the issues involved. Where do the embryos come from? Can we generate new stem cell lines from the waste from fertility clinics? How great is the potential for medicine? These are the issues we need to spell out rationally and clearly. The ethics of the issue is entirely outside the purview of science, and it should remain there. It is up to society as a whole to draw the ethical boundaries. What is needed from scientists is advice, and what is needed from government is a recognition that scientists are the ones best qualified to advise on certain topics. That is, at least until our army of invulnerable learning machines can take over all labor functions and create a techno-utopia in or around 2065.

  30. Josh Poulson says:

    The organization doesn't have very many specifics in the mission or agenda, but the specifics that do jump out are slanted to one side of a debate among scientists (Kyoto, global warming, stem cell research).

    Also, when the agenda uses words like "inappropriate" a value judgment is being made (and it certainly is not a scientific evaluation). Where I saw the word used in the agenda provided no supporting detail to determine if a particular policy was inappropriate.

    That's why I am proposing these corollary SEFORA Bill of Responsibilities:

  31. Frank says:

    Jesse said: "The ethics of the issue is entirely outside the purview of science, and it should remain there. It is up to society as a whole to draw the ethical boundaries."

    The ethics must frame and define how the research is going to move forward as you describe. So, that makes the ethics issue very much a part of the purview of science. The mechanics of embryonic stem cell research may be science in its purist sense. How those mechanics are practiced in the real world is not purely scientific. So, scientists must take part in the ethical discussions in order to develop governing guidlines.
    The mechanics of splitting the atom was a purely scientific exercise. How those mechanics were applied in the world was and is a matter of ethics. A matter over which scientists have long expressed ethical considerations. Ethics is most definitely a part of scientific considerations.

  32. Patrick says:

    The statement by Anonymous" I do agree with you that the random events in evolution do pose a philosophical problem as how can something be both random and directed?" raises more than a philosophical problem since 'rare accidents' and 'lucky improvements' together with 'rendom events' and 'survival of the fittest' are the cornerstones of evolution theory. These contradicts the thinking of Richard P Feynman, Nobel Prize in Physics, writing in his book "Six Easy Pieces" and actually should raise the question for debate as to whether or not evolution is a science in itself or simply observations of the working of an ordered universe.

    Using Richard P. Feynman's "Six Easy Pieces" as a reference the Introduction reads in part -- "Physics is linked to other sciences while leaving no doubt about which is the fundamental discipline......Right at the beginning of "Six Easy Pieces" we learn how all physics is rooted in the notion of law -- the existence of an ordered universe that can be understood by the application of rational reasoning.  However the laws of physics are not transparent to us in our direct observation of nature....." 

    In the opening chapter Feynman writes "Everything is made of atoms.  That is the key hypothesis.  The most important hypothesis in all of biology, for example, is that everything that animals do, atoms do.  In other words, there is nothing that living things do that cannot be understood from the point of view that they are made of atoms acting according to the laws of physics."    (Emphasis - Feynman).  

    Feynman devotes the entire Chapter 3 to "The Relation of Physics to Other Sciences."   More time is spent on the physics / biology relationship than any other science concluding in the last paragraph "Certainly no subject or field is making more progress on so many fronts as biology at the present moment, and if we were to name the most powerful assumption of all, which leads one on and on in an attempt to understand life, it is that all things are made of atoms,  and everything that living things do can be understood in terms of the jiggling and wriggling of atoms.  (Emphasis - Feynman). 

    Feynman does not undercut evolution as a hypothesis.   But he makes it clear that the existence of science of biology, as do all other sciences-stand on the laws of physics -- the constants of the universe

  33. Patrick says:

    Please ignore the above post as it was not intended for this blog. Sorry

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