Science by Press Release

Science by Press Release is a term that was coined very recently to describe the type of “fund-baiting” that many organizations have engaged in. In a bygone era, science was completed and published in a peer-reviewed journal, the math and evidence was done and combed for error by minds in the same field, the experiments run and rerun, the data poured over like a beach rumored to contain a treasure chest full of treasure. Lately, science funding has become admittedly more difficult to come by (as far as institutions have reported; I’m no scientist). Due to this, rather than engaging in the admittedly bureaucratic process of peer review, an experiment is completed then the institution performs a press-release claiming that they have revolutionized physics, cosmology, xenobiology, etc. Hey, spell check, get off my back! Xenobiology is totally a word. Jerk.

Anyway, in March some new evidence that could be possibly related to inflation theory (faster than light expansion of the universe in the wake of the big bang) was “published via press release”, and predictably came under attack by scientists claiming that the release was certainly premature (even the non-scientists among my news-reading friends recall the whole CERN/faster than light debacle), and quickly from every corner of the globe came alternate translations of the data, alternate possibilities, alternate theories. This is normal, and healthy; science by press release should not be a thing (though I believe all peer reviewed studies should be publicly made available; even if I don’t understand the mathematical underpinnings, it would allow a wider audience to critique the findings). That being said, some who stand in opposition of the study for reasons that are clearly out to lunch; I am about to make a complete hypocrite of myself by saying so, but standing against it for the wrong reasons in this case is just… Worrisome.

I recently came across another YEC science site that piqued my interest, and before long I had 20 open tabs and more reading to do than I could possibly finish in the next couple of days. I love burying myself in information; it is validation that I still have so much to learn, so much more to know. Then I came across Dr John Hartnett, and was violently reminded that being an incredibly learned person who is clearly highly intelligent does not mean the person is, in any way, above gross intellectual dishonesty. This is a hefty claim for a layperson like me to level, and I don’t level it lightly; a person who simply does not believe in science is not intellectually dishonest, just ignorant of data (which is, to me, a far more easily forgiven sin). John Hartnett (Must. Not. Call. Him. Josh………) shows a strong capacity to understand the science in question, but is either happy to ignore it, or thinks his readers too low on the intellectual totem pole to actually require substantive claims.

To wit: this article speaks about the aforementioned press release claiming evidence for inflation theory. In it, he claims (rightly, so far) that the science was released prematurely and bears close scrutiny. He then goes on, however, to claim that each scientist who claims it is possibly bad science is ABSOLUTELY RIGHT, because (obviously) God created the world 6000 years ago. I agree, Dr Hartnett, that this science bears close scrutiny and that every claim against it should be sufficiently addressed, but I do not believe that every claim against it should be held up as a clear reason that the Big Bang theory is wrong. I was actually going to withhold this post, not post it at all, as I do not like to criticize people–only beliefs that I believe to be untenable–then I got to the list of references on the article, and saw that Dr Hartnett cited his own work as evidence for his current article, as though his personal beliefs are substantive to disprove this science. Again, as someone who loves science a great deal, citing your own personal grievances as evidence hardly seems intellectually honest.

The other portion of this article that irks me is his flatly delivered statement that Cosmology, no matter how much evidence is supported, would never have the power to overturn his beliefs in the literal 6 day creation model, as it is “a weak science.” This is a fallacious argument at the best of times; cosmology can never be perfect (unless we manage to witness the creation of a new universe), but it can give us incredible amounts of data. In fact, if it is such a weak (and philosophically worthless) science, why do you care to study and attempt to disprove it?

The scope of this blog post is much smaller than my usual attempts at criticism, but that is only superficial. While I have chosen a single example, it is more a critique of Creation criticism of science. Cherry picking one piece of data that is incomplete then making the claim that this invalidates not just a whole theory but in this case an entire field, shows that he is perfectly willing to engage in the logical fallacies that he (in this same article) accuses the Cosmology science team of committing. In this case, as far as traditionally defined logical fallacies, he has engaged in the Fallacy Fallacy (yes, that is its actual name, and refers to a claim in which a fallacy has occurred being called false only because there was a fallacy), as well as the composition/division fallacy (the idea that a fact about one part of a claim must be applied to all other parts [ie, in this case: this is a bad claim, therefore cosmology is bad and the Big Bang is false]). To a lesser extent, there is also the Texas Sharpshooter fallacy at play (cherry picking data), as well as anecdotal and appeal to authority (I am a scientist, therefore everything I say is valid).

Some of what you say is valid, Dr Hartnett, but I am making a plea to your own better nature and intellectual honesty; please stop leading people away from science by citing bad or nonexistent science. I do not want to dislike you, but you do wield far more power of persuasion than I do, and I am afraid the way you use it causes me a large amount of discomfort.

This is a very negative post, and I hate that, so I will try to think of something more positive to write before end of day so this one can go to its grave never having known popularity (though my body is braced for this to become, accidentally, my most popular post somehow because karma is a jerk…).