Hopefully, this post won’t degenerate into a flame war (ZOMG! TEH RELGIONISMZ!!!), but I’ve finished reading Unscientific America. Unfortunately, right off the bat (page three), the ‘Pluto argument’ bothered me (on the other hand, the book could only improve). From my perspective (and what do I know, I’m just a scientist), it seems that if astronomers think Pluto isn’t a planet (and there seems to be some honest scientific debate about whether it is or not), then it’s not a planet. It doesn’t matter if it upsets other non-scientists: a planet means something to scientists and, apparently, Pluto isn’t a planet.
Personally, I don’t care if Pluto is a planet.
I’m quite certain Pluto doesn’t care if it’s called a planet.
…If biologists had knuckled under like this about the word theory, instead of fighting to reclaim the scientific meaning of the word, we would have had a much harder time opposing creationists. Maybe, in the short term, it would have been easier to abandon the scientific meaning and stick with the colloquial one. But, in the long term, by hammering over and over the concept that the word theory means something to scientists, we were much better off, since it emphasizes that the theories of common descent and natural selection are integral to biology–that’s why they’re called theories.
If Mooney and Kirshenbaum were trying to make a general suggestion, it falls flat with me: the science is what it is. If this is supposed to be an example of ‘nerdy, asocial, robot scientists fuck up PR’, then I think it borders on the disingenuous: PR should never come before the science.
Having said that, Unscientific America has some very good ideas, some incomplete ones that needed a lot more refinement, and some bad ones. I’ll be discussing them more next week.