|Credit: Lady Grey|
We, the practitioners of "cigarette-science", know right from the start that cigarettes can't cause cancer, and we carefully design our reports and our scientific experiments to prove this. And we are very good at showing that the so-called "science" of the non-tobacconists is faulty because one of their researchers twenty years ago said "we aren't totally sure that cigarettes are the sole cause of cancer". And there was a spelling error on one of the graphs they published fifteen years ago.
Best of all, we can prove we are right because we are great debaters, especially when we face off against a non-tobacconist in a room full of smokers. Those non-tobacconists keep trying to produce "facts" and "evidence", but we know how to "play the room", er, excuse me, "speak to the true believers". Our smoking friends want to believe that smoking cigarettes won't kill them. They need to hear that smoking cigarettes won't kill them. So we can never lose.
People hate ambiguity. They like firm statements like "cigarettes don't cause cancer" and hate the uncertainty inherent in a statement like "the available evidence strongly suggests a link between smoking and cancer".
Your blog author steps back and takes a deep breath (of fresh clean air):
Yes, of course I am talking about "creation-science" and the essentially useless "debate" that took place last night between creationist Ken Ham, and Bill Nye, the "Science Guy". I didn't watch it, not because I have a closed mind about such things, but because I have been studying and following the tactics of the creation-science community for the last twenty-five years, and I have seen in person the tactics used by them in debates (oh, and I was teaching a class last night. On science). I'm hearing that Bill did okay from those who have a scientific background, but I have no doubt that Ken Ham is celebrating his "victory", just as he has done with every other "debate" he has ever had. The problem with the whole concept is that debates aren't science. They are carnival side-shows. The debates are often held in churches and in front of audiences of religious believers who aren't about to listen to facts or evidence. They are there to see their champion slay the dragon of secular science.
Science is the pursuit of knowledge about the physical Universe, and the methodology of science is to achieve that knowledge in the most objective way possible. Ideally, people solve a problem or a mystery by gathering all the relevant evidence, analyze the evidence, and proposing as many hypotheses (plausible explanations) as they can to explain the mystery. They then set up experiments to test each hypothesis and hopefully eliminate those that cannot work as an explanation. When a specific hypothesis withstands all experimental challenges while all other hypotheses have been eliminated, it may be elevated to the level of being a scientific fact or theory. Atomic theory, plate tectonics theory, and evolutionary theory have reached this level of confirmation, along with many others.
Young Earth creationism starts with the conclusion ("the Earth was created 6,000 years ago") and uses the words of science to try and prove this conclusion. To put it succinctly, no. Science does not and cannot work this way. One cannot identify the person you want to convict of a crime and then garner only the evidence that he is the perpetrator. One cannot decide that vaccines cause autism, and then only collect anecdotal evidence to prove one's case. One cannot decide that the profits of the tobacco industry are more important than the health of smokers and set out to "scientifically" prove the lack of a link between cigarettes and cancer. And companies cannot decide that the profits of the fossil fuels industry are more important than the health of the planet and thus sow "scientific" doubt about global warming and climate change.
Or can they?