Scientists' unethical use of media for propaganda purposes

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From Nobel physicist Brian Josephson:

Scientists' unethical use of media for propaganda purposes

Quote:This web page is intended to draw the attention of scientists, the media, and the public to a problem that, while being very familiar to some, is probably unknown to the majority of visitors to this web page. Propagandising of the kind described in the following bypasses the normal carefully considered processes of science, and may well create a distorted impression in the mind of the unsuspecting reader or viewer.

Quote:Should one be suspicious of CSICOP's procedures? Let the reader decide.

The initial decision to consider a score of 4 hits out of 7 as 'failure' when the probability of getting such a score is less than two per cent is hardly in step with normal scientific practice. Having adopted it, and used it to declare Natasha a failure ("she had the claim, we tested it, she didn't pass the test"), the investigators moved on to what seems to have been an automatic presumption of deception or self-deception ("people believe that she can do it ... how come smart people can get to believe things that aren't so?").

Manipulation of concepts such as 'failure', and the abuse of statistics, are commonplace in the world of propaganda. Is that what is happening here, or honest science?

The CSICOP organisation is not infrequently taken to have an authority that it does not deserve. Such organisations are in reality pressure groups, taking every chance they can get to press their beliefs in the media, often in ways that have been characterised as misleading. Representatives of the media need to be on their guard against this kind of thing. Some recommendations directed toward this end follow:

Keep your critical faculties active, and bear in mind the possibility that what seems, on the face of it, to be a dispassionate scientific investigation may in reality have an underlying unstated agenda. In the above case for example, the choice of cut-off point, and the way the 'failure' was handled, rather strongly suggests some such deliberate intent, but in other cases it may be harder to judge.

As a corollary, taking into account such uncertainty, it is well, in writing reports, to avoid phrases such as 'scientists have shown': instead, you can talk in terms of 'claims', which word carries less of a connotation of scientists' pronouncements being absolute truth.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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