Sound Science

sound science

The NYTimes carried a story today about new threats to the ozone layers. The last time this process was noticed, the threat was due to an "exotic" chemical class, chloroflourocarbons (CFCs). The new info points to plain old water as the chemical that may be thinning the protective ozone layer above North America. The severity of recent weather events has been carrying water into the stratosphere-- to higher altitudes than usual--where the water molecules can interact with the ozone-producing mechanisms.

But this is not what I saw as unusual. The following quote was buried in the text.

The findings were based on sound science, he and other experts said, but direct measurements of the impact of water vapor on ozone chemistry are lacking, and much more research is needed.

It is an affront to scientists and science to attach the word "sound" as an adjective. Science is not science unless it is done properly, that is, soundly. Science has a set of rigorous standards that must be met in order to qualify the results of research as scientific findings. In recent years, interest groups who would lose something as a result of new (or even old) scientific findings have adopted a strategy to discredit science itself because they cannot legitimately discredit the findings, per se. Why the Times would include this adjective in a straight report of work done by a group of bona fide scientists I can't fathom.? It has no place there. It would be proper to label such findings as preliminary or tentative if that were the case.

In the article, the scientists were conjecturing on the possibility of the effects, not verifying them. They call for more studies to determine if the ozone thinning is actually happening. This is the way scientists work. It is neither sound or unsound; it is simply science. Almost all parties that have tried to avoid action by casting aspersions at science know full well what they are doing. The climate change deniers are led by people and corporations that are well educated in science and often operate in highly technical, scientifically based firms. Many firms have used this euphemism to delay regulations. In this case the findings in questions are not "science," rather they are applications of science in efforts to calculate risks, for example. The science is not at question, the assumptions being used by the analysts (outside of the science) are being criticized. A perfectly legitimate concern.

But it is not the science that is unsound. Science is built on a self-correcting process. The results are never absolute. They are the "truth" agreed upon by the community of scientists only after a rigorous peer review process. They stand until they are superseded by other findings, should they promise a better understanding of the worlds being studied. This contingent nature of scientific results is standard, but is not at all the same as unsound work. The peer review process does work and works well to root out poor work that has not followed the rules. Please, NYTimes be more careful in the language you use. It may be all right to refer to criminals caught red-handed as "alleged" to avoid litigation if you are wrong. But is is neither right nor helpful nor worthy of the journalistic standards your paper claims to have to blacken science as you did.

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1 Comments

missright said:

I can't but agree that no man is an island. You can make yourself an "island" but it will be completely your own choice. In fact it's difficult to live in society and be isolated from it.