Scientists vs Simon Jenkins

Simon Jenkins writes a typically icon-busting column, pegged to the end of the Reith Lectures by Lord Rees, deriding the claims that science should be protected from the public expenditure cuts just started. Science, he said, is being made into a religion.

The column was classic Jenkins: a provocative point (a variant on his long campaign for sceptical thinking about professional lobbies) expressed in sweeping generalisations and eloquent hyperbole. But it was followed by an untraditional reaction: scientists reacting, with a sense of humour.

Scientists, scientifically measured, are no doubt as funny and unfunny as the rest of the population. But spoofs are not usually their weapon of choice in argument in the media. But this time they were, and the jokes are still accumulating at #spoofjenks. Something has changed when scientists get right out there into the public space, immediately and start being funny about their detractors.

What’s  changed is that science is more present in public debate. Does this also mean that lots of people talk and report nonsense as if it was sense? It certainly does. Jenkins takes a quite justified swipe in his column at reverential, uncritical commentary on science which takes the opposite approach from the one scientists themselves are taught: sceptical inquiry.

So it’s worth just reminding ourselves that the last serious attempt to look at the state of science journalism found, I think slightly to the surprise of the eminent person assembled to weigh the issue, that recently it had…improved overall. Not everything deteriorates.


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