Sunday, May 06, 2018

College Shuts Down Professor over Speech on Science, Free Expression

Adam Perkins, King’s College London lecturer in Neurobiology of Personality, was scheduled to deliver a talk at his institution. But King’s College cancelled the event because they considered it too “high risk.” What was he going to say that was so “risky” that he needed to be shut down?

A version of the speech appears as a new article on Quillette. His theme? “The Scientific Importance of Free Speech.” Whoa, now that’s radioactive.

He starts off with a bang. “We need free speech in science because science is not really about microscopes, or pipettes, or test tubes or even Large Hadron Colliders. These are merely tools that help us to accomplish a far greater mission, which is to choose between rival narratives, in the vicious, no-holds-barred battle of ideas that we call ‘science’.”

Perkins makes an interesting reference to Darwinian evolution. Although one cannot deduce whether or not he’s a critic, and it would be safe to assume not, it is nonetheless interesting that he chose to include natural selection as a subject where scientific “argument” and “debate” are “allowed.”

    "But scientific domains in which a single experiment can provide a definitive answer are rare. For example, Charles Darwin’s principle of evolution by natural selection concerns slow, large-scale processes that are unsuited to testing in a laboratory. In these cases, we take a bird’s eye view of the facts of the matter and attempt to form an opinion about what they mean.

    This allows a lot of room for argument, but as long as both sides are able to speak up, we can at least have a debate: when a researcher disagrees with the findings of an opponent’s study, they traditionally write an open letter to the journal editor critiquing the paper in question and setting out their counter evidence."

Perkins also writes:

    "When one side of a scientific debate is allowed to silence the other side, this is an impediment to scientific progress because it prevents bad theories being replaced by better theories. Or, even worse, it causes civilization to go backward, such as when a good theory is replaced by a bad theory that it previously displaced."

He goes on to discuss socialist rejection of Mendelian genetics, Lysenko’s advocacy of the idea that acquired characteristics can be heritable, as well as the 1986 catastrophe of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Perkins’s conclusion seems to be that society must allow scientific debate on evidence because if it does not, we create an unhealthy scientific environment that will cause harmful real-world impacts.



Anonymous said...

This sounds like an objective look at Scientific Method. Perhaps they are afraid that He would drop the other shoe and attack the settled science of Global Warming.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:05 - The risk of free speech to any "settled science" is great but the greatest risk right now is the multitude of papers that appear to be unreproducible. It seems every area of science lately has a multitude of papers published where others are unable to reproduce their results.

Reproducible results are the gold standard for science so to risk exposure of results that cannot be reproduced means the whole system they call science today is at risk.

So much of what's been published is failing the standard it's becoming clear that the system scientists have been using to disseminate scientific results itself is broken and nothing in the world resists change more fiercely than long established institutions. (Which in this case, anyone examining history would quickly realized has been fatally flawed for a very long time).

Anonymous said...

Questionable published results are probably due to the artificial pressure on academics to do "research" and publish their results.

Bird of Paradise said...

Looks like the UK has its own U.C. Berkley bottomless trash Pit