PF should be a champion of responsible use of Science

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In summary, PF does not advocate for responsible use of science, and does not have a specific stance on the topic.
  • #1
sophiecentaur
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russ_watters said:
What problems?
Are you really not aware of the almost global water supply / quality problems? PF should surely be more than just a nuts and bolts discussion? There's hardly a single aspect of all our lives that operates in a vacuum and the OP was definitely about the economics of living.

I just read through the forum guidelines and I can't find any statement making it clear that PF should be a champion of responsible use of Science. I may have missed it but I think this is just as important a matter as many of the others mentioned in the guidelines. I have to say that reactions to some of my comments in the past have been a bit low on humanity and restricted to cold hard facts. What do other mods think about this, I wonder.
 
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  • #2
[note: this was moved from a thread about wasting water]

This is a really complicated question, with more than one layer.

For the first layer, I think that "science" itself is amoral. It seeks understanding of the way the universe works, period. There's a blockbuster movie on this issue running right now.

For the second layer, I'll ask scientists/other mods what they want (per your request), but my perception is that most study what they are interested in and passionate about. For some this may carry specific societal good motivation(climate change is bad!), but not for all (lasers are cool!).

And as for PF; we are primarily about teaching science. Advocacy isn't in the guidelines/mission statement. For my part, probably the post I am most proud of was the OP of my long-stickied thread on "You! Solve the US [Global] Energy Crisis!". But science policy is not science and policy is fraught with political....stuff. I'd much rather stay agnostic than open that can of worms.
 
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  • #3
I am not sure that my responsible use of science is your responsible use of science.
 
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  • #4
My "responsible use of science" may or may not include researching/developing/disseminating methods of human sterilization with or without consent. Get the global population down to less than 100million and most of the world's problems disappear. Is that what you mean ?

Per the thread in question : I have quite a bit to say about water supply and wastewater treatment, almost none of which is relevant to the OP, without knowing more of the context.
 
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  • #5
russ_watters said:
There's a blockbuster movie on this issue running right now
I see what you did there...
 
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  • #6
Frabjous said:
I am not sure that my responsible use of science is your responsible use of science.
I meant to include this as an additional layer, so thanks for that.
 
  • #7
gmax137 said:
I see what you did there...
I think you're confusing this with the CoMpOsITeS aRe BaD! thread. :biggrin:
 
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  • #8
sophiecentaur said:
I just read through the forum guidelines and I can't find any statement making it clear that PF should be a champion of responsible use of Science.
Just my 2 cents on this, but that's not why I've come to PF for so many years. That is a good endeavor, but that's not PF's mission and not why I come here. I'm fine going to some other advocacy site for that, but it's orthogonal to PF's mission IMO.
 
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  • #9
Although I don't really know the PF rules in detail, its my inpression that there is something analogous to a don't do bad doctor in that you don't tell people how to make bombs, poisons and other mayhem creating activities.
In a sense, this may provide some of the desired morel direction on non-controversial issues.
Proscribing what is good and how it balances other issues would be more complex.

I also think it could be socially inelegant to "morally" advise an OP about their situation without really understanding it first.
 
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  • #10
Limiting most conversations to established science - while occasionally incredibly annoying - does deny the propogation of freeflowing b*llshit that wastes people's time and resources.
 
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  • #11
hmmm27 said:
Limiting most conversations to established science - while occasionally incredibly annoying - does deny the propogation of freeflowing b*llshit that wastes people's time and resources.
I agree. While I have my issues with moderation here, the question of what exactly we should be advocating for can turn into flame wars amazingly fast. (I've decided not to post an amazingly simple science question that would be an example of what we can't talk about here.)
 
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  • #12
sophiecentaur said:
I just read through the forum guidelines and I can't find any statement making it clear that PF should be a champion of responsible use of Science.
I don't think it would be possible without turning the forum into some kind of advocating site: the kind we already have around the internet just a bit more than useful. It is annoying enough to correct their BS so often, no need to pick our stand amongst them.

The way it is actually done right now (usually by highlighting the context and implications just enough to stay close to topic) is sufficient.
 
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  • #13
Thanks for opening this thread.
russ_watters said:
For the first layer, I think that "science" itself is amoral.
Yes, and so are the Three R's. But isn't there more to it than that? We make choices in life which are based on more than calculations and Science facts. PF would not tolerate discussions about criminal uses of Science for designing weapons of mass destruction. The Science behind them is amoral but should the users be? PF has provided a brilliant platform and is responsible for making suitable rules. By and large, it makes a good job of it.

But Science -no: Scientists are all a part of society and it's so easy to forget that as we get deeper and deeper into a 'passion' at the expense of our responsibilities. The occasional back-to-basics moral question would be beneficial to a thread.
Frabjous said:
I am not sure that my responsible use of science is your responsible use of science.
I could ask you what you mean by 'responsible'. There are always clashes of interest and scientific development can produce winners and losers. Should our discussions always consider just 'our' winners because considering the effect on the losers could make us feel awkward? That's conscience.

russ_watters said:
There's a blockbuster movie on this issue running right now.
Oppenheimer had enormous regrets about his 'success' and the dropping of the bombs is still discussed.
BillTre said:
Proscribing what is good and how it balances other issues would be more complex.

I also think it could be socially inelegant to "morally" advise an OP about their situation without really understanding it first.
I agree; it may not be easy as it would involve wider thinking than a linear thread. But how many PF threads are actually linear, in any case? People are always invoking Nyquist, Pauli etc. I'm not proscribing stuff but it seems that introducing softer issues is often proscribed here
berkeman said:
I'm fine going to some other advocacy site for that,

to get a conversation back on the rails. Why not a question about the social and cost issues? We get some incredibly naive and linear arguments which totally ignore the moral aspects of a thesis.
berkeman said:
I'm fine going to some other advocacy site for that,
I'm not sure that would achieve the desired result in a PF thread. How would we support being a nice guy on one forum and a thoughtless one on another? Imo, we need contributors to consider the wider aspects of their views and opinions. Most of us do it in our generals lives in any case.

It's a bit left brain - right brain and there are several very left brain PF members who are reluctant to consider right brain concepts. There's always room for both sides when dealing with other people.
 
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  • #14
sophiecentaur said:
Thanks for opening this thread.

Yes, and so are the Three R's. But isn't there more to it than that? We make choices in life which are based on more than calculations and Science facts. PF would not tolerate discussions about criminal uses of Science for designing weapons of mass destruction. The Science behind them is amoral but should the users be? PF has provided a brilliant platform and is responsible for making suitable rules. By and large, it makes a good job of it.

But Science -no: Scientists are all a part of society and it's so easy to forget that as we get deeper and deeper into a 'passion' at the expense of our responsibilities. The occasional back-to-basics moral question would be beneficial to a thread.

I could ask you what you mean by 'responsible'. There are always clashes of interest and scientific development can produce winners and losers. Should our discussions always consider just 'our' winners because considering the effect on the losers could make us feel awkward? That's conscience.Oppenheimer had enormous regrets about his 'success' and the dropping of the bombs is still discussed.

I agree; it may not be easy as it would involve wider thinking than a linear thread. But how many PF threads are actually linear, in any case? People are always invoking Nyquist, Pauli etc. I'm not proscribing stuff but it seems that introducing softer issues is often proscribed hereto get a conversation back on the rails. Why not a question about the social and cost issues? We get some incredibly naive and linear arguments which totally ignore the moral aspects of a thesis.

I'm not sure that would achieve the desired result in a PF thread. How would we support being a nice guy on one forum and a thoughtless one on another? Imo, we need contributors to consider the wider aspects of their views and opinions. Most of us do it in our generals lives in any case.

It's a bit left brain - right brain and there are several very left brain PF members who are reluctant to consider right brain concepts. There's always room for both sides when dealing with other people.
I have upvoted because discussing the consequences of our work, technologies etc is important.
However, if we started to talk about whether we should, then that will lead to, ethics, money, politics and philosophy.
It's inevitable.
Although honourable it would take some threads down a different road.
Black and white cold facts are refreshing.
 
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  • #15
sophiecentaur said:
consider right brain concepts
I'm not clear on what is a right brain concept. Can you give me some examples?
 
  • #17
pinball1970 said:
Left is cold hard facts and logic according to the link
To be honest, I think that's if left alone is more of a vulnerability than anything else :frown:
... and even with that I still think here we should not dive too deep into the other side. Clues and contexts are fine, but anything beyond that is too easy to be turned into a dogma (after some consideration I've decided to mention green movements here).

Science can be taught - and I believe thinking can be taught too, partially by letting the others do the thing.
 
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  • #18
Also need to champion responsible use of pseudoscience -people should know it’s never OK to use, say, crystals or astrology for evil purposes
 
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  • #19
It seems to me this concept will inevitably flirt with philosophy and politics - discussions where there is no objectively right or wrong answer. PF has fought long and hard to banish such discussions.
 
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  • #20
pinball1970 said:
Black and white cold facts are refreshing. No BS.
Refreshing in the way a Sudoku is. Fun without any social context but satisfying when you solve it. I think the term BS introduces a false dichotomy but I get your point.

I may have spotted something oxymoronic here. People appear to be saying that saying something should not be allowed should not be allowed.

A bit of right brain thinking would probably sort out this oxymoron. A thinks something is questionable, due to some right brain activity but B is absolutely certain it's fine because he's using the left brain. However, if B also used some right brain thinking, he (this is a singular and almost certainly male) then he might see the reason behind A's doubt and acknowledge that, in fact there are some other issues to be considered. this would lead to a more amicable argument.

I used the phrase "feeling threatened", higher up and left brain thinking can easily have that effect.

The word "Champion is perhaps too strong in the thread title. If PF were just to encourage sensitivity in scientific matters where appropriate then that could set the tone. It needn't involve sanctions - just encouragement of a culture. Let's face it, it is the mature approach and no one needs to be upset.
 
  • #21
sophiecentaur said:
Refreshing in the way a Sudoku is. Fun without any social context but satisfying when you solve it. I think the term BS introduces a false dichotomy but I get your point.

I may have spotted something oxymoronic here. People appear to be saying that saying something should not be allowed should not be allowed.

A bit of right brain thinking would probably sort out this oxymoron. A thinks something is questionable, due to some right brain activity but B is absolutely certain it's fine because he's using the left brain. However, if B also used some right brain thinking, he (this is a singular and almost certainly male) then he might see the reason behind A's doubt and acknowledge that, in fact there are some other issues to be considered. this would lead to a more amicable argument.

I used the phrase "feeling threatened", higher up and left brain thinking can easily have that effect.

The word "Champion is perhaps too strong in the thread title. If PF were just to encourage sensitivity in scientific matters where appropriate then that could set the tone. It needn't involve sanctions - just encouragement of a culture. Let's face it, it is the mature approach and no one needs to be upset.
BS was the wrong phrase. Objectively factual is a better discription.

I think the only time since my joining pf a discussion like that took place was when Feb 2022 Ukraine.
I found the thread helpful in a human way.
A huge exception though and it was closed in the end.
For the best looking back but I am glad it was started.
 
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  • #22
pinball1970 said:
BS was the wrong phrase. Objectively factual is a better discription.

I think the only time since my joining pf a discussion like that took place was when Feb 2022 Ukraine.
I found the thread helpful in a human way.
A huge exception though and it was closed in the end.
For the best looking back but I am glad it was started.
I would use that thread as a counter example. It frequently went bad and required high levels of mentor intervention. I am not saying that there wasn’t some good stuff posted to it.
 
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  • #23
DaveC426913 said:
It seems to me this concept will inevitably flirt with philosophy and politics - discussions where there is no objectively right or wrong answer. PF has fought long and hard to banish such discussions.
Yes.

I got the bright idea of checking out the Union of Concerned Scientists website in case they had a discussion forum that I could mention as a possible alternative to allowing such discussions at PF. Yoiks...

Right away there were red flags of political leanings in the articles there, and lots of "Donate" buttons to click. I'm sure there is a lot of good information there, but there is so much baggage that I don't think I could spend much time at that website:

[Link redacted by the Mentors. Well, by me...]
 
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  • #24
sophiecentaur said:
If PF were just to encourage sensitivity in scientific matters where appropriate then that could set the tone. It needn't involve sanctions - just encouragement of a culture. Let's face it, it is the mature approach and no one needs to be upset.
There are two things that always bug me when science is presented to me as the ultimate decision-maker:
  1. Money. Science is often too close to business. Some people can make or lose a lot of money depending on what the "science" says. It's one thing to scientifically identify a virus, it's another to say the solution is wearing masks or getting vaccinated. It's one thing to scientifically show the climate is changing, it is another to say the solution is wind turbines or nuclear power. There is a lot of money involved in choosing collective solutions. When someone tells me a collective solution is the only solution, it always raises some red flags on my part.
  2. Responsability. It seems that nowadays, we like to find someone to blame when things go wrong. We put a lot of [blind] faith into scientists. This means that if they are wrong, some heads might roll ... almost literally. This kind of possible outcome has to influence scientists who will tend to be on the more cautious side. "Better be safe than sorry" is nice for the decision-makers when they think of themselves but can become very costly money-wise - and also emotionally-wise - for the population always prepared for the worst in every possible situation. When someone tells me "Do as I say or everyone will die", it also raises some red flags on my part.
In other words:
Frabjous said:
I am not sure that my responsible use of science is your responsible use of science.
 
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  • #25
berkeman said:
the Union of Concerned Scientists website in case they had a discussion forum that I could mention as a possible alternative to allowing such discussions at PF. Yoiks...

Right away there were red flags of political leanings
And by red, you do mean red!
 
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  • #26
Vanadium 50 said:
And by red, you do mean red!
Actually, for a couple of the front page articles, I saw a different color (hint: not green).
 
  • #27
jack action said:
There are two things that always bug me when science is presented to me as the ultimate decision-maker:
Not to mention the fact that it is almost invariably the journalists and media that put the 'How does this affect me' spin on any published science.
 
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  • #28
I meant red in the old sense. As in "pinko."

There is a school of political thought that important decisions be made by "impartial experts". You know, us. I mean democracy is all well and good for deciding who is the dogcatcher or who runs the DMV, but important decisions should be left to...well, left to us.

A literary example is the Science Council of Krypton. It did not work out so well for them.
 
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  • #29
Vanadium 50 said:
There is a school of political thought that important decisions be made by "impartial experts". You know, us. I mean democracy is all well and good for deciding who is the dogcatcher or who runs the DMV, but important decisions should be left to...well, left to us.

As a former manager of a fish facility, I thought the most effective approach was often to collect as much relevant information as possible and then act as a benevolent dictator, so that a decision could be made in a reasonable and useful time frame.
Usually worked, but then I'm pretty benevolent.
 
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  • #30
BillTre said:
I'm pretty benevolent.
So am I. And woe to anyone who says otherwise. Muahahaha!
 
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  • #31
BillTre said:
benevolent dictator
Right, in engineering organizations without a strong manager, you see "paralysis by analysis." Scoping studies that recommend further investigation, unending series of optimization studies, proposals to do studies...
 
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  • #32
sophiecentaur said:
A thinks something is questionable, due to some right brain activity
But questionable-vrs-fine is a logical distinction, so isn't the right brain incapable of that?
 
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  • #34
pinball1970 said:
my joining pf a discussion like that
I was rather hoping that threads wouldn't need to be special in order to be mentioning wider aspects of Science. Off topic, as always should be pointed out because we can easily go down side alleys but there are many occasions where wider issues are valid to mention. Health and Safety matters are always accepted and no one throws a wobbler when told not to stick their fingers in the mains socket.
 
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  • #35
Vanadium 50 said:
So am I. And woe to anyone who says otherwise. Muahahaha!
Everyone thinks they would be the best dictator but only one of me can be right.
 
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