Journal Editor Still Inserting Politics Into Science: Trevors and Saier Strike Back

The story thus far: Jack Trevors, bigwig at the learned journal Water Air Soil Pollution, and occasionally along with his pal Milton Saier, has been in the habit of abusing his position as editor to insert into the journal poorly argued essays on morality.

Which, being essays on morality, have no bearing on water or soil or air measurements. And therefore should not be inflicted upon innocent scientists interested in those measurements.

Trevors wrote many odd editorials, but one of the strangest was A Vaccine Against Ignorance? I thought it absurd. An excerpt:

[T]he capitalistic systems of economy follow the one principal rule: the rule of profit making. All else must bow down to this rule…The current USA is an example of a failed capitalistic state in which essential long-term goals such as prevention of climate change and limitation of human population growth are subjugated to the short-term profit motive and the principle of economic growth.

This is an argument on par with those heard at college campuses by naive (and uninformed) freshman caught up in the fresh possibility of “changing the world.”

It was phrases like this that prompted me, Willie Soon, David Legates, and Bob Carter to write our own essay A Vaccine Against Arrogance, which Trevors, being a gentleman, published.

In Arrogance, we chastised Trevors for putting into his essays non-pollution-related things like an odd Old Testament exegesis (yes, truly), and for statements like this, “Most past and present dictators, elected political officials, military officials and terrorists have been or are males…Rarely have females been responsible for comparable degrees of destruction.”

Most importantly, we wished to impart this truth:

Science can tell us how much of a pollutant is present in a precisely defined area. It can tell us with reasonable certainty the sources of this pollution. It can even tell us effects of this pollution. But science cannot tell us the importance of these effects.

Scientists acting in the name of science must remain mute on morality. They must remain agnostic, and should not preach.

Trevors and Saier responded to our rebuttal with a re-rebuttal (read here). The pair dispute our philosophical truth and say, “Science does tell us the importance of [pollution\’s] effects.” Thus, their retort is a long form of “Is too!”

But science, if it is a thing at all, can only tell us what is or what might be so. It cannot tell us what should be so. There are no morals in empirical observations. There is no right or wrong in a prediction. To insert moral judgments, well considered or ill, into science journals is to politicize science.

Readers, especially non-scientists, who take up a journal which includes political essays naturally assume that the readers of this journal share the same political and moral foundations as the editorial writers. This is obviously false.

And harmful. It raises the definite suspicion that the scientists who publish in this journal are willing, if not directly alter, then to shade their results in the direction most amenable to their political ideology. A glance at what has happened in climatology confirms this warning.

To claim, in a journal devoted to pollution, that there is a deficit of females among historical monsters is not helpful in understanding pollution. To say, not apropos of soil contaminants, that “Religion is the most anomalous and perplexing of the forces that shape civilization” is to say nothing at all. To trumpet that “The Bush and Blair administrations justified the illegal invasion of a sovereign nation in violation of international law and the dictates of the U.N. Their actions resulted in the slaughter of innocent Iraqis” it to broadcast a maniacal eccentricity which adds nothing to our understanding of the science of pollution.

This behavior is even stranger when we consider the same author wrote these words—words with which we are in hearty agreement:

[W]hy do scientists submit and even publish articles that use the following descriptions in their research? It is assumed, in our opinion, we believe, I believe, I am speculating, we are speculating that. Science is not a belief system…

It is disturbing to see the use of beliefs, speculations, and opinions without supporting experimentation and data used in science journals.

That this dichotomy of thought appears in the same mind proves the deleterious effects of politicizing science.

In their re-rebuttal, the pair say if that their readers don’t like them, they can choose to ignore their strange essays. But this is silly. And it does not bespeak well of the editorial process where the policy is to tell readers, “Ignore the rot.” Keep politics out of science.

6 Comments

  1. If I was the publisher, I would fire both their asses. Grounds: editorializing while intoxicated with their own self-importance.

  2. This is another fine article, well reasoned and restrained in tone. It’s just about perfect, in my view.

    But the real eye-opener is to learn you’ve collaborated with Soon, Legates and Carter to rebut this nonsense. That must’ve been a great experience.

    Thank you for offering up such thought-provoking, insightful writing.

  3. “Science is not a belief system…”

    Science is a belief system. Belief (from the OED):

    “Mental acceptance of a proposition, statement, or fact, as true, on the ground of authority or evidence; assent of the mind to a statement, or to the truth of a fact beyond observation, on the testimony of another, or to a fact or truth on the evidence of consciousness; the mental condition involved in this assent.”

    Short essay on scientific versus releigious belief systems here:

    http://spaz.ca/aaron/school/science.html

  4. I suggest your mistake was, “But science cannot tell us the importance of these effects.” “Importance” is ambiguous. The science of pollution can tell us, for example, the number of people likely to be affected. If the number is significantly large then the effect can fairly be described as ‘important’ without preaching.

    What science cannot tell us is whether we should care or not.

  5. UPDATE This is a restored version of this post. My database was corrupted earlier today and this is my best attempt to restore.

  6. SECOND TRY then I give up:

    Wondered what happened to it. Bad thing about them KOMputers: they break. My backup disk drive decided to erase all of my backups last night. Fortunately I keep multiple backups.

    The prime directive in Capitalism is to care for Numero Uno and let the other chips fall where they may. Someday the Trevors in the world will realize that Capitalism is the driving force behind Evolution. Only Fundamentalist Christians assign it (along with Evolution) to Satan. The great Socialist powers learned their lesson and have accepted Capitalism as the Way To Go. However, GB and the US can’t seem to learn from the mistakes of Lenin and Mao. The Trevors and the like don’t help. (* sigh *)

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