Tuesday, March 22, 2011

4th Talk: Dr. Toddi Steelman - My Jihad Against Scientific Fundamentalism

The fourth TEDxNCSU talk is Dr. Toddi Steelman on My Jihad Against Scientific Fundamentalism.

The oceans are under assualt, climate is changing, and biodiversity is at increasing risk. She argues that science shouldn't have a large role in these problems. She says we have put science on a podium and turned science into a "false prophet".

She moves to a case study at Camp Lejuene involving men with breast cancer. Men were exposed to a variety of carcinogens in tap water. 5 studies have tried to link the cancer to those chemicals, but none have done so conclusively. Says drawing conclusions is hard due to confounding elements.

Myth #1: Science determines policy.
I think she means the idea that "science SHOULD determine policy, but it's unclear.

She has moved on to "Climategate" and brought up the hockey stick graph. Never gets around to saying that numerous investigations have shown no wrongdoing.

Myth #2: Science is objective.
Shows side-by-side pictures of Al Gore and Glenn Beck. (sigh)

More on putting science on an alter and what if it can't deliver. The U.S. has spent $40 million on climate research, but still no consensus. This blatantly untrue in the scientific community.

Myth #4: More science leads to better consensus
This seems obviously true, and her argument only works if consensus only means "public consensus" instead of scientific consensus.

She says advocates for science argue that science is a better form of knowledge than politics. Science can't tell us what to do in Camp Lejuene and for dealing with the climate.

I want to think on this more, but the idea that we need to downplay the role of science in decision making seems absolutely ridiculous to me.


  1. I agree with you. This was just a bad talk with sloppy thinking, sloppy semantics, and confused ideas. i can't believe this was from a professor.

  2. Yeah, she had a few interesting points, but it was very muddled. I think I want to write another post on it. Science doesn't pretend to determine policy as she said in myth 1, but it should certainly inform policy. Science doesn't determine societal values and ethics, so we'll always need additional information from the public and shareholders to generate optimal policies. But, those policies will be worthless without some basis in actual science.