The July ethics question dealt with a topic that recently proved to be a hot issue for professional geologists: Junk science.
Only one response was received at press time, although when taken together with the DPA presidential response (see page 35), both the philosophical and practical ends of the spectrum seem to have been covered -- as well as a suggestion for future labeling.
"I can see how it (junk science) could easily apply to many instances of self-righteous aggrandizement that we see in industry, various self-interest groups and alas, sometimes in ourselves," wrote Patricia Bell-Countryman of Bakersfield, Calif.
"Science, as I understand it, can be easily defined as the result of rigorously using and applying the scientific method in an unbiased manner to come to a result as true to evidence as possible.
"As I understand it the scientific method can be paraphrased as:
- Find and describe an observable natural process or event; do not have a result in mind, as it has been conclusively shown that results tend to mirror expectations.
- Propose a best-fit, testable, unbiased explanation of what is observed.
- Test your explanation, determine cause and effect.
- Your explanation must predict a future, testable observable natural process or event.
"Emotionally toned words are not used, as they do not enhance nor lead to good, or even adequate, use of the scientific method. Science must be characterized as belonging to the cognitive realm.
"Though science can be used to support political, economic or religious agendas, it is then usually no longer in the cognitive realm -- (it) becomes part of a belief system.
"It would seem that ‘junk science' is part of a belief system, and is really an overheated melding of a pastiche of scientific bits into a somewhat suspect stew, sure to lead to intellectual indigestion ...
"I propose that instead of using any effort or space in promulgating 'junk science,' even as an example to avoid, that ‘scientific editorializing' be substituted as an example of a better method of argument in the AAPG EXPLORER -- however, all such excursions into scientific editorializing must be so labeled by those who indulge in them.
Scientific editorializing does not use emotionally toned words in its exposition, but is clearly not rigorous science. It's more like intelligent musing.
"... Unfortunately, it seems that the turn of this century is being characterized by not only a lack of civility in public life, but various types of 'witch hunts' and lack of respect for others' ideas -- leading to a degradation of discourse.
I believe that open and fair discussion of ideas is the best way to approach the education of individuals, groups and the larger society. This could lead to truly optimized uses of natural resources in an orderly and thoughtful way.
"For example, as a California community college instructor, it was my pleasure to facilitate learning using field trips to various areas in the western United States. We were able to see Carpinteria beach (a natural seep), explain the use of it by the Indians and see the co-existence of marine wildlife with petroleum seeps as natural. We walked many beaches and discussed the Monterey Formation and smaller globs of oil as natural occurrences. We discussed the overwhelming of natural processes by large oil spills and how the oil was subsequently degraded and incorporated into sediments -- but emphasizing the need for maximizing of cleanup activities so that natural processes could take charge.
"Lastly, thank you for your continuing series on ethics and your thoughtful questions ... I hope that my responses have been in kind. The more we respect each other and treat one another with dignity, the more we are so treated in return.
"(Intellectual musing! But I wish it were so.)
There is no ethics question posed for the month of September.