Should Science Suppress Unorthodox Science?

By Michael Edmonds 11/10/2011 7


I’ve just been reading the 2008 Survey of New Zealand scientists and technologists which is fascinating reading.

One of the statements participants were asked to comment on was

“It is in the public interest to discourage the dissemination of the views of scientists who do not agree with reigning orthodoxies in scientific issues.”

So how do you think scientists//technologists answered? Most critics of science/supporters of pseudoscience tend to accuse the scientific community of suppressing those with unorthodox ideas.

Well, not in New Zealand, according to this survey. 85.3% of those interviewed disagreed with the idea that unorthodox ideas should be suppressed. The author of the survey commented that:

“It is a valuable insight for the public at large, and for individuals in policy positions, to understand that scientists know the difference between scientific opinions they hold securely and the necessity of entertaining other, possibly contrary, opinions.

… The results of this question point to the profound respect that New Zealand scientists have for open dialogue on controversial issues”

Professor Jack Sommer

This does not mean that scientists will accept any unorthodox view. On the contrary, the scientific method only allows us to consider views which match the evidence. The whole idea of science is not to suppress unorthodox views but rather to pull any view (whether it is orthodox or not) out into the blazing spotlight of the scientific method to see whether it holds up under careful scrutiny of the evidence which supposedly supports it.

This is where many of those who support pseudoscientific views get confused. They interpret the dissection of a treasured belief, to expose the inconsistencies and lack of supporting evidence as suppression, when it is in fact, the simple application of the scientific method.


7 Responses to “Should Science Suppress Unorthodox Science?”

  • So despite the support of unorthodox views Ken Ring still has no supporters within the scientific community? Should that have been wrapped in sarcasm tags? 😉

  • Unorthodox views supported by evidence is how science advances

    Unorthodox views unsupported by evidence are just mental meanderings

    Unorthodox views which are contrary to the evidence are not science

    Guess which category I think Ken Ring’s astrology falls into.

  • Unorthodox views supported by evidence rock. They’re what makes doing science fun. That moment of realisation when it all comes together and you understand something new.

    The bit that makes me want to knock my head against something solid in despair is when unorthodox views that are unsupported or contrary to evidence get presented to the public by the press as having equal merit to supported orthodox views all in the name of balance.

  • “The bit that makes me want to knock my head against something solid in despair is when unorthodox views that are unsupported or contrary to evidence get presented to the public by the press as having equal merit to supported orthodox views all in the name of balance.”

    – Shades of a journalists whose reporting I took objection to recently. (Presenting an anti-vaccinist’s views as ‘balance’ to a suggestion to publicly fund cocooning for newborns as a preventative for pertussis.)

    I know the feeling you’re expressing well.

  • ‘Unorthodox view unsupported by evidence are just mental meanderings” —well unorthodox views OFTEN are a consequence of mental meanderings. Often it takes years, sometimes several decades, before the tools, people, need or interest appear or crystallize to find the evidence. And often, isnt the evidence also overturned a few decades later by another mental meandering supported by evidence? So, guided conjecture, propositions, suppositions are not extraneous to the scientific method?

  • Riyad

    I agree, mental meanderings have a role to play in developing new ideas in science. My point is that until such ideas mesh with and explain observations/experimental results their value is unproven. For every unorthodox view that ends up explaining what is observed there must be hundreds that will not.

    “And often, isnt the evidence also overturned a few decades later by another mental meandering supported by evidence?”

    No, not often at all. New evidence often adds to the pool of knowledge and helps confirm or eliminate different hypotheses but unless there is some substantial error in how evidence has been gathered, evidence is seldom overturned.
    Also your comment could be interpreted as implying that science undergoes substantial changes fairly regularly. In most cases there are ongoing modifications to scientific theories but very seldom are there major paradigm shifts. For example, even if recent experiments showing that neutrinos may travel faster than light this does not automatically invalidate all of physics (or chemistry or biology for that matter).