[Comment on “Speaking up for science” by Fred Spilhaus] Science in Plain English



I write inspired by Fred Spilhaus's Eos editorial (Speaking Up For Science, 86(24), 14 June 2005, p. 225). I have recently had a front-row seat (at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution) from which to observe the skillful packaging and energetic marketing of a fundamentally religious view of cosmology as science. (Yes, I have seen the film The Privileged Planet.) However, my subject is communication, and what follows is my personal opinion.

I confess: I have many times crossed out the word “believe” in a scientific manuscript and noted, “Science is not a belief system.” I hope my victim will become just angry enough with me to remember in the future that a scientist may “conclude” anything the data support but not “believe” it. Why? “Believing” something can mean that one has a firm religious faith in it. This makes the scientist vulnerable to those who wish to define “materialistic science” as a religious belief, and thus aids advocates of alternate “theories” to those of modern evolutionary biology.