One columnist doesn’t understand science

Simon Jenkins is a columnist for a couple of UK newspapers, an author, and an editor. I agree with some of his positions; the benefits of nuclear power, for instance. But lately I’m disagreeing with him a lot more than I’m agreeing.

Back in January he tried to argue that the UK’s reaction to the swine flu threat was overblown by scaremongering scientists. He doesn’t seem to understand probabilities, or the value of problem avoidance (that is, that an appropriate and timely response may have prevented a crisis, which is really the entire point).

Now Jenkins is taking shots at Martin Rees’ recent Royal Society address. This time he’s saying that scientists are money-grubbers who won’t allow anyone to question them.

Science, [we are told], should “engage broadly with society and public affairs”. In other words, it should get more money.

The Large Hadron Collider [is] on a par with aircraft carriers and Olympic games for useless extravagance.

It’s a good thing that no useful scientific discoveries have ever been made by accident, then, Simon, or come from an unexpected source. He goes on and on. University science programmes get more funding per student than arts! he exclaims. Well, duh, those programmes require far more labs and equipment.

He also employs that slimy tactic of making someone’s position seem suspect by putting lots of double quote around individual words and phrases:

Yet [Rees] promotes just such theft. He wants more money or Britain’s “success in attracting mobile talent will be at risk”. Unless we continue to attract and nurture foreigners, we will “not retain international competitiveness”. Less cash would jeopardise the nation’s status in “the international premier league”. It would damage Britain’s “standing”, its “leverage”, indeed, the very “sustainability of its society”.

Jenkins is cranky. I’m not sure why. Luckily the comments on his column have plenty of people calling him out on his bullshit.