Saturday, May 30, 2009

Cosmology: I seem to have yanked particle physicist Lawrence Krauss's chain

In a recent post, "Science at the end of the world: Lawrence Krauss addresses the 2009 Sudbury, Ontario, meeting of the Canadian Science Writers' Association", I doubted his "particle physicist" prescriptions for science journalism.

Essentially, he thought a lot of problems would be cleared up if we started with the assumption that there is only one side to many science stories. Well yes, it would simplify matters, but ...

He also thought it his duty to tell us his opinions on many issues in religion and politics.

I pointed out here that it is the duty of a journalist to seek a variety of perspectives on an issue. I followed that up by talking about the scientists who spoke at the conference who truly impressed me: He who knows something gains respect. He who knows everything ...

Anyway, Dr. Krauss felt it worth his while to respond here at Salvo (where I had put up a stub leading to the post). He suggested that I should have been at a meeting of religious writers.

In fact, my complaint was precisely that there was too much about religion and politics in his address - to say nothing of altogether too much certainty about a universe where we only know about 5% of the total mass.

Here is what I said in reply:
As I pointed out in a recent post, it was Krauss who brought up a lot of dreck about religion in his talk Sunday night - after I had listened to real science all morning at Dynamic Earth!

When we went down to the mine, to SNOLAB and SNOLAB Plus the following Tuesday, no one talked about religion at all.

In fact, those scientists, unlike Krauss were humble in the face of the facts, and never claimed that they knew all that he claims to knows about the cosmos, as well as government, school systems, et cetera.

They certainly restored my faith in science.

Krauss isn't fooling anyone. That's why he grouses that Canada is beginning to fear science (= fear listening to people like him instead of people like the SNO Plus physicists).
He then went on to reply again, saying the same sorts of things:
I spent a fair amount of time trying to specifically discuss inherent tensions in science reporting, and then explain what he have been learning about the universe.. and even pointed out the key things we don't understand.. I had not met ms o'leary before but she does a disservice to journalism by her reporting.

L. Krauss
He did spend a fair amount of time on science reporting (to no good effect, in my view) and on key things we don't understand - but with a level of certainty and an admixture of religion and politics that seemed quite out of place to me. Especially because - as noted above - the whole thing had been done much better, earlier in the day, by a local physicist.

Well, I was not going to bother with this any more because if my In Tray were a work of nature, it would be formally classified as a natural disaster. However, Dr. Krauss also went to Uncommon Descent, where I am a community blogger, and posted similar comments. He complains of "inaccuracies and distortions".

Again, I replied:
Dr. Krauss does not - in my view - clearly understand that journalism is the first draft of history.

No one who practises the craft should start out knowing exactly who is right and who is wrong. It is never as simple as that, and approaching it that way is a good way to be wrong.

And the more things one is absolutely certain of, the more likely one is to be wrong.
My sense is, Dr. Krauss probably isn't used to people who analyze what he is saying seriously, especially when he is prescribing for fields other than his own.

In reality, a great many of the people at that conference were science communication bureaucrats on government salary. They do not need to think about the problems of news reporting in the way that I do.

Anyway, I am now going back to the ol' In Tray, all the heavier for new stories from the Sudbury meet.

See also: Humanity killing the Universe? (More of Dr. Krauss's views)