What is science?

Larry is asking What is Science? in the case of a creationist who was awarded a Ph.D. in geosciences from Rhode Island University. The issue is whether making the award should be influenced by personal integrity. Is passing test the primary concern or should a doctor of philosophy also be able to express the values and ethics of science at a personal level?

Of course there’s no rule in science that says you must accept the current consensus. Quite the contrary. One of the requirements of good science is that you always question authority and try to keep an open mind. Skepticism goes hand-in-hand with curiosity. But, as the saying goes, your mind mustn’t be so open that your brains fall out.
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So, how do we resolve differences of opinion in an academic environment? How do we distinguish between a revolutionary and Bozo? The answer is we fight it out in the meeting rooms and the journals. The weapons are facts and rational thinking. If someone wants to question a scientific consensus then all they have to do is marshal the facts and evidence and present it to the scientific community in a rational and logical manner.

In this case, the perception is that the candidate was ‘manipulating’ the system in a dishonest way in order to obtain a credential of authority. There are two potential failures here. One is an ‘end justifies the means’ approach based on religious zealotry. The other is in the limited standards used to determine to award the degree.

Weakness in standards is met by manipulation to achieve a dishonest result. The lesson is that any society must be careful about its presumptions of honesty and balance the potential harm in malformed decision with the potential harm from those who take advantage of its trust. The terrorist is on one end of this spectrum; the criminal a bit closer to neutral; this case a bit closer; and abuse of association membership even closer. Just how far out on this line must an action be before the society takes action? For the scientist, it is a matter of the precision and accuracy of measurement and one only has to look at the arguments regarding capital punishment to see how this is abused.

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