The deliberate degradation of science.
'The information age is being sabotaged!' This statement should be the head lines of the media. Why? Our modern society depends to a large degree on information, know how, science, education, media, and the Internet.
The success of the progress of our society - the success of medicine and health has prolonged the average life expectancy and the global human population is growing so fast that it's becoming a problem - is probably in part derived from successful theories and rational thought. We have stopped burning witches because of bad harvests, and most of us have stopped in believing in ritual sacrifices. Science is in part to 'blame'.
The scientific method is at heart of this, and its pillars are reproducibility, objectivity (empirical data decide), hypothesis testing (predictions), logic, and transparency.
But not just that. The success is also based on scientific ethics and a code of conduct - call it 'traffic code' if you like. Because the fruits of science are found amongst the general public - not just within the scientific circles.
Science has been so successful that it has secured an elevated standing, with high confidence and reverence. To such a degree that people imitate science when they want to appear convincing, such as in advertisements for cosmetics, or when calling a religion 'Scientology'.
But such (ab)use deteriorates the scientific credibility. Furthermore, using pseudo-scientific arguments, such as in lobbying for tobacco or denying anthropogenic role in global warming, for the sake of creating doubt or twisting the fact, is a sabotage of out information society.
There is a multitude of ethical aspects associated with science, from playing God with living organisms, making massive destructive devices, or gambling with the planets living environment, to giving due credit to the right discoverer, in honesty, not claiming an undeserved authority, neutrality in terms of the outcome of given tests, and taking caution not to draw conclusions that are not supported by empirical data.
Recently, I received an e-mail that expressed concern about a CEO from an oil company presenting a number of old and worn myths about climate change at University of Aberdeen. Apparently, the global warming was 'stopped' and he claimed that the future will bring a global cooling. Evidence? None!
I also have some concerns related to Norway, where top politicians believe in healing over the telephone, and that bleeding can be cured through prayers. There was even a public 'debate' over whether science was any better than 'alternative' knowledge (astrology, parapsychology, etc). It was evident from these 'debates' that the protagonists for the 'alternative' side had little understanding of science, the scientific method, and the history of science.
I use the term 'debate' in quotation, as a real debate implies a true dialogue, whereas what I witnessed was more like a circus (an entertainment), where the participants goal was not to understand the others' argument, but to promote owns point of view.
In short, our success is derived from the respect of the scientific method and that scientists follow the 'traffic code'. A recent post at RealClimate.org provides an utopia of what an ideal world would look like.
Another side of the problem is that a large portion of lies and untrue statements also reduces the value of our freedom of speech - if you don't know if you can trust the speaker, then what value it the message then?
So, how do we promote good information and avoid infringing the freedom of speech? Perhaps science academies play a role in being more visible by making statements about the degree of scientific rigour in common claims and myths?