I call your attention to Jerry Steffens’ comment at RC (#403 on the linked article):
“… comments are almost Kafkaesque; he appears to represent a group that believes that scientific matters can be decided in the same way that cases are settled in a courtroom, i.e., that the side that can argue most persuasively wins. What he doesn’t seem to fully grasp is that there is an underlying physical reality that is being discussed. Using his technique, a group of people in a speeding bus on a dark, rain-slick road might argue about whether or not the bridge up ahead has been washed out. Presumably, if those arguing against the “wash-out theory” win the debate by, say, undermining the credibility of those on the other side of the argument (perhaps two of them were seen to be improperly conferring in the restroom) then the passengers can rest easy.”
This is exactly the problem.
There is more than one lesson to be gleaned from this parable. I think the intended one is that arguing to win the argument is different from arguing to find the truest result and in fact is less adaptive.
Another lesson is this: It is not rude, stubborn, arrogant or unreasonable to refuse to compromise on a question of fact. “Maybe the bridge will be out next week, so we should come back some other way.” You compromise on strategies; sometimes you even compromise on principles; you cannot compromise on facts. Sometimes you know stuff the other folks don’t know, and when it’s important, you have to say so, whatever they end up thinking of you. Which sometimes won’t be very flattering. After all you seem so stubborn and uncompromising. But truth is the dominant ethic of the scientific world view. Without honest pursuit of truth you have nothing.
Formerly a comment at Kloor’s.