Claims not Truths

Here is an excellent article by Nicholas Wade at the NYT about the differences between textbook science and frontier science, while discussing the issue of Dr. Hwang. I particularly like the concluding paragraph:

“Tightening up the reviewing system may remove some faults but will not erase the inescapable gap between textbook science and frontier science. A more effective protection against being surprised by the likes of Dr. Hwang might be for journalists to recognize that journals like Science and Nature do not, and cannot, publish scientific truths. They publish roughly screened scientific claims, which may or may not turn out to be true.”

What I like about it is the clear delineation between claims and truths when it comes to science. It reminds me of a recent Aggie column of mine, from June 2005, called The Truth. I prefer to think of scientific findings as claims rather than truths (which are closer to facts) because it takes a pile of them to add up to the establishment of scientific fact. Wade outlines one of the problems that traditional journalists have when reporting about science, as it concerns the authority of peer review. Remember, peer review is the first step. Confirmation from additional tests and newer & cleverer experiments leads to the success of an idea.

After looking at the staff contact list for the NYT, it appears that Wade is not listed. Maybe I’ll have to do something that I have not done in a long time. Send a letter.

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Karl Haro von Mogel

Karl Haro von Mogel serves as BFI’s Director of Science and Media and as Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. He has a PhD in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from UW-Madison with a minor in Life Sciences Communication. He is currently a Postdoctoral Scholar researching citrus genetics at UC Riverside.

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