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Policy

Taking Care On Taking Positions

July 7, 2014 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 92, ISSUE 27

June 9, page 22: The antimicrobial agent used in W.S. Badger Co.’s recalled SPF 30 Baby Sunscreen Lotion and SPF 30 Kids Sunscreen Lotion was Arborcide OC and not Leucidal Liquid, according to Active Micro Technologies, the supplier of both products. The agents are both derived from Leuconostoc bacteria.

The ACS News article on the efforts of ACS committees to produce position statements is appreciated (C&EN, March 10, page 38). A few of the listed items reflect a self-contradictory pattern that we need to be aware of as American Chemical Society members and because of our role in the “central science” of chemistry.

The scientific method does not allow for the concept of “settled science.” In politics or law it may be possible to have a matter decided by the consensus opinion of peers or by precedent. Even then, it seems possible for opinions to evolve based on polling data.

The scientific method calls for an open mind on all issues. For ACS to take a position on social issues while expressing a goal of promoting the scientific method is contradictory.

Albert Schweitzer was a great thinker of our age who studied humanities before he began his study of medicine. He commented on the change while pointing out the value of both:

“But study of the natural sciences brought me even more than the increase of knowledge I had longed for. It was to me a spiritual experience. I had all along felt it to be psychically a danger that in the so-called humanities with which I had been concerned hitherto, there is no truth which affirms itself as self-evident, but that a mere opinion can, by the way in which it deals with the subject matter, obtain recognition as true. The search for truth in the domains of history and philosophy is carried on in constantly repeated endless duels between the sense of reality of the one and the inventive imaginative power of the other. The argument from facts is never able to obtain a definite victory over the skillfully produced opinion. How often does what is reckoned as progress consist in a skillfully argued opinion putting real insight out of action for a long time!”

We can promote the scientific method with good practices and open minds.

Robert G. Allred
Alpine, Utah

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Comments
Bob Buntrock (July 15, 2014 2:57 PM)
I assume this is a cautionary response to ACS stands on climate change. I agree that "settled science" is probably better reserved for those writing headlines or politicians, but I'm curious what aspects of AGW Allred perceives to be in doubt. Certainly not the observed IR absorption of CO2 and methane in the atmosphere. Also not in doubt is the effect this heat absorption is having on surface and atmospheric temperatures on a rapid geologic time scale (and over and above solar fluctuations). What may be in doubt is the time scale of the predicted effects of this warming and those predictions do carry error bars. Some of the effects are already observable and not just by scientists. Granted not all medium term changes in weather patterns can be confidently attributed to ASGW but many are.

I would hope that Allred is a AGW skeptic and not a denier. I also commend him for addressing his comments to ACS position statement committees and not, like others, ranting at the C&EN editor for "not representing them".
Samuel Zalipsky (August 12, 2014 5:25 PM)
I absolutely agree with Robert Allred's letter. ACS should stay away from politics be more careful on the positions it takes on the popular issues of the day. History teaches us the consensus, even when there is one, is often leading in the wrong direction.

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