Friday, May 18, 2007
I do think it pretty worrying that the Royal Society is slithering away from a motto which deliberately made no compromises with the political correctness of the era of Charles II, Darwin's enemies or anybody up till now.
by Ben Pile & Stuart Blackman
It is an ominous sign that the prestigious scientific institution has changed its motto from 'on the word of no one' to 'respect the facts'.
Nullius in Verba, the motto of the prestigious Royal Society in London, is usually translated as 'on the word of no one'. When it was coined back in 1663, it was intended to distance science from the methods of the ancient universities, which relied heavily on the personal authority of the scholars. 'On the word of no one' highlighted the independent authority that empirical evidence bestowed on science; knowledge about the material universe should be based on appeals to experimental evidence rather than authority.
Lately, however, the Royal Society has dropped any mention of 'on the word of no one' from its website. Instead, it talks of the need to 'verify all statements by an appeal to facts determined by experiment'. Lord May of Oxford, erstwhile president of the Royal Society and former chief scientific adviser to the UK government, offers us a whole new translation: 'respect the facts.' This provides the title of his recent review in the Times Literary Supplement (TLS), in which he gave the scientific nod of approval to seven recent publications on climate change, including books by George Monbiot, Al Gore and Sir Nicholas Stern (1).
The Royal Society's 'motto-morphosis' - where it has gone from saying 'on the word of no one' to demanding that we 'respect the facts' - points to an important shift in the way that scientific authority is used to close down debate these days.
Also reported on CCNet today