Listening to the experts? — Tay Tian Yan
JUNE 22 — The experts claim the rare earth plant is going to be safe.
From the scientific point of view, who else should we listen to if not the experts?
So the PSC proposes the issuance of a TOL. And the government says, come, Lynas, come!
Wait a minute. While the experts’ views are often justified, who are the real “experts”? And how do we judge whether a person is a real expert? Are there blind spots concealed from the sight of these experts?
Experts aside, how do public views measure up?
I’m not trying to say we should turn a deaf ear to the experts. We should do so with some reservation and a little scepticism. This is what we call scientific spirit.
Expert views could be constrained, biased or even flawed, or else we won’t get to see failed projects and human-induced disasters anywhere under the sun, including the nuclear catastrophe in northeastern Japan.
Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted an “obedience to authority” test in 1961. He brought in a group of people who were told to conduct electric shock experiments. Their job was to push a button to pass electrical currents to strangers.
Each time the button was pushed, the stranger would show a painful expression, which intensifed as the electrical currents were increased in magnitude.
The experimenters began to hesitate whether the action should be continued but the experts just told them: “Don’t worry, just go on!”
So, even as the stranger screamed in agony, the experimenters continued to pass the currents to them so long as the experts told them things were under control.
Of course, the experiment was a set up. No currents actually passed through the subjects’ bodies and their agonies were most positively feigned.
The Milgram experiment has some implications. For one, many people tend to trust the experts and lightly obey the authority even if they are told to do something contrary to their conscience.
So long as they have the reassurance from the so-called experts, they could always cast aside their common sense and blindly follow the experts.
The PSC consulted experts on the Lynas issue. While the experts’ views are of some value, they are more for reference than total conformity. In addition, the public should be allowed to voice their scepticism and challenges.
But that does not put us on the opposite side of scientific theories and spirit.
Generally speaking, scientific arguments should be established upon the foundation of verificationism. Anything that can be verified through experiments is deemed true and veritable.
Renowned philosopher Karl Popper, on the other hand, offered his theory of falsificationism, claiming that all scientific knowledge should be proven wrong at all costs until it is confirmed true.
For instance, Isaac Newton’s Law of Gravity used to be sanctified by scientists until Albert Einstein’s Law of Relativity discovered that gravitational forces were existent only under certain circumstances. In other words, the Law of Gravity was falsified by the Law of Relativity.
The rare earth plant involves the safety and well-being of many people living in its vicinity. Its feasibility must be first justified by falsificationism tests. — mysinchew.com
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.