That's why many of us have been opposed to the accommodationist positions of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and other societies. These societies have no special expertise in epistemology/philosophy or religion yet they openly proclaim that science and religion are compatible. They should be neutral on that question. A (slight) majority of Sandwalk readers agree, according to a poll I took a few years ago [What Should Scientific Organizations Say about Religion?].
I wasn't alone in adopting this position. Jerry Coyne and PZ Myers also think that scientific societies should keep their nose out of areas that are outside of their mandate. We are united when it comes to opposing accommodationism.
That's why I was so disappointed to see PZ Myers praising a press release from the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB). Here's what PZ says in SICB opposes "drill baby drill".
I’s always gratifying to see a scientific organization step up and use their collective expertise to make a clear statement on a political and economic issue.Let's look at the press release to see if this scientific society is simply reporting on scientific evidence related to the areas of expertise of it's members.
6 February 2013I understand that these scientists are concerned about the effect of global warming on the health and survival of modern species. I can even forgive over-the-top rhetoric like "deterioration of the life support system of our planet, threatening all life as we know it." However, the policies that we put in place to reduce CO2 emissions have to balance many different factors. These scientists have no special expertise in politics, economics, and international relations. They are in a position to pronounce on the possible effects of continuing global warming and even on the possible effects of a major pipeline leak. They have no particular expertise in the technology and the probability of a leak. Furthermore, when it comes to specific proposals such as whether to build a pipeline, invest in solar energy, shut down coal mines, build nuclear power plants, or regulate auto emissions, they are not in a position to judge which alternatives are the most desirable. They are free to express their personal opinions on whether President Obama should okay the building of the pipeline but they should not pretend that their opinions are more significant just because they are biologists.
From the Presidents of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology
An open letter to President Barack Obama,
Members of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology are biologists from throughout the U.S. with the broadest possible perspectives—from microbes to whales, from molecules to ecosystems. The undersigned current and past presidents of the Society have watched with increasing dismay the deterioration of the life support system of our planet, threatening all life as we know it. It has long been known that one product of burning fossil fuel, carbon dioxide, is a powerful greenhouse gas, and more recently that this gas has been associated with drastic climate variations in Earth’s past. Consequently, it is no surprise that prodigious worldwide burning of fossil fuel is creating large-scale climate change with increasing disruption of life on the planet. While many in the western developed nations still enjoy relative prosperity – despite the horrific storms experienced in the U.S. in recent years – it is in poor nations around the world that the impacts of climate change are currently most destructive. Pacific Island nations are disappearing beneath the tides as sea level rises. Desertification is destroying agriculture in northern Africa and massive floods have devastated Pakistan, Bangladesh and Thailand in the last two years.
It is too late to avoid substantial disruption, but further damage can be reduced if we act immediately to keep remaining fossil fuel deposits in the ground, out of the air and sea. A most immediate decision is yours: whether or not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. More important than the fact that the pipeline itself will endanger aquifers and life along its length, the pipe will deliver the dirtiest, most CO2-producing petroleum source known to the refineries of the Gulf Coast. Additionally, the Athabasca tar-sands mine is destroying vast regions of northern Alberta that have been home and hunting and fishing grounds for First Nations peoples for thousands of years.
Even before fossil fuels are burned, releasing climate-altering greenhouse gases, the extraction phase itself produces environmental disasters, including toxins in water supplies due to hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, degradation of watersheds by mountain-top coal mining, and the loss of marine life from offshore drilling. Permits for all of these activities lie in the hands of agencies of your administration.
Alternative sources of energy are at hand. We do have the individual and collective intelligence and technology to see the urgently needed transition through to better times. What we require is sufficient political will on a global scale to meet the challenge. The U.S., for the last three federal administrations, has been a major impediment to ratification of international climate treaties. Clearly, the future demands that we – through your administration – reverse this pattern and join with leaders of other nations to ratify agreements that will quickly and drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Mr. President: you are arguably the most powerful person in the wealthiest and most powerful nation on the globe. To be clear: change will come, one way or another. Your task is no less than to steer the course of history away from its current devastating trajectory toward a sustainable existence for humankind.
Signed by: ...
This is another case of a scientific society stepping outside of its legitimate boundaries and I'm disappointed that PZ Myers doesn't see this in the same way he sees the accommodationist issue.
P.S. The authors of this letter addressed it to the wrong person. They should have sent it to Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada. The Conservative government is committed to extracting oil from the tarsands. It will try to ship the oil to China if the pipeline to the USA is not built.