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Pope warns against alarmist science

Don't scare the huddled masses

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Pope Benedict XVI has warned scientists to beware of making alarming predictions without having the proper science to back them up. His remarks are widely being interpreted as a swipe at last week's forecast that by 2050 the world would have all but depleted its fish stocks.

Speaking at this week's plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences, he reiterated his guarded support for the sciences. He said again that he sees no conflict between science and religion, and that faith need not be threatened by scientific endeavour. Rather, he argued, science is part of God's plan.

As before, however, there was a caveat: scientists must know their limits.

"Science cannot replace philosophy and revelation by giving an exhaustive answer to man's most radical questions: questions about the meaning of living and dying, about ultimate values, and about the nature of progress itself," he said.

He argued that researchers have a moral obligation to accuracy as well as recognising their limitations.

"This means avoiding needlessly alarming predictions when these are not supported by sufficient data or exceed science's actual ability to predict. But it also means avoiding the opposite, namely a silence, born of fear, in the face of genuine problems," he said.

Few in the scientific community would disagree with that last statement, and his sentiments echo those of Mike Hulme, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, decrying the trend of sensationalising science, particularly around climate change.

Hulme said in an interview with the BBC that "campaigners...politicians and scientists...are openly confusing the language of fear, terror and disaster with the observable physical reality of climate change, actively ignoring the careful hedging which surrounds science's predictions". ®

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