Science’s War on the Truth

National Geographic Cover Photo, March 2015

The March 2015 National Geographic cover article titled “Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?” bemoans the luddites who don’t believe the moon landings, climate change, evolution, vaccinations and dangers of genetically modified foods. (Tellingly, the cover screams, “The War on Science.”)

They’re right; we doubt. Probably all of us have concerns about at least one item on that list. Why?

Maybe because we’ve been lied to in the name of science so much in the last fifty years that we’re skeptical of all scientific claims. In the 1960s we were told over and over, just as NG says now about GMO foods, “no evidence that smoking is bad for you.” In 1964 scientists told us one Presidential candidate was “unfit” for office. We were—and are—assured that nuclear energy is safe; fracking is safe; more chemicals in our drinking water is good for us. (Forget fluorine; the levels of chlorine is enough to cause some to swear off tap water. City water in Richmond, Virginia tastes like mud.) Remember the great Diet War over fat? Now it turns out cholesterol and saturated fats—and certainly eggs—may not be bad for you.

Did someone lie? No, usually they just became enthusiastic with their “fact” and tried to convince everyone that the discussion was over. It’s not.

That’s when the Scientific Method starts. Someone has an idea, and everyone else attacks it with all they’re worth. Only the fit ideas survive. The problem comes when certain ideas take on the aura of holy writ.

That’s currently happening in physics and biology. The opening rounds of the war on science was often fired by the scientists. And that’s often good. Otherwise we’d all accept string theory and, yes, evolution without demur. Alternate ideas are hooted off stage—not because they are wrong, but because they don’t fit the current orthodoxy.

The tipping point to skepticism often occurs when scientific “fact” crosses into public policy. At that point “what is” becomes conflated with someone’s idea of what “should be.” And becomes a political football.

The Global Warming debate generates enough hot air to convince many “deniers” that the warming may be caused by man. We quote that great “scientist” Indiana Jones that truth is the purview of philosophers and religion; scientists stick to facts. Instead, perhaps we should heed the late Robin Williams, “Follow your heart. The head is sometimes wrong.”

We doubt because we’re human. Both convenient and the inconvenient truths often aren’t. The opening rounds of the war on science was often fired by the scientists. And that’s often good. Otherwise we’d all accept string theory and, yes, evolution without demur.

National Geographic is being disingenuous erecting straw men to pummel, but we all know where their loyalty lies … to the scientific community. ‘Keep the research grants coming; watch your “reality shows;” we’ll tell you what to believe … and, if you let us, what to think. Trust us.’

Don’t. Check your wallet; count your change; you’re sometimes being sold snake oil along with your health food.

Let the ideas contend.


2 thoughts on “Science’s War on the Truth

  1. Amusing if slanted. Science is the slow accrual of knowledge. Of course we think eggs are fine, then the yokes are not and now new studies show they’re not as harmful as the earlier studies showed. I for one applaud this willingness to say yes, we were wrong and now that we have more data we’re more sure. Maybe I’m biased because I know researchers and the academic way. I’d hate to go back to the 1800’s. I think we’re very lucky to be living now. Every time I rushed my brother to the ER I was grateful for the science that saved his life.

  2. It’s when we jump to conclusions, then defend them to the death (for and against) that we get in trouble. Fifty years ago the cholesterol wars were over, except persuading the people. Now, after two generations of propaganda, the Great Experts say, “Oops. Those guys were wrong; we’re right.”

    I stand by my opinion about science and politics being a deadly brew (again, both ways).

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