Sunday, February 12, 2012

Happy Birthday, Charles

America's Darwin problem is only one component of America's science problem. As Kenneth Miller notes:

Significant numbers of Americans have come to regard the scientific enterprise as a special interest group that rejects mainstream American values and is not worthy of the public trust. Governor Rick Perry of Texas spoke to this view when he claimed that "There are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data" to their own benefit. Why? Perry was clear about this. It's personal greed. Scientists cheat "so that they will have dollars rolling in to their projects."

Unfortunately, Governor Perry is right, just not in the way his remarks imply. Scientific data is indeed being manipulated, but it is almost always done in the service of some financial interest. Andrew Wakefield, for instance, the widely discredited originator of the vaccine-autism canard, had his own treatment racket in mind when he concocted the bogus link between autism and the MMR vaccine. And pain researcher Scott Reuben faked dozens of studies to keep research grants from Pfizer rolling in. FDA "fast-tracking," agri-pharma profits and Americans' piss-poor science education have combined to create a perfect storm of scientific mistrust, which is what is at the heart of our rejection of Darwinism. If we hope to catch up with the rest of the developed world, let alone surpass it, we must take the profit motive out of science.
And when data falsification isn't the culprit, peer bullying is. A PR firm called The Bivings Group formed an army of sock puppets to impugn the reputation of a UC Berkely researcher named Ignacio Chapella who had published a paper showing that GM corn had cross-pollinated with conventional corn.
And when PBS programs FRONTLINE and NOVA teamed up to address the issue of GMOs in a program titled "Harvest of Fear," they were forced to post the following caution regarding their online opinion tally:
In late May 2004, thanks in part to the vigilance of several outside readers who phoned in, we discovered that some person or persons had tampered with this feature's tally. Specifically, on May 16-17, 1,540,016 "Yes" votes and 33,641 "No" votes were cast via just four IP addresses. (Prior to May 16, a total of roughly 124,000 votes of any kind had been cast since the feature launched in April 2001.)

Deeming the credibility of the tally to have been compromised, we made this page unavailable for several days while we decided how best to address this problem. In the end, we threw out these suspicious votes and recalculated the remaining response numbers and percentages. Then we did a more thorough scouring of votes from before May 2004.

It appears that a lesser degree of multiple voting has been going on for some time, so we have decided to temporarily remove the final vote and tallying options from this feature until we can put a more secure system in place. The feature itself remains unchanged, and we encourage you to challenge your stance on GM foods by reading it. We apologize for any inconvenience, and we appreciate your readership.—The Editors

The upshot is that Americans' rejection of Darwinism and distrust of climate data and of science in general is the result of decades of educational dumbing down and the intentional scientific misconduct of researchers starving for grant money, which, increasingly, comes from corporations and not government subsidies.

And GMO defenders like David Tribe and Pamela Ronald, among others, have cleverly manipulated this phenomenon in order to portray suspicion of corporate greed as scientific ignorance, so that if you question Monsanto's or Syngenta's motives regarding the promotion of genetically modified crops, or if you make note of the many instances of pharmaceutical research fraud, you are lumped in with global warming and evolution deniers.

I kind of feel the same way towards the agri-petro-pharma-chemical complex as I do towards President Obama. On the one hand, I am forced to defend the president against imbeciles who think he's a Kenyan Marxist with a fake birth certificate, but on the other hand, I'm forced to point out to his legion of defenders that he's a neoliberal stooge of the corporate feudal state. Similarly, I find myself reluctantly defending the agri-petro-pharma-chemical complex against attacks from the likes of Jenny McCarthy who think vaccines cause autism or Sean Hannity, who thinks global warming is a hoax, but on the other hand, I feel compelled to expose Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Golden Rice as the scams that they are.

Somehow, we've got to find a way to restore integrity to the scientific community, and at the same time, we must remove the barriers of intimidation that prevent public schools from imparting scientific knowledge. Until we accomplish these two goals, we will slip further and further into a new Dark Age.

UPDATE: As the Guardian reports, the ignorati have launched a fresh assault on science
In a disturbing trend, anti-evolution campaigners are combining with climate change deniers to undermine public education.
The Heartland Institute – which has received funding in the past from oil companies and is a leading source of climate science skepticism – also lobbies strongly for school vouchers and other forms of "school transformation" that are broadly aimed at undermining the current public school system. The Discovery Institute – a leading voice for intelligent design – has indicated its support of exactly the same "school reform" initiatives.
If you can't shut down the science, the new science-deniers appear to be saying, you should shut down the schools. It would be a shame if they succeeded in replacing the teaching of science with indoctrination. It would be worse if they were to close the public school house doors altogether.

Well, we're fucked.

No comments: