The Guardians of Dogma: Part 1 — Defenders of the New Religion
Historically, there have been few
scientific breakthroughs that were not violently opposed, condemned and strongly resisted. It is the belief of most mainstream scientists these days that science has essentially reached 'the end of the
road,' that everything that can be understood has been understood, and that, therefore, claims to genuinely revolutionary discoveries must necessarily be erroneous or fraudulent.
Establishment science has thus gotten into the habit of ignoring, burying or suppressing what has now become astonishing amounts of anomalous evidence. Some of this evidence challenges the very
foundations of the accepted scientific world view, and none of it is taught in universities or covered by textbooks. Mention any of it to a mainstream scientist, and odds are you will
be dismissed as a crank, or worse, a crackpot.
The conclusion is sobering: some of what passes for "scientific fact" these days is little more than a social construct. What is true and what is not is
determined by the scientific prestige of the claimant, the predilections of journal editors and referees, and by economic interests. A scientist who challenges the status quo becomes persona non grata - banned from
publication in journals and speaking on conferences, experiences a loss of funding and is most certainly marginalized. The victims of this phenomenon
include world-class scientists such as Jacques Benveniste, Peter Duesberg, Halton Arp, Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischman.
The New Battlefield -
Science vs. Pseudoscience
According to the Skeptic's Dictionary, "A pseudoscience is set of ideas based on theories put forth as scientific when they are not scientific."
Whereas science and scientific theories are, by their definition, "... characterized by such things as (a) being based upon empirical observation
rather than the authority of some sacred text; (b) explaining a range of empirical phenomena; c) being empirically tested in some meaningful way,
usually involving testing specific predictions deduced from the theory; (d) being confirmed rather than falsified by empirical tests or with the discovery
of new facts; (e) being impersonal and therefore testable by anyone regardless of personal religious or metaphysical beliefs; (f) being dynamic
and fecund, leading investigators to new knowledge and understanding of the interrelatedness of the natural world rather than being static and stagnant
leading to no research or development of a better understanding of anything in the natural world; and (g) being approached with skepticism rather than
gullibility, especially regarding paranormal forces or supernatural powers, and being fallible and put forth tentatively rather than being put forth dogmatically as infallible."
Science now views itself as the new religion; in fact, that belief seems to have been enlarged to the view that Science is the only TRUE religion. This
may well explain why we tend to believe most all of what mainstream science and academics present to us, virtually without question.
In a very un-scientific and tongue-in-cheek experiment, a group of students at Oxford University, Oxford England set out to test the idea that the general
public will believe even the most outlandish information, if we are told it is backed by mainstream science or some other seat of authority.
In 1995, these students conduced a series of tests by going out among the general population. The subjects believed that they were answering an
opinion survey about "recent scientific discoveries." Actually, they were responding to blatantly nonsensical "facts" that they had concocted. Among their findings:
- 78% of the subjects believed that "Venus orbits around Jupiter" after being told that "there is scientific proof."
- Before being told about this "scientific proof," 42% of the subjects believed this.
- 84% of the subjects believed that "reading books causes cancer" after they were told that "there is scientific proof." Before being told about
this "scientific proof," only 5% of the subjects believed this.
- 63% of the subjects believed that "Apes have evolved from trees" after they were told that "there is scientific proof." Before being told about
the "scientific proof," some 9% of the subjects believed this.
- The "Golden Rule" of Arts and Sciences - Whoever has the gold makes the rules
It seems that the Science and some of her most vaulted institutions have fallen falling into politics, of the nonacademic variety. I'm rather surprised that people are only noticing just now.
The traditional view of science is that scientists are searching for the truth in a disinterested and objective way. It is generally admitted that there are
occasional dishonest scientists, but these are regarded as highly exceptional. According to the Association for Skeptical Investigation,
"This self-image of scientists has been subject to much skeptical analysis in recent years. Sociologists of science studying scientific controversies have found
that evidence is only one of many factors that influence what is accepted as authoritative. These other factors include funding, prestige, rhetoric and political influence. Seven fascinating case histories of
scientific controversy are described in one of the key books in science and technology studies, The Golem: What You Should Know About Science by Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch (Cambridge University Press, second edition
,1998). This book helped trigger off a controversy within the scientific world called "Science Wars", and was attacked by "science warriors" who tried to defend
the old image of science. In the words of Collins and Pinch, the science warriors "seemed to think of science as like a fundamentalist religion: mysterious, revealed,
hierarchical, exhaustive, exclusive, omnipotent and infallible. The language is that of the Crusade or the Witch Hunt; victory, confession and retraction are the goals wherever heresy is encountered."
Other discussions on the practice of modern science have focused on the political and economic forces that influence it. A recent critique by Daniel S.
Greenberg, "Science, Money and Politics: Political Triumph and Ethical Erosion" (University of Chicago Press, 2002), gives a masterly overview of
how big science and big government have operated together in post-war America. For 40 years, Greenberg has produced a newsletter, "Science and
Government Report," in which he has analyzed Government spending on science.
The scientific establishment was not used to being held up to the same standards of accountability as other special interest groups, but Greenberg
showed that time and time again, scientists were as grasping as any other spending department. Far from being pure, research science involved moneygrubbing politics, backroom deals, special pleading, inflated claims
Too often, in return the public got shoddy science and waste on a monumental scale.
Another area of concern has been a number of well-publicized cases of scientific fraud. William Broad and Nicholas Wade provided an insightful and comprehensive analysis of fraud and deceit in science in their book
Betrayers of the Truth(Oxford University Press, 1985).
As they express it, "The claim of science to represent a reliable body of knowledge rests four-square on the assumption of objectivity, on the
assertion that scientists are not influenced by their prejudices or are at least protected from them by the methodology of their discipline.
Science is not an idealized interrogation of nature by dedicated servants of truth, but a human process governed by the ordinary human passions of
ambition, pride and greed, as well as by all the well-hymned virtues attributed to men of science." Dogmatic skeptics often try to discreditresearch in
unorthodox areas by accusing researchers of fraud and deceit, but Broad and Wade conclude that fraud is much more likely to be successful in
mainstream, uncontroversial areas of research. In controversial areas there is usually a far greater degree of skepticism and scrutiny. "Acceptance of
fraudulent results is the other side of that familiar coin, resistance to new ideas.
Prof David Fontana, PhD, University of Wales says:
"Fraudulent results are likely to be accepted in science if they are plausibly presented, if they conform with prevailing prejudices and expectations, and if they come
from a suitably qualified scientists affiliated with an institution. It is for lack of all these qualities that new ideas in science are likely to be resisted."
Bias in science has long been a problem, and it requires not only the best of intentions but hard work and a scrupulous, carefully designed framework to
avoid it. Policies like having a control group, double-blind testing, devising an analysis framework ignorant of the results it would produce and refusing to
tweak it in order to 'sharpen' the results are only the first step. Somebody (usually a poor grad student) has to exhaustively check the data --- significant
outliers have to be explained, or at the very least acknowledged. At every stage, somebody has to play the devil's advocate, and do so with zest and vigor.
Ultimately, these are no guarantee against bad results -- they are not even a guarantee against biased results. As Chris Roe, Ph.D. Psychology Division,
University College, Northampton, UK observes, "...there's a continuum -- between highlighting but failing to explain bad data, to downplaying its
significance, to ignoring it, to pretending it doesn't exist, to out-and-out falsification. And this process can't even begin without the assumption of
honesty and humility on the part of the participants. When you have a politicized topic, with key players deeply interested in seeing a particular outcome, what do you expect?"
Could There Be Another Einstein?
One final thought - if you fancy yourself to be an amateur scientist, whether archeology, astronomy, geology, or meteorology, do take comfort in the fact
that you are in some very, very good company. : Erwin Schrodinger and Albert Einstein were confirmed pseudo-scientists, and their ideas were
officially banned in Hitler's Germany, labeling them "Jewish Science".
Einstein and Lawrence were confirmed pseudo-scientists, and their ideas were officially banned in Stalin's USSR, labeling them "Bourgeois Imperialist Science".
After all, who was this Albert Einstein? A mediocre patent office clerk in Zurich. Had a degree, true. Not too good at mathematics. (Another Fred Astaire - Can't act, can't sing, slightly bald, can dance - a little.)
Today, Einstein wouldn't stand a chance with our Guardians of Dogma. The debunking would be immediate, scathing, and thoroughly political.