Belief in Science
"Science is the opposite of belief" -- Kary Mullis
It was about 20 years ago that my mother made a substantial contribution to the National Center for Science Education, and I had the privilege of a personal interview with the executive director, Eugenie Scott. I was an active researcher in evolutionary biology at the time, and Eugenie’s primary concern at NCSE was to ban the teaching in public schools of religion under the guise of “creation science”.
I took the position that this was a golden opportunity to teach what science is: What distinguishes science from other belief systems? What is a “theory”, and how is it different from a creed? What makes a good theory or a bad theory? Let’s teach creation science and Darwinian evolution side-by-side, (I suggested) and cite the evidence supporting each. Give the students the opportunity to debate and to construct their own arguments, and along the way they will learn the open minded, disciplined logical approach that is the foundation of the scientific method.
Eugenie responded that this is a luxury we cannot afford. We don’t have enough high school teachers who could manage such a discussion competently. The church has been using principles of indoctrination very effectively, and hordes of young humans are growing up with the absurd belief that God created the universe 5,000 years ago, and He did it in six days. We have to teach students the truth about the Big Bang and the geological history of the earth, and we can’t afford to take time for debates.
I lost, and Eugenie won. Not only at NCSE, but throughout the American education system, students are being taught what is true, but they are not being taught the methodology that makes the scientific community such an effective institution for judging truths about our world. They grow up not knowing how to evaluate evidence or to form independent judgments based on diverse sources of information. The result is that we have a population today who believes in Science with a capital S, but it is a fragile belief. They are unable to articulate the basis for detailed beliefs beyond “This is what the best scientists tell us.”
Especially among liberal intellectuals, belief in Science has become a social signal that helps identify us with the right groups of friends and the right political party. Ironically, the same people who feel comfortable debating details of one political perspective vs another don’t feel they have the background to discuss scientific questions. (The irony is that political debates seldom resolve anything, whereas scientific debate is genuinely productive, and in fact, it is the foundation of the confidence we have when the scientific community converges on a new understanding.)
Some open scientific questions that fascinate me…
Can the Big Bang theory carry the burden of ad hoc assumptions like Dark Matter and Dark Energy, or should we be rethinking cosmology from the ground up?
In evolutionary genetics, can acquired traits be passed to an offspring? (This is traditionally associated with “Lamarckism” and opposed to the “Darwinian” view, despite the fact that Darwin himself advocated a version of Lamarckian inheritance.)
Should parapsychology be embraced as a legitimate science? And if so, how much of the scientific framework must be reconsidered?
Do UFOs have their origin on other planets? Or are they the work of advanced, secret projects here on earth? Or are they merely a collection of random reports from people’s imagination and weather phenomena?
All these questions have been politicized, and there is too much stigma associated with asking them. The scientific community should not have any patience with dogmatic beliefs or the legitimacy of reigning authorities; but scientists are humans with careers and institutional prejudices. Few of us have the mental plasticity to remain open-minded when new experiments contradict the core of what we thought we knew. In the present, such findings come in at an exponentially increasing pace.
Distortion of science for political and business ends
But there are bigger forces at work than the cutthroat competition for NSF grants and petty politics in the university department. Some very powerful and well-heeled forces have the means and the motive to create scientific illusions, to distort scientific reporting in the popular press and even the academic journals. The takeover of medical research by the pharmaceutical industry is a subject documented by Gerald Posner, Martha Angell, John Abramson, Robert F Kennedy Jr, Peter Breggin, and others.
Up until 2019, the pharmaceutical industry had taken control of the practice of medicine in America, with disastrous consequences. We have the highest medical expenses and the worst outcomes of any country in the developed world. Starting in 2020, the disease has metastasized from the realm of medicine to economics, social and religious culture, performing arts, and the fabric of our communities. The pharmaceutical industry allied with bankers, billionaires, and dark political forces has created a pandemic, then profited from it. Trillions of dollars have been transferred from working people to corporate overlords. Power has been consolidated, the Constitution has been subverted, “emergency powers” have superceded established law.
The roots of the COVID deception spread wide through our society. There’s plenty of blame to go around, but this could not have been accomplished if the public were scientifically competent. The healthy diversity of scientific debate has been replaced by the authority of CDC and Bill Gates and Anthony Fauci, censoring all dissenters.
In May, 2020, the most prestigious medical journal in England published an article “proving” that hydroxychloroquine was dangerous. The nominal authors were top scholars from Harvard and Stanford medical schools, but the project had been initiated by a small company called Surgisphere. It was revealed a few weeks later that Surgisphere had made up the data and hoodwinked the medical school scholars. The papers were retracted but the damage was already done, and clinical research with a promising COVID treatment had effectively ended. [My 2020 article. Article by Meryl Nass.]
In 2019, pediatrician Dr Paul Thomas and biostatistician James Lyons-Weiler authored a study in which they followed children from Dr Thomas’s practice and compared health outcomes for those whose parents chose vaccination and those who chose to forgo vaccination. It is telling, perhaps it is scandalous, that such a study had never been published before. The article raised questions that should have caused a debate about vaccination policies, but instead the article was censored by the publisher. The article was retracted by the Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health based on a single complaint, giving the authors no opportunity to respond or debate.
In 2021, Jessica Rose and Dr Peter McCullough authored a review of myocarditis following vaccination with the mRNA vaccines. The article was accepted for publication in the Elsevier journal called Current Problems in Cardiolgy. Dr Rose was surprised to wake up one morning to a note from Elsevier saying that she had withdrawn the submission from consideration. She and Dr McCullough protested to no avail that she had done no such thing.
I have a personal experience submitting for publication an epidemiological study comparing spread of COVID in vaccinated and unvaccinated populations, and seeing the article disappear without response or peer review, presumably because my results did not support the prevailing paradigm.
These examples are intended to illustrate that it is not just science reporting in the New York Times that has been corrupted; academic medicine and medical journals have been deeply compromised by the deep pockets of the pharmaceutical industry.
It does not take a PhD in epidemiology to recognize
that genetic experiments aimed at making viruses more contagious and more lethal to humans are a really, really bad idea;
that exempting a company from legal liability when consumers are harmed by its product is an invitation to skimp on safety testing;
that discouraging healthy people from socializing with other healthy people is a damned inefficient way to slow the spread of a virus, and can only prolong but not soften an epidemic;
that we have failed to insulate public health decisions from private financial interests;
that closing down businesses and confining people at home are ineffective and extremely costly — and the economic costs translates into a health cost;
that you can’t know anything about the long-term effects of a vaccine that was developed under Warpspeed time pressure;
that you can’t recommend a medicine for pregnant women and diabetics and people with heart conditions if it has only been tested on young, healthy people, with pregnant women explicitly excluded;
that the present crop of mRNA vaccines has caused a surge of reported vaccine side effects, including death, that dwarfs every other approved medication in the history of modern medicine.
It doesn’t take a PhD, but it takes a willingness to think independently, to read primary sources, and to evaluate competing claims based on the evidence they present. It is America’s scientific illiteracy that has made us vulnerable to authoritarian overreach, scientific illiteracy as much as the power of Big Pharma or media consolidation or corrupt politicians.
The solution begins with an end to scientific censorship and restoration of open debate. Net neutrality and diverse ownership of news sources are an intermediate step. Eventually, it will be vitally important to change the structure of K-12 schools. We need much less lecture and reading for facts, much more free and open exploration, encouraging our children’s innate curiosity wherever it leads them.