Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Selling Science and Snatching Stats

Was there a time when scientists and researchers had an ethical obligation to seek facts, weigh them in the context of a known body of knowledge (that they've committed themselves to the study of) and work toward objective conclusions? Conclusions that, depending on their altruistic leanings, were often intended by their contributors to be of benefit to society, to enrich its fabric? I cringe when I hear politicians and glorified lobbyists evoke the credibility of the "scientific community" to promote their brand of ideology in a can. We no longer know who comprises this amorphous collective of experts. We no longer know to what standards, academically or ethically- these folks subscribe. This comes down to the simple problem that there is no longer an "Authority". When accountability leaves the building, authority runs out the back door.
When we hear someone cite studies and snatch stats, we have no idea where they are coming from, and chances are now they are coming from individuals who are being funded to say exactly-supposedly in conclusion- what they have been funded to say before their "objective" inquiry's toddlerhood. Want somebody in a white coat to claim the moon is a triangle, someone out there will do so. Its information for sale. Policy no longer responds to the needs of the governed, we no longer respond to information. We twist information to work for us. We lie to make a policy sound beneficial.
That's the way of "science" now. "Science" is being hijacked to support everything from reproductive health myths to debunking global warming. Any time some fool wants to justify support for the unthinkable, or the unnecessary, they can point to "science" and these propaganda spinning think tanks get to task. Essentially, this is "Science for hire". Research whores that are willing to hide their names behind an "entity" or "institute". There is no "Authority" because nobody is held accountable for what they do or say. Research with fries and a soda. Authority is gone, we cannot trust anyone with our interests anymore. That is the real troubling issue at hand. When "knowledge" is suspect-from labs to academia, from regulators to inspectors, from the media to the local supermarket.... how does the average American make time to learn truth while their tax money pays the salaries of those that should? (I can tell you a story about a meeting with an energy rep on ANWR where he did not know an elk from a caribou, and claimed the warmth from the pipelines helped the animals breed. Do you know what you pay him per year?)
Now even things that are basic to Americans like food and medical care fall into this discussion. Did the FDA independently and objectively determine that parents do not need to know about possible side effects from added hormones in almost all milk (BGH) or does Monsanto determine what is best for my child? Does the EPA determine what is best for my family, or do the power and utility companies, the chemical plants, the shameless polluters? Does your doctor behave as an "authority" you can trust when he/she receives incentives to prescribe questionable drugs, or limit your care for kickbacks received to "keep down costs"? Vioxx, anyone?
My friends, it was only a matter of time before the neo-cons stopped hating scientists for debunking their stories and decided instead to wine and dine them into bed. Our government has been using the ruse of science for years to support bad policy and misguided environmental stewardship. OF COURSE they will now find scienstists to say that abortion causes cancer, lesbians get osteoporosis, atheists are more likely to have a third cousin with a webbed toe.
I'm waiting for a study that reading books, going to college, or writing BLOGS causes nymphomania......


Renee said...

This should be the CASE statement in support of independent schools.

Bill Ziemer said...

Scientific American has been following this development, and I have never seen the editorials so pointed.

Right wingers have been pouring money into setting up their own institutes and think tanks. It used to be that the quick way to separate the fraud from the real was peer reviewed journals. No longer, there is enough cash within the fake science communtity to support their own journals. It is very hard to separate them out now, you have to read the editorial board makeup, and be aware of the profession enough to know what names to recognize. This does not fool the real scientists, but it is more than sufficient for journalistic and legal purposes.

Cantankerous Bitch said...

Ah yes... The Discovery Institute is one of my favorites. hack cough spew

I believe that organizations like these deliberately set out to capitalize on the layman's general lack of conversance in scientific topics, knowing full well that those best equipped to refute them are the least likely to read their drivel to begin with. See: Kansas.

Lily said...

I want to point out another example if I may- not even of science hijacked- but of ridiculous public servants behaving like fifth graders struggling to write a term paper... In PA, our Senators of course supported drilling in ANWR. Santorum told the citizens of PA that 34,000 jobs would be created here, When his top energy policy rep was questioned, he responded that he "could not remember" where that number came from. After 125 letters, phone calls, etc. we were finally given a website that was supposedly "unbiased and independent". Owned by an oil company! This source also stated that fossil fuels are presently our ONLY option, mentioning nothing about CAFE standards that would raise fuel economy to over 40 miles per gallon and cut emissions. See we are talking about people paid by OUR tax money to know their information and to be well versed. Why should WE, hard working busy parents- be forced to work so hard to get a source?? It goes beyond McScience. It goes to the lack of accountability.
I understand the notion of peer review among members of a particular community- but what about an alleged democracy whose very basis requires an informed citizenry? Should I undertake to familiarize myself with law, medicine, biology, education, insurance, construction, agriculture, energy... if so, give me a tax rebate and lets stop paying these clowns in Washington to represent us! They want competency tests for teachers,licensing for professionals- what about a competency test for people paid by public money to formulate policy? The GRE? Something!!!!

Cantankerous Bitch said...

Now *that's* a test for public office I could happily get behind. The Constitution might forbid a religious test, but I don't recall any commentary about a "competency" test. You're absolutely right -- that we demand it of virtually all professionals save for the ones weilding the most tangible power is a sad commentary on our sense of "fitness".