When the Science Goes Away 3 - Dictators of Science

Decreeing that a scientific theory is true doesn't make it so.

Science is the ultimate arbiter of truth and definer of reality - or, at least, so we're told.  Our problem today is that "science" often is anything but.

In the first article in this series, we explained the true nature of science; then, we showed how Brahe, Kepler, Newton, and Einstein used increasingly accurate data to refine their theories of gravitation and spacetime over many decades.

They were geniuses, and most of us are not, but we all have one thing in common: we are fallible human beings with our own mistakes, biases, and agendas.  This unfortunate reality limits science from smoothly marching, and indeed, can cause it to go marching in the wrong direction and even fall off a cliff.

Let's take a look at some of the pitfalls that human nature puts in the way of the "march of science."

New and better data generally falsify "settled science" as better data about Mercury falsified Newton's theories of gravitation, but confirmation of new ideas may take a long time.  A biography of Yacov Il'ich Frenkel, an extremely creative Russian scientist, discusses one of his theories:

He also proposed the first quantitative theory of plastic deformation of solid bodies based on the idea of self-consistent movement of atomic ensembles and obtained the expression for the velocity of deformation.  Ten years later the results of Frenkel were replicated from macroscopic point of view by F. C. Frank and J. D. Eshelby.  [emphasis added]

The biography also discussed the damage political correctness can inflict on scientific progress.  Even though Stalin badly wanted an atomic bomb and Dr. Frenkel was widely known to be an extraordinarily creative physicist, he was not permitted to work on the bomb project because he was a Jew.  Persecution of scientists intensified as the cold war ramped up:

The ensuing [cold war] political persecution affected not only Frenkel, but also many other prominent scientists.  Frenkel's work was criticized for not contributing to the construction of the society of great socialism.  His contributions in quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity were labeled as servility to Western science.  His publications in the Western journals were unpatriotic.  Several of his best books were published in German and English before they became available in Russian.  To his accuser, these testified that Frenkel was in a hurry "to help the Americans use the achievements of Soviet Science in the interest of monopolistic capitalism."  He was even accused by his colleagues and the director of the Institute that his use of terms like "forced collectivization of electrons" and "collectivization under pressure" was a derision of soviet collective farms.  [emphasis added]

Ignoring reality in favor of political correctness obscured problems with the Russian planning process and contributed to their economic collapse during the Reagan years.  The Wall Street Journal article "The Ideological Corruption of Science" shows that American science is heading over the same cliff:

At Michigan State University, one group used the strike to organize and coordinate a protest campaign against the vice president for research, physicist Stephen Hsu, whose crimes included doing research on computational genomics to study how human genetics might be related to cognitive ability - something that to the protesters smacked of eugenics. He was also accused of supporting psychology research at MSU on the statistics of police shootings that didn't clearly support claims of racial bias. Within a week, the university president forced Mr. Hsu to resign[emphasis added]

Political correctness in matters of science is costly indeed.  Ignoring the reality about police shootings in favor of false theories of racist bias has led to billions of dollars worth of riot damage in American cities.

There is a great deal of ongoing research on the effects of human genes on sickle-cell anemia, sleep issues, height, cancer, susceptibility to Covid 19 and much else.  The more we know about how genes and gene groups interact, the better we can treat diseases, but as with the Soviet Union, some areas of research are off-limits for political reasons.

What if someone invents a genetic treatment for sickle cell anemia or miscarriages which has nasty effects on intelligence?  Since researching the genetic basis of intelligence is verboten, we won't know how editing genes affects intelligence until after a statistically significant number of mentally deficient kids are born - if we're allowed to notice even then.  Reality eventually trumps political correctness, but it may take decades and the results are often quite messy.

We selected miscarriages as an example of something that might have a genetic origin because Big Pharma introduced diethylstilbestrol, a.k.a. DES, a drug which prevented miscarriages.  This made it possible for previously-infertile women to give birth, so it was given to millions of women from 1938 until 1971.

The drug was used for many years, so the science was settled, right?  Not quite.  As the American Cancer Society explained

DES-exposed daughters are about 40 times more likely to develop CCA [clear cell adenocarcinoma, a rare form of cancer of the vagina and cervix] than women not exposed to DES in the womb. But because this cancer is so rare, this means that about 1 of every 1,000 DES-exposed daughters might develop CCA.

Since male and female babies are born in roughly equal numbers, 1 out of every 2,000 DES-exposed babies will have this problem.  Contrary to what some politically-correct lunatics preach, males do not have cervixes to get cancer in and women are immune to prostate cancer.

DES also increases the probability of other reproductive issues - such as only 64% of DES-exposed women delivering a full-term baby in their first pregnancy, compared with 85% of women who were not exposed to DES.

This illustrates the point that science cannot ever be settled, not ever.  The effects of DES use in terms of reducing miscarriages showed up early, but the undesirable effect of causing reproductive problems in daughters who were exposed to DES in their mothers' wombs didn't appear until decades later, at which point lawyers got involved.  DES Action posted a list of lawyers who are experienced in claiming that businesses which manufactured DES which reduced miscarriages and increased the probability that the litigants would be born at all should have to pay for unexpected side effects.

The DES fiasco is precisely what could happen with any sort of genetic disease treatment.  Genes interact in complex ways.  Unless we analyze an enormous amount of genetic data about people who're already born to explore all the effects of all the genes someone proposes to modify on other attributes such as cancer resistance, nearsightedness, the efficiency of the immune system, and yes, (gasp) intelligence and senile dementia, we're likely to find ourselves with undesirable side effects many years down the road.

When "Science" Doesn't Apply

After the Apollo landing, it became common for pundits to ask, "If we can get to the moon, why can't we ____."  This question was asked about curing cancer, fighting poverty, providing universal health care, and a host of other issues.

People who asked this question didn't understand the difference between scientific / technical / engineering problems, which can be solved, and societal problems which can't be solved.  Getting to the moon required considerable research into new materials and a lot of engineering to overcome obstacles that arose along the way, but there only were so many such problems, and we could (and did) tick them off each in turn, albeit at considerable expense.

The wonderful thing about engineering problems is that once solved, they stay solved.  As Einstein put it, "God is tricky but He isn't malicious."  Once we figured out how to get to the moon, we could have kept doing it if we'd wanted to keep spending the money - technical problems don't fight back.

Societal problems are inherently not solvable.  Consider poverty.  People whom the American government defines as "poor" have smart phones, air conditioning, central heat, and many automobiles.  They are far better off than citizens of most other countries, yet they're always agitating for more "free lunch."

As long as our anti-poverty programs don't distinguish between the "deserving poor" who are poor from no fault of their own such as being crippled in an accident, and the "undeserving poor" who are poor from making bad choices such as substance abuse or not going to school, poverty multiplies no matter what we do.  Only unavoidable unpleasant consequences can persuade people "Don't do that!" when they consider self-destructive behavior.  Blaming undesirable outcomes on society at large encourages bad behavior and makes things worse but there are many votes to be found in exaggerating such problems so it won't stop any time soon.

Poorly-Done Science Leads Us Astray

The term "science" has traditionally been fact-based, in that you gather facts, compare the facts with what your theory predicts, and let the facts vote it up or down.  It's important to get your experimental design correct, however.  If you collect data in the wrong way or collect data that doesn't relate to what you're trying to accomplish, you can be led astray.

As essential as it is for real science to gather and analyze massive amounts of data, it's equally important to ensure the reliability, accuracy, and relevance of every last scrap.  Otherwise, no matter how accurate the formula, the result will be garbage.  Both computers and Ivy-League-educated leaders have a very hard time understanding this.

That is one of our concerns as we enter the era of "big data" where businesses record our every move we make in their stores and predict what we'll buy based on how we wander the shelves.  One of the best illustrations of the failure of data collection came about during the Vietnam war.  Robert McNamara, the American secretary of defense at the time, was addicted to numbers.  MIT's Technology Review tells us that although his use of statistics saved billions of dollars in military procurement during WW II, the Vietnam War brought him to epitomize "the hyper-rational executive led astray by numbers."  He believed that any problem could be solved if he collected enough data.

During the war, his favorite number was what came to be known as the "body count."  He believed that if the American forces and their allies killed enough Viet Cong, our side would win the war, which seems eminently logical and common-sensical - surely if you kill enough of the enemy, there won't be any left?  The problem was that it's not possible to gather accurate enemy body counts in the heat of combat.

Suppose you get attacked while patrolling.  You shoot back and run off the attackers.  Are you going to go out there in the tall grass to count their bodies?  Probably not.  You know that Upper Management will demand numbers about body count to justify the ammo you just used, though, so you make up a number and fill out the form when you get back to base.

Mr. McNamara never did realize that relying on numbers which couldn't be collected accurately was no better than making decisions by throwing dice.  As Technology Review put it:

Big data will be a foundation for improving the drugs we take, the way we learn, and the actions of individuals. However, the risk is that its extraordinary powers may lure us to commit the sin of McNamara: to become so fixated on the data, and so obsessed with the power and promise it offers, that we fail to appreciate its inherent ability to mislead[emphasis added]

Mr. McNamara had an exaggerated belief in the power of numbers.  In like manner, since many people have an exaggerated faith in "science," not realizing that scientists, data gatherers, journalists, peer reviewers, and all other participants are human beings with human fallibility, emotions, and personal agendas, power-seeking people try to cloak their policy nostrums in the guise of "science."

How did Mr. McNamara go astray?  Isn't collecting data and comparing results with expectations what science is all about?

Well, yes, but as we pointed out, true science depends on repeatability.  Physical objects such as planets, chemical molecules, and other non-living artifacts act in repeatable ways, but that's not as true of living beings.

There's an old saying, "Under carefully-controlled experimental conditions, living organisms do whatever they feel like doing."  The Soviet authorities who promoted Lysenko and persecuted Frenkel held back Soviet scientific progress and caused great harm, just as the woketivists who persecuted Dr. Hsu for his research into the genetic basis of intelligence will hold back understanding of genetics which could lead to some really bad outcomes as we experiment with gene-based medical therapies.

Unlike the old Soviet Union, we at least still have the liberty to point out what is going on, so long as the Tech Lords don't notice us doing so.  In the next article in this series, we'll discuss two current "the science is settled" assertions to see how they stack up with reality as we know it today.

We don't have to wait for more data to know that much that is said about the covid virus and about climate change is nonsense on stilts, but they've become core doctrines of the latest woke religions.  Calling them out risks the same penalties that were applied to anyone who pointed out obvious problems with Lysenkoism back in Stalin's day.

History doesn't tell us what happened to the child who pointed out that the Emperor had no clothes, but we do know what happens to anyone who questions the religions of covid or global warming.  Be warned enough to hang onto your wallet, but be careful what you say.

Finished looking over your shoulder?  Then you'll be ready to privately peruse the next article in this series, in which we get down to some very inconvenient truths.

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for Scragged.com and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments

Great article.
The problem as I see it is the outright and purposeful brainwashing of the masses by the teachers, professors, politicians and media to control them through delusion.
When we dream, the dream often not only seems excruciatingly real, the dreamer actually experiences the fear or dread or whatever the emotion that the thought (dream) demands. When we awaken, we realize “oh, it was only a dream” and dismiss the event as unreal. The brainwashing being done whereby the teachers, professors, media and politicians are skewing reality, is taking place during the waking state so the person doesn’t “wake up”. The person is awake. And therefore, while there is often confusion and internal conflict because the persons senses (eyes and ears) may be saying “wait a minute...they say there’s covid deaths everywhere yet when I look out my window, I see life”; it’s not enough to get them to wake up. And it is not a dream, it is a delusion. Let me highlight the difference between denial and delusion.
Denial is the negation of logic. Something said, believed, alleged is knowingly false. The individual knows it’s not true.
Delusion is false belief that is resistant to confrontation with actual facts. The individual believes as true whatever the belief is.
Science, as we see, has little to no affect on the delusional masses. Take yesterday’s on air (CNBC) argument re: covid lockdowns between Andrew Ross Sorkin (delusional) and Rick Santelli (awake). No amount of logic or confrontation with actual facts are even considered by the deluded individual.
That is what we are up against. That is why deluded men believe the dream that they are actually women trapped in a mans body, or vice versa. And that is why no amount of science contrary to their delusional beliefs has any hope of waking them up. It’s ironic that the masses of people who are, in fact, delusional, call themselves “woke”. In reality, they are in a waking state dream created by and continually fed by the teachers, professors, politicians and media.
Sadly, in certain areas of the country, especially areas without strong Christian Churches, and areas where the parents are deluded themselves, I see little hope for this changing. True science and facts mean nothing to deluded people.
It’s like the remake of the old movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers with Donald Sutherland where you cannot tell by looking at the person if they have been taken over by the alien entity or not. Therefore, the level of suspicion and anxiety in society will remain heightened. “We”, don’t know who “we” are, so people will gravitate to places and situations where they can be more certain of who they are dealing with, like going to Church or moving to more conservative parts of the country. This is also why gun sales are through the roof. Fear and uncertainty.
And it’s all been planned and coordinated by teachers, professors, politicians and the media....against you in order to control you.

December 5, 2020 8:13 AM

Well said ,Rico

December 9, 2020 9:07 PM

" ... Isn't collecting data and comparing results with expectations what science is all about?"
---
most americans, thanks to being indoctrinated rather than educated by the leftist public "education" system, subscribe to the religious belief called "scientism." they believe that scientific things are decided once and for all, and that Science is Always Right; see definition 2 at https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/scientism.

there is nothing wrong with religion; i myself am a born-again christian who believes that my salvation is based on my Holy Spirit-granted faith, and that faith will *always* be necessary (i.e., God will be neither proved nor disproved) to be saved by God. a religious belief can be defined as any a priori-based belief that is *never* subject to falsification or test by its holders; my faith is exactly that. my use of the *T*O*O*L* of the scientific method, OTOH, subjects every belief which i currently hold because of it to falsification and potential discard should better data or a better theory explaining the data become available. sadly, the scientific method is taught as a scientific/historical *FACT* rather than as a tool, and the poor victims who are mistaught this way lose the ability to apply the tool. they do not realize that there is NO SUCH THING as a scientific "fact," that only data (of varying quality) and theories (also of varying quality) are available, and that either or both must be discarded should better data be gathered or better theories be originated.

good luck teaching science to the innumerate, scientifically-illiterate, leftist-"educated" american citizen.

January 8, 2021 3:02 PM
Add Your Comment...
4000 characters remaining
Loading question...