I know I vowed at the beginning of the year that I wouldn’t do off topic posts after the first couple of weeks but this is one issue I feel so strongly about that I have to comment. Well it is slightly on topic because it concerns two books that I have already written reviews about (HERE) and (HERE).
At first glance it may appear that bad science is harmless, that we should just let it wash over us and leave people to believe whatever they want to believe. Generally, yes we should but when we delve deeper, we see the potential for harm in some cases. Misinformation by oil companies for example, sowing doubt in the minds of those who don’t know any better regarding the impact of CO2 emission has led to a great deal of inaction, causing more damage in the process.
I blame the media for a lot of bad science out there. The problem comes in two forms. Firstly, as passive information. The idea that we must give equal airtime to bizarre beliefs, no matter how out there gives a false impression of parity… the idea that an issue is split down the middle when it is not. Who would know without researching that over 97% of active climate researchers accept the evidence that human activity is changing our planet’s ecosystem? And that of the remaining 3%, 2% are undecided and 1% are active deniers? Who would know that homeopathic remedies consistently fail rigid clinical tests?
The second is malignant information. Fox News in the US, The Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph in the UK regularly push the idea that the global warming movement is a conspiracy orchestrated by wicked anti-capitalists determined to push a liberal agenda of a vague description for unspecified purposes. These media outlets deliberately and aggressively flood their audience with one-sided information and give no balance giving the impression that this is mainstream belief fighting back against an elitist minority who spread their lies for (unclear) political motives.
Medical science is also under attack by the merchants of nonsense. We forget in vain the name of Andrew Wakefield. We also forget in vain how certain elements in the media championed him and said nothing of the alarm being expressed at his motives and methods in the academic community. Funny that those media outlets who did champion him later on forgot their own complicity in giving him unfettered free speech. What he did now has serious implications for children today all because he put his corporate interests above his integrity to the scientific method.
And then we come to evolution – that demon of the religious right. As evolution underpins so much science (LINK), take a moment to think about the implications of creation myth being taught alongside or even instead of evolution.
I don’t want this to become an esssay but if you want to know more about the dangers of bad science, read Ben Goldacre’s book Bad Science. If you want to know more about the insidious nature of the climate denial movement, read Conway and Oreskes Merhcants of Doubt (both links above).