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"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

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Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The danger of science denial

In this 16 minute video of his recent TED lecture Michael Specter, author of the book Denialism, asks "why we have increasingly begun to fear scientific advances instead of embracing them":
Vaccine-autism claims, "Frankenfood" bans, the herbal cure craze: All point to the public's growing fear (and, often, outright denial) of science and reason, says Michael Specter. He warns the trend spells disaster for human progress.


The Grey Lady said...

The ban on frakenseeds is a righteous ban. Some seeds by Monsanto are genetically laced with a pesticide that has been the linked to Bee colony collapse. hard to imagine just how hungry a world could get if there was almost no pollination because there are no bees left.

Eric said...

Grey Lady: there's no reputable evidence to support that conclusion - read the US Federal Gov't report on it here:

Powell lucas said...

It's not so much that people don't believe in science; what makes them skeptical is the way science is abused and used to meet agenda driven ends. I don't believe in man-made global warming; I do believe in climate change. But the climate has been changing for billions of years and will do so for many more billions of years. Once upon a time this planet's atmosphere was poisonous to almost every organism alive today. But the atmosphere changed. To expect that sending billions of dollars to the undeveloped world will clear up this problem is a fool's dream.
The latest H1N1 'epidemic" is another example. This flu was mild by comparison to other outbreaks yet the U.N. promoted it as something akin to the bubonic plague and said the way to cure it was to send them billions of dollars.
That's what has people questioning science. No matter what the problem is, it becomes panic time and the only solution the bureaucrats can ever come up with is to send them billions of dollars to fix the problem. People like me, and many others get lied to by governments, NGOs, large corporations, churches, the military, and the financial enterprises. They have been conned so many times that they think everyone is trying to con them. I love science, but only in the realm of pure research. Once it becomes commercialized or put in the hands of governments and bureaucrats, I become very cynical. Basically, I believe nothing that anyone tells me until I have looked behind the propaganda to see what the purveyor of the propaganda stands to gain. In most cases they stand to gain plenty at my expense.

Eric said...


Good point, but lots of people don't bother to "look behind the propaganda" at the pure science and decide for themselves - their default position is anti-science (or anti-pharmaceutical or anti-vaccine or whatever) regardless of the evidence.

Frances said...

Eric - I agree with Powell. Another problem is that scientists seem to have a problem with criticism, or even acknowledging, for instance, that there may be rare extreme side-effects from their recommended course of action. I have known people who have had very severe reactions to 'flu shots. Parents are not necessarily over-reacting when they report serious reactions to immunizations (and I am NOT talking about the autism 'link'). But the establishment reaction is to seriously underplay the possibility of any such problems and to diminish the persons who report same.

I think part of the problem is that scientists (and health professionals would generally consider themselves in this group) become so involved with their ideas that they can't really look objectively at them. Criticisms are taken personally, instead of being looked at as a way of improving the idea or product.

Eric said...


There's nothing wrong with skepticism - in fact it's essential to the scientific method. The problem as I see it is when skepticism becomes an end in itself and blinds people to facts & producing pre-conceived conclusions with no regard to scientific data. This is a problem in the scientific community too - as evidenced by the Climategate emails.