Denial of Science

I’d like to talk for a little bit about science. It’s a fairly interesting process: someone comes up with an idea and then that someone, and all of his or her colleagues will greet the idea with skepticism and do whatever they can, in hopes of proving that idea wrong.

Over time, the efforts to disprove the idea get so detailed and don’t come to fruition, that the idea becomes pretty much established fact.

Even after the science becomes established as a fact, though, there remain people who continue to deny the fact.

We can criticize National Geographic magazine for having a cover that hints that evolution isn’t established science. But the article, at least, gets it right.

I find it interesting that denial of science comes in two flavors: from the right, we have denial of evolution or climate change, and from the left, we have alternative medicine and a potential disdain for some new technologies.

In the past few months, I’ve had a couple of run-ins with friends of mine on facebook involving some of the liberal science denial.

The first one was when a picture that originated with a chiropractor’s office was “shared”. It had three columns to it, each getting progressively longer and listed the number of required vaccines that children need to get, with the shorter column being longer ago and the longest column being what is required now, and the underlying implication was that the increased number of vaccines for children has resulted in more problems.

I gave a snarky response: taking vaccine advice from a chiropractor is akin to getting psychiatric advice from a scientologist.

Chiropractic medicine is a form of alternative medicine. I’m not a big fan of the term “alternative medicine” to begin with, as it has very little to do with science based medicine. This is why a chiropractor isn’t really considered a medical doctor.

If I’m being generous, alternative medicine is a supplement to, and not a replacement for, real medical treatment. I know that my sister swears by her chiropractor. And I had a really negative experience with one a few years back that left me on edge for at least an hour after it was done. But both of those are anecdotes and should be discounted in favor of real, hard research.

At best, a chiropractor is helpful in pain management and maybe can do some things to help improve posture.

My wife practices Reiki. I don’t deny that I can feel the heat coming from her hands when she tries it on me. But that means that her hands quite literally serve the same function as a fifteen dollar heating pad I can buy at the local drug store. Without having to maneuver around another, you know, human body.

Again, pain management.

The movie Contagion is a taut thriller about the spread of a deadly disease and how to combat the outbreak. Jude Law plays a snake oil salesman who claims to have a cure for this disease, and a desperate and gullible public believes him. Not only does his cure not work, but when supplies of his “miracle cure” start to dwindle, it literally results in a riot. It turns out that the only thing he’s really good at, is digging up dirt on the legitimate scientists (distracting people from finding a real cure), but the damage is done. While this is an extreme risk of alternative medicines, it is a very real one.

I think Tim Minchin summed it up the best with his beat poem, Storm:

The other facebook moment is with regard to Proposition 37 in California, which was defeated by a margin of 53.1 – 46.9% on Election Day the other day.

If you read the text of the ballot measure, it’s pretty easy to see why it lost: it basically was a witch hunt against a single company.

Now, I have no problem if people have a grudge against a specific company. And there’s nothing wrong with organizing boycotts if that floats your boat. But to put the resources of an entire state government against that company, when that company is not in violation of any existing laws? That really doesn’t seem appropriate.

Furthermore, all of the foods we eat are, in some capacity, genetically modified. The very nature of agriculture is genetic modification. Nearly 100% of all of the turkeys we domesticate and consume at any time, are conceived via artificial insemination. This is because we have selected the largest birds to continue to reproduce (thus feeding more people) and now, they are too big to reproduce naturally. This is evolution in action.

So, too, is genetic modification in a lab. Producing plants that are sturdier and more capable of defending itself against pests doesn’t sound to me, like a bad thing. If anything, it sounds a lot better than spraying nasty pesticides over the crops.

There is room for patent reform if Monsanto has claimed intellectual property over their genetically modified foodstuffs, and I am — in a general sense — an advocate for patent reform.

And the FDA has a responsibility to ensure that the processes and results are safe. I don’t want to downplay that.

Once safety can be assured — a scientific process in and of itself — I don’t have any real problem with genetically modified foods. If you do, then don’t eat them. But don’t put a label on the foods that would do little more than scare the uninformed.

George Hrab has a song called “Skeptic”, which puts it pretty well. I apologize that the sound quality of this video isn’t great, but…

“Before your eyes widen at the books on the shelf, think:
Is he helping you, or is he helping himself?”