Hypocritial Science Denialism in TZM

I have science-related debates with fellow Zeitgeist supporters on a regular basis. Many of us are avid and knowledgeable advocates of science, as it should be. However, when you mix science and counter-culture activism working against the establishment, there almost necessarily will be a demographic of science denialists floating around as well. Sadly, this is an embarrassing self-contradiction for the Zeitgeist Movement as we promote science above everything else as the way to align ourselves with the natural world, so let's try to nip these individuals in the bud through our favorite form of social persuasion: education. Many of these individuals don't know how science works and unwittingly propagate numerous myths about the scientific method and its interactions with business and the world of monetary profit. They use what they feel are justifiable anecdotes to dismiss any trust in scientific consensus because it, too, is viewed as part of the profit-motivated establishment.

Fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. The scientific process of establishing consensus through independent repeatable research and peer review has little interaction with the profit structures that most of us in counter-culture activism view as corrupted. In truth, peer review is semi-analogous to the process of open-source development of technology where individuals working on the project contribute their own additions and contributions are tested independently by the community of developers working on the same project. Useful additions are adopted into the overall development process while bad contributions are thrown aside and replaced by others that work better. To say that the profit motive could come along and mess up this harmony is to imply a complete misunderstanding about how this all works. Nobody in this structure owns anything, reports to anyone, or has any exclusive control to exploit. Open-source projects have been on-going for years and produced some of the most well-developed products we have (i.e. the Linux operating system).

The Peer Review Process

When a scientist has completed a research project, documented the experiment, and drawn all of the conclusions, it is time to submit the research to a peer review journal so that other scientists can review it. This has many benefits. This helps ensure that the research was done well, is most likely free of errors, and contributes to the sum of knowledge. Other scientists can also repeat the experiment and use the research to further related research of their own. Once a paper is submitted to the appropriate journal, an editor reviews the paper to ensure it is well-written and appropriate for the journal. For example, sloppy or unintelligible writing work won't get accepted and physics papers are not accepted in medical journals. Once a paper passes this step, it is sent anonymously to a handful of related peer scientists who will check the work for several things. Is it conclusive? Is it significant? Does the experiment make the conclusions being purposed? If the reviewers like the paper, it is recommended to be published in the journal. Most papers do not get accepted.

The main difference between peer review and open-source development is that in peer review, a scientist submitting a new paper to a journal doesn't know who is reviewing his or her work nor does the reviewer know whose work he or she is reviewing. This eliminates bias right from the start. They could be in different countries or working for competing employers within the same industry. All of that in mind, let me hit the overall issue bluntly.

Do business, government, or other profit-oriented bodies dictate what science concludes? No! Business and government cannot influence scientific consensus in the modern world. Most people reach this erroneous conclusion out of an ignorance of the peer review process and one of two other factors: 1. A disdain for corporate/government propaganda that they believed was the scientific consensus (implying a lack of knowledge or willingness to check it); 2. An erroneous assumption that business or government own the peer review journals. The spectacular truth is that most of prestigious peer review journals are operated pro bono by the global academic community, not by any government or business (or industry of businesses). Again, they don't report to anyone and, therefore, have no control structure to dictate what the conclusions should be.

Does this mean science is completely free of influence by the profit motive? Unfortunately, it does not. One of the ways the profit motive has an unpredictable, but considerable, influence on the proper function of science is by denying scientists the resources to reproduce experiments described in peer review papers. This doesn't mean errors in research won't get caught. It means they won't get caught as quickly. The good news is that this is not a weakness one could exploit deliberately for any particular gain.

Finding Scientific Consensus

So how do we know what the scientific consensus is? As a non-scientist, peer review papers are infuriatingly dry and complicated, but there are a few avenues available to us for researching what the current understandings of science are on any given topic. First, and foremost, I check to see if the topic in question is being published in the appropriate journals. If so, I also want to know how many papers are being published, how many different experts are writing about it, how many citations the papers usually get, is the knowledge being applied for everyday use, and other such criteria. The more I find, the more compelled I become. If the topic is not something recently discovered within the past 10 years or so, I may e-mail any number of university professors I can find and inquire if the topic is being taught in university classrooms. Don't take the word of any one expert. Get a general idea from many of them! If I only find a small number of papers on the topic from very recent research, I'd be forced to contact some experts myself and ask. Again, don't get take the word of just one.

Last Minute Myths

Here are a few last minute concerns I often hear that I'd like to squash.

1. Journals do not publish research revealing changes to already widely accepted scientific beliefs, revealing an inherent dogmatism in science. WRONG! There is a term for those, "scientific breakthrough." They not only happen, but they happen often enough that we award experts who reveal them with Nobel Prizes.

2. Scientists review papers based on how their employers want them to do so. WRONG! Most scientists review papers pro bono on their own time.

3. Big Pharmaceutical companies lie all the time, therefore science is not reliable. WRONG! Pharmaceutical companies produce their own propaganda for the people to read, but these may or may not reflect what is in the peer review journals. People have a bad habit of reading pseudo-science trash without checking it and blaming science when it turns out to be false.

4. Science is responsible for a lot of atrocities (i.e. the atom bomb). Partially wrong. Science under the instruction of politics was responsible for the atom bomb. War is necessarily a failure in diplomacy, a duty we charge to our politicians. If winning the war required the use of an atom bomb, it is necessarily the fault of the government which required it. Aside from that, science has saved and extended far more lives as well as increased the standard of living over the centuries so a single anecdotal, albeit atrocious, case is hardly fair.

5. Science gets things wrong all the time, so we can disregard it if we so choose. Right, but spectacularly stupid. Science is irrefutably the single most reliable way of assessing reality. It is as imperfect as we are, but it is self-correcting. If you choose to disregard science on the basis of some standard of perfection that nothing could ever possibly fulfill, my question to you is this. What do you fill that intellectual vacuum with: conjecture, a subjective hunch, an uneducated guess? No matter what you choose, it necessarily must be less accurate than science. This position is arrogant and logically fallacious.

6. Scientists are arrogant, closed-minded, elitists. Partially right. They are elitists and that is as it should be. This position almost always stems from a person who has a personal preference toward a conclusion that disagrees with the experts. To hold that position out of choice in spite of what is evident and regardless of what is true is the height of arrogance and closed-mindedness.

Final Word

I have one final word to science denialists. Everything we have today from our computers and medicines to our cars and machines are the fruits of science. If you choose to be a science denialist, then you are necessarily stained with hypocrisy unless you opt to live the caveman's life without those fruits. Science...love it or hate it, but you can't have it both ways.

Other sources:

Comments

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Sat, 12/03/2011 - 11:50am | Even though I mostly agree (Score: 1)
Sat, 12/03/2011 - 5:44pm | That's correct. The monetary (Score: 1)
Sat, 12/03/2011 - 7:05pm | Great article, you're (Score: 1)
Tue, 12/06/2011 - 3:18pm | I agree, but I am attempting (Score: 1)
Sat, 12/03/2011 - 8:36pm | Isak, you didn't read right. (Score: 1)
Tue, 12/06/2011 - 3:18pm | You got it. :) (Score: 1)
Sat, 12/03/2011 - 8:41pm | Great article. Incisive and (Score: 1)
Mon, 12/05/2011 - 4:33am | Points to add here, if I may. (Score: 2 Insightful)
Brian Findlay's picture

Brian Findlay

Karma: 1

Points to add here, if I may.

It's important when teaching others about the movement that they need to go start looking at things for themselves, and apply a certain degree of scientific method to the research that they do, particularly in the light of the fact that there is so much "bogus science" around.

The examples of bogus science that I mention, show how the corporations really work, in order to get their nice white coated approval stamp for whatever crap they're inevitably going to fill the airwaves with. It is MASSIVELY important therefore to make the distinction between "scientific academia" where Peer Review Journals reside, and "corporate science" where no recognition is required outside of the sponsored lab, and the only regulation is typically law suits affecting profit, and thus initiating a natural selection process of end products, long after whatever inhumanity has transpired.

Furthermore, it is a little naive to suggest that scientists will always be good to the core. Remember that the brain basically works by repetition of experience within the context of environment; This is the same for scientists and engineers as well as any other human, and many of our best scientists got the stimulating environment required for a life of curiosity via their well off conservative parents. The evidence of neuro-psychology suggests that the "all scientists are noble" paradigm is untenable. You will have many scientists who will put their name to an editorial here or there, without having applied any means testing whatsoever; it is merely the opinion of a scientist who has a belief, not a theory, and will happily submit an opinion
because their own culturing is nudging them towards taking something for granted.

Example time - 1) The official 9/11 cover story, revised long after the original commission report, features plenty of "scientific evidence" from NIST, which as noted in one of the TZM films, contained no parametric information to which any willing engineer could refer to, even if they wanted to.

2) - Same topic, but this time on a BBC 10th anniversary "9/11 - what's all this conspiracy about then?" (not the actual name btw), in which objectivity clearly became a taboo at some stage of the production process. Similarly to example 1, 2 different theories were proposed by a retired structural engineer who had worked on the Towers and an American University. The university was a near carbon copy of the NIST report, where no supporting evidence was presented, just a nice 3D graphic, and a narrative which gave it as gospel. The structural engineer however, probably wasn't guilty of any real wrong doing, he probably was just not being too mindful of who he was speaking to. However he verbally proposed a collapse hypothesis, and the editing, along with the Uni report did the rest.

Both these examples demonstrate how govt/corp propaganda can be very succesful and still use scientists whose intentions are ethically correct (excluding NIST of course), but by the time this gets to media level, it's pretty easy to completely turn the story the other way.

The last thing to be aware of, is that even using scientific method, you can decide what depth you wish to go to in order to get the results you want. Not going deep enough into the subject, or perhaps more precisely, a lack of prior knowledge of the subject in focus, is still using scientific method, but was also the basis of eugenics driven programs like sterilisation and lobotomisation.

So, to summarise, Scientific Method will hold up under any light, but how it's applied and by whom, will still have a profound effect on the results. Besides that, be it a "patriotic" university looking at terrorist incidents, or a pharmaceutical company going for profit, with nothing akin to regulation being allowed to get in the way, it is obvious that all too often the principles we admire are not being adhered to in all cases.

At the end of the day, science is as prone to the monetary paradigm as everything else, and in order to have scientific method becoming the "system of government", you must first remove the profit based structure that is an environmental constant to science.

Yeah, I know I'm preaching to the converted here, but as it's a discussion essentially on how to counter objections, I thought some of this may prove useful.

Thanks
Brian

Mon, 12/05/2011 - 8:57am | Fully agree. Scientists are (Score: 1)
Mon, 12/05/2011 - 8:50am | Though I agree with (Score: 2 Interesting)
Zuxius11's picture

Zuxius11

Karma: 1

Though I agree with everything stated here about science. I do believe that the application of science under profit motive should always be under suspect.

I also feel that science in American Society is also under pressure to conform to the needs of universities, government and the private sector.

Universities are trying to tailor their efforts to getting students employed and therefore keep close ties to business and...dare I say...cash contributions to Universities. This in turn affects staffing, research direction and just about anything else that a corporation "wishes to be seen done." I believe that wherever you find funding from corporations, there is a degree of unspoken understanding that such funding should somehow come back to benefit the contributor. In otherwords, you don't just take money without giving something tangible back.

Government on the otherhand is subject to a variety of factors stemming from religious (votes), private (corporations), budgeting (deficits) and my most favorite lobbyists (special interests). Scientists in the government or closely funded by the government (private sector) are at the whim of the tide. As political fortunes come and go these scientists are bound to effected by sweeping changes. In otherwords, here today gone tomorrow.

I don't want to even go into the merits of putting scientists in the private sector. Nothing good can come from that other than profits.

In this environment, U.S. Scientists are truly strapped to the table. If they invent something in the private sector, it belongs to that corporation. If they invent something while working for the government, corporations can apply pressure to see that it never gets funding. If the universities invent something that would "change the world," pressure from contributors could be brought down. For a Science Professor seeking or fearing the loss of tenure, there really is "pressure" that can be exerted.

Sometimes I get the feeling that all the good ideas have been "bought up" by corporations and if someone invents it again, they just slap down their obscure copyright and bury it once more.

The fact that "good ideas" are in the hands of businesses is really strangling. Though everything mentioned above is true in "real science," you see the community as a whole aligning themselves to "real science" that makes life a little better and vilifying those such as climatologists that see life heading in a direction that will be a lot worse. Until every aspect of science receives equal representation and resources to proceed without external pressures (tampering with the work), I really don't feel we are seeing "real science" just yet.

The above theories are followed by scientists but by no stretch of the imagination should we believe that Scientists are able to follow these rules to the letter. There are just too many other factors going into decision making that have nothing to do with the science.

I myself am not afraid of science, but under the American system I believe the evils of science will continue to plague our country as long as the private sector holds the keys to the establishment. Who knows how many patents the oil industry holds on cars that do not burn oil?

Tue, 12/06/2011 - 3:40pm | Everything you described (Score: 1)
Tue, 12/06/2011 - 6:54am | I also find the numbers of (Score: 1)
Tue, 12/06/2011 - 3:37pm | "Although it is important to (Score: 1)
Tue, 12/06/2011 - 3:46pm | Very good points by Brian and (Score: 1)
Tue, 12/06/2011 - 7:33pm | "But the discovery of global (Score: 1)
Tue, 12/06/2011 - 7:59pm | This is also precisely what (Score: 1)
Sun, 12/11/2011 - 2:56am | Tanoro i didnt watch the link (Score: 1)