On this blog we have a semi-regularly re-appearing feature under the heading ‘The demise of science’. Mostly, the pieces under this heading lament the current trend to pervert hard science into a mushy, activist pseudo-science. This is most noticeable in ‘climate science’.
But it occurs in other fields too. Just a couple of weeks ago we pointed out an article in the New York Times about how the insistent dietary advice given to us by food ‘scientists’ may be itself responsible for the so-called epidemic of obesity.
As a result, science in general has lost much of its hallowed glow in the public eye. Why this is so is explored in a brilliant piece in The American: Science Turns Authoritarian.
Our theory is that science is not losing its credibility because people no longer like or believe in the idea of scientific discovery, but because science has taken on an authoritarian tone, and has let itself be co-opted by pressure groups who want the government to force people to change their behavior.
Basically, their theory is that, while scientist used to phrase their findings in terms of ‘We discovered such and such’ (period) or ‘we found this and that’ (period), they increasingly seem to say ‘we found such and such and such, and those findings say that you must change your life in this and that way’.
To test this hypothesis, the authors use the LexisNexis search engine, they tracked whether and how much the use of authoritative phrases (‘science requires us’, ‘science tells us we should’) has increased over time. Their results were simply stunning (see figure above). Starting their count in 1980, the noticed a sharp increase of authoritative phrases starting in the mid nineties. And (irony of ironies) the shape of the curve resembles… a hockeystick!
The tragedy in all this is of course that science itself is destroyed by this short-sighted abuse of scientific findings by activists as the ultimate appeal to authority to ram through highly particular (and usually not very freedom-advancing) agendas.
The American ends with a call to scientists who still belief their profession intrinsically worthwhile to rise up and be counted:
[S]cientists need to come out every time some politician says, “The science says we must…” and reply, “Science only tells us what is. It does not, and can never tell us what we should or must do.” If they say that often enough, and loudly enough, they might be able to reclaim the mantle of objectivity that they’ve given up over the last 40 years by letting themselves become the regulatory state’s ultimate appeal to authority.
Something yours truly can only heartily agree with.