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 To beat Covid we need real science, not scientism

17.10.20.  True scientific discoveries are doubted until they can be doubted no longer. Over the years, hundreds of scientific research papers published by Australian scientists have been found to be unreliable or compromised, even from our leading Universities. Bear in mind the bulk of research in Australia is paid for by the taxpayer, so saying researchers are under tremendous pressure, and falsifying data is the easy way out but is not an acceptable excuse.
The problem is that the Australian model is one of self-regulation. That also means many scientists jump on bandwagons to show they are worthy of grants, climate change the best example of a bandwagon. With the current Chinese flu pandemic we need trustworthy science as Kurt Mahlburg points out; let’s hope our researchers practice that:
Source: Mercatornet.com. Science has a very trusted reputation — so much so that in recent years, “trust the science” and “the science is settled” have become fashionable phrases in policy making and public debate.
Science deserves this reputation, given how dramatically the discoveries of modern science have transformed our lives for the better. Whether it is the laws of motion, genetic heredity or thermodynamics, we rely on the findings of science constantly, and in ways we barely notice. But what happens when the science that we trust and assume to be settled keeps changing?
At the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, the World Health Organisation (WHO) advised that the wearing of face masks by non-medical workers was unnecessary. Months later, they changed their stance to recommend the use of masks by the general public.
After Donald Trump touted hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the virus, the drug came under heavy criticism, most notably by The Lancet journal — prompting global trials of it to be suspended. But soon after, data inconsistencies and claims of misconduct surfaced, causing the Lancet study to be retracted — and hydroxychloroquine trials to be resumed.
In the latest major backflip, the WHO has condemned lockdowns as a primary strategy for combating the spread of the virus, after originally recommending them.
Speaking on behalf of the WHO this week, Dr David Nabarro told world leaders to stop locking down their countries and economies, warning that the lockdowns already imposed may cause a doubling of world poverty and child malnutrition by next year.
What are we to make of all this?
To be sure, the WHO deserves its fair share of criticism. The World Health Organisation uncritically praised China for its pandemic response — particularly for its transparency and leadership — even as China silenced whistleblowers and concealed critical data about the threat of the virus to the rest of the world.
But it’s also true that a global pandemic is by nature chaotic and unpredictable. We can’t expect science bodies — even the WHO — to perfectly collate incoming data about an ever-changing situation.
The problem is not so much “the science” as it is our understanding of what science is and how it works. When we call the latest recommendation from the WHO “science”, we subconsciously grant it the same authority as the law of gravity — a Newtonian discovery confirmed by centuries of further study.
Scientific findings can of course be confirmed quite rapidly, but the point is this: in times of upheaval like ours, it is all too easy to cling to the latest “discovery”, only to later find out it needed more testing first. It is likewise very tempting to claim that an entire branch of science is settled, and that anyone who disagrees is a “science denier” — a concerning trend we’re seeing in both the transgender and climate debates.
Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Krauthammer astutely observed that “there is nothing more anti-scientific than the very idea that science is settled, static, impervious to challenge”. American thinker and critic Leon Wieseltier draws a helpful distinction for us:
Scientism is not the same thing as science. Science is a blessing, but scientism is a curse. Science, I mean what practicing scientists actually do, is acutely and admirably aware of its limits, and humbly admits to the provisional character of its conclusions; but scientism is dogmatic, and peddles certainties.
[Scientism] is always at the ready with the solution to every problem, because it believes that the solution to every problem is a scientific one, and so it gives scientific answers to non-scientific questions. Owing to its preference for totalistic explanation, scientism transforms science into an ideology, which is of course a betrayal of the experimental and empirical spirit.
The scientific facts that are most solidly established, and that today’s research now takes for granted, are those that have been tried, tested, repeated, peer-reviewed and are yet to be falsified. This takes time, emotional detachment, and an environment free of political agendas — none of which have been available to us during this year’s pandemic.
Unfortunately, 2020 will go down as a year in which our trust in science took a hefty blow. Ironically this is not the fault of science, but rather our trust — our naive, frantic faux-certainty.
Following the great scientists who helped usher in the modern world, we need a healthy dose of skepticism. Like them, our best scientific discoveries today will be those that have been doubted until they can be doubted no longer.
That’s how science is supposed to work after all.
{ 13 comments… add one }
  • BBob 17/10/2020, 6:32 am

    Quote: Months later, they changed their stance to recommend the use of masks by the general public.

    But not under all circumstances:

    The World Health Organisation ( https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/myth-busters) emphatically informs the world:

    FACT: People should NOT wear masks while exercising

    People should NOT wear masks when exercising, as masks may reduce the ability to breathe comfortably.
    Sweat can make the mask become wet more quickly which makes it difficult to breathe and promotes the growth of microorganisms. The important preventive measure during exercise is to maintain physical distance of at least one meter from others.

    The WHO link illustrates exercise with a woman wearing normal clothing casually riding a commuter, not racing, bicycle while sitting erect and a man wearing non-sports clothing doing stretches or other light exercise in a park. The WHO is not talking about intense exercise, just everyday physical activity.

    For the elderly, a walk around the block is exercise (a mate reckons walking from the bar to the toilet is his daily exercise), but they are the very ones most targeted and advised to wear masks. According to the WHO, they SHOULD NOT be wearing masks.

  • Ian A 17/10/2020, 7:48 am

    One aspect of scientism the author misses, is that in its deployment within political discourse, it is highly selective.

    For example, trangenderism dismisses the biological scientific reality of sexual dimorphism, and yet if the conversation turns to homosexuality, it is a ‘scientifically proven biological reality’, not just a sexual preference.

    Wokists denigrate science as colonialist and racist, until they start talking about climate change, when suddenly the science matters. That’s scientism.

    • Ozman 17/10/2020, 11:26 am

      Two hens getting together to produce an egg that then hatched and produced a rooster is the about the truth of how people came about too: two eves made it happen. Or was it two steves?

      There is an agenda there somewhere.

      Repeat something often enough and the indoctrinated do not question it, except those who really want to know the truth.

      • Ian A 17/10/2020, 2:40 pm

        Ozman, chickens are a cultural construct, and your cis-chicken microaggressions are offensive and oppressive to trans-chicken minorities.

    • Neville 17/10/2020, 11:26 am


  • Aktosplatz 17/10/2020, 8:45 am

    Money is what drives science today .Funding from the taxpayer is the driving motivator.
    Always follow the money trail.

    • Penguinite 17/10/2020, 10:34 am

      Same as JCU/Peter Ridd debacle! Saving the GBR has been clouded by obfuscation and dishonesty for the sake of government funding. In the process JCU has informed the world that one of Australia’s greatest tourist attractions is dying!

      • Neville 17/10/2020, 11:28 am

        And Ridd has (pretty much) proven that JCU is lying.
        Probably why JCU doesn’t like him, I guess …

  • luk1955 17/10/2020, 8:49 am

    I got out of the chemical industry 12 years ago when I realized that the lying and false science and pursuit of government scam money had taken over the whole of science. Even planetary astronomy has been affected by the climate change scam, with all changes in a planet’s atmosphere the result of “climate change” and is a warning to Earth. I am waiting for an astronomer to announce that the Big Bang happened because of climate change.

  • Eliza 17/10/2020, 11:27 am

    Please can someone define the meaning of Scientific studies to me as from everything I read today the meaning is so very different from when I was doing science many moons ago?

    • Neville 17/10/2020, 11:38 am

      LOL. I think the cartoon above covers it!

      • Ozman 17/10/2020, 12:00 pm

        Found. At last!

  • JD 17/10/2020, 1:28 pm

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