OK, I am pissed off with the slack-jawed, Daily Mail reading idiots who populate this country, as always. And the spectacularly clueless media. Here's why : In recent times, people have started to use the imbecilic phrase "perhaps science doesn't hold all the answers". Now, this is a cool premise for a 45 minute syndicated TV show, but if you start attempting to apply it to your healthcare preferences, you'd just better hope you don't get hit by a fucking bus. Or get a real disease. Because no amount of acupuncture or tiny, expensive labelled bottles of tap water are going to help you then.

Worse than the knuckle-headed acceptance of alternative(s to) medicine is the attitude toward genetic modification of food organisms, and genetics in general, even. The last straw was seeing a poster for The Science Museum (yes, the Fucking Science Museum) which contained the blurb :

"Cloning : How is it done? What are the implications? And is it right?"

Jesus Fucking Christ. How about rephrasing the question : "Finding a cure for cancer and terminal diseases : Ooh, is it right?" Don't be such pussies, come out of the lab and brandish your monkey forceps with pride, you're a scientist. Dammit, man, A SCIENTIST! BE PROUD! It's the fucking political-correctness nutjobs that are the real villains.


OK, just so's you know, this is a rant rather than a totally rationalised argument. I think that an anti-GM stance is a rational one, provided that you express it through proper channels of debate, and at least accept that GM has the potential to benefit people as well as possible dangers. Going and ripping up crops is stupid and wasteful, at best. Science doesn't hold all the answers / any of the answers, but I think that people interpretting this as meaning "new-age mumbo jumbo and alternative medicine are as valid as science" are wrong, and nudging us closer to the Dark Ages. Although, with any luck this is just a fad.

Question everything. Basically, full kudos to Pseudomancer and Halcyon&On for actually saying what I was trying to say a bit better than I did. The total rant mode that I engaged in to make this point was a deliberate reaction to the very, very annoying groundswell of middle-class opinion that Science == Evil. And the unchallenged proliferation of medical ethics committees that are an unelected, unaccountable obstacle for legitimate medical research, made up of right-wing Lords, whose only interest in the issues they have power of veto over is that they recieve a fat (five/six figure) pay cheque every six months for turning up.
I've noticed this tendency, you see, for people to think that science questioning itself is something that weakens the discipline. The ignorati brought up from birth with a respect for a 'science' that is distant from and uncomprehended by them. Science as an authority. When science begins to question itself, these people think that this is a sign that science may have been wrong all along, and that there may be things outside of science that can be accepted too. This is almost true, but in order to avoid the many pitfalls it creates you have to understand a bit more about science.

Science has always questioned itself - it grew out of a method of questioning when people began to become dissatisfied with the received wisdom that had held sway for almost 2000 years; a mixture of Aristotelian philosophy/physics, the Bible's teachings, and all sorts of other things. Reality from authority, in other words. Science began when people stopped accepting the bullshit they'd been told, in the words of my Philosophy of Science lecturer Philip Catton. In the absence of an authority from which the nature of reality could be obtained, the scientific method was invented as another route to the 'truth'. Details on the scientific method can be found at the approprite node (and if they're wrong (or non-existent) rest assured I'll get to them sooner or later), but here all that need be said is that you don't make claims that aren't backed up by some heavy-duty evidence. It is this principle to that is used to discern between science and pseudo-science - the subjective nature of human experience necessitates a rigourous practice of error-removal and quantification that removes scientific knowledge from the realm of fabrication or personal experience, but this does not mean that scientific knowledge is 'true'. Science does not just question this 'bullshit', however. It also questions itself, and it always has, and it is this that makes it so great. Part of the scientific method is not being afraid to doubt and test established knowledge in the light of new evidence - what we consider to be knowledge is probably best thought of as being the best current explanation, theories may always be superseded by something better. I give a paradigm example of this in the theory of relativity, when Einstein replaced Newton's idea of time and space with spacetime.

This is very important, as it shows something odd about science. Both Newton's and Einstein's ideas are considered to be scientific 'knowledge', yet one has replaced the other. What this means is that the 'knowledge' obtained by the scientific method must never be dogmatically considered true. Science proper does not consider what it produces true, it is the method that creates science and science is not immune from this method.

Perhaps when I said "In a real sense, science doesn't have any answers" the stress should have been on the answers. fondue, I just found it odd that you thought of science questioning itself as some sort of Bad Thing. What I found sad about the observations you made, as I agree with a lot of them, is that after all this time reality from authority still prevails, and science, that wonderful way, has become a tool of it. Misunderstanding science is all that makes it seem weak enough for pseudo-science to be an acceptable substitute, and I hope I've shown why 'weakness' is not an accurate word to use for the description.


Originally I gave in to the temptation to put the following text, a reply to fondue's node, at the top of my node. However, said text has been rendered less relevant by the sterling additions of TheLady and Halcyon&on. So I have moved it down here, as it still contains points which (I hope) are interesting.

OK, I am pissed off with the slack-jawed, Daily Mail reading idiots who populate this country, as always. And the spectacularly clueless media.

Indeedy-doody. Onwards!

Here's why : In recent times, people have started to use the imbecilic phrase "perhaps science doesn't hold all the answers".

Science doesn't hold all the answers. In fact, it deliberately doesn't claim to, which is what makes it so much stronger than the pseudo-science dogma you begin railing against. In a real sense, science doesn't have any answers. More on this later.

Worse than the knuckle-headed acceptance of alternative(s to) medicine is the attitude toward genetic modification of food organisms, and genetics in general, even. The last straw was seeing a poster for The Science Museum (yes, the Fucking Science Museum) which contained the blurb : "Cloning : How is it done? What are the implications? And is it right?"

I also found this sign disturbing, but not because it questions the 'rightness' of scientific advancement. This sign is disturbing because it implies that the three questions it asks actually have answers, and, moreover, that science can give those answers in one convenient 45-minute walk-through display.

Jesus Fucking Christ. How about rephrasing the question : "Finding a cure for cancer and terminal diseases : Ooh, is it right?"

You see, that's just manipulation of public consciousness - you are guilty of the same stunning oversimplification that probably gets to you about that media thing. Scientific advancement has always been difficult to apply morality too, because of its multifarious implications. Bringing the issue down to 'helping sick kids: good or bad?' is as fallacious as 'growing three-headed hyper-intelligent llamas and conducting bizarre sexual experiments on them: good or bad?' What I hope the display concerned itself with was an examination of the many uses for genetic technology, both those the public are comfortable with (medical uses) and those many are uncomfortable with (transgenic crop modification and suchlike). The 'good or bad?' question just gets to me because you can't dictate these things through respected institutions, but that's another node altogether.

Don't be such pussies, come out of the lab and brandish your monkey forceps with pride, you're a scientist. Dammit, man, A SCIENTIST! BE PROUD! It's the fucking political-correctness nutjobs that are the real villains.

I... well, yeah, nutjobs tend to be villains, and political correctness is something of a pet peeve for me, but I get the disturbing feeling that you would class me as just such a nutjob, because I am in favour of anti-GM protest. I suspect many of you will be dismissing me as one of the villain nutjob types, but others will have noticed the odd wording. I am vehemently opposed, not to genetic engineering itself, but to its universal application. This aplication of the technology has been proceeding by stealth for many years now, and many people today who are not comfortable eating or using transgenic products are being denied the ability to easily refuse these products. Whether they are justified in their queasiness is debatable, but the fact is it's there and you can't get rid of it without restricting humanity;s diversity (for no good reason, too). These PC nutjobs you referred to are acting as an extremely necessary brake on the application of a technology that significant number sof people disagree with for whatever reason. Ok, so on with the writeup I meant to do.

/me cracks his knuckles ... *grin*

My mother, who is Hindu, told me that in the Hindu religion, there are three ways to worship God. One is by faith. Believe in God, pray and worship him. One is by deed. Live your life doing good to others and you are pleasing God even if you do not pray to him every day. And the third is through knowledge. Try to understand the beautiful world that God has created and you will understand God. This is how I worship God. I consider myself to be agnostic, bordering on atheist. However, I feel that if God does exist, the only way I can ever appreciate him (him/her/them/it) is through science. By using the tools of science to dissect the world, I may someday uncover a true meaning behind everything ... I might not =).

I bring this up because I want to draw the analogy between science and religion. Science is using our senses and our brains to interpret the universe, building a self-consistent body of knowledge. However, for science not to question itself is a ludicrous prospect. I dont think Fondue meant that science should not peer review its progress, I think he meant that we should separate scientific progress from social conscience. Let the scientists do all the discovering and let the rest of the world sort it out and figure out what to do with it. Well ... I disagree. I think that blind science without social conscience is akin to RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISM. To believe that the tools of science cannot lead us astray is wrong.

For the Science Center to hold an exhibit that questions the progress of cloning is dead-on appropriate. I think that scientists should have more forums in which to learn the ethical and social implications of their research. Not so much that they can then limit the types of things they study, but more so that they can be aware of how their discoveries may be misused. With that awareness, they can then co-develop safeguards to help keep science safe and moral.

Science is no longer noble aristocrats tinkering in the study or bored monks breeding pea plants. Science is big business, and it must be held accountable just as every other aspect of life is. Scientists have a social responsibility, just like everyone else. I am proud to be one.

The one thing I have never seen science (or rather scientist and scientific method advocates) question is its own validity as a tool for examination.

This infuriates atheists with a scientific bend to their minds, but if science is held to be the only true way of searching for truth in the world, then how is it materially different from religion?

Who is to say that the subjective view of an experience is not the true experience itself? After all, that is the only thing about any experience that cannot be reproduced, it is in a way its essence. But no, scientists with brain scan machines and statistics will insist on stripping everything, from dreams to flavours, to their "true" constituent parts, be they wave patterns in the brain or matter molecules in the flavourings.

And another consideration - who is to say that progress, the way forward, is the best direction to push in? Decay is a progress, demolition is a progress, cancerous tumours live, grow and die in a linear fashion - all of our time is linear, but that doesn't mean that the natural progression forward is inherently good. In the same way scientific progress is not an ethical imperative.

Take the use of genetic engineering in medicine, for example. As Halcyon&on points out, that is big business these days - the equipment needed is extremely expensive, as well as the access to some of the patented knowledge (such as gene sequences and their functions). Most of us here in the west can expect to receive the fruits of this knowledge as part and parcel of our medical insurance when it becomes widely used, but others around the world will probably be denied access to the medical advances for many generations to come, through lack of funds or political unrest which inhibits local research.

Unlike vaccination, genetic treatment is liable to eradicate certain complaints (say, C.F.) in a matter of a few generations. We cannot foretell which genetic side effects this treatment will have, but we can be pretty sure that it will have some. So, a hundred years down the line we have a population which exhibits the absence of C.F., but also certain non-malignant mutations or diversities that come from interference with the disease-carrying gene, and another population - probably most of the world's inhabitants - which does not. We become genetically different.

On the proverbial road paved with good intentions, and with no malicious design of creating super-human specimens, we are met by a divergence of the human genome based on geographical and socio-economical factors. The poor of the world will not only be getting poorer, they will (by standing still and moving backwards) be getting weaker.

Add to that the effects of all other medication used to suppress or eradicate genetically transmitted defects, and all their infinitesimally small side-effects, plus the effects of a diet based on genetically modified foods, and we can be talking about quite large differences indeed.

Is this a doomsday scenario? I don't know. It might be, or it might just be a rational analysis of the possible effects years of genetic treatment on populations might have. The validity of my assesment is not the issue here.

The issue is whether or not we should blithely trust in a relatively small group of people with highly specialised and, to most of us, incomprehensible sets of skills, who stand to gain much by way of money and prestige from the current obsession with scientific progress, to dictate our attitudes to our bodies. The answer many people are coming up with these days is quite obviously "no".

The objections to GM foods, the organic craze, the alternative medicine fads are not scientific matters and are not there to poke scientists in the eye. They are political issues through which people manifest their growing mistrust of a system which questions everything but its own right to question.

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