A thoroughgoing rejection of science, technology, and reason itself.
February 23, 2015 7:11 AM   Subscribe

 
National Geographic has a series of articles this month on anti-science.
posted by Brian B. at 7:22 AM on February 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Why should people trust science?

I don't question the validity of the scientific method itself, but I'm a reasonably intelligent and involved layperson, and in every direction I look, scientific knowledge has developed far past my capacity to understand it. If I were a scientist and spent my life focusing on my one particular specialty, sure, I could understand that specialty far better than I do. That's how people advance science. But not everyone can do that, and nobody can do it in all directions at once.

At that point, it becomes a question of not knowing or understanding the complex scientific issues yourself, but one of trusting someone else who claims they do. And why should we do that? Science in the capitalist era has become just another tool the elites use to manipulate us. They use science to lie all the time, and the average mass of people doesn't have the tools, training, or even just the time to reliably sort out what's true and what is bullshit spun up to serve an agenda. Just look at climate change as the most obvious example, but this has been true for a very long time in everything from tobacco to lead paint.

In the end, science is another institution, and there's no good reason to trust our institutions. (That's a particularly dark view, and I look forward to seeing a good refutation of it.)
posted by Naberius at 7:24 AM on February 23, 2015 [28 favorites]


Authenticity, anti-vaxxers, and the rise of neoprimitivism

One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn't belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?


(But seriously, "authenticity" doesn't belong in this list. There's nothing anti-science about preferring actual things to imitations or models of them. In fact, it's a well-known truism we shouldn't mistake the maps for the territory in doing science, which IMO is a related problem.)
posted by saulgoodman at 7:29 AM on February 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


The moral imperative driving this is what we can call the quest for authenticity.

This claim is just sort of thrown in there without explanation, but I don't follow the thread at all. "Authenticity" as an aim has nothing whatsoever to do with rejecting science.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:32 AM on February 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Just look at climate change as the most obvious example, but this has been true for a very long time in everything from tobacco to lead paint.

The funny/tragic thing about this is that all those examples are muddied by involvement by CEI et al. It's the same dudes. This isn't a terribly large conspiracy; it's a select few doing an enormous amount of damage, especially to the perception of science (more than its content).
posted by Jpfed at 7:33 AM on February 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


People need something to do.
posted by francesca too at 7:34 AM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


"There’s a deeper issue here though, which is that the problem with radicalization is that it breeds extremism. It is one thing to play at being anti-modern by eating only wild game, becoming an expert in axe-throwing, or building a whisky still in your backyard. It is something else entirely to push that ethos into a thoroughgoing rejection of science, technology, and reason itself."

saulgoodman: ""Authenticity" as an aim has nothing whatsoever to do with rejecting science."

I dunno, I read that as the cult of purity, a set of beliefs about keeping things (and especially children!) free of inauthentic chemical taint.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:35 AM on February 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


> Why should people trust science?

No reason at all! Now that we've got the internet we can all go back to not trusting anyone who isn't part of our tribe.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:36 AM on February 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


I wouldn't be surprised if it all goes back to corporate sponsorship like the Koch brothers, spending hundreds of millions to sway people to vote, and to radicalize opinions online and elsewhere. Science and government are necessary and rather easy institutional targets for them.
posted by Brian B. at 7:37 AM on February 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


They use science to lie all the time

Yeah, that's but not science that they're using. It's just lying.

Just look at climate change as the most obvious example, but this has been true for a very long time in everything from tobacco to lead paint.

Look at the Pie Chart. They're using rhetoric and deception to argue their point against overwhelming scientific evidence. I'm not sure how you therefore conclude that the problem lies with science.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:38 AM on February 23, 2015 [21 favorites]


I don't think science is just a tool of capitalism, capitalism just scavenges in the wreckage.

Thank God you cannot bribe or twist,
The average honest scientist,
But seeing what rot they often spew,
Unbribed, there's no occasion to.
posted by Segundus at 7:39 AM on February 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


I read that as the cult of purity, a set of beliefs about keeping things (and especially children!) free of inauthentic chemical taint.

I, for one am horrified there's dihydrogen oxide in my drinking water.

In the end, science is another institution, and there's no good reason to trust our institutions.

On the one hand, do we want to trust an institution that once gave us "Asbestos! The wonder material!" So I take your point.

On the other, do we want to dismiss out of hand an institution that eradicated smallpox? Or created largely effective treatments for HIV/AIDS?

I don't think it's quite so black and white.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:40 AM on February 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Why should people trust science?

Throw away your computer, then. And don't get vaccinated. Eat trash, literally rotting trash, because science says it's unhealthy. Stop driving- do you know how much science went into the creation of each individual component of your car?

But you didn't mean "Why should people trust science?", because you trust science, because it gives you things you like. It gives you the things that make a comfortable modern life possible. So try reposting, and say what you really mean.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:41 AM on February 23, 2015 [53 favorites]


In the end, science is another institution, and there's no good reason to trust our institutions.

No. This is incorrect. It's the same false equivalency folks use when comparing science to religion. "You believe in science, and I believe in God. They're just different beliefs!"

NO.

Science is not an institution or a belief, it's a method. It is a very successful method of drawing tentative conclusions about the world around us, and then testing those conclusions, removing or replacing the ones that do not hold up to further empirical observations. Dispute the institutional application of the method if you want, but don't confuse the two, because they are not the same.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:41 AM on February 23, 2015 [159 favorites]


The authenticity craze of the past decade is simply the latest version of what the economist Thorstein Veblen, in his 1899 book The Theory of the Leisure Class, called “conspicuous display.” Veblen was mostly concerned with the pretensions of the failing aristocracy and their obsession with obsolete endeavours such as hunting, swordfighting, and learning useless languages.

This is unsupported speculative gibberish to me. People are concerned with authenticity, from what I've seen, because the last few decades have shown us we can't trust producers to sell us what they claim they are selling us or our leaders to tell us the truth. It's not really about class display, that's just a spin some are using to try to muddy the waters to rationalize rip-offs like pink-slime.

I dunno, I read that as the cult of purity, a set of beliefs about keeping things (and especially children!) free of inauthentic chemical taint.

There is this tendency among some to take every idea to such extremes they lose the sense of the original idea. That doesn't mean the original idea has been corrupted, it just means people are taking the idea to puritanical extremes. I don't know. I just worry this rejection of authenticity is going to be used vaguely as a marketing tool to try to convince people they're anti-science for getting upset when someone sells them a burger made of something they've never even heard of before without disclosure, or when people complain about being defrauded in other ways.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:42 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


A cult of authenticity is certainly what drives some people to reject some of science, but I think the author goes a little overboard in presenting it as the only or even most prevalent reason. There are a lot of different reasons and it varies by scientific topic.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:42 AM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Vaccines have all but eliminated MANY horrible diseases that kill and/or disable people (often infants/young children). Do anti-science people think that happened by pure coincidence? Or through divine intervention or prayer? Or because people started doing cleanses or reading auras or eating macrobiotically or some other woo? I really don't understand the "science doesn't work" objection to vaccines.
posted by Mallenroh at 7:42 AM on February 23, 2015 [10 favorites]


In the long run, science wins. Why? Two reasons. First, sciences works whether you believe in it or not. Second, there are incentives for progress. If you, Young Scientists, can disprove something significant your career has been made.

If you want to know why social things happen, look at who benefits. Who benefits from rejection of science? Probably not you.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 7:49 AM on February 23, 2015 [12 favorites]


I've had the glimmer of an idea here, so bear with me for its half-assed phrasing:

I wonder how much of this is a belated backlash, or the full manifestation of a slow-in-coming backlash, against the super-sonic "New Frontier" "scientific-progress-ho!" mindset of the 50's. The period yielded some amazing societal benefits (the polio vaccine, the space program, the initial groundwork for computers), but in other areas, that "science yay" attitude went overboard (hyper-processed foods, hyper-industrialized production methods, emphasizing cars over public transit, etc.). Yes, there were improvements in food processing that did bring food costs down and get a lot of people fed, but that was mixed in with a huge push to completely stamp out centuries of accumulated wisdom with "this is the latest approach to meal planning that scientists have come up with, so you must do it this way!" There was a lot of good that got accomplished through science at the time, but there was also a lot of snake oil sold with an "it's approved by scientists!" stamp of approval.

Some of the hippies started to rebel against that, favoring a more back-to-the-land approach. Maybe the more extreme hippies were anti-vaxx, but it wasn't vaccinations as such that they were kicking against, it was stuff like buying super-processed bread rather than making it yourself, or hyper-sanitizing everything rather than living with an occasionally-dusty bookshelf or whatever. And they have a point - science is a good thing, but the over-trust of science that happened immediately following the Second World War maybe wasn't so much.

And so maybe what we're seeing today is just the pendulum swinging back the other way after the 50's.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:50 AM on February 23, 2015 [22 favorites]


Yet these people are unwilling to lose the comforts provided them by science, like aircraft, air conditioning, elecrtricity, cars, computers. They just want to shed themselves of their social obligation to the rest of us. Myopic self-centered greed trumps reason in a lot of these cases from what I can see.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:50 AM on February 23, 2015 [20 favorites]


>The moral imperative driving this is what we can call the quest for authenticity.

This claim is just sort of thrown in there without explanation, but I don't follow the thread at all. "Authenticity" as an aim has nothing whatsoever to do with rejecting science.

I think the point was, if your "tribe" or "status group" is, say, dubious about science, then there will be a pressure caused by a desire to maintain or increase in-group status by rejecting science more firmly. Or the progression from "a lot of what we get presented as food in our modern convenience-driven capitalist culture isn't very good or good for us" to "I am going to eat more organic non-processed food" to "I am going to eat only ancient grains" to "I am going to live on hand-harvested sea salt and moss" is driven by a desire to make your in-group's dietary ideas more radical for the status benefits.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:51 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, that's but not science that they're using. It's just lying.

Indeed. But my point is that it's become basically impossible for the great majority of the population to reliably tell the difference. If we can't know the answers ourselves, we're left having to trust one of the various sources who claims their answers are the right ones.

And this goes well beyond simple "what is true and what is false" questions. More important, perhaps, is the question of how science is used. Beyond basic research, most applied science is done by corporations now, who do something we don't really understand, and then say "We have done this thing to make the world better. It is going to be good for you."

And the one thing we do know damn well is that corporations don't act in our interest but their own. So who knows what this advance will really do to us. There's ultimately no reason to trust the institution, and that's a serious problem for an advanced society. Possibly an existential threat.
posted by Naberius at 7:51 AM on February 23, 2015 [12 favorites]


Also, the scientific method may be a process, but scientists are people, and are, much like other people, wrong, misguided, dishonest, and/or bought. Given some of the hijinx scientists have gotten up to in the last half-century, it's a wonder anyone trusts a scientist at all.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:52 AM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think this line:

The problem is you can only be authentic as long as most of the people around you are not, which has its own built-in radicalizing dynamic.


is the crux of his argument. And while it may seem like a bit much to some people, I see this dynamic at play on every work shift I do at the Park Slope Food Coop.
posted by overhauser at 7:56 AM on February 23, 2015 [16 favorites]


Given some of the hijinx scientists have gotten up to in the last half-century, it's a wonder anyone trusts a scientist at all.

Unlike other social institutions, a process like science is judged by its output. If the vast majority of the fruits of science were bunk and hokum, the hijinx of individual scientists would be much more destabilizing.
posted by murphy slaw at 7:56 AM on February 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


Drinky Die : A cult of authenticity is certainly what drives some people to reject some of science, but I think the author goes a little overboard in presenting it as the only or even most prevalent reason. There are a lot of different reasons and it varies by scientific topic.

My impression of anti-vaxxers is that it's a fashionable in-group signifier. That sounds like an extreme form of authenticity aesthetic that's popular in some circles.
posted by spaltavian at 7:56 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think a lot of people here are misunderstanding Naberius's point. It's not an endorsement of anti-science, like we see in the article. Science is great! It's how we learn things! The problem is one of epistemology: Lacking in expertise ourselves, how do we know whom to trust? How can we tell the real scientists from the corporate shills? At a certain point, it really does come down to a matter of faith for us laypersons, and we have to trust that we're not being lied to, or that previously trustworthy institutions haven't been infiltrated by agenda-pushers. This is something I struggle with myself.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:57 AM on February 23, 2015 [43 favorites]


Indeed. But my point is that it's become basically impossible for the great majority of the population to reliably tell the difference. If we can't know the answers ourselves, we're left having to trust one of the various sources who claims their answers are the right ones.

Also, the scientific method may be a process, but scientists are people, and are, much like other people, wrong, misguided, dishonest, and/or bought. Given some of the hijinx scientists have gotten up to in the last half-century, it's a wonder anyone trusts a scientist at all.

The trust problem can be solved quickly by most people once the obfuscation is cleared away by information and education. If folks were properly educated that the climate change 'debate' isn't actually a debate at all, they'd reach a more accurate conclusion.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:58 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


mandolin conspiracy: On the one hand, do we want to trust an institution that once gave us "Asbestos! The wonder material!" So I take your point.

Asbestos was absolutely a marvel of its age in fireproofing of buildings. Having time to escape an impending inferno versus having a structure go up like the Fourth of July at the first spark saved many lives.

One eras state-of-the-art is another eras horrifying relic.
posted by dr_dank at 7:59 AM on February 23, 2015 [17 favorites]


The current power structure legitimizes itself by asserting that its foundation lies in science, just as the previous power structure legitimized itself by asserting that its foundation lay in religion. If you want to destroy the power structure, you must destroy the corrupt science that serves it.
posted by No Robots at 7:59 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


This editorial is remarkably boldly stated. I'm particularly glad to see them compare anti-vaxx nonsense with anti-GMO skepticism. Just like being against vaccination leads to the death of children, being wholly against GMO crops leads to the deaths of millions of people through malnutrition. Golden Rice is a particularly good example of the value of GMO. The Green Revolution of the 40s–60s saved a billion people's lives through the application of science to agriculture.

As for the idea that "science is just another institution", that's a dangerous fallacy. As leotrotsky says upthread, science is a method for discovering truths in the universe. A verifiable, repeatable, reliable method. Yes it has its limitations, and yes flawed humans misapply it. (See for example, Lancet and Andrew Wakefield). We rely on experts to interpret science for us, and experts are humans who make mistakes. But the core method is still more sound than religion, or "mother's intuition", or whatever other nonsense justifies anti-rationalist beliefs in the world.
posted by Nelson at 7:59 AM on February 23, 2015 [14 favorites]


But my point is that it's become basically impossible for the great majority of the population to reliably tell the difference.

What I was about to post echos this. Science isn't the problem. Lack of education is.

Capitalism subverts everything (including science) into a tool for selling. So many things have been promoted as "scientific" in order to get people to buy them (e.g., radium is good for you), that people who can't tell the difference have simply chosen not to trust anything.

This has been encouraged by the people who have something harmful to sell (tobacco, leaded gasoline, oil shale, etc.) who deliberately challenge science in order to discredit it where it harms their financial interest. This has been well-documented in books like Merchants of Doubt.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:59 AM on February 23, 2015 [10 favorites]


Note how the Nat Geo bungs GMO with Climate Change and Evolution...

Also, "Trust Us, We're the Experts" wrt Naberius' point
posted by infini at 8:00 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think a lot of people here are misunderstanding Naberius's point.

I do understand my point, and I can vouch for this. Trust me. I am the expert on this very specific issue.
posted by Naberius at 8:01 AM on February 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


Indeed. But my point is that it's become basically impossible for the great majority of the population to reliably tell the difference. If we can't know the answers ourselves, we're left having to trust one of the various sources who claims their answers are the right ones.

I don't think this is as hard as you make it out to be. Your average Republican who doesn't believe in global warming wasn't brought to that belief because of the 1% of researchers on Exxon's payroll. They came to that position because they saw a liberal in a Prius and throught "assholes".
posted by spaltavian at 8:04 AM on February 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think a lot of people here are misunderstanding Naberius's point.

I do understand my point, and I can vouch for this. Trust me. I am the expert on this very specific issue.


I don't know, my crystals are saying, "Don't listen to him." I just charged them under my pyramid, so I'm inclined to believe them over some stranger on the internet.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:06 AM on February 23, 2015 [12 favorites]


And this goes well beyond simple "what is true and what is false" questions. More important, perhaps, is the question of how science is used. Beyond basic research, most applied science is done by corporations now, who do something we don't really understand, and then say "We have done this thing to make the world better. It is going to be good for you."

Yeah, this. Plus the fact that "our corporate scientists have done this thing to make the world good for you" is something that people were encouraged to overly trust in the 50's. (the more I think about my theory the more I like it.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:07 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Science is not an institution or a belief, it's a method. It is a very successful method of drawing tentative conclusions about the world around us, and then testing those conclusions, removing or replacing the ones that do not hold up to further empirical observations. Dispute the institutional application of the method if you want, but don't confuse the two, because they are not the same.

I dunno, the more scientists I meet socially and at work, the more I tend to be very cautious about trusting any science that isn't drawn from a careful reading of stuff on PubMed. This is mostly because researchers themselves are much more modest about their claims than anyone else, and partly because when I see experimental work being done, I am extra aware of issues of replication, etc.

I think that "trusting science" just because it's "science" is a bad idea. "Science", like it or not, doesn't function as a "method"; it is a set of social practices that encompasses the need for funding, ties to the state, career concerns, academic career concerns, ties to various corporate and nonprofit institutions of varying degrees of dubiousness and a strong ideology that says not just "we're cautious and accurate" but "because we think of ourselves as cautious and accurate, we can't be wrong and we are free of politics and socialization".

There seem to me to be two separate problems here:

1. Plausible lack of trust in "Big Science", which can be addressed by learning more about how to read papers, who funds research, how research works on the ground and the history of just what kinds of knowledge tend to be overturned. Climate change is based on different kinds of knowledge than, say, the mechanism by which cholesterol is elevated - it makes far more sense that nutritional guidelines might be, sometimes, just totally off than that climate scientists are all wrong. It makes more sense to be skeptical of the usefulness of the flu vaccine (which I am not) than it does of the safety of vaccines in general (which I also am not) because the kinds of evidence that we have available are different and can be interpreted in different ways.

2. An underlying belief that it's not possible to establish a useful, provisional truth-claim, either because the universe is too complex to be understood or because there is no truth to be found or because the universe works on psychic/ethical/spiritual lines and not on science - ie, if you get cancer it's because you think negatively, etc. To my mind, this is much more difficult to deal with, although I think many, many of us revert to this kind of thinking from time to time.

I think the cultural aspect of being an anti-vaxxer or whatever is important, but not any more important than the cultural aspect of being a vaxxer - as gets pointed out upthread, most of us are not even generalist science experts, and while many of us can probably search out enough good information on a few topics to have a genuinely informed opinion, most of the time we're whistling in the dark.
posted by Frowner at 8:08 AM on February 23, 2015 [18 favorites]


I recently read Merchants of Doubt, a book about the misuse of science to mislead the public. It's not always easy to decide what is science and what is public relations when you're several layers of simplification from the "method."

I recently got an email from a friend who was stranded in Nigeria and needed me to send him some emergency money. I trust my friend like I trust science, so I should wire him funds, right?
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:10 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


One of the main problems is that, by saying "Science" we lump all sorts of things that use the scientific method but have really weak predictive power in with things that have very strong predictive power.

Psychology has very weak predictive power. If we had as firm a grasp on Psychology as we do for Cell Metabolism, diagnosis and treatment would not be so much guesswork. In these terms, Psychology is a "soft" or "weak" Science, and its output should be taken as such -- research is indicative but not definitive. It is a guide, but not a map.

Nutrition is largely the same. Through the advances of nutrition as a science, we have better indications of what to avoid and what to go with -- but all we have are general principles that, well generally but don't universally apply. Another "weak" or "soft" science whose grand pronouncements should not be taken as definitive.

And then we have very hard very powerfully predictive branches. Vaccines are the most effective way to prevent viral infections. Vaccination CAN have side-effects for a very small percentage of the population, but autism isn't one of those side effects. For the rest of us, what better predictive strength do you want than the total elimination of smallpox and the near-eradication of polio? Vaccination is some hard science, kids, and we should definitely know that its information is definitive.

Climate change -- the predictions are already coming true. We are having more frequent extreme events in correlation with increased temperatures. There's not much dispute here, because the science is solid, not soft.

Because humanity in general has a fouled up risk avoidance system built into our heads, I don't know how to tell people their child is extremely unlikely to be stolen by a random pedophile from their front yard or at the mall. I don't know what to tell anti-vaxxers or climate change denialists or moon hoaxers. All I know is that each and every one of these positions is rooted in an irrational fear that the numbers don't bear up.

I'd love them to look at new science and technology and have enough knowledge about each discipline (without having to be an expert) to know if the "science" in question is soft guidance or hard cold truth.
posted by chimaera at 8:11 AM on February 23, 2015 [10 favorites]


People aren't rejecting science so much as they're rejecting rationality. It's true that I as a citizen I can't understand the ins and outs of climate change and that I have to rely on the consensus of the scientific community. On the other hand the case for vaccines is basic enough that anyone can understand that they are a net benefit if they're willing to think rationally. 9/11 truthers, wackos that claim hyper sensitivity to radio waves, young earthers, and so on aren't interested in reasoning about the world. They're interested in being right.
posted by rdr at 8:12 AM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Who do we trust? The anti-vaxxers go to my church and the scientists tell me the troops aren't heros.
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:13 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I know a couple of anti-vaxxers, or rather they'd insist that they aren't against vaccines they just want "responsible vaccination". And it is very much part of a status seeking, self-aggrandizing, naturalistic, more authentic, thing for both of them.

One of them is a hypochondriac who has convinced herself that she's allergic to most major food groups as part of an ongoing effort to justify her picky eating habits, and of course everything she eats (except for McDonalds which she loves and has endless justification for) must be organic and locally sourced and so forth.

She decided that her child was also hypersensitive to most major foods, he's never been tested for any food allergies of course she just knows with her mommy sense that he's deathly allergic to all dairy, all wheat, beef and pork (but not chicken because she likes chicken), etc because he unlike the other moms she pays close attention to his behavior after he eats and he's always fussy, or gassy, or whatever after eating [insert major food group here]. She says that she believes she must space out his vaccines according to her own schedule rather than the schedule drawn up by big pharma. Direct quote "vaccines work in the digestive system and [name redacted]'s gut is so sensitive I can't possibly justify injecting him with all those toxins at once."

Basically it's part of her status seeking presentation as being Captain Mega-Super Mom and better than all the other moms out there because **SHE** cares enough about her child not to just blindly take the doctor's word for it when it comes to vaccines.

I've never yet encountered an anti-vaxxer who wasn't basically an attention seeking, status seeking, person obsessed with the cult of authenticity. What, of course, makes something authentic or not is decided by a combination of tribal identifiers, personal taste, etc so there's always some reason they can claim to be more pure, less filled with toxins, and generally more authentic than the posers who just pretend to be super Captain Mega Moms but really aren't. Can you believe she claims to care for her child but she lets him eat gluten? It's like she just doesn't think about what's best for that poor kid, I know I'm a good mom because I monitor things very carefully.
posted by sotonohito at 8:13 AM on February 23, 2015 [28 favorites]


the progression from "a lot of what we get presented as food in our modern convenience-driven capitalist culture isn't very good or good for us" to "I am going to eat more organic non-processed food" to "I am going to eat only ancient grains" to "I am going to live on hand-harvested sea salt and moss" is driven by a desire to make your in-group's dietary ideas more radical for the status benefits.

That's definitely a thing, it happens with the ethical arguments as well as the purely scientific/health based ones. A recent neat Reddit thread about a vegan meeting a sister for the first time and getting some vegan treats as a gift was slightly derailed by a (mostly since deleted), "But are they vegan enough?" argument. Also reminded of the hand wringing about quinoa.

Argh, folks, just do your best. Don't try and be perfectly ethical or perfectly healthy or perfectly anything, you can't do it.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:15 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Okay, let me try a more specialized application that we've discussed here before: health care.

Specifically, the conservative insistence that we need to inject more market principles into the health care system, that if patients have more skin in the game, they'll make more rational cost/benefit decisions about their treatment.

No they fucking well won't, because they aren't doctors! They can't make more rational decisions about their treatment because they lack the medical understanding to do so. They are reduced to trusting an expert, not because western medicine isn't "real" but because they can't realistically gain the specialized knowledge and experience they would need to make those decisions.

So if your doctor can be trusted, then no problem. But if your doctor is being influenced by Big Pharma to prescribe medications or treatments not because they're what you need but because they benefit big drug companies and the doctor him or herself, then you've got a problem. Can you trust this doctor? How would you really know? Given that you know doctors are indeed being pressured by drug companies, how are you supposed to make a "rational" decision about something that has such high stakes for you?
posted by Naberius at 8:15 AM on February 23, 2015 [12 favorites]


A slightly dated, but still good read along the same lines as this article is The March of Unreason, by Dick Taverne.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:18 AM on February 23, 2015


Can you trust this doctor? How would you really know?

I would get a second opinion. I see your point here. Experts aren't perfect. The thing is though, there isn't a better source to turn to. You are kind of stuck with trusting them being the most rational choice.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:20 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


As a society, we're simply not science literate enough yet, but neither are we transparent enough.

Recently : Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?
posted by jeffburdges at 8:24 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


You are kind of stuck with trusting them being the most rational choice.

Just to be absolutely explicit, I agree with this entirely. And yes, science has a hell of a track record that I wouldn't want to do without.

But there really do seem to be a lot of people out there for whom this fundamental uncertainty and distrust is undermining that dynamic. To the point where they don't trust anything scientific precisely because it is science.

Someone was talking about the false equivalence between science and religion somewhere upthread. But if you don't understand the science, then it really is a question of having faith in it. And that line gets a little blurrier.
posted by Naberius at 8:24 AM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


sotonohito: Can you believe she claims to care for her child but she lets him eat gluten? It's like she just doesn't think about what's best for that poor kid, I know I'm a good mom because I monitor things very carefully.

Years ago at a party, I was talking with a woman who claimed that her friends son was cured of autism thorough the elimination of gluten. Apparently, his body would store the gluten instead of processing it out, causing it to ferment and leach alcohol into his bloodstream. Yes, little Danny was naturally drunk.

Better yet, the person spouting this nonsense with all sincerity was a registered nurse. No one is immune from this type of thinking.
posted by dr_dank at 8:25 AM on February 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


Auto-brewery syndrome is a thing! I don't know if it has much to do with gluten specifically though.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:27 AM on February 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


That was cynical to the point of being pure hostility, and the author is conflating a whole lot of different perspectives and trends into a big, sloppy, simplistic, and most of all totally unsupported premise. And it's ironic that he's trying to cast this all as status seeking.

There has been a trend recently for corporate interests to create a narrative about their skeptics, evidenced in those stupid corn syrup ads they ran in the US, where someone would incoherently spout off about the evils of HFCS, then be completely unable to provide any reasoning, as though they just sort of think it's haunted or something. It's just dumb propaganda like the 'litigation crisis' trend initiated by the insurance industry, casting all detractors as stupid and/or evil, and their supporters as knowledgeable, level headed, and on the side of all that is good and right. If we're going to throw around accusations of status seeking, first in line should be those who always add an exclamation point to the word (Science!) It betrays a grade school level understanding of the scientific process and to the many and varied industries that make it up, all dressed up as a social status.

You want to win over vaccine skeptics? Good. That needs to happen. But the job of winning people over needs to be left to those who understand that "science" isn't a political position where all you have to decide is whether you're for or against.
posted by ernielundquist at 8:28 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


But if you don't understand the science, then it really is a question of having faith in it.

No, it's not. We see planes fly and light switches work. Science is working all around us. That doesn't mean everything every scientist says is true, but it does mean we're at a Science 1, Religion 0 base line.
posted by spaltavian at 8:28 AM on February 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


Science is not an institution or a belief, it's a method.

As a practitioner, yes it is. As a layperson, it isn't.

Science, that is to say academic papers, almost never reach the popular consciousness directly. They're digested and reinterpreted, either by the scientist themselves or by popular press, or, frequently, transmitted third- or fourth-had by a family doctor or a news reader or an uncle who read something in the newspaper. Direct sources (i.e. the researchers themselves) are frequently muddled, absent or hidden.

How do you trust a source you don't know, have never met? How do you know what you've been told isn't distorted or out of context? How accessible is the science? Is the chain of reasoning complete? Do you have the ability, time or background to process it?

If you don't know the source, the messenger is unreliable and can't really process the argument, then a lot of "science" in the popular sphere becomes "trust me".

A common way around this, even when everything is on the up and up, is to pretty up science to make it look more authentic. Any scientist who has dealt with the media experiences this: you put on a lab coat, because that's what the public expects. You intensely glare at mysterious, gem coloured liquids in strange glassware. It's a bit of play-acting to generate an appeal to your authority.

There's also a way of speaking you get coached into by PR folks and journalists, a sort of science dialect that again is used to communicate results. This isn't a bad thing for the most part (public speaking is not a skillset most bench scientists have), but it is a formula, and becomes a mode that says "science" to the public.

So scientists, even well-meaning good ones, are coached to act in a way that's less than genuine, but do so in order to appear "authentic" to a public conditioned to accept a certain form of behaviour. Things like CSI have had an influence on how scientific evidence is presented in court, for example, because juries have certain expectations on what forensics should look like. However, this act of performance can read to some, especially the skeptical, as deceitful. The attempt to gain authority, I think, frequently undermines it.

There are the scientismatics, the anti-vaxxers, the climate denialists (the paid ones, esp), who ape that performance, to sell their own messages. While these may or may not be convincing themselves, they can frequently throw enough doubt around to undermine the real science.

Any or all of these factors: inaccessibility of sources, unreliable messengers, inaccessible arguments, aping of authority, can make the average person say "Enough! I don't believe anyone!"
posted by bonehead at 8:29 AM on February 23, 2015 [14 favorites]


The other topic, the one of who to trust, is I think a critical one of which anti-vaccination conspiracy theorizing is a sort of mutant sub-problem.

There was a time, only a few hundred years ago, when an intelligent person with sufficient wealth to buy the leisure and education could become knowledgeable enough in every aspect of human endeavor to be, if not a true expert, at least a semi-expert. When they wouldn't have to take the word of anybody about anything.

But human knowledge has grown so rapidly that it is now impossible for a single person to be even moderately well educated on the most important scientific areas, much less have any real expertise in more than one or two narrow specialties and a broader but shallower knowledge of a few topics related to their area of expertise.

Anyone (with sufficient wealth to afford the education and time) can become an expert on anything, but no one can become an expert on everything. If you, for example, have doubts about the age of the universe as determined by astrophysics and you've got the money you can go to college for 4 to 6 years and become an expert on the topic and check the math yourself. You don't, technically, have to take anyone's word for it on any particular claim. But it takes that 4 to 6 years, plus the money for a college education, to verify for yourself the claims of any single specialty. No one can check out everything for themselves.

So eventually we do have, simply by physical necessity, to take people's word for things. I have the brains but neither the time nor money to become an expert in the climate. So I have to simply take someone's word on trust and then we run into the more general problem of who to trust and why.

I'd argue that in part science is trustworthy because scientists can gain status and praise by upsetting existing theories. There's a fairly large incentive for scientists to find falsehood in accepted science and make it well known. If you can prove that E does not equal mc^2 you'll get the Nobel prize in physics and be remembered forever as the person smarter than Einstein, who wouldn't want that?

Also, of course, people from competing ideologies or viewpoints can seek out an education in an area of science they find problematic and become experts for the express purpose of seeing if it really is true or not.

But neither of those are what you'd call ironclad guarantees, and whole branches of science are now known to have once been utter bullshit run by a political agenda (see, for a particularly awful example, anthropology in the 19th century).

So I'm stuck taking the word of the consensus of the majority of scientists, but I know that is no guarantee. I think, mostly, we simply don't have a better choice. Yes, the consensus of the majority of scientists can be dead wrong, but I do think it's unlikely to be a conspiracy organized around keeping the truth hidden. Even with anthropology the ideologically driven bullshit was more the result of assumptions than falsifying science and as organized and systemic (and basically more scientific) anthropology grew the old bullshit anthropology died off leaving behind cautionary tales of its failure (seriously, grab any intro to anthropology text and at least 10% of the book will be an explanation of how badly the early anthropologists screwed up and how exactly their failures happened).
posted by sotonohito at 8:32 AM on February 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


Unlike other social institutions, a process like science is judged by its output. If the vast majority of the fruits of science were bunk and hokum, the hijinx of individual scientists would be much more destabilizing.

Well, that's primarily because the biases inherent in how science is practiced tend to support the political status quo, with exceptions where evidence to the contrary is overwhelming. Scientists have been warning us about anthropogenic climate changes for over 50 years, and they've only gained traction in the last 20-odd years primarily because a key economic stakeholders are seeing the shit, the fan, and peak oil on the horizon as a market threat and opportunity. For a lot of that time "science" was about maximizing economic output at the cost of long-term environmental sustainability with handwavium at future developments that would balance the equations if they ever became a significant economic problem. Environmentalist skeptics that the bugs of progress will be ironed out by future developments were framed as the denialist kooks for a whole generation.

I don't really think we can praise "the method" as neutral and apolitical when hypotheses are strangled in their crib by the economics of funding.

Note that questioning the social construction of science in regards to things like big agriculture, big energy, big data, or the the premise that my gender and sexuality can be described by slapping blood pressure cuffs on my genitals or feeding me to an MRI doesn't make me an anti-vaxer. There really must be some middle ground that allows for criticism of science bound to economics or science trying to quantify the qualitative that isn't knee-jerk bound to anti-vax or climate change denial.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:32 AM on February 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


dr_dank of the two vocal anti-vaxxers I know, one (not the one I described) is a nurse. She's into all sorts of alternative medicine on the basis that she sees how doctors screw up and real medicine won't fix some problems. Homeopathy, chiropractic, naturopathy, you name it if it denies real medicine she is a passionate believer in it. How she justifies being a nurse in a real doctor's office I don't know. I think cognitive dissonance is a big part of it.

Like the other anti-vaxxer I know, she's in denial about being an anti-vaxxer and will insist that she simply wants people to have the right to make informed decisions, and that it would be a horrible breach of medical ethics to force vaccines on people who don't agree with them.

But she's also got a stack of status/authenticity seeking stuff going on, so I think more than anything else that feeds it.
posted by sotonohito at 8:36 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


The more I read the thread, I think the problem is that some of us are talking about the epistemology of science, which I don't think can really be challenged, while others (myself included) are talking about a fundamentally social issue. The perception of science.

Given that human knowledge has progressed far, far beyond the point that any person can encompass it, how do we determine whether to trust claims where our knowledge is necessarily lacking? How do we determine the reliability of information we cannot judge ourselves, when we know very well that information is often distorted to serve an agenda that might be hostile to us?

This is a fundamental issue for complex societies and has been probably since the days of Galileo. Sometimes we do better than others, and right now we aren't doing it all that well. There appears to be a growing breakdown in overall trust in the institutions of our civilization and one potentially very dangerous effect of that is an inability to build consensus and take concerted action on large issues that affect society as a whole.
posted by Naberius at 8:41 AM on February 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


saulgoodman: But seriously, "authenticity" doesn't belong in this list

The problem with selecting individual words to catalog your movement is that the meaning of words can get distorted. "Authenticity" is a banner anyone can hoist, from The Authenticity Paradox (those in leadership being true to themselves/ their style) to "Authenticity [as] the benchmark against which all brands are now judged".
posted by filthy light thief at 8:44 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


At that point, it becomes a question of not knowing or understanding the complex scientific issues yourself, but one of trusting someone else who claims they do. And why should we do that?

By 'that point' you must mean just enough education to not know that science is built upon replication?

Also attacking institutional trust is pretty much a case of the availability heuristic leading to a failure of probabilistic reasoning. I haven't even left my apartment yet this morning and I have already successfully trusted about a thousand of these untrustworthy institutions. I flushed the toilet, drank tap-water, ate some food, used electricity, fed my cat, booted my computer, took medicine, turned lights on, turned lights off, plugged appliances in, opened my building's window, survived on the eighth floor of apartment building with two eleavators and two fire escapes, and it just goes on and on and on.

Human beings and their institutions are freakishly trustworthy. So trustworthy that we are appalled when they are not. My cat on the other hand has tried to deceive me at least 5 times already this morning.
posted by srboisvert at 8:47 AM on February 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


Andrew Potter, the author of this article, also wrote, with Joseph Heath in 2006, a book called The Rebel Sell which expands similar arguments about "authenticity" to other things like music and travel. I highly recommend it.
posted by sixohsix at 8:51 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


The problem isn't epistemological. The methods of science work (as far as we know), and can be verified to work fairly easily, if one cares to do so honestly, and has the ability to do so.

The problem(s) are very much social, about authenticity and truthfulness, about felicity in communication, about the privileges and effort necessary to engage with science on its own terms. And all that assumes good faith.
posted by bonehead at 8:52 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


can make the average person say "Enough! I don't believe anyone!"
That would not even be so bad, but that's not what I usually see happening. Nutrition is my primary area of interest and it's disconcerting how many people think that practically every single professor who teaches nutrition at a respected university and studied the subject for years is completely totally utterly wrong, but then this journalist who cherry picked a few pubmed studies that he doesn't really know how to put into context must be right. It's not as much "I don't believe anyone" it's "I'm willing to believe anyone with a good story".
posted by blub at 8:53 AM on February 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


Indeed. But my point is that it's become basically impossible for the great majority of the population to reliably tell the difference. If we can't know the answers ourselves, we're left having to trust one of the various sources who claims their answers are the right ones.

Well, not exactly.

Lawrence Krauss, the theoretical physicist, made a related point recently on a radio show. Paraphrasing, he said that you don't have to practice science to appreciate it. People appreciate music even though they're not musicians. They appreciate art without being artists. And people can, or ought to be able to, appreciate science and the reasoning that backs it up without a deep technical background. Basing knowledge on the available evidence is fundamentally a simple concept, and it's open to everybody. This idea that science is based on the pronouncements of someone in authority is a cultural reaction, not a scientific one.

You can always decide to (provisionally) accept the opinion of authority over one you form yourself, but you don't have to make a binary choice between ignorance and expertise. There's a huge amount of maneuvering room in there to inform yourself to various degrees about science issues that matter to you. Just saying that scientific consensus can't be trusted is the lazy way out.
posted by Flexagon at 8:59 AM on February 23, 2015 [6 favorites]



That would not even be so bad, but that's not what I usually see happening. Nutrition is my primary area of interest and it's disconcerting how many people think that practically every single professor who teaches nutrition at a respected university and studied the subject for years is completely totally utterly wrong, but then this journalist who cherry picked a few pubmed studies that he doesn't really know how to put into context must be right. It's not as much "I don't believe anyone" it's "I'm willing to believe anyone with a good story".


From my layman perspective on nutrition. It has been frustrating watching the back tracking in the government nutritional guidelines. Most recently, dietary cholesterol isn't really a concern. Ever since the 80s it's been dietary cholesterol is bad, very bad. Now, it's not really a problem.
posted by KaizenSoze at 8:59 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


There is not too much doubt in the world about core physics but look at the state of the softer sciences. What month is it, is red wine good for you or is it dark chocolate this time? There is science journalism that takes a paper with a slight result and announces the cure for cancer only to be revised/reversed the next news cycle. Discussion of questionable research practices, iffy 'p' factors and outright fraud are discussed here and in other areas. On a food show, radio, Americas Test Kitchen(?) I heard an interview with a scientist that made a very good case that we know how to prevent most of the worst causes of death but it's a boring story. Don't smoke, exercise, eat mostly whole grain, veggies and fruit, have a good community. But it's never going to be news.

The loonies have a great story, sounds reasonable, they are totally sure of the truth, have sources that totally support their thesis and there's is no affordable way to run an experiment that refutes the crazy idea. If a test is done, an honest experiment would be a probability anyway not the perfect truth of the original story.
posted by sammyo at 9:00 AM on February 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


It's not as much "I don't believe anyone" it's "I'm willing to believe anyone with a good story".

Or "I'm willing to believe anyone who will confirm something that I either already suspect or want to believe."
posted by IAmUnaware at 9:01 AM on February 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


But if you don't understand the science, then it really is a question of having faith in it. And that line gets a little blurrier.

You're conflating different kinds of belief here. "Faith", by definition, is unconditional belief--you have faith in something to the same degree you believe it without reference to justification. Faithful belief is wilfull belief. The extreme of faithful belief is martyrdom: forced to choose between your belief and your life, you choose your belief.

Belief in science is like belief in engineering or "human nature" or a hundred other epistemologically opaque things: it's conditional on the absence of convincing evidence to the contrary. Recognizing that I can't fully understand the science and that I have to act on those conditional beliefs with only the support of the "institution" to back me up, doesn't commit me to those beliefs to the point of martyrdom. When my mother's ulcer was cured by antiobiotics, it was because a shift in the medical consensus on the cause of ulcers, and my belief in the cause shifted accordingly, due to a real demonstration that was convincing. If my belief was faithful in the conflated religious sense, I'd have refused to believe my mother was cured.
posted by fatbird at 9:02 AM on February 23, 2015


how do we determine whether to trust claims where our knowledge is necessarily lacking?

Among others, this guy's life work might be right up your alley.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:03 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Authenticity" is a trap, and a marker for when you're being sold something.
posted by aramaic at 9:13 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I haven't even left my apartment yet this morning and I have already successfully trusted about a thousand of these untrustworthy institutions.

Oh sure, one of the ironies of this is that we wouldn't have the very luxury of refusing to believe in science if not for the space of safety that science has created in our lives. It's not that anti-vaxxers don't believe vaccines work. Sure, they know vaccines prevent measles. They also think it likely that they're being lied to about the side effects, again because they're used to being lied to by authority figures - and they think this risk outweighs the risk of measles because they've never seen anyone get measles.
posted by Naberius at 9:19 AM on February 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Veblen was mostly concerned with the pretensions of the failing aristocracy and their obsession with obsolete endeavours such as hunting, swordfighting, and learning useless languages.

Fuck you, Veblen, swordfighting is fun.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:21 AM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


I've never yet encountered an anti-vaxxer who wasn't basically an attention seeking, status seeking, person obsessed with the cult of authenticity.

Now, see, this phrasing "Cult of Authenticity" works just fine for me. I just don't want to lose sight of the fact that this exaggerated, socially performative behavior stuff is not of a piece with the idea of "authenticity" itself. It's a cargo-cult-like phenomenon that is itself inauthentic.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:30 AM on February 23, 2015


I'm not sure that "science rejection" is the right way to phrase this. It's more of a factor of competing claims of science, anti-GMO vs pro-GMO, anti-vax vs pro-vax. In a lot of these cases, one of the sides has a lot more evidence than the other, but there is something a lot more persuasive about one set of arguments.

It's not that people are rejecting scientific claims, it's not like your average anti-vaxxer understands the science behind the anti-vaccination claims any better than the pro-vaccination claims, and yet they seem to have no trouble picking a side. The anti-vaccine movement is predicated entirely ON scientific claims (vaccines cause autism, vaccines damage developing immune systems, etc), so the anti-science vs. pro-science is an odd way to think about the issue.

As others have said, it's more about sorting through competing claims and deciding which authority to trust.
posted by zug at 9:33 AM on February 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


The anti-vaccine movement is predicated entirely ON scientific claims

Fraudulent claims. But yes, it's doubly dangerous when someone uses fake science to argue a falsehood. See also: "is climate change real?" and "does the earth revolve around the sun? Opinions differ!".
posted by Nelson at 9:35 AM on February 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


This is a tricky area where often times it boils down to 'have faith in science rather than religion' Why? Because, in theory, with science one can work it out for themselves, but in practice, the cult of convenience far outweighs the cult of authenticity. So, we replace faith in religion with faith in science (or find a happy coexistence between them), until we are let down, disappointed in some case, by our faith in science. Then, it is just as emotionally wrenching as a loss of religious faith, and this is a phenomenon with which we are familiar, where there are several outcomes.
We can reexamine our faith in science. We can reject it. We can have our faith strengthened.
posted by eclectist at 9:37 AM on February 23, 2015


Science is socially embedded in institutions, yes. Institutions are frequently opaque to outsiders and rightfully inspire skepticism, yes.

I think there's still a question of why anti-science-institutionalism has a fairly legitimised status in a way a lot of other anti-institutionalisms don't. And maybe whom that legitimisation serves.
posted by PMdixon at 9:41 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I wonder how much of this is a belated backlash, or the full manifestation of a slow-in-coming backlash, against the super-sonic "New Frontier" "scientific-progress-ho!" mindset of the 50's.

I think that's a compelling explanation for the flower-child / back-to-the-land / Age of Aquarius hippie movements in the 60s and into the 70s, but that whole period is ancient history to most of today's anti-vaxxers. I mean, we're talking about people who are choosing whether to vaccinate their kids, so it's a pretty defined demographic. (I think the bulk of them are fairly high-income so I'd wager it's largely late-20s/30s maybe even early-40s parents; say people born between 1975 and 1985 if you wanted to bracket it.)

They might be the children of Boomers who had some involvement in the skeptical movements that were a response to the Eisenhower era, but there's no direct connection. The larger culture has gone through multiple swings of rationality / mysticism between the 50s and today; this isn't the first go-around.

You could, I guess, squint at things and see parallels, though. Someone born in, say, 1980 grew up through what was in retrospect probably the high-water mark of American Exceptionalism—the victorious end to the Cold War—and came of age in the late 90s, a time of irrational exuberance and seemingly limitless possibility. Only to have the goddamn wheels fall off the economy, 9/11, endless war, etc.

Particularly for a certain type of privileged white person—and there aren't a lot of minorities in the anti-vax movement, at least that I've ever seen—it's not hard to imagine a certain amount of internalized bitterness that the world they're getting isn't exactly the world they were promised when they were kids growing up in some comfortable suburb in Slick Willie's 90s. But while other subcultures within the white majority have found their own scapegoats (immigrants, liberals, etc.) for their lack of success relative to lofty expectations, the anti-vaxxers seem to belong to a demographic who are a bit too educated—or at least too polite—to engage in outright racism as an excuse for their own failures, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't appreciate a scapegoat just the same.

Blaming "big pharma" fits into a narrative of 'skepticism' and truth-seeking consistent with growing up on a diet of Captain Planet and oil-covered bird corpses on the news. Of thinking that of course you can do better than the "conventional wisdom" if you just think for yourself. (Ref.: every advertisement ever aimed at Gen X, ever.) Which leaves them with a whopping case of Engineers Disease and a huge cognitive blind spot that they actually view as a source of strength and a core part of their identity, so good luck if you try to point it out to them.

tl;dr: Baby Boomers bitter with their Greatest Generation / "We Like Ike" parents and whose halcyon moments were in the heady days of the late 60s and 70s, gave birth to "free thinking", big-corporate-hating kids who are now having their own kids, and are free-thinking themselves right into not vaccinating, because nobody bothered to tell them that thinking for yourself is well and good, but not when you're completely unqualified to hold an opinion on the subject.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:42 AM on February 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


I am just back from driving a buick through the holes in this writer's logic. Set the way back machine, there was a time when air and water were cleaner, human populations were lower, we lived from sun to sun, and grew a lot of what we ate. That is not a fantasy. These times were different, not necessarily better, more subject to nature. Many people on this planet still live this way, it is not an anti science cult. Those vinyards, organic orchards these are not a conspiracy.

In the late sixties to, early seventies Rachel Carson wrote Silent Sprimg, about use of pesticides and detrimental effects; Francis Moore Lappé wrote Diet for A Small Planet, about the innefficiency of growing meat for the world's diet. A lot of people got on board at the time, it took medicine until the late nineties to start embracing the Mediterranean diet, fresh foods etc.

Humans are social creatures bonding and the making of "tribes" along the lines of belief, is a social process endemic to our species, football fans, soccer fans are not perceived as anti-anything because of their preferences.

There is abundant malfeasance in the industry of science, brittle amd fierce skepticism is the order of the day in the face of earnings potential, driving research results. I worked in a hospital for a long time, I would see patients with three pages of medications, as they neared death, they would be taken off all meds, what happened? They had immediate reversal of symptoms and revived substantially. I am not anti medicine or anti science, but I think we have to be able to rebut the poisoning of our waters, air, oceans, food supplies by for profit industries, who pay for research outcomes to say it is OK, and pay for politicians to legislate in their behalf.

This is our home world, and regardless of the press to colonize space, and create the grand, transhuman, machinations to accomplish this goal of some; others want a more private, personal existence on this Earth, without environmental nightmares, sanctioned as they devour our grainfields, and mutate our children and grandchildren. I am not an antivaxxer, and wrapping every environmental concern into the antivaxxer handy colored wrapper a convenience think pack for some pro industry propaganda, piff on this pathetic trick of logic.

Apples that don't discolor, to signify rot? Whom does this serve? Fruit that shows no sign of oxidation, is this what we want in the lunchbox?. Since when is it elitist to ask questions?
posted by Oyéah at 9:43 AM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


For a piece that purports to be about the importance of science, this article sure does engage in a lot of a priori assertion and conflation of disparate issues.

I really wish people would stop treating science as a monolith that you're either entirely for or utterly against (e.g., "Oh, you have doubts or concerns about x? Turn in your iPad and also any ability you have to start fires or craft stone tools!"). Science isn't a team that you root for or against. It's a large and diverse set of disciplines—many of which are pretty difficult for lay people to understand—that are built around a particular method of testing and discerning things.

I mean, look, I believe in vaccination, but I'm pretty sure that shouting "You're all a bunch of status-grabbing anti-scientific neoprimitives!" is going to elucidate anything or enlighten anyone.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:45 AM on February 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


The sad simple answer is that we've made it too rewarding and too easy to be stupid.

You can live your whole life in any one of a variety of comfortable bubbles of untruth, providing you can pay for it. And if you can't, we'll rent you an aspirational bubble, no money down, that comes completely dripping with 'hood authenticity and a nice long prison sentence or a bullet at the end.

There is no cultural narrative that exists as a through-line, a way to link one's story to the stories of others in a meaningful, relevant way.

Because we abhor one another.

We hate our differences and brandish them like talismans.

Like it fucking means something.

We spend our lives being told to choose choose choose from these options options options and the magic of the market obviates the need for a null set, a poison apple.

Or maybe they're all just different flavors of poison apples.

Do we even share the same fairy tales?

I'm sorry, I've become incoherently angry.

The other day a coworker tried to have a sincere discussion with me about chemtrails and how they're linked to a nefarious NASA-led mind control scheme. My godfather was a chemical engineer who was on the team that designed propellant containment systems for the Saturn V. It was all I could do not to swing on the smug little shit.

Fetishize individuality, promote magical thinking, and flood the world with bullshit "choices". Bread and fucking circuses.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:56 AM on February 23, 2015 [22 favorites]


I would see patients with three pages of medications, as they neared death, they would be taken off all meds, what happened? They had immediate reversal of symptoms and revived substantially.
This is very common and not indicative of recovery at all.

and there aren't a lot of minorities in the anti-vax movement, at least that I've ever seen
- This is an argument that I see frequently. The fact is, African-Americans and Native Americans, in particular have been exceptionally skeptical (and reasonably so) of the medical sciences in particular due to abuses (see Tuskeegee).
posted by Sophie1 at 10:01 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I am just back from driving a buick through the holes in this writer's logic

Everyone hates a tourist.
posted by octobersurprise at 10:02 AM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Since when is it elitist to ask questions?

Question-questions, or the rhetorical kind?
posted by Dark Messiah at 10:09 AM on February 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Apples that don't discolor, to signify rot?

That's not what oxidation means. They invented the non-oxidation apples because people like you THINK, incorrectly, that an apple whose surface is brown after cutting is rotten, instead of merely oxidized.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:14 AM on February 23, 2015 [11 favorites]


This theme comes up a lot recently, doesn't it? I think this piece is quite awful. It fuels the fanboy attitude that lumps reasonable scepticism with stupidity and seems to enjoy laughing derisively above all else.

I don't trust science. I do so analogously to the way I don't trust the Catholic Church - and that doesn't mean I think Jesus was an evil man. Although I think the world-view he is claimed to have advocated had some philosophical problems. It is in a very similar way that I distrust science, in particular the science that goes into the medical establishment and the food industry and the parenting industry - and don't tell me it is not science, it is an activity producing information conducted by scientists, so it is science, the sociological phenomenon. That doesn't mean the scientific method (observe, record, experiment, repeat, compare, understand biases and make every effort to neutralize them) is not a great guy. Having looked into the philosophy of science, I came to the conclusion that it has more problems than people with an optimistic bravado for it (often scientists!) wish us to believe (Kuhn, Feyerabend, Quine), but the basic idea still seems sound and worthwhile. But the notion that even genuine (let alone opportunistic and insincere) enthusiasm for the scientific agenda makes you in any significant degree immune to the social corruptions our large-scale societies suffer from is just laughable.

I would also like to remind some commenters that not trusting something (or somebody) is not the same thing as discarding it or having nothing to do with it (or them). There are levels of trust. It's not all or nothing.
posted by holist at 10:20 AM on February 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


The fact is, African-Americans and Native Americans, in particular have been exceptionally skeptical (and reasonably so) of the medical sciences in particular due to abuses (see Tuskeegee).

I'm not sure of your point. African-Americans and Native Americans may be skeptical of the medical community, but the recent clusters of disease-ridden nonvaccinated children haven't been in historically black communities or on reservations, which is where you would expect to see them if either of those groups were not vaccinating in large numbers. It would appear that, despite very good reasons for skepticism, even people who are members of groups targeted in the past for medical experimentation seem to be vaccinating. In other words, non-vaccination doesn't seem to be linked to that history.

I haven't yet seen any scholarly analysis of voluntary / personal belief exemption non-vaccination (as opposed to lack of vaccination due to healthcare-access issues in marginalized groups, which was traditionally the focus of vaccination efforts, and there is a ton of literature on), although I suspect there have to be people crunching the numbers as we speak. But if you look at the communities where measles clusters have emerged, it looks suspiciously like 'personal belief exemptions' belong on Stuff White People Like.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:23 AM on February 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


From the linked article on apples:
silencing PPO has an impact on a plant's susceptibility to diseases and invasive insects because the enzyme may play a role in plant defense reactions.
Science and technology is full of unintended consequences. So, yeah, I'll support organic food producers.
posted by No Robots at 10:24 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


People aren't rejecting science so much as they're rejecting rationality.

In a world where things are complex, baffling, controlled by large, unresponsive institutions, every person is presented with a crisis of belief. Whom to believe? Who's got an axe to grind? How can I tell who's lying and when?

Adherence to the cult of "authenticity" is a way to achieve sufficient "truthiness" while conspicuously displaying that one is "hep" to The Real Story--even if--or perhaps because-- that "Real Story" is composed of false but plausible propositions. For every complex problem, there is an answer that is simple and wrong. The key is the self-congratulatory plausiblity of the proposition, even if the proposition is not true, as long as it feels true. Dr. FeelGood semi-rationality--"it works for me because I'm special"--is a hallmark of the syndrome. For example, it is plausible that a person might be poisoned by what he or she eats, so the answer is "detoxing," irrespective of whether there is any reason to suspect that there is anything to "detox," and where the net effect is more likely to kill beneficial intestinal flora. It is likewise plausible that one could get sick via an injection, so vaccinations are bad and "unnatural."

So solipsistic, semi-rationality is encouraged, to be worn as a Red Badge of Courage by those who fancy they are choosing their own way through the all-pervasive phoniness of modern life. This is a dysfunctional effort to quash cognitive dissonance: "science" often tells one things that are hard to square with one's self image of The Truthy. So, buh bye Scientia in favor of "skepticism" driven by perceived self-interest. It's more comfortable that way. . . .
posted by rdone at 10:26 AM on February 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Science and technology is full of unintended consequences. So, yeah, I'll support organic food producers.

Do what you will, but unintended consequences are going to get you one way or the other, frankly.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:31 AM on February 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


Also, it really is important to understand what another poster pointed out upthread: Many anti-vaxxers think they are making the pro-Science choice--thanks to some bunk science that made the rounds in the culture a while back. Looking at this as pro/anti-science is a simplification that confuses more than it clarifies.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:34 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


(FWIW I did not post that article as some kind of fool-proof, ironclad defense of genetically modified apples of that particular kind. I posted it because I think it's hilarious that people COULD NOT ever be convinced that a browned apple was not rotten, and so they found a way to make apples not turn brown, only to have the same impossibly frustrating people objecting because "how will we know if it's rotten????")
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:35 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Looking at this as pro/anti-science is a simplification that confuses more than it clarifies.

Agreed. My woo-loving mother insists that 100% of the magical thinking stuff she reads is "Science." It is framed, deliberately, in "scientific" language (look, here's a diagram of the molecular structure of rose quartz! which proves that it heals heart disease, look, you can see the structure RIGHT THERE), and written invariably by someone with an unverifiable PhD in something that sounds quite official and mathy but is not, actually.

She would be horrified to have someone think that she "rejects science," as she knows that is not a cool and smart thing to do. And she likes Internet and not dying of smallpox and the c-sections that save the lives of people she loves. But regular old science lacks the intangible magic and powerful sense of personal control she requires for her comfortable worldview, and so she must reclassify the woo as science.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:42 AM on February 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


In the long run, science wins. Why? Two reasons. First, science works whether you believe in it or not.

How is it possible, this far into the thread, that no one has posted the obligatory xkcd link?

(This one is on my office door, even.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 10:58 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


>> Looking at this as pro/anti-science is a simplification that confuses more than it clarifies.

> Agreed. My woo-loving mother insists that 100% of the magical thinking stuff she reads is "Science." It is framed, deliberately, in "scientific" language [...]


Yes, every time I see a Facebook post about how they "researched XYZ on the internet" I feel a stab of irritation. You do realize that's not the same thing as conducting well-motivated experiments to verify falsifiable hypotheses, right? Right?
posted by RedOrGreen at 11:03 AM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Terrible woo story. My mother-in-law had hepatitis C. She also has severe anxiety. Her normal weight is around 100 lbs.

At one point, she was convinced she had liver cancer (though she had no tests to confirm this) because she had started to experience quite a bit of edema.

My BIL is a world class woo peddler. He referred her to a clinic that was led by an M.D. where she stayed for 3 weeks. At this clinic, she went from an anxious 125 pound woman with edema to a lethargic, wheel-chair bound 157 lb woman who was being given intravenous vitamin C, beet shakes and they were desperate for her to start on coffee enemas (she refused this). They were also performing "liver cleansing" by using an "ionic foot bath" which is simply a parlour trick.

We whisked her out of the "clinic" in time for her to survive hepatic encephalopathy and determine that she does not have liver cancer. She has also been cured of hepatitis C using actual antiviral medications, but they almost killed her because she was afraid of learning the reason for her edema and these people, including her own son, would like to capitalize on that fear.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:23 AM on February 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese wrote "But regular old science lacks the intangible magic and powerful sense of personal control she requires for her comfortable worldview, and so she must reclassify the woo as science."

My emphasis.

I read that and a light went on. I think perhaps that is one of the key driving factors here. Humans are terrible at risk assessment, probability, etc. And most people seem to have an inborn belief that if they are in control, or at least believe they are, then they are safer. That's what most of the psychological studies on people who are nervous about flying indicate: that despite knowing that statistically flying is safer than highway driving, since a person has a (very limited) degree of control while driving they feel safer despite being in greater risk.

In addition to the appeal of being part of the elite, sneering disdainfully at the hoi polloi who do such low class peasant things like vaccinate their children just like the rest of the sheeple, there's also the fear of bad things happening to their child and the unexamined belief that if they exert a bit of control, no matter how ultimately harmful or illusory, that control puts them in charge and makes them feel safer.

We are not in control of a great deal that happens in our lives. Hell, we're not even friends with the secretary who knows someone who is in the advisory committee to the steering committee to the executive committee who is in control of anything. Powerful forces, both human and non-, can slam down on us and cause us great misery, and realistically there is absolutely nothing we can do about that.

But by god we can read semi-random stuff on the net and on that basis decide whether or not to give our kids vaccines! That tiny, often harmful, bit of control makes people feel good. And if that hooks into other emotional triggers (elitism, superiority over others, being part of the Good Guys, etc) then our brains tell us it must be right.
posted by sotonohito at 11:24 AM on February 23, 2015 [11 favorites]


I'm particularly glad to see them compare anti-vaxx nonsense with anti-GMO skepticism.

I think conflating these two separate issues is a problem. Scientific method aside, there are legitimate concerns about the applications of GMO science as practiced by Monsanto etc, and potential negative effects on the environment (this also applies to factory farming in general). But if you mention these concerns, some arrogant science-heads will bludgeon you as anti-science. And that's part of the problem with this discourse.
posted by ovvl at 11:27 AM on February 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yeah, information systems are astoundingly complex now, and highly subject to conscious and unconscious bias. So to avoid bad actors, you've got people trusting their gut, which also gives the truster a feeling of superiority, and self-determination. But our gut is so terrible at proportion, our fears so over-dramatized, and our life in the developed world so safe. If you don't analyze yourself, it's very easy to become addicted to this primitive feeling of empowerment.

It's person vs society, except instead of accepting that society is imperfect yet necessary, the person rejects everything except themselves, and only accepts things that conform. Too bad they never thought to consider person vs self.
posted by halifix at 11:30 AM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


"I think it's hilarious that people COULD NOT ever be convinced that a browned apple was not rotten"

This is kind of the attitude I don't understand. Why is your first reaction, "Ha ha, those people sure are idiots who don't understand something as simple as apples!"

Sellers who need to do large-scale or offsite prep have a vested interest in making their products look as fresh as possible. The fact that sellers are engineering fruits that don't brown when sliced doesn't make them evil scientists who are hellbent on defrauding the public. It just means they're trying to give their products a uniform look that will help them sell better.

But buyers have a vested interest in acquiring foods that are actually fresh and that have the best taste and texture. It makes sense that people would turn their nose up at the non-browning apple, since its engineering doesn't necessarily solve any of their apple-related problems—if anything, it makes the first criterion harder to assess.

That doesn't automatically make dubious customers a bunch of anti-scientific rubes who don't understand enzymatic browning. And even if it did, I'm not sure that mockery is the most useful way to convince people that they're wrong about something.

See also the Red Delicious: the world's best-looking, worst-tasting apple, thanks to genetic modification borne of traditional cultivation.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 11:47 AM on February 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think conflating these two separate issues is a problem. Scientific method aside, there are legitimate concerns about the applications of GMO science as practiced by Monsanto etc, and potential negative effects on the environment (this also applies to factory farming in general). But if you mention these concerns, some arrogant science-heads will bludgeon you as anti-science. And that's part of the problem with this discourse.

Yes, there's two different flavors of opposition to GMOs. On the one hand, there's the panic over transgenic organisms. On the other hand, there's the recognition that GMOs as currently designed are created by and for big business and monoculture practices, with the use of intellectual property law to maintain oligarchies. The former are concerned with frankenfoods, the latter are concerned with the ways in which maximizing agricultural profits contributes to multiple environmental and nutritional harms, and possibly makes a more fragile food-distribution system.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:52 AM on February 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


Anti-gmo and anti-vax are absolutely inseparable in discussions of rejection of science. Flavored propaganda is still propaganda.
posted by lawliet at 12:02 PM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Does anyone still wonder if there's a god? Or... many divine forces? I know science and intellectualism killed god pretty well- and factual speaking with good reason if facts are the best way to understand the world (and there are very good reasons to question the assholes who claim their is a god despite evidence to the contrary like god's lack of fucking turning up when needed. )

Yet so many people wonder, I don't think there is a perfect, or all powerful, or all compassionate god controlling this reality. All evidence is to the contrary- but what if there is more to sentience than just being in a body? What if there's more going on here than we can see? What if there IS life force in the earth and the sun, the planets and the waters, the moon and the mountains?

I think deep down many people think there is something more, something that crude science is missing in understanding life itself, the nature of living and being human-- that science has overstepped it's bounds in trying to destroy the sacred and all the knowing that exists around that concept. People who believe they talk to god are locked up and shunned. Even more terrifying is that when people talk to god, and god talks to them,sometimes the messages they receive are terrifying and destructive making it seem almost certain that the messages are not coming from a compassionate divine. The concept of the divine itself has been so corrupted in this world that it has been used for the grotesque purpose of humans, the emperor has no clothes, when people need help no one is coming as evidenced by those who have prayed desperately and been failed.

Unless there are forces getting in the way of compassionate forces having a strong presence here. Like say THIS GUY! See that meanie head there the people are pointing at?
There could be some pretty big deal meanie heads in this world. But don't worry, the good magic is returning. You see? FIVE POINT STAR. The elements are aligning.

Why are people destroying the earth? If good magic returned, and the voice of the earth and the trees and the animals and the waters could be heard again- would they think you have been serving compassion? Of course, we can not blame people for ignorance, and of course, science and common sense tells us that unless something can prove it's consciousness to us, we may feel content destroying and using any and every force or element we find- after all, everything that exists, surely must exist to serve us? And if it can't feel this is the correct choice- we know humans have needs, for sure, so we should serve those who feel, and make their lives better. But what if the people who once thought they could talk to nature, and could hear it's response, were not incorrect?

I mean, what if the amount of love that goes in to the plants we grow, how we treat them, to the earth we cultivate and the ecosystem we become part of, the food we eat, how it's prepared-- what if these energetic forces are real? What if there's a world of sensing, that science has really not yet explored and that some people ARE sensing better than our scientific tools do yet? What if health DOES have a spiritual component- as we are finding more and more that the people who said this originally and were mocked- that emotions and health are linked, have overwhelmingly been proven right- all while being laughed all the way there. What if, like many species of animals, we DO in fact have some intuition that guides us in ways that are helpful, at least sometimes?

If scientists (or the people commanding that everyone TRUST SCIENCE) laugh at these ideas, people who believe in them will not trust the ethics of scientists (or the TRUST SCIENCE crowd which has segments that can be kind of a mean crowd).

I think this conversation is really confusing because the word science is huge and encompasses so many things, and in general when people say trust science, they mean to trust scientists. And yeah, scientists are just people. You see stuff like this and I just wonder why so many laugh and scoff at people who have been saying things like "I feel like my kids are a part of me" as just silly intuition nonsense...

I'm just tired of people who pretend we know more than we do about reality mocking people who think there is more to understanding the world, the human experience, and how to relate to the world and behave in it than just what science text books CURRENTLY tell us which is evolving and changing all the time.
posted by xarnop at 12:07 PM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


In the long run, science wins. Why? Two reasons. First, science works whether you believe in it or not.

I am informed, by a reliable expert source, that this is also true of the Christian faith.
posted by Naberius at 12:12 PM on February 23, 2015


By they way, I am a very silly person and I don't expect people to believe me about the magic rainbow love. I know, that's silly. But I can say that it looks like this!!!! <3 <3
posted by xarnop at 12:14 PM on February 23, 2015


Oh! Sorry the meanie head snuck into both pictures-- here's the magic star. Third pic.
posted by xarnop at 12:19 PM on February 23, 2015


xarnop: Does anyone still wonder if there's a god? Or... many divine forces? I know science and intellectualism killed god pretty well... [snip] People who believe they talk to god are locked up and shunned.

Not sure where you are posting from, but most of the planet believes in some form of god, and they're not shunned or locked up.

I think this conversation is really confusing because the word science is huge and encompasses so many things, and in general when people say trust science, they mean to trust scientists. And yeah, scientists are just people.

No, they mean they trust the process. That's what science is; it's a method. That's really important here; there's this false equivalence saying "scientists are just people, and what to people know?"

and how to relate to the world and behave in it than just what science text books CURRENTLY tell us which is evolving and changing all the time.

Again, the false equivalence. Science isn't "changing" all the time as much as it's evolving. Again, science is a process, it improves over time. This is different the alternative, where the "knowledge" never changes, because it's just what you "feel". There's no systemic process for improvement, no replication, no critical analysis.

That the science textbooks have changed is exactly the reason to take science seriously, not the reason to dismiss it.
posted by spaltavian at 12:22 PM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


( Just to say because I have the capacity to talk on an on-- I will respond to anyone who wants an actual response from me by memail-- feel free to talk about what I said or counter it but I have said my piece for this thread so if you want my response just send me a memail, otherwise chat away...carry on then etc)
posted by xarnop at 12:28 PM on February 23, 2015


This is kind of the attitude I don't understand. Why is your first reaction, "Ha ha, those people sure are idiots who don't understand something as simple as apples!"

The hilarity, to me, is in the situation overall, not in "ha ha rubes." The scientists tried to meet people where they live, rather than beating them about the heads with the ways in which a browned apple is not rotten. Nonetheless, it's insufficient, because the only real solution would be some way of actually halting the passage of time (at least for apples). Such is humanity.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:28 PM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


An oxidized slice of apple is on the way to being rotten. This information is a part of survival recognition. Fruit browns because the skin (protective packaging,) has been compromised, allowing for fungus and bacteris to grow. We are averse to signs of spoilage.

Antivaxxers, the new category of individuals it is OK to vilify, demonize at will? This is one group, people who don't vaccinate themselves or their kids.

People who want GMOs labeled or banned, Germans, Russians, possibly Europeans in general, some educated Americans, and some in scientific communities, these are entirely different categories than people who don't vaccinate their children. No rational entity lumps these disparate groups together.

Individuals who want to consume organic food, or who want sustainable agrarian practices, this is yet a different category.

People who want the ring of authenticity, that is a concept the author wants to sell in a derogatory manner, a blanket categorization he would like to throw over a lot of disparate ideas, and peoples.
posted by Oyéah at 12:30 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


[T]he relationship to the world that modern science fostered and shaped now appears to have exhausted its potential. It is increasingly clear that, strangely, the relationship is missing something. It fails to connect with the most intrinsic nature of reality, and with natural human experience. It is now more of a source of disintegration and doubt than a source of integration and meaning. It produces what amounts to a state of schizophrenia, completely alienating man as an observer from himself as a being. Classical modern science described only the surface of things, a single dimension of reality. And the more dogmatically science treated it as the only dimension, as the very essence of reality, the more misleading it became. Today, for instance, we may know immeasurably more about the universe than our ancestors did, and yet, it increasingly seems they knew something more essential about it than we do, something that escapes us. The same thing is true of nature and of ourselves. The more thoroughly all our organs and their functions, their internal structure and the biochemical reactions that take place within them are described, the more we seem to fail to grasp the spirit, purpose and meaning of the system that they create together and that we experience as our unique "self."--Vaclav Havel
posted by No Robots at 12:32 PM on February 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


The Havel quote pretty much sums up what modernity is up against. Vagueness presented as profound and universal. It's pure personal aesthetics, presuming to speak for all of us.
posted by spaltavian at 12:38 PM on February 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


Again, the false equivalence. Science isn't "changing" all the time as much as it's evolving. Again, science is a process, it improves over time. This is different the alternative, where the "knowledge" never changes, because it's just what you "feel". There's no systemic process for improvement, no replication, no critical analysis.

One of the interesting things about working in the arts coming directly from the sciences is that the systemic processes of improvement, replication, and critical analysis were not unique to the sciences. Granted that process of evolution is intersubjective and constructive, but it does exist, and I find myself a bit frustrated with the notion that science uniquely has a process for constructing knowledge.

But a problem here is that there's a bit of cognitive dissonance involved in the idea that science "evolves" by questioning existing theories but we should, simultaneously trust in those theories.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:44 PM on February 23, 2015


From the introduction to the Havel speech on the APS website:
We physicists might disagree, or agree, with the speech by Vaclav Havel that is reprinted below. In either case, we can perhaps agree that Havel's comments are sincere, and important for both science and society. The misuse of science and technology is at the root of many of the modern world's problems. These problems are worsening and they will not improve until all of us, and especially we scientists, begin to address the problems that Havel discusses--problems, that is, of spirit and meaning in the context of modern science.
What we are up against is social bullying disguising itself as science.
posted by No Robots at 12:45 PM on February 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


In the long run, science wins. Why? Two reasons. First, science works whether you believe in it or not.

Which equivocates between external reality and science, the socially constructed ways in which we understand that external reality. And the answer to the second is that whether we, (and more importantly key stakeholders) believe in a theory or not really does matter. Einstein's knee-jerk rejection of Lemaitre likely pushed cosmology back a few years. Climate change denialism strikes me as the last gasp of gradualism, a paradigm that stuck to its guns long after support for Alvarez-Alvarez became undeniable.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:50 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


But a problem here is that there's a bit of cognitive dissonance involved in the idea that science "evolves" by questioning existing theories but we should, simultaneously trust in those theories.

No, there isn't. You go with the best knowledge you have, while being open to better data. Pretty silly to label that as "cognitive dissonance". And if you look at science, a lot of these changes are refinements: that's the advantage of having an empirical basis. Newtonian physics was replaced by relativity, but all those machines from the 19th century worked. No one was "wrong" to use Newtonian physics; the theory fit the data, and we could do stuff with it. It would only be wrong to still insist to use it today in your Mars-bound orbiter, and screw everything up because your on-board clock is measurably behind the mission clock.

One of the interesting things about working in the arts coming directly from the sciences is that the systemic processes of improvement, replication, and critical analysis were not unique to the sciences. Granted that process of evolution is intersubjective and constructive, but it does exist, and I find myself a bit frustrated with the notion that science uniquely has a process for constructing knowledge.

No one has said that only science evolves, I was contrasting that with pseudoscience and faith.
posted by spaltavian at 12:52 PM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Science is increasingly on the payroll of industry who expects the outcomes it has paid for. Religion is not my religion and science is also not my religion. What is the difference between being a sucker for science, and being a sucker for pseudoscience? On a philosophical level a sucker is a sucker, is a sucker.

Differences between grandfathers: One was a dirt farmer and raised eleven kids on it, had a newspaper to read because he delivered the paper on a rural route, the other grandfater, made the best moonshine in his county. Their activities do not make me a farming expert, nor a connoisseur of DIY whiskey. When people speak of either matter in my presence, with varying levels of skill or understanding, I don't have to restrain my self from whacking them "upside their haids."
posted by Oyéah at 1:10 PM on February 23, 2015


Does anyone still wonder if there's a god? Or... many divine forces? I know science and intellectualism killed god pretty well

I'm not much of a person of faith myself, but this isn't even close to being true.

There are many, many scientists who are also religious. It's not a problem, because unless your theology is really naive and makes easily-falsifiable, factual claims, the two domains are not really overlapping.*

Having had the opportunity over the years to discuss theology with some people who were as rigorous in their deductive reasoning, with respect to the various faith-based premises they started from, as any mathematician or pure-theoretical physicist is to theirs, I don't see much of an inherent contradiction.

* And where they do overlap, it's often due to fringey elements coming out of the woodwork to 'defend' faith, sometimes long after the mainstream faith community has moved on. E.g. Young-Earth Creationism, which became A Thing in the United States decades after it was basically settled in England. Often times the reason for the fight-picking is about issues unrelated to the purported factual dispute; again e.g. Young-Earth Creationists were upset about evolutionary theory and its implications and reignited a debate about geology because of it, not because they cared about fossils or the Flood per se.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:22 PM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


An oxidized slice of apple is on the way to being rotten.

In the same way that Jersey City is "on the way" from New York to San Francisco. A step in that direction, yes, but only one step in what would need to be many, many more steps.

This information is a part of survival recognition. Fruit browns because the skin (protective packaging,) has been compromised, allowing for fungus and bacteris to grow. We are averse to signs of spoilage.

A lot of this kind of evolutionary psychology is actually discredited or at least up for debate. Moreover, we do also have the weight of human experience behind us, in which people who were brave and/or hungry enough to try eating a brownish apple discovered that "oh, hey, it's actually okay even though it looks a little funky". And that act of eating a brownish apple is itself a scientific inquiry of a sort - and the knowledge it yields is something that used to have as much, if not more, weight on human behavior than any kind of evolutionary instinct.

There's rejection of science, and then there's switching to pseudo-science.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:22 PM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


One of the interesting things about working in the arts coming directly from the sciences is that the systemic processes of improvement, replication, and critical analysis were not unique to the sciences. Granted that process of evolution is intersubjective and constructive, but it does exist, and I find myself a bit frustrated with the notion that science uniquely has a process for constructing knowledge.
I would like to hear more about this. Is it really true that artists today have improved on artists of say, Rembrandt's time? I think it is inarguable that science has progressed, but has painting? Or, for that matter, other arts, such as literature: have novelists improved, and through a process of experiment, made better novels than, say, Jane Austen? By what standards?
posted by librosegretti at 1:33 PM on February 23, 2015


Mathematicians keep changing the most precise value of pi. But that doesn't mean that they're (for lack of a better word) wrong about pi.
posted by Monochrome at 1:36 PM on February 23, 2015


Oyéah, let me see if I understand. You object to the apples that resist browning via oxidation because you consider this to be a way to hide that the apples are rotting?

You are aware that apples are perfectly safe to eat when they've oxidized a little, yes?

Moreover, that sprinkling a little lemon juice (or any other mild acid) on the apples will also prevent them from browning via oxidation.

Do you consider sprinkling lemon juice on cut apples, or avocados, to be a bad thing because that too hides the "rotting" you believe the browning to represent? If not, how is that particularly different from the non-browning apples?

I'm genuinely puzzled here, as I often am when I read what you write about food (I still wonder how you use soy sauce in place of stock, for example, without dying of salt poisoning).
posted by sotonohito at 1:46 PM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well gee, now I am educated about apples, having grown them, eaten and cooked them, and canned them. Why genetically engineer a non browning apple when we can just educate folks as to how stupid it is to not eat oxidized apple slices, when they are just as good as fresh cut apple slices? Those people that eat marginal fruit because they are hungry, are they scientists, or are they pseudoscientists? How long will the genetically engineered non browning apples go, before they show signs of visible decay, as they decay?
posted by Oyéah at 1:46 PM on February 23, 2015


They're still going to turn to mushy shit. That's the part where they've actually decayed.
posted by Dark Messiah at 1:50 PM on February 23, 2015


Whoa, sparky.

Why genetically engineer a non browning apple when we can just educate folks as to how stupid it is to not eat oxidized apple slices, when they are just as good as fresh cut apple slices?

Because most people already knew that brownish apples were still okay before the hyper-sanitized Food Science era came along and talked them out of it. They were already "educated" to mistrust what their own grandma and most of prior human culinary experience had told them.

Those people that eat marginal fruit because they are hungry, are they scientists, or are they pseudoscientists?

They're just hungry. However, the people that try and claim that "evolutionarily we are conditioned to avoid browning fruit because it's an instinctive aversion to rot" may have been taken in by a very popular, but controversial, scientific argument which is a little on the iffy side (read: they've been fooled by a pseudoscience).

How long will the genetically engineered non browning apples go, before they show signs of visible decay, as they decay?

....the hell?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:51 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


[Oyeah, the tangent about browning apples is kind of out of left field here, best to leave it. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:52 PM on February 23, 2015


My skepticism has to do with creating food to go in lunchboxes that appears fresh, but is not. I cut an apple for a fruit salad and if it has to sit a while, yes I will put on some acidic juice to keep it the original color. The skepticism has to do with the creation of food for industry that will look fresh, whether it is or isn't. I wouldn't make a fruit salad for an event in three days or a week.

As to use of soy sauce instead of chicken or beef stock, I don't cook anything to full salt, people put on however much salt they are used to.
posted by Oyéah at 1:58 PM on February 23, 2015


If good magic returned, and the voice of the earth and the trees and the animals and the waters could be heard again- would they think you have been serving compassion?

"Killing me won't bring back your non-sulfite-sprayed-to-prevent-browning apples!"
posted by octobersurprise at 2:02 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


My skepticism has to do with creating food to go in lunchboxes that appears fresh, but is not. I cut an apple for a fruit salad and if it has to sit a while, yes I will put on some acidic juice to keep it the original color. The skepticism has to do with the creation of food for industry that will look fresh, whether it is or isn't.

I think people all agree with that idea in general, but rotting apples undergo a lot of other changes aside from a color change. Texture is an even bigger indicator of an apple's freshness.

So while I think we're all on the same page about "I'm not so down with the idea of genetically modified food", I think where the disconnect is is the fear that "if an apple doesn't turn brown how would you know whether it's rotten". It may not turn brown, but it'd be pretty damn mushy, and that's also unappealing (even more so than the oxidization is).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:07 PM on February 23, 2015


The skepticism has to do with the creation of food for industry that will look fresh, whether it is or isn't.

Wait until you find out what they do with raw meat to keep it bright and pink on the shelf.
posted by peeedro at 2:10 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Here is Andrew Potter on climate change:
The hysteria over global warming that has led to calls for North Americans to give up flying, give up driving, give up meat, give up toilet paper, give up lightbulbs, and give up procreating is almost entirely driven by a ratchet of authenticity-seeking that progressively rejects more and more of the comforts and privileges of modern life. Next thing you know, the hyper-rich are sleeping on mud floors, like poverty-stricken Aboriginals.--The Authenticity Hoax: Why the "Real" Things We Seek Don't Make Us Happy, p. 134.
Apparently, for Potter, some anti-science is better than other anti-science.
posted by No Robots at 2:22 PM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


spaltavian: No, there isn't. You go with the best knowledge you have, while being open to better data. Pretty silly to label that as "cognitive dissonance".

Not really. You can't simultaneously lionize the people who started scientific revolutions, and then say that current theory should be given a high degree of trust.

Monochrome: Mathematicians keep changing the most precise value of pi. But that doesn't mean that they're (for lack of a better word) wrong about pi.

Not even wrong. Most of the time when you need pi in the mathematical sense you're going to use pi and not an approximation. The decimal approximation of pi is an engineering/craft issue.

librosegretti: I would like to hear more about this. Is it really true that artists today have improved on artists of say, Rembrandt's time? I think it is inarguable that science has progressed, but has painting? Or, for that matter, other arts, such as literature: have novelists improved, and through a process of experiment, made better novels than, say, Jane Austen? By what standards?

Well, as I clearly stated, the standards are constructive and intersubjective. That doesn't mean that the standards don't exist, or that artists don't engage in a process of inquiry of throwing work against those standards, testing the results, and figuring out what works and what doesn't work.

sotonohito: Oyéah, let me see if I understand. You object to the apples that resist browning via oxidation because you consider this to be a way to hide that the apples are rotting?

It's an example of a modification to improve the marketability of produce and reduce handling costs. Which again, a criticism of GMOs is the tendency to favor mass production and marketability over nutrition or environmental issues.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:22 PM on February 23, 2015


I think the crux of this is whether you think of science as strictly defined by the scientific method, or if you think of science as a whole set of institutions, relationships, and (more or less successful) communications.

Personally, I take the later view. Now, that doesn't mean I distrust all of science. I believe that climate change is real. I would vaccinate my kids (if I was ever going to have any, which I won't.) But this seems pretty clear to me:

Science is an activity that humans do.

Humans are an inevitably social species and, at least in the current situation, do the things they do in a highly complex field of cultural and political dynamics.

Therefore, science is intrinsically political.

You might say that science could be or should be some pure, apolitical method. But really, in the terms of my argument, everything has a political dimension. Cooking is political. What does that mean? Well, where does your food come from? Where does the heat to do your cooking come from? The simplest act is related to massive, global economic systems.

And science is so much more complicated and entangled. Who decides what research priorities should be? Who owns the intellectual property that results from research? Which research gets published and which gets quietly locked in a drawer?

Even a simple statement like The Green Revolution of the 40s–60s saved a billion people's lives through the application of science to agriculture. is a political statement, with a moral dimension. (How do you decide what's moral? Science can't tell you what to value.) The Green Revolution wasn't a pure, simple application of neutral technological advances--it was a political and economic project that many people critiqued (and continue to critique) on political and ecological grounds.
posted by overglow at 2:40 PM on February 23, 2015


(And, of course, people critiquing the Green Revolution for the ecological impacts of industrial, monoculture farms are also making use of science. This is part of what I mean--science is a human tool, which ends up being used in political conflicts. Like every human tool.)
posted by overglow at 2:44 PM on February 23, 2015


I think it is inarguable that science has progressed, but has painting?

A statement like this begs the question that there is a category difference between science and other sorts of human activity -- that is, science has a telos while the creation of art hasn't. (I doubt that painting does. Whether science does is possibly a more difficult question.)
posted by junco at 2:53 PM on February 23, 2015


Here for your enjoyment, The Golden Rice Hoax

http://online.sfsu.edu/rone/GEessays/goldenricehoax.html
posted by Oyéah at 2:53 PM on February 23, 2015


That would be really important if the newer strains of golden rice didn't contain more than 20x as much beta-carotene as the strains that article is talking about.
posted by Justinian at 3:04 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also for your enjoyment, another critique of GMO foods. WARNING ... Ignore Cubic Math at your own peril, and of humanity.
posted by Nelson at 3:10 PM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


A statement like this begs the question that there is a category difference between science and other sorts of human activity -- that is, science has a telos while the creation of art hasn't. (I doubt that painting does. Whether science does is possibly a more difficult question.)

Just about all bodies of work explore one or more theory of aesthetics through refinement over multiple iterations. That those theories are culturally constructed, mediated, and often tacit doesn't mean they don't exist.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:25 PM on February 23, 2015


How many secret anti-vaxxers do you know? People who don't trumpet the fact?
posted by gottabefunky at 3:35 PM on February 23, 2015


Here for your enjoyment, The Golden Rice Hoax

by Dr. Vandana Shiva


Nope.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:37 PM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Here for your enjoyment, The Golden Rice Hoax

Aaand... it turns out anti GMO is very well suited to lumping in with anti vaxxers, climat change deniers, and creationists. Shiva has been discussed here before, and doesn't seem to come off well, IMO.
posted by 2N2222 at 3:59 PM on February 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Speaking as a *fruit scientist*, this thread is depressing me. Here are my choices: I can try to do ethical work while taking funding from pesticide companies, or I can scrape together meager funding from well-meaning organizations that have no understanding of science and want me to study homeopathic magnetic compost tea (not making this up). There is lots of money for creating tasteless rock-hard non-browning potatoes; there is a tiny bit of money for resuscitating heirloom cultivars that taste great but won't feed the hungry billions on this earth. Science isn't the problem here. Politicians and the people who elect them are not supporting research that tries to investigate difficult, long-term problems in food production.

[Brown spots caused by actual rot are not harmful, either. I buy the cheap, slightly rotten apples at the farmers market and make applesauce]
posted by acrasis at 4:37 PM on February 23, 2015 [11 favorites]


The problem is that when people start complaining about tasteless rock-hard non-browning potatoes, they're basically told to stfu, because science.
posted by No Robots at 6:34 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


[Brown spots caused by actual rot are not harmful, either. I buy the cheap, slightly rotten apples at the farmers market and make applesauce]

Similarly, it's when the peels are covered in brown spots and the fruit's gone all mushy that is the time to make banana bread.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:36 PM on February 23, 2015


I confess that for a couple of seconds I thought that Pope Guilty was talking about making banana bread from bruised apples somehow and I was like TELL ME OF THIS WIZARDRY USUL.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:12 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


The problem is that when people start complaining about tasteless rock-hard non-browning potatoes, they're basically told to stfu, because science.

You must shop at a very aggressive market.
posted by spaltavian at 7:22 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


<carmen miranda> When they are flecked with brown
And are a golden hue
Bananas are the best
And are the best for you</carmen miranda>
posted by octobersurprise at 7:23 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


You know what I hate drinking? Fresh pressed unfiltered apple cider. So brown. I have an aversion.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:51 PM on February 23, 2015


j/k it's the most delicious thing there is.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:52 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh no not this again.

Therefore, science is intrinsically political.

You might say that science could be or should be some pure, apolitical method. But really, in the terms of my argument, everything has a political dimension. Cooking is political.


How The World Was Saved by Stanislaw Lem

One day Trurl the constructor put together a machine that could create anything starting with n. When it was ready, he tried it out, ordering it to make needles, then nankeens and negligees, which it did, then nail the lot to narghiles filled with nepenthe and numerous other narcotics. The machine carried out his instructions to the letter. Still not completely sure of its ability, he had it produce, one after the other, nimbuses, noodles, nuclei, neutrons, naphtha, noses, nymphs, naiads, and natrium. 'This last it could not do, and Trurl, considerably irritated, demanded an explanation.

"Never heard of it," said the machine.

"What? But it's only sodium. You know, the metal, the element..."

"Sodium starts with an s, and I work only in n."

"But in Latin it's natrium."

"Look, old boy," said the machine, "if I could do everything starting with n in every possible language, I'd be a Machine That Could Do Everything in the Whole Alphabet, since any item you care to mention undoubtedly starts with n in one foreign language or another. It's not that easy. I can't go beyond what you programmed. So no sodium."

"Very well," said Trurl and ordered it to make Night, which it made at once - small perhaps, but perfectly nocturnal. Only then did Trurl invite over his friend Klapaucius the constructor, and introduced him to the machine, praising its extraordinary skill at such length, that Klapaucius grew annoyed and inquired whether he too might not test the machine.

"Be my guest," said Trurl. "But it has to start with n."

"N?" said Klapaucius. "All right, let it make Nature."

The machine whined, and in a trice Trurl's front yard was packed with naturalists. They argued, each publishing heavy volumes, which the others tore to pieces; in the distance one could see flaming pyres, on which martyrs to Nature were sizzling; there was thunder, and strange mushroom-shaped columns of smoke rose up; everyone talked at once, no one listened, and there were all sorts of memoranda, appeals, subpoenas and other documents, while off to the side sat a few old men, feverishly scribbling on scraps of paper.

"Not bad, eh?" said Trurl with pride. "Nature to a T, admit it!"

But Klapaucius wasn't satisfied.

"What, that mob? Surely you're not going to tell me that's Nature?"
...
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:13 PM on February 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


How many secret anti-vaxxers do you know? People who don't trumpet the fact?

Actually, loads. Over here, you can have your child forcibly removed and vaccinated, and you can go to court and face massive fines for skipping vaccinations. Few take the hard road.
posted by holist at 4:04 AM on February 24, 2015


I confess that for a couple of seconds I thought that Pope Guilty was talking about making banana bread from bruised apples somehow and I was like TELL ME OF THIS WIZARDRY USUL.

Now I want some kind of apple-banana bread, like banana bread made with applesauce. I wish I was better with an oven!
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:36 AM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


like banana bread made with applesauce.

This is absolutely a thing and not at all difficult to make. You sub the applesauce in for the egg--google "vegan banana bread + applesauce" and many options will lay before ye.

And lo, thou mayest chop some apples very tiny and sprinkle them in the batter with some cinnamon.

And you will see that it is tasty.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:19 AM on February 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


You're a beautiful person.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:58 AM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


I know what would solve crisis in the NHS, says Tory MP: astrology. "People who oppose what I say are usually bullies who have never studied astrology. They never look at it. They are absolutely dismissive. Astrology may not be capable of passing double-blind tests but it is based on thousands of years of observation."
posted by Nelson at 4:07 PM on February 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


Astrology, eh? That's just what I'd expect from a witch.
posted by octobersurprise at 5:23 PM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Astrology, eh? That's just what I'd expect from a witch.

It's really more of a Magi thing. Useful for finding the odd messiah (just don't talk to any kings on the way).
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:51 PM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Astrology! Magi! Won't be long before one of these nigels starts claiming the right to executive power on the grounds that some watery tart lobbed a scimitar at them.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:10 PM on February 24, 2015


Hold the phone, guys - I just found a recipe for apple-banana bread, which is basically banana bread with chopped apple mixed in.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:17 PM on February 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Still golden patented rice doesn't do what they say it does. Still all the apples I harvested in the fall and put up as apple butter, apple compote, apple pies, or spicy apple chutney, are a uniform shade of reddish brown, because of the malic acid. What I imagine for the non browning apples is this. The apples will be washed, dried, and sliced. They will be packed in secure plastic packs. They they will be exposed to radioactive cobalt in an irradiating facility, and when they fall behind in sales, a year later, they will be served to school kids as fresh fruit, they will be so crappy by then, the garbage cans will be full of them. The emperor's new golden apples.

I had my kids vaccinated, but I had every type of measles, chicken pox, mumps, even the Hong Kong flu. Just in time I did get polio vaccine, and small pox vaccine. I authentically didn't have to get those diseases.
posted by Oyéah at 6:59 PM on February 24, 2015






Ah, I finally found the New Yorker cartoon about that.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:13 PM on March 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


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