Oops: Why, and to what extent, we should listen to scientists

[Continuing our series on deception in politics and public policy.]

There are a lot of stupid people in the world. Among the dumbest are those who believe that their expertise in one scientific field or another makes them experts in public policy.

It’s always been a mystery to me, that someone who is an expert in astrophysics or archeology or microbiology is, by virtue of that expertise, considered an expert in public policy. My experience is that the average truck driver, chicken farmer, or beauty salon manager knows at least as much about public policy as the average chemist or paleontologist. In fact, the more technical one’s field, the more likely that, to be considered a world-class expert in that field, a person has to spend virtually all of his or her time studying that subject and that subject almost exclusively. There are exceptions, of course, but, for every scientist/polymath like Ben Franklin or Thomas Jefferson, there are ten thousand scientist/dunderheads like Steven Chu, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist and expert on trapping atoms with laser light who was an embarrassment as Secretary of Energy.

I was reminded of this as I watched the profile on Sunday’s “60 Minutes” of Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, the astrophysicist and science popularizer. In an interview with Charlie Rose, Tyson noted how it was that pictures of earth sent back from space changed our attitudes (because, I suppose, we never realized until then that we all lived on one planet) and he bragged that the resulting change in attitudes led to the ban on DDT.

That’s the ban on DDT that has killed tens of millions of people by exposing them unnecessarily to malaria. Yep. Great idea.

Sean Davis at the website The Federalist has dealt with certain aspects of Tyson’s record, including his fabrication of stories designed to smear, as scientific illiterates, people he doesn’t like (George W. Bush, for example). For example, last September, at http://thefederalist.com/2014/09/18/why-is-wikipedia-deleting-all-references-to-neil-tysons-fabrication, Davis wrote:

Neil Tyson, a prominent popularizer of science (he even has his own television show) was recently found to have repeatedly fabricated multiple quotes over several years. The fabrications were not a one-off thing. They were deliberate and calculated, crafted with one goal in mind: to elevate Tyson, and by extension his audience, at the expense of know-nothing, knuckle-dragging nutjobs who hate science. Tyson targeted journalists, members of Congress, even former President George W. Bush. And what was their crime? They were guilty of rejecting science, according to Tyson.

There’s only one problem. None of the straw man quotes that Tyson uses to tear them down are real. The quote about the numerically illiterate newspaper headline? Fabricated. The quote about a member of Congress who said he had changed his views 360 degrees? It doesn’t exist. That time a U.S. president said “Our God is the God who named the stars” as a way of dividing Judeo-Christian beliefs from Islamic beliefs? It never happened.

I’ve written in this space about the efforts by left-wing scientists and their allies to depict their political adversaries and the American public in general as ignoramuses, from the myth that ignorant religious people told Columbus the earth was flat to the current effort by Al Gore, the New York Times, Google, and their ilk to blacklist and silence critics of Global Warming myths. (FYI: Two federal agencies recently found no measurable warming since 2005.)

It’s obvious why they would smear their adversaries—to discredit them and to intimidate anyone who might speak up. Less obvious is the reason they attack the general public: that, as members of the Progressive Movement, they believe that well-credentialed elites have the right and the responsibility to run other people’s lives for them. For example, when Obamacare goons take over the writing of restaurant menus, and force some people to pay for other people’s birth control and for pseudoscientific “medicine” such as aromatherapy, acupuncture, and chiropractic, and otherwise bully the American people, they justify it on the grounds that they are smart and regular Americans are stupid.

Tyson is a major part of that effort these days. Sometimes he makes a fool of himself, as with this comment last Christmas: “On this day long ago, a child was born who, by age 30, would transform the world. Happy Birthday Isaac Newton b. Dec 25, 1642.” That was not only smarmy but stupid; Newton was born on Christmas Day, December 25, but only on the Julian calendar; his birthday on the modern calendar is January 4. Also, Newton was an outspoken Christian, which sucks the wind out of any implied contrast between an enlightened scientist and a religious figure. (See the piece by W.R. Wansley in the American Thinker at http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2015/03/the_heavens_mark_the_passing_of_sir_isaac_newton.html , and this piece by Casey Luskin at http://www.evolutionnews.org/2015/01/once_again_neil092441.html .)

Throughout the past century, scientists fell for one con after another, from white supremacy to eugenics, from “scientific socialism” to the “population bomb,” from phrenology (judging personality, including intelligence and criminal proclivities, based on the shape of a person’s head) to catastrophic man-made global warming. Proponents of Nazism and Communism, which killed hundreds of millions of people, claimed that their beliefs were rooted in science.

Scientist-activists have a nearly unbroken record of being wrong about controversial issues. See, as examples, nuclear winter, action-reaction arms control theory, the existence of discrete “races” of humans, Keynesianism, the desirability of  the aforementioned ban on DDT, the depiction of second-hand smoke as a major health threat, the low-fat diet craze, SETI, the supposed effectiveness of early-childhood education and of the look-say method of teaching reading, embryonic stem-cell research, Prohibition, biofuels, various elements of evolutionary theory (including gradualism, ever-increasing complexity, DNA-as-a-blueprint, and intelligent design as nonscientific), Yellow Rain and Agent Orange, the linear no-threshold dose hypothesis, whether atomic testing caused “feeblemindedness,” the dangers of sodium cyclamate sweetener, the impossibility of missile defense, the “Dugway sheep incident” of 1968, and the impossibility of biological weapons and the question of whether the Soviets had a bio-weapons program, and the classification of gun ownership, drunk driving, and obesity as matters of public health and of carbon dioxide as “carbon pollution.”

From Piltdown Man, to the canals on Mars that scientists kept “seeing” although they weren’t there, to the 1996 “life on Mars” hoax (announced by the Clinton administration just in time to knock the Republicans’ nomination of Bob Dole off some magazine covers), to the discredited-much-too-late work of Margaret Mead and Alfred Kinsey, to the disastrous “scientific” management of forests by the U.S. government, to the classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder (in the U.S. until the 1970s and around the world until 1990), to the myth that science says people are born gay and that 10 percent of the population is gay, to the scientific-but-false concept written into Constitutional law by the Supreme Court that babies cannot possibly survive until the third trimester, to the classification of subspecies and populations falsely as species for purposes of the Endangered Species Act, scientists and the “scientific community” seen in the news media have been wrong, wrong, wrong, a thousand times wrong. Heck, they didn’t even get it right when there weren’t any political implications. (No, stomach ulcers aren’t the result of stress and spicy foods and, no, dinosaurs aren’t extinct.)

President Eisenhower in his 1961 farewell address warned us of the dangers of the “military-industrial complex.” I grew up during the Vietnam War, and, for years, heard someone cite that term seemingly every day. It’s interesting that hardly anyone quotes this part of the Eisenhower speech:

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

Scientists, as citizens, are and should be encouraged to get involved in the political process. When their views are based on logic and evidence, and their proposals are based on a respect for human rights and Constitutional principles, we should listen to them.

Just as we listen to truck drivers, and chicken farmers, and beauty shop managers. And not one iota more.

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