18th July 2012
Dogma is no stranger to science, despite the fact they should have no place as bedfellows. As more and more governments and world leaders look upon science as the universal guiding principle for human life on planet Earth, it is becoming increasingly warped by dogma, subjectivity and — most recently — corporatism. Rather than serving as a tool to help us make sense of an extraordinarily complex world, we are now encouraged to rely on it to solve the problems corporate science has itself generated. Boiling it down to a simple analogy: it’s a little like asking the bull to repair the damage in the china shop…
One of the most unpleasant dogmas we are increasingly being asked to accept blindly is ‘consensus science’. Closed scientific groups, such as the expert panels of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), have seemingly perfected the dark art of consensus science. We won’t need to remind you that EFSA has seen fit to recognise a stunningly small number of foods and food constituents as having beneficial properties, despite decades of research into many tens of thousands of such substances. But no matter what the research, if the scientific data are not “generally accepted”, as dictated by the controversial Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation, the science remains out in the cold. Another EFSA panel continues to regard genetically modified (GM) crops as safe. Despite the fact that EFSA’s GM organism (GMO) panel includes previous biotech industry experts, we are asked to accept the panel’s consensus – and are given little or no opportunity to engage democratically.
The now deceased, science fiction writer Michael Crichton, who had a long-standing appreciation of the importance of dissenting views within the scientific community, had a particularly interesting take on consensus science. In a speech delivered in 2003 to the California Institute of Technology, he said:
“I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you're being had.
Let's be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.
There is no such thing as consensus science. If it's consensus, it isn't science. If it's science, it isn't consensus. Period.”
With this notion in mind, we ask you to be aware of just how widely consensus science is being deployed, supposedly – but, in reality, not – for our benefit. This theme ties together our stories this week, whether you’re looking at the latest Gates Foundation project to genetically modify crops to use nitrogen from the air as fertilizer, the European ban on the herb butterbur or the rise of the new form of closed-minded skepticism.
Let’s do what we can to help others wise up to this gross manipulation of the scientific method. That must surely be the starting point to putting things right.
And please share this eAlert and the accompanying stories as widely as you can!
In health, naturally
Robert Verkerk PhD
Executive and scientific director
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Decision on anti-migraine herb reveals attitude of UK medicines regulator
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