What’s Really Behind the Science / Anti-Science Labels?

Today is March 5, 2022. In two weeks, we mark the 2 year anniversary of shelter-in-place/quarantine rules. That includes mask mandates followed by vaccine mandates followed by arguments over masks and vaccines. For me, I barely have any social media presence; this blog and LinkedIn. I post rarely here and use LinkedIn for job searches. Thus, I have no idea what is trending unless I go on Babylon Bee or my pastor makes a joke during a sermon. The ironic thing: my pastor has even less of a social media presence and hates it more than me. Thus, if I ever comment on social media trends, it will be several months, or years, after those trends or hashtags emerged.

One of the trends is applying the “science” or “anti-science” label. Generally speaking, these labels are applied to be people who propose or oppose the mainstream narrative about what the government should be done (or not do) to address the COVID-19 pandemic. You might ask: “The pandemic is almost over. Why talk about it?” My response: there is something much more insidious than just talking COVID-19 measures. There are deeper undercurrents below the rhetoric. I want to bring it to light.

I submit that there are two major currents: 1) people forget what is science and 2) people have forgotten how to deal with disagreement.

What is science in the first place? Dictionary.com offers these two definitions of science:
a. branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws
b. systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.

I want to point out this key philosophical point: science is amoral. What to do with knowledge and facts lies outside the realm of science. To quote the late Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias: “Which department of science tells you to report your data accurately and honestly?” In fact, even how we gather our data is subject to an ethical review board. Anyone who has ever conducted a study on humans at a university has heard of an IRB or some variant that makes sure that the human subjects are treated humanely during the experiment.

If you don’t believe me, do a Google search: Unit 731. It is the horrifying experimentation by the Japanese on Allied POWs on World War 2. Yet everything we know about frostbite and high altitude human endurance comes from Unit 731.

Or did you know that the first country to study the effects of smoking and cigarettes did so in the 1930s? This country did so with the aim of improving the health of their populace. Popular history tells us that US government published the reports in the 1960s and thus warned the world. And which country beat the US by 30 years? The Nazis. Yes, those Nazis.

Why did I bring up the Nazis and the Japanese? There are plenty who will use “science” to advance their cause and they are not afraid to break the bounds of decency and humanity to do so. What happened in 2020 in the rhetoric about “science” – the hijacking of science for nefarious aims – has happened before and can happen again.

But wait? Didn’t you say we have safeguards? Yes, there are safeguards for a “never again” policy, but what about the next political expediency? The COVID-19 vaccines were rushed, no doubt about it, and so far there have not been major side effects yet. We may or may not have dodge a bullet. Who is to say what will happen with the next disease? Or the one after that?

You may ask next: Are you now “anti-science?” Of course not; at least not with the traditional definition of science – a systematic body of knowledge of the physical and material world. In fact, if I could redo part of my college career, I would have gotten a second BA in astronomy and astrophysics. This is as “hard” science as you can get. Because I often write science fiction novels in my spare time, I want to get the science right.

What I am against is the glorification of science. Whenever someone says: “Science supports it! Just look at the data!”, I cringe. Why? Because even scientists can disagree.

Take any case that requires expert witness* testimony. Both sides will hire experts who can look at the same data and draw the opposite conclusion. This does not mean all experts are biased. There are plenty of experts whom both sides have agreed that there IS only one conclusion from the data. (The Federal Rules of Evidence defines “expert witness” broadly but that’s too much to explain in one blog.) Let’s also assume that both experts graduated in the top 20% of their class from an Ivy League university. If the experts disagree, no one would ever characterize the other as “anti-science.” They may argue methodology, assumptions, and interpretation, but the process is never “anti-science”.

Unfortunately, people forgot how to disagree. We went from “agree to disagree” to Cancel Culture almost overnight. Furthermore, people have forgotten just how badly Big Government is wrong (US internment of Japanese Americans, Soviet collectivization of farms), or Big Corporations can go wrong (classic Coke versus New Coke), or any other big organization (Roman Catholic Church). The attitude becomes: “Any dissent, even if it is in the right and the majority is wrong, must be crushed a thousand times over. Apply an overly-broad and hard to refute label.”

The whole science/anti-science and the COVID problems are now overshadowed by the war in Ukraine. However, the attitudes remain in the background.

No one wants to be labeled as anything. After all, one day, you could be the target of an unfair label.

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