Noticing the ways in which “Science!” is being used as an authority signal by all sorts of propagandists now — including Vani Hari “Food Babe” and Dr. Oz — it alerts us to a much broader problem: lack of rigorous scientific method has spread from social sciences where researchers typically misunderstand statistics and fail to use proper controls, then have their press release end up interpreted as “proving” some more broadly-stated claim by popularizing media reports. This tendency has infected all the other sciences.
Aside from simple distortion, there are a variety of other methods to mislead by borrowing the authority science brings to any debate position. Activist organizations (and business lobbying groups as well!) now find a way to get studies done that support their politics, then proclaim the studies as proving their point of view correct. Reason Hit and Run’s Ronald Bailey brought my attention to a good story on this phenomenon by Marcel Kuntz of the Genetic Literacy Project — the large number of marginal journals and “institutes” that will cooperate in promoting junk science:
Political ecologists–commentators in the media and among NGO advocacy groups–like science…when it confirms their views. When it contradicts them, rather than changing their minds, they often prefer to change the science to fit their ideology. They have thus created a “parallel science.” Which should not be confused with pseudo-sciences (e.g. astrology, false medicine, the paranormal, ufology, etc.).
Pseudo-sciences may harm naive believers, parallel “science” is harming democracy. It is a component of a predetermined political project to the exclusive benefit of the ideological views of a minority. “Parallel science” seemingly resembles science, but it differs from science since its conclusions precede experimentation.
Parallel “science” has been created to replace scientists, especially in risk assessment, by “experts” (often self-proclaimed) supportive of a political project. This parallel “science” is hidden behind positive-sounding terms, such as “citizen science” or “independent” or “whistleblower”, while mainstream scientists are accused of having “conflicts of interest” or having ties with “industry”. In order to further propagate distrust in current risk assessment, parallel “science” will invoke unrelated past health problems or environmental damages, but never to the way science has solved problems. …
Why is parallel “science” not discredited and why is it represented so uncritically by the media? The answer partly lies in the current dominance of a relativist ideology. The danger of such a postmodern approach to science is that it considers all points of views to be equally valid and thus raises the value of “independent” (in fact ideological) views to the same level as scientific ones.
Ronald Bailey adds an incident illustrating the problem of politically-biased sources cited as “Science!”:
Let me give an example of how “parallel science” manufactures propaganda for activist groups with which they can mislead the credulous. In March, 2014, Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist in Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, stated in no less a place than MIT’s Technology Review:
It’s also worth noting that there’s no real consensus on GMO crop safety.
As evidence that there’s “no real consensus,” to what website did Gurian-Sherman link? A declaration issued by the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility. ENSSER is a collection of long-time foes of agricultural biotechnology. The disingenuous statement has so far been signed by fewer than 300 scientists, including such anti-biotech luminaries as Charles Benbrook, Vandana Shiva, Gilles-Eric Seralini, and Gurian-Sherman himself. Referring to this declaration as evidence against biotech crop safety is akin to citing a statement from tobacco company scientists asserting that cigarette smoking isn’t a risk factor for lung cancer.
Vani Hari’s mistake — what makes her so easy to discredit — is that she incorporated as a profit-making LLC, when sophisticated propagandists know to start a nonprofit NGO and simply pay themselves a hefty salary out of nonprofit funds. The effect is the same — corrupt dollars from sponsors and special interests go in, propaganda and a comfortable lifestyle for the propagandists go out. The difference is it’s harder to attack the nonprofit.
Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations
[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations, available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]
Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”
Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.
Other posts on pseudoscientific quacks:
Vandana Shiva: Quack
Cleanses and Detox Diets: Quackery
Mike Adams: Quack Suggests Murdering Monsanto-supporting Scientists
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.: Quack
More on Quacks: “Dr. Oz” Testifies He’s a Victim!
Vani Hari, “Food Babe” and Quack: Where the Money Comes From
Vani Hari: “Food Babe” and Quack