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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Absurdity of Corporate-Flavored “Anti-Science” Charges

Nowadays the term “anti-science” is being used in some fairly ridiculous ways. The term should rightfully be reserved for those who are opposed to the scientific method, or who reject the majority of scientific findings established by some large branch of science. But nowadays I read many people abusing the term “anti-science.” Writers nowadays are often throwing around the term “anti-science” as a term of abuse used against those who reject particular technological choices. Such charges are usually absurd, because technological choices should not be confused with science.

Let's consider the case of GMO's – genetically modified organisms. A GMO is usually created when some scientist plays around with the genes of some organism that is used for food, in hopes of doing something like increasing crop yields. Whether it is a good idea to do such a thing is actually a very complicated issue, involving lots of related issues such as subtle potential side effects. But GMO proponents want to make the matter nice and simple – if you oppose GMOs, or want your food to have labels indicating whether it has a genetically modified organism, then you're “anti-science.”

Such reasoning is absurd, because a GMO is not science. It is a technological product made using some scientific knowledge. So is a Justin Bieber CD, which is a product made using scientific knowledge involving electromagnetism. If you decide not to consume GMO's, this would be no more “anti-science” than choosing not to purchase a Justin Bieber CD. Genetics is a science, but genetically modified organisms are not science. They are a technological product.

It is also an abuse of language to be using the term “anti-science” against people who choose not to use particular medical products, even vaccinations. Now let me make it clear: I believe in vaccinations, and I have made sure that my children have all the required vaccinations. If a person chooses not to get vaccinations for himself or his children, that is a decision that may be rightfully criticized in several sound ways. But a charge of being “anti-science” is not one of them. An injection is not science; it is a technological product. A person should never be charged with being “anti-science” because he chooses not to consume a particular technological product.

A particularly ridiculous use of the term “anti-science” is made by proponents of fracking, a messy process for getting natural gas by injecting water into underground rocks. There are many serious reasons why reasonable people might wish to urge caution about such activity. One is environmental, such as the concern that fracking in upstate New York might affect the water supplies that New York City relies on. Recently a new concern arose: the concern that fracking may be causing increased radon levels. A story in yesterday's Washington Post was labeled “Rise of deadly radon gas in Pennsylvania buildings linked to fracking industry.”

But proponents of fracking sometimes try to make the issue real simple: fracking uses science, so if you oppose fracking, you're anti-science.

 Some argue like this

When I read reasoning this absurd, it makes me wonder how an impartial person can make an accusation like that. Then I remember that the people who make these kinds of accusations are often taking money from some corporation that is making money from the technological product that is misrepresented as being “science.”

During the 1950's the government started to test nuclear bombs in Nevada, blowing up more than 100 A-bombs in the atmosphere. The health effects for people living downwind of the tests were often devastating. Those who complained about potential health risks were labeled as “anti-science,” "anti-American,”  and “anti-progress.”  We were assured by numerous authorities that nuclear fallout was pretty harmless. This is something to remember the next time you hear someone being labeled “anti-science” for expressing reservations about some product or activity.

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