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At Times Higher: Is Defending Expertise Worthwhile These Days?

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The article begins earnestly with an account of the harassment of a Quebec pharmacist who took issue with Vit C injections for cancer:

“When you want to defend science publicly, you don’t get a lot of support,” concedes the pharmacist and science communicator Olivier Bernard. “Even my colleagues were telling me ‘you are so courageous’ – and I thought: ‘Thank you, but can you do something? That would be more helpful.’”

Bernard had provoked a ferocious backlash from supporters of alternative medicine after he spoke out on his blog, The Pharmafist, against their lobbying of the Quebec government to introduce vitamin C injections as a cancer treatment. His explanation of where popular perceptions about vitamin C differ from what has been scientifically demonstrated – interspersed with humorous cartoons – prompted activists to lobby for him to be fired from his pharmacy job and removed from the professional register. They also tried to get his TV show cancelled and urged supporters not to buy his wife’s book (on an unrelated topic). They even resorted to sending death threats to Bernard and his family…

… the quest for truth in the post-truth era A posting on Facebook about the hate campaign he was facing also provoked a big reaction – but this time it came from the science community in his support. The petition to introduce the vitamin C treatment was rejected and the Quebec government has created a task force to protect scientists who speak on sensitive topics, as well as an inter-professional advisory committee to support healthcare professionals who speak publicly.

Anna McKie, “Is standing up for expertise a fool’s errand?” at Times Higher Education

Cancer is a dread disease and it encourages dreadful behavior.

Moving on from there, McKie tells the stories of a number of scientists who faced harassment, often from vested interests, for positions that were at least legitimate. But there is something too cozy about it all. One senses that the educated Brits whose salary is paid by the taxpayer would mostly agree with the positions of the persecuted scientists McKie writes about—and, of course, despise the companies that pay taxes to enable their superior lifestyle.

Reality is denser and more complex. Scientists who accept that the evidence points to design in life forms and the universe have been hounded from their positions too, often under egregious circumstances. Some of the Darwin mobs have been unspeakable, as anyone with access to social media will attest. But we doubt that Times Higher would allow those scientists’ stories to be told in qute the same way.

That is a problem but not merely because it props up an increasingly derisory Darwinism. Rather the irrational animus of persecution is in itself a bad thing, irrespective of its object. McKie implies that it is only bad if the object of the persecution is someone or some idea that enjoys tax-supported elite approval. And that’s all the conceptual oxygen that irrational animus of all kinds needs in order to thrive.

Put simply: If you think persecution is only bad when it is happening to someone you agree with, you do not think it is bad. This principle is a corollary of: If you don’t believe in free speech for ideas you hate, you don’t believe in free speech. Quit saying you do. There is no such concept as “I believe in free speech except for THAT faction!”

All that said, today we are facing wars on objectivity, math, and on science, waged on behalf of “social justice.” The insistence that anyone be allowed to have whatever they are doing, thinking, or saying regarded as science in order to do justice to wronged groups doesn’t generally arise from scientists who are on the outs with their colleagues about an ingroup issue like Vit C injections or HPV vaccines. It arises from a social justice demand that the professional and academic spoils of science be shared among a host of new claimants, making a variety of claims. Protected classes like Times Higher readers are likely to simply buckle uncritically to whatever demands are made, unfortunately for science.

One Reply to “At Times Higher: Is Defending Expertise Worthwhile These Days?

  1. 1
    AaronS1978 says:

    It is absurd stuff like this that gives fuel to anti-science and war on science myth

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