Readers may recall that Scientific American broke with 175 years of tradition to support Joe Biden for US prez and Nature piled into the pork barrel soon after. As we said at the time, “No one says Nature can’t be active in politics and publish screeds of this type. What its staff can’t do—because nobody can—is be both a participant and a referee. They’ve chosen to be participants, fine. Then, ‘Listen to science’ has as much clout as ‘Listen to the union boss’ and ‘Listen to the corporate head office.’”
A U Penn meds prof writing at Stat seems to get that:
Editors are people too. They have opinions and they want to express them. And they have experienced four years of helplessness at the hands of a president who, by action and speech, has flouted the values they hold dear. Staying silent would be akin to being complicit.
But the editors could have expressed these values without putting out political yard signs. They could have, for example, invited campaigns to answer detailed questions about science policy and published their answers. They could have published a forum with experts who could critically evaluate candidates’ policy proposals and actions. Or they could have expressed their political views as private individuals representing themselves — or as part of a joint letter from concerned science editors — instead of as journal endorsements.
In other words, they could have honored the scientific integrity and discernment of their readers and the public.Genevieve P. Kanter, “Science journal editors shouldn’t contribute to politicizing science” at Stat
Well yes, but they didn’t. The worst part is that the next time they start barking and howling in the name of “science,” the more discerning hearers will be thinking, “Is this somehow related to Schmizzle’s recent dip in poll numbers?” The least discerning will, of course, believe-but only as they would believe any popular superstition. It has not been the custom in the past for educated people to court that sort of approval.
Anyway, our physics color commentator Rob Sheldon kindly writes to say,
Politicking is bad for science, true, but the explanation “editors are people too” falls short of an excuse. What drives these human outbursts, as all the counselling books explain, is not external taunting but internal torment. The editors are tormented by all the previous decisions they have made that led up to this outburst. And of course, once one editor loses it, consensus requires all the others to join in.
And what sort of internal torments would be so scarring as to overwhelm common sense?
My experience is that humans can only handle so much cognitive dissonance, only so much “say one thing and do another”. At the end of the day, we want to bring our hearts and our minds back together for family dinner. So when we behave in ways that we know are wrong, we invent backstories to justify our actions. And when those backstories get reinforced by others, we believe them as if they really happened. Then not only is family dinner peaceful, but so are business lunches and even political parties. So all the friction, all the heat, moves to that nebulous boundary between our bubble and reality.
The editors of Science and Nature compromised their scientific objectivity years ago. They promoted papers that big pharma wanted, they suppressed papers that made big pharma look bad. They were complicit in the coverup of not just tobacco and sugar lobbies, but vaccines and Darwinism and global warming. The customers they served were not just commercial companies with big wallets, but government agencies with big wallets, and NGOs like Greenpeace or Sierra Club with big clout.
So of course this produced cognitive dissonance, since it violated some of the very basic tenets of objective science. And the backstories they invented to justify their actions were that consensus demanded it, that evil corporations like the oil industry made any contrary evidence suspect, that outsiders without qualifications were illegitimately demanding attention. Yet all these backstories never demanded any sort of outright politicking, since most politicians understood the game being played. Perhaps the biggest backstory of all, was that in all the fray, they alone remained apolitical.
Then came the upset in politics that was 2016. Everyone of these backstories was being challenged. The nebulous boundary was heating up. The cumulus was becoming nimbus. Lightning was striking and in its blinding flash the bubble boundaries were nakedly exposed.
That was the internal torment, and it goes far beyond editors being simply human. If you do not believe me, check in next week to see whether lightning has hit Genevieve.
Well, if Cancel Culture comes for Genevieve, she’ll sure have friends here. If we can’t discuss a science issue without Vote Schmizzle! raising its big, fat, stupid head, well, science is just another racket. Just wait till they start blathering about “believe the science” again.