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Some things never change: Ridiculous attack on the surgeon author of an article on scientific gatekeeping

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Readers will recall a story we ran on Tuesday about a surgeon, Jeffrey Singer, who protests scientific gatekeeping. Gatekeeping’s an obvious problem in any field.

But those who imagine themselves in charge of the gates (they’re usually not) in the case of science are, in themselves, a mildly interesting study. Get a load of this:

A surgeon attacks “scientific gatekeeping” over COVID-19 in Reason. It goes so poorly that I might have to resurrect an old shtick that I used to use with creationist surgeons.

Longtime readers might remember a humorous (I hope) shtick that I used to employ from time to time when I encountered a fellow physician—or, worse, a fellow surgeon—spewing science denial. The vast majority of the time, back in those early heady days of this blog, what provoked this shtick was seeing a surgeon spew creationist nonsense denying the theory of evolution. So what was this shtick? In brief, I had a running gag that involved highly extravagant descriptions (based on old Looney Tunes) of how I wanted to hide my face behind a paper bag in sheer embarrassment over the antiscience antics of fellow physicians, particularly fellow surgeons. Over time, the gag evolved to my expressing a mock desire to hide my visage behind a metal Doctor Doom-style mask, again, over sheer embarrassment over the antiscience stylings of one of my colleagues. In most cases, it was evolution, because there are a depressingly large number of creationist physicians out there. (Anyone remember the creationist neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Egnor?) I retired the shtick many years ago, but every so often a physician or surgeon seriously tempts me to resurrect it. Thus far, I’ve resisted, but I failed when I encountered an article in Reason by a fellow general surgeon entitled Against Scientific Gatekeeping. As if to goad me further into resurrecting the paper bag, its subtitle read: Science should be a profession, not a priesthood.

Orac, “A risible attack on the “priesthood” of “scientific gatekeeping”” at Respectful Insolence (April 6, 2022)

Let’s just say, 1) the author goes on at some length and 2) readers may find it useful to know that gate defenders are out there and some of them would appear to have a lot of time on their hands.


You may also wish to read: A surgeon protests scientific “gatekeeping” Singer: “… a problem arises when some of those experts exert outsized influence over the opinions of other experts and thereby establish an orthodoxy enforced by a priesthood. If anyone, expert or otherwise, questions the orthodoxy, they commit heresy. The result is groupthink, which undermines the scientific process.”

7 Replies to “Some things never change: Ridiculous attack on the surgeon author of an article on scientific gatekeeping

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    Tyrants love masks so much that they think EVERYONE should be strangled.

  2. 2
    Seversky says:

    I saw that piece on Respectful Insolence and thought about posting a reference here but I’m glad to see you beat me to it.

    For me, one question would be why you will accept the word of a surgeon – and there’s nothing wrong with being a surgeon – over that of experts in other fields?

    It seems to me the “gatekeeping” argument is just another conspiracy theory in which the proponent dismisses critics of his or her views as being motivated by political rather than scientific considerations.

    It has parallels here where some contributors apparently believe a scientific approach consists of posting quotes and citing refences that can be interpreted as supportive of their religious perspectives. They almost never provide balance by trying to give a fair and accurate presentation of differing or opposing positions. That makes it advocacy of an agenda – again, there is nothing wrong with that – but it is not science where the objective is get as close to an accurate account of the phenomenon being studied as possible, regardless of whether it is in agreement with one’s personal beliefs.

  3. 3
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Seversky

    Very good questions and good points raised also.

    It seems to me the “gatekeeping” argument is just another conspiracy theory in which the proponent dismisses critics of his or her views as being motivated by political rather than scientific considerations.

    True enough, however there are good reasons for the way the dialogue is carried out. This quote by Orac gives insight:

    [the] sheer embarrassment [I feel] over the antiscience stylings of one of my colleagues. In most cases, it was evolution, because there are a depressingly large number of creationist physicians out there.

    This explains why he wants to put a paper bag over his head, etc. But as is often the case, humor masks (in this case, literally) a deeper hostility. He goes on and on for thousands of words. Clearly, the charge of being in an elite priesthood (preserving dogmas) or being a shill for something rankles him. In the quote above, I was surprised to learn that there are “a large number” of creationist physicians. Actually, given what I read in the scientific press, that seems to be an incredible claim. Where are the views of these creationists ever reflected in science? So, Orac makes it clear, there is indeed a conspiracy. He just revealed it.

    Secondly, he refers to all of the creationists as “antiscience”. So, he’s just attacking with no interest in making real distinctions. In truth however, creationists are not “antiscience”, so he’s just venting out his hostility. So, he’s just offering, in your words, “advocacy of an agenda”. He’s attacking and using exaggerated and disrespectful language (how do you explain the large number of “embarrassing” physicians? They’re all just so stupid you have to put a bag over your head? That’s the arrogance of the scientific-priesthood at work in itself. “You’re all ignorant or deluded”.)

    Finally, discussions cannot be a matter of calm, objective debate. IDists are not even permitted at the table. Instead, it’s more like warfare.

    So, you’re right – it would be nice to calmly view both sides of an issue. I believe ID does attempt this with various debates (Meyer, Egnor and Behe among others have engaged in debate).
    Unfortunately, while this next thought is met with ridicule, it remains true from the ID perspective: “People lose jobs, reputation and livelihood for identifying as creationist or IDist”. That’s the reality from our side. We see it and feel the pain.
    I can’t even mention ID among my fellow devout Christian believers very often, in my own church groups. Anything that even hints at going against Darwin is viewed as ignorant, back-woods, Bible thumping. People want to be sophisticated and respected. ID or creationism will kill that hope.
    So, are people really willing to look at both sides?
    And does it make sense for ID to give a “balanced” presentation (which would include Darwin’s ideas) when the ID concepts are suppressed, hidden, censored, etc?
    No, ID has only one narrow chance to get its ideas into the public. This blog is one of those. The other side has used all its power to dominate the message. They also will not accept any criticism or correction.

  4. 4
    jerry says:

    ID or creationism will kill that hope.

    Are these two groups actually on opposite sides?

    While both believe in a creator, they have completely different views on what this creator did. One group believes in science. That is ID. The other group just opposes the false science of the mainstream. There’s a big difference between those beliefs.

  5. 5
    Silver Asiatic says:

    I think ID and creationism are much closer now than they were back during the Dover era that that clip is referring to. Creationist schools are basically teaching ID, but they just add some Bible concepts from Genesis. But both are in the same direction. That article is just talking about when ID was fairly new on the scene – probably a tactical error by Dr. Dembski to go head-on with the powers that be at that time. ID is a lot stronger now. Hard-core Biblical creationism may have a little less support now also. Creationist authors are not as prominent as they were back in the 80s and 90s.

  6. 6
    asauber says:

    “For me, one question would be why you will accept the word of a surgeon – and there’s nothing wrong with being a surgeon – over that of experts in other fields?”

    That’s just it, Sev. The science-minded person doesn’t accept anyone’s word. You seem to think that throwing “expert” around makes you the winner.

    Not to a science-minded person.

    Andrew

  7. 7
    kairosfocus says:

    Folks, use the Overton Window. We see here attempt to stigmatise the other side, to push them beyond the pale and pull the window ever further to open the door for radical ideology driven techno plutocracy dressed up in a lab coat. Note phrases like scientific consensus. That is oxymoronic in science. What is of grave concern is a clear slide into McFaul, dirty colour revolution, 4th gen war bully tactics and operations that points to intent to subjugate under nihilistic, ruthless, lawless oligarchy. Reference to naturally evident built in law pivoting on Ciceronian first duties of reason is a manifest first step to breaking the bewitchment. For, our rational, responsible freedom is inherently morally governed. KF

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