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Anti-Science SyndromE Sufferers threaten lives

September 14th, 2010 · 60 Comments

Whether it is Corporatist manipulation to undermine science (tobacco, chemicals) or bizarre conspiracy theory paths (AIDS is caused by West and isn’t related to sex) or overwrought Luddite parents (vaccinations), a simple truth:

Anti-Science SyndromE Sufferers threaten lives.

In early 2009, Joe Romm laid out the preliminary diagnostician’s tool for anti-science syndrome .  As he noted,

Like most syndromes, anti-science syndrome [ASS] is a collection of symptoms that individually may not be serious, but taken together can be quite dangerous — at least it can be dangerous to the health and well-being of humanity if enough people actually believe the victims.

Romm laid out three key elements in the realm of climatology and climate science that are indicative of an ASS sufferer

  • Focuses attacks on non-scientists.
  • Repetition of long-debunked denier talking points, commonly without links to supporting material.
  • Scientists (and others) who restate and republishing claims widely debunked in the scientific literature.

Romm suggested that there are many people who fit the whole diagnostic list and are appropriately referred to as  A.S.S.-wholes.

Anti-Science Syndrome sufferers, of course, are not limited to the domain of climate science. There were a range of “scientists” who questioned, no matter how often their arguments were refuted, whether tobacco could cause cancer. There are those who, perhaps in the pursuit of profit, will count up the “benefits” of (for example) insecticides without placing any value onto the costs.  Not surprisingly, there is significant overlap between scientists who are climate skeptics with those who work against science in other realms.  (Highly recommended, on this, Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway’s Merchants of Doubt.) In other words, there is the entire realm of anti-science syndrome  — with a coterie of credentialed scientists in it — euphemistically called sound science.

Sound science is a phrase often used by corporate public relations and government agency spokesmen to describe the scientific research used to justify a claim or position. Sound science, however, has no specific scientific definition itself, so the phrase is used subjectively. “Sound science” is not a synonym of “good science” practices, but rather it is an ideological policy statement more about the criteria for the use of science in policy making. It is invoked mostly to call into question the validity of a given study or scientific statement.

Lack of “sound science” is a common critique used against public health and consumer activists in an attempt to discredit their concerns about public safety and environmental risk. Junk science is often presented as the opposite of “sound science,” usually for propagandistic purposes that favor industry.

Many* advocates of Sound Science are, in fact, Anti-Science Syndrome sufferers seeking to infect others, especially public policy, with their anti-science delusions.

When we begin to examine, truly, the impacts of these perspectives and these arguments, we find that their beliefs could provide economics for the short-term and/or specific elements (organizations), but which serve to undercut the viability and strength of the overall economic system.  Other than in terms of reducing long-term social security payments due to higher mortality, does anyone seriously want to argue that the over economic system and society are strengthened via increased tobacco smoking?  While chemicals (plastics, etc) are critical to modern society and our wealth, does anyone seriously want to argue that misrepresentations and deceptions as to the medical and other impacts of a chemical benefit society and promote long-term economic health?  Did ‘sound science’ arguing that CFCs really didn’t contribute to the ozone layer depletion, that ozone depletion wasn’t a big risk, and, finally, that dealing with the ozone challenge would be too expensive contribute to developing a healthier economic system?  And, promoting truthiness and deception-laden talking points about climate change risks and climate change mitigation benefits does not foster a stronger and more secure economic future.  In short, these Anti-Science Syndrome sufferers foster and demonstrate a fundamental Hatred Of a Livable Economic System.

While, sometimes in the short but definitely in the long-term, these anti-science syndrome sufferers undermine societal strength in economic and other terms, they do something else: they directly and indirectly threaten lives.

For example, the Anti-Science SyndromE Sufferers promoting falsehoods about the risks of vaccines (re, for example, autism and vaccines foster increased risks of disease:

Concerns about a link between vaccines and autism were first raised more than a decade ago by British physician Andrew Wakefield.

His report, based on 12 children, has since been discredited and was retracted earlier this year by the journal that published it. In the meantime, it sparked a fierce worldwide debate among scientists and a health scare that caused many parents to shy away from recommended vaccines like the one against measles, mumps and rubella.

Outbreaks of all three diseases followed.

Sigh.  A direct case where Anti-Science SyndromE Sufferers threatened (and, well, cost) lives. Even though this is discredited work, there are parents in my (and likely your) community who are fiercely proud that they have stood up to those wacky scientists and doctors with refusing to let their children have any vaccines. They complain that the rules won’t let their children go to the public school system without these vaccines. In this case, the authorities are siding with the science.

In that case, vaccines, there are not massive financial interests (that I am aware of) interested in undermining the science.  And, this makes it that much easier for authorities to side with science.

Sadly, that is not the case with tobacco, plastics, formaldehyde’s health risks, and all too many areas of modern human civilization. There are large — to huge — financial gains to be made with public confusion about the actual state of the science and scientific understandings.  And, these potential and real financial gains create significant incentives to undermine science and put roadblocks before government authorities acting in light of scientific understandings. The mother of all these arenas, in terms of financial interests and impacts on humanity?  Climate Change science.

The fossil foolish and related interests have, quite literally, many $trillions at stake and they are willing to spend $billions to protect $10s of billions of profits.  And, there efforts have been paying off.  Even as the scientific understanding of climate change increases, even as the world increasingly demonstrates warming and increasingly chaotic weather patterns, even as … there is (again) increasing confusion in the American electorate about climate change science.  (Actually, there is increasing certainty within one party: certainty that the scientific community is engaged in a massive fraud and that climate change is not an issue meriting concern or action.)  The 2010 election risks a serious shift in Congress away from any substantive (truthful) understanding of climate science and away from any willingness to engage in serious discussion about actions to mitigate climate change.

These Climate Zombies are essentially the epitome of Anti-Science Syndrome suffering Haters Of a Livable Economic System.  They are willing to sacrifice others at the altar of a false deity of “free-market capitalism” unbounded by regulation and unconstrained about concerns for “externalities”.  And, sacrifice is a quite accurate term with humanity’s impact on the climate system already tipping the scales to contribute (massively) to other species extinctions and to human deaths (through droughts, disasters, and other climate chaos impacts).  Their Anti-Science Syndrome suffering, if given even more power, will threaten even more lives in the years to come.


* NOTE:   Sadly, as with many ‘green/white washing’ terms, “sound science” sounds all too good. Real scientists and substantive scientific institutions, concerned about real issues, too often end up adapting the term.

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