Science has enjoyed an information boon. People are reading about science and learning more. But like other fields, it has also attracted criticism, doubt, and frankly, people on the fringe of facts. One of the most insidious are what I call, the hangers-on.
Hangers-on are the proverbial loose cannon. They know enough to be dangerous. They understand some basic concepts. However, their knowledge exists in a bubble.
The bubble exists only at the time of the substance of their knowledge and when it was obtained. Unlike science, it does not evolve with new evidence or new information. It stays in this static state.
The hanger-on holds fast onto this bubble of information. If an opposing view threatens it, he will try and mold it into a weapon against that threat. He doesn’t change it; rather he uses it time and time again despite the fact that science marches on.
Examples with the Issues
Several issues fall into the controversial realm for no other reason than the hangers-on. Take the GMO issue.
Anti-GMO advocates use several nonsensical approaches. There’s more wacky talk about conspiracies and cover-ups than a JFK assassination conspiracy believer could ever hope to find. They also use the discredited study by Séralini and colleagues at Caen University in France, as their “proof.”
Never mind the fact that it was riddled with ethical lapses, ‘conflict of interest’ allegations, and conclusions not supported by the data. But it’s the fault of industry pressure, they cry. Whatever. And George W. Bush is more evil than Stalin, Genghis Khan, and Idi Amin combined. Get over yourselves.
On the surface, the question about the efficacy of vaccinations should be a non-issue. Unfortunately, we have the same situation here: hangers-on clinging to a discredited study.
In this case, the highly prestigious journal, The Lancet, dropped the ball by publishing the tripe by Andrew Wakefield and associates. Again, science and ethics went out the window. Their breaches of ethics involved children.
Despite the more deplorable aspects of this study, anti-vaxxers are the quintessential hangers-on. In the meantime, a measles outbreak brews, whooping cough cases have risen, and countless children are at risk of serious diseases needlessly. All of this for a “scientist” who created an elaborate fraud meant to deceive and destined to harm kids? I don’t have the words.
While sharing knowledge has brought benefits, science has learned a hard lesson. Hey, you guys thought peer review was tough? The court of public opinion is a minefield of fallacies, biases, and misinformation. Oh, and there’s the Internet too, the unwitting accomplice.
I think George Bernard Shaw said it best when he observed,
“Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.”