In the modern era, information is the weapon of choice. Today people interested in perpetuating aspects of the status quo that they deem instrumental to their power and prestige are using ever more sophisticated techniques and ever greater expenditures to undermine elements of a modern scientific world view that they consider threatening. Professional scientists have recognized the damage being done, but lack a clear response. I perceive valuescience to be just that.
Attacks paid for by big business are ‘driving science into a dark era’
Last week Nina Fedoroff, the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), confessed at the AAAS annual meeting that she was “scared to death” by the anti-science movement that was spreading, uncontrolled, across the US and the rest of the western world.
“I am profoundly depressed at just how difficult it has become merely to get a realistic conversation started on issues such as climate change or genetically modified organisms.”
Professor Naomi Oreskes of UCSD noted that “…every Republican candidate for this year’s presidential election denies the science behind climate change and evolution.”
Oreskes is co-author, with Erik Conway, of Merchants of Doubt, an investigation into the links between corporate business interests and campaigns in the US aimed at blocking the introduction of environmental and medical measures such as bans on smoking and the use of DDT, laws to limit acid rain, legislation to end the depletion of ozone in the atmosphere and attempts to curb carbon dioxide emissions.
In each case, legislation was delayed by years, sometimes decades, thanks to the activities of a variety of foundations – such as the Heartland Institute – which are backed by energy companies such as Exxon and billionaires like Charles Koch.
“Our present crisis over the rise of anti-science has been coming for a long time and we should have seen it coming,” adds Oreskes.
A UCS report, Heads They Win, Tails We Lose: How Corporations Corrupt Science at the Public’s Expense, which was published at the Vancouver meeting on Friday. It chronicles the methods used by corporate businesses to attack their targets: harassing individual scientists, ghost-writing scientific articles to raise doubts about government research, and undermining the use of science to form government policy.
“People may believe that political interference in science went extinct when George W. Bush left office, but the reality is that the pressure to politicise science is still with us,” added Grifo.
Most scientists acknowledge that President Barack Obama is sympathetic to science. “The trouble is that he still hasn’t been able to do anything to help. He is continually blocked by Congress, and that only adds to our worries and sense of desperation,” said Fedoroff. “If the current president is for us, but still cannot do anything to help us, then what will happen if a Republican gets into the White House this year?”
In general, the worst excesses of the anti-science lobbies are confined to the US. However, there are signs that their influence is spreading, and that raises worrying issues, said Bob Ward of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change, in London.
“In coming years, we will have to ask ourselves if public policies should be based on the advice of experts who have carried out robust and rigorous analysis of the evidence, or if they should be guided by lobbyists who appear driven by narrow ideological dogma.
Oreskes noted, “In the past, [people] thought the problem was just a matter of education. All its practitioners had to do was make an effort to reach out and talk to teachers, the public and business leaders. Then these people would see the issues and understand the need for action.
“But now they are beginning to realise what they are really up against: massive organised attempts to undermine scientific data by people for whom that data represents a threat to their status quo. Given the power of these people, scientists will have their work cut out dealing with them.”