Last year, a respected friend of mine, who is an educator and author, ran into an argument with me over the hot topic of climate change and global warming. After exchange of a few comments on social media, my friend said he believed denial of climate science should be criminalized. I can’t say I was shocked, but I can’t deny that I was alarmed to the nth degree—one more time.
As a science graduate, citizen journalist, and critical reader, I have been confronted, censored, and dismissed more than once in various manners at various places that weren’t happy with my doubts and questions. And while I have fought back with my sole weapon—critical commentary—it was only after this comment from my scholar friend (and he remains a respectable pal) that motivated me to write about the rising threat of a science that appeals to the blind-belief tendency of the masses rather than openness to critical analysis based on evidence and reason. To keep my thoughts from spinning out of focus, I’ll break them down under relevant headings and illustrate the points with examples, including those from personal experience as well as from cases in media or independent sources of information.
Faith, Science, and Facts
Traditionally, faith has been associated with blind, unquestioned following of a belief or teaching. Science, on the contrary, has had a claim to a reason-based system of evidence that allows, in fact, encourages inquiry or scrutiny. Both systems of knowledge have the same broader mission—providing facts to people. Faith—using it synonymous with religious faith here—has historically used a more intimidating and imposing modus operandi, a range of rewards-and-punishments to ensure the subjects believe the facts and don’t raise disturbing questions, especially publicly, that could threaten the authenticity of the source and/or the truth of the facts.
Science, though not meant to operate on this MO, has recently acted pretty much in the same spirit in more than one areas of research. Two such areas are: (i) vaccine safety and effectiveness, and (ii) climate change and its anthropogenic component. I’ll be using these two along with other examples from contemporary science as I attempt to show the parallels between religious faith and dogmatic science.
Blasphemy—The Right to be Offended
The leading and perhaps the most virulent tool of the dogmatic systems is the self-proclaimed right to be offended by speech or opposing views. Questioning the safety and/or effectiveness of vaccines, challenging the credibility of climate change studies, and even asking for more objectively verifiable research these days runs the risk of offending the science establishment. The intensity of this repulsion is on par with blasphemy, which has historically represented religious ire and vendetta. My aforementioned friend’s comment on criminalizing climate change denial is just an example of this spirit. More specifically, just as some religious figures and topics are more violently defended against blasphemies (in contemporary Muslim world, it’s mostly the insult of Prophet Mohammad, for example), establishment science also takes great offense over some questions. Raising a question about the vaccine-autism link, for instance, creates an intensely emotional and angry reaction among the science zealots, even when research is cited in support of the suspected link. The establishment-science authorities and their followers—individuals and institutions—adopt various measures to suppress the “blasphemers”. Some of these measures are included here briefly.
Indoctrination of Facts
Religious faiths give you facts and you are supposed to believe them. This is the system of indoctrination currently also at play in establishment science. From the alleged discovery of gravitational waves at LIGIO to photon “teleportation” experiments, to various peer-reviewed studies on vaccine safety/effectiveness and satellite-data-based alarms over impending climate disasters, the establishment science today runs its machinery without one central and vital wheel—independent verification.
Sociologist Benjamin Ginsberg, in his book The Worth of War (2014), cautions readers against accepting press releases as “news”. This goes double for science: institutions or individuals claiming something is quickly published today in mass media as a fact or truth when no independent verification or inquiry has been conducted, even attempted. Without independent verification from reliable sources, a press release shouldn’t be taken as a fact, but just a claim.
Such indoctrination of received, unquestioned and, unverified facts is contrary to the spirit of science. The movie Contact (1997), based on Carl Sagan’s novel, convincingly shows the principle of objectivity in scientific work as audiences witness the lead character Dr. Ellie Arroway’s claim of traveling through space-time rejected on the basis of lacking verification and objectivity—a lesson against received facts. It is characteristic of dogmatic systems, mainly the faith-based systems advocate such facts.
CID – The Tried Tools of Authority
Faith-based systems of authority rely heavily on three time-tried tools of dealing with challenging views—censoring, ignoring, and denying, or CID for short.
1.Censoring Information: Religious systems have employed censorship as a strategy to suppress blasphemous or offensive material. Even today, many Islamic countries heavily censor commentary and thoughts, even the forums or blogs that carry them, which are not in line with the views of the religious dogma and/or mainstream history. When the Houston mayor’s office ordered the Houston Film Festival to remove the 2015 documentary Vaxxed from its screening schedule last April (the mayor’s office being one of the leading donors to the festival), I felt the censorship of my own articles about vaccine safety and effectiveness falling pale in comparison. The documented case of data manipulation in vaccine safety studies at the highest level as shown in the film Vaxxed is but the tip of the iceberg—one that reveals such a tip every now and then, the most recent being the arrest of John Kapoor, founder of Insys Therapeutics, over fraud in marketing of prescription drugs, involving bribing doctors for prescribing opioids. The “facts’ in such science work on availability heuristic—people believe what is made available to them and of course the most effective means to filter out the opposing/challenging/alternative is via censorship of the latter.
2. Ignoring What Offends: Equally effective, or even more so, is the strategy of ignoring any unpleasant or challenging views. When such information as that defying the establishment’s dogma makes it to the public view by means of a few, usually less popular or less widely circulated sources, the establishment often ignores it. When Dr. William Thompson’s confession, recorded on tape, about the manipulation of their 2004 MMR vaccine study at CDC was released to media, most mainstream media simply went easy on it. Living in US at that time, when I mentioned the issue before some American friends, none of them was aware of it, not even those who had an eye for news. Similar media treatment was offered to 2016 reports of a big drop in earth’s temperature in June that year as recorded by satellites. I blogged about it after seeing the report on a science blog linking to the satellite data. But the mainstream media coverage on this potentially breaking news was literally zero. Apparently scientists and news sourceschose to ignore it altogether.
And it’s not just establishment science fond of ignoring these “disturbing” reports that don’t fit well in their narrative. The discovery of Yemeni Koran (Puin, 1972) and subsequent revelations from its study have been smartly ignored by the mainstream media, particularly mainstream Islamic authorities around the world, for decades, thus leading to a successful avoidance of a potentially devastating setback to the historical narrative of mainstream Islam. Ignoring such counterviews ensures they don’t get traction or attract attention built on reactions from the establishment. Taking such views in a stride helps the faith under question continue ruling smoothly.
1. Denying What’s Out There: Of course, when the undesirable views or revealing information is out there, before or in spite of censorship, through popular sources that are too big or wide-reaching to ignore, the dogmatic system has one golden means to counter it—denial. Denying leads to doubt and questioning of the credibility of a view, material, and/or source. At the same time, it works to shield the view, material, and/or source against attack.
In vaccine safety/effectiveness issues, both sides have consistently denied each other’s findings or claims made via studies, analysis, or other forms of research. On alternative or independent news sites, there are at least two dozen studies often cited to show a link between vaccination and brain damage/disability including autism. However, the medical establishment denies the validity of these findings without working to replicate the studies for verification or refutation via an independent team of researchers. Conversely, vaccine critics have been denying the validity of studies that find little or no evidence of vaccine-autism link or other damages caused by vaccines. Ditto for global warming and sea-level-change science.
Denial has long been a powerful means of defense in the religious realm. From self-denial—abstinence from carnal pleasures—to rejection of differing views, both within and outside of one’s faith, the act of denying the reality of the “other” has been a fundamental support for faith-based systems. The so-called scholarly debates among today’s religious orators is little more than repeated denial of opposing arguments with heavy reliance on rationalization. Religious scholars today are busy with reinterpretation of their sacred texts so that they could shield their dogmas against critical blows by reiterating “This doesn’t mean what you think it means.” Those keeping an eye on political figures would remember Hillary Clinton’s 2014 video interview at the BIO International Convention in San Diego wherein she “explains” the importance of how to phrase things. And as an example, she talks about GMOs, how “genetically modified sounds Frankensteinish but drought-resistant sounds something you really want.” The battle of denial is fought in words.
Punishment and Rewards
The very foundation of mainstream religious systems is on subordination: those believing and following without question are rewarded (promises of heaven) and those doubting and questioning are punished (damnation and hellfire). Ironically, this is, more often than not, the same equation for implementing today’s scientific faith. The peer-reviewed paper of prominent medical doctor Andrew Wakefield, published and propagated, was retracted and the author stigmatized because the paper found a correlation between MMR vaccine and autism.
For disciples in science, questioning and undermining the corporate foundation of knowledge is a sin. Losing jobs and getting medical licenses cancelled for questioning vaccination or other established mainstream medical practices is a story that repeatedly fills the independent media and blogs.
Punishment also takes various other forms and goes beyond the national level. One recent, relevant example of such punishment made news just months ago when Polly Tommey and Dr. Suzanne Humphries (author of Dissolving Illusions) were banned from visiting Australia for being anti-vaccination. This happened at a time when the documentary Vaxxed was being screened “secretly” at locations in Australia—secretly because disclosing dates and locations well in advance got the authorities moving to ban the organizers and screenings.
This year on September 11 (and how dramatic a date), the Washington Times published a story titled “Calls to punish skeptics rise with links to climate change, hurricanes”. Has science really come to this—a jihad against the infidels? Or is it just SCEINCE?
The ongoing suppression and, in many cases, active oppression of opposing views in science is part of an archaic faith-based system that has victimized skeptics for ages. Sadly, that game is still on. Facts dictated by authorities and enforced via legal and other agencies pose an ever-looming threat to the freedom which let science flourish. A spherical earth was once the opposing view; a heliocentric universe was once the opposing view; organic evolution was once an opposing view. Real science celebrates opposing views and ensures independent verification before reaching a conclusion, which still is open to questioning and research.
As I write this, the alleged discovery of the gravitational waves by LIGO has already been studied and questioned by an international team of researchers led by Andrew Jackson of Denmark’s Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen. Mainstream media has been meaningfully quiet and unalarmed over this development and a Nobel Prize has already been awarded for the LGIO researchers who claimed the said discovery but was never independently verified. Will we see transparency and objectivity in the verification of this chapter in science and set an example for others? Or will the looming shadows of faith-based science continue to push us into silence and acceptance of everything that the corporate lords dictate to us through their henchmen? Let’s hope the former prevails.