Sunday, October 28, 2007

Synchronicity again: controversial science

One day following my little post about the fall o f Watson and the problem of science contravening social conventions, I open the Tribune over my Go Lean (but not lightly) and find a potential example from the pen of Dennis Byrne on the snubbing of a cancer study that purports to link abortions with breast cancer. You can read the original on his blog at this link.

At first glance it fits the bill perfectly: how inconvenient for the armies of women's rights activists if science were to show that it abortion was dangerous (all morality and philosophy aside). Mr, Byrne complains that the study has been snubbed by the media (those liberals) whereas another one linking drink and breast cancer got a lot more air play.

But wait: further reading reveals that the spurned study was published in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons. Sounds legitimate enough you might think. Mr. Byrne refers to it as a conservative journal. That's odd: if, as it is supposed to do, science rises above the prejudices of political viewpoints in pursuing knowledge, there should be no such thing as conservative or liberal science. I imagine that conservatives and liberals would want to do different things with the results. Interestingly, only a week or so previous I had received an unsolicited glossy reprint from this self-same "journal," which purported to show scientifically that global warming is a load of bunkum. The reprint was accompanied by a request to sign some petition to be used in the fight against global warming activists. I was so taken aback by this paper that I did a little investigation into both the authors and the journal. It seemed very odd that any major paper on global warming should appear in a medical journal in the first place. It turns out that the authors of the paper are not climate researchers and are associated with some crackpot organization in the wilds of Oregon. The journal appears to be a faux scientific mouthpiece for propagating particular agendas. Among the authors for example is a certain Peter Duesberg, the Berkeley retrovirologist renowned for his controversial views on the origins of AIDS. Short of doing a complete investigation of all the papers published in this journal, I think it reasonable to assert that the scientific legitimacy of this journal is very much in question on the basis of what I have seen so far.

Improving scientific literacy is a major goal of our science courses. Developing the ability to discern credibility in published work is a substantial part of that work. The merchants of crackpot agendas are becoming increasingly skillful at dressing up those agendas with the veneer of scholarship and scientific methodology.

1 comment:

Snipper "Book Zeller" said...

No such thing as liberal sciences? There is an entire college here called the Liberal Arts and Science!
Okay, I realize that was bad.
On a completely unrelated note, have you ever thought of your own cooking show? "Cooking with J-Daddy" or "DotJar - Now your cooking with Chemistry" or how about "Fe Chef."