Spurious Science and Stolen Liberty
Science is one of the most revered branches of knowledge. It is commonplace to invoke science in discussions of most everyday things. The first example that comes to mind is exercise and weight loss. An infinite number of “scientific” claims are made of the most recent fitness products and we are bombarded with them from our e-mail to our living room. The weight-loss industry is amongst the most profitable industries in America for a variety of reasons including highly effective marketing and the demand for these products.
With the most recent weight-loss industry advertisements in mind, we can see that the scientific approach is in full swing here. American consumers are very savvy when it comes to comparing products; we are always looking for the best deal. Living in the day and age that we do now, science is a very elementary component of our life. If you were considering two weight loss supplements the categories you would consider would be price, consumer reviews, accessibility, and the product claims. For most of us, this is the extent of our research. The majority of consumers are willing to accept the ‘scientific’ product claims at face value and would rather be spared the lengthy study reports on the product. (Certainly as a product becomes more expensive our propensity for research would increase, but in general it has a limit.)
Conventional wisdom is such that these product claims are cherry-picked and generally exaggerated. Although this may be conventional wisdom, these products continue to be profitable. The reverence of science in our culture allows scientific claims to have significant influence in nearly all aspects of our lives. Science certainly guides consumers in the markets for cars, cell phones, and household appliances just to name a few. Cutting edge technology that increases the efficiency of products, backed up by science, is a welcomed product of our free market economy. The scientific claims made by companies on behalf of their products are taken at face value and believed to be true. In the free market, the penalty of false product claims would be evident because of the large arena of competition. If that competition were removed, the backlash for phony scientific claims would be less evident if exist at all.
Given the respect of science in our culture, it is a welcomed idea that science would help to drive public policy. Credible scientific claims have helped draft constructive public policy. Conversely, ‘junk science’ has also contributed to the drafting of destructive public policy. The veneration of science in our culture is such that any claim that is qualified by saying “a study shows” or “science supports” is taken to be the truth, whether the research conducted is credible and thorough or brief and cherry-picked.
Several examples come to mind when considering how sloppy science has driven widely held public beliefs and government policies. Regulations pertaining to second-hand smoke, recycling, hydraulic fracturing (fracking), and global warming are all examples of spurious science backing erroneous public attitudes.
To run through these quickly, recycling is an over extension of the environmental movement spearheaded by the Environment Protection Agency based on a misleading report titled ‘The Solid Waste Dilemma: An Agenda for Action’ by the J. Winston Porter declaring that the US would run out of landfill space and 1/3 of the nation’s landfills would be full within the next few years (report published in 1989. The misleading information is such that although the number landfills in the country was decreasing, their capacity was increasing at a greater rate. Convincing the American public in 1989 with the shocking and disgusting prop, the Mobro 4000, this belief in recycling has been cemented in the public perception for over two decades. This firmly held belief stands in the face of countless studies explaining, through sound science, that recycling is in fact a net energy loss. Therefore, the costs associated with recycling are greater than the returns. However, propped up by environmentalists and members of the ‘4th branch of government’ (the administrative state) this absolute myth of recycling is perpetuated.
Moving on; smoking is amongst some of the most demonized activities in the US. Whether it’s health concerns for the smoker or the people around them, the negative impacts on everyone’s health has been bludgeoned over our heads for years, ranging from lung cancer to infertility. Again, the EPA championed the cause in 1993 publishing a report titled ‘Respiratory Health Effects of Passive Smoking: Lung Cancer and Other Disorders’. The conclusion of this report is the often repeated statistic that “approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths per year among non-smokers … are estimated to be attributable to ETS (second hand smoke) in the United States”. This study led to the overwhelming number of calls for public smoking bans. Again, another method of controlling our behavior set forth by an unaccountable (to the American people) agency firmly rooted in the unsanctioned fourth branch of government.
The US Federal Court came to a decision in 1998 which blasted this study for its “deviation from acceptable scientific procedure … to ensure a preordained outcome”. This Federal Court ruled that the EPA had cherry picked it’s data and violated the law in order to ensure it supported the means they sought. The Judicial branch firing across the bow of the Administrative branch of the government for creating a study that ENSURED A PREORDAINED OUTCOME! Regardless of the 1998 judicial decision, the public perception is strongly such that second hand smoke kills which drives overwhelming support for smoking bans which break off a piece of our liberty, packages it then addresses it to the federal government to never be seen again.
Given the recent behavior of the Environment Protection Agency, what other preordained outcomes is this agency trying to orchestrate? The most recent projects the EPA is working on is trying to justify is further surrender of our liberties by means of protecting us from the harmful effects of manmade global warming and hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Before you simply accept someone’s argument (or their PREORDAINED OUTCOME) that’s been layered with scientific claims, do your own critical thinking and a bit of research.
As the adored Ronald Reagan has explained “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
PS. Here’s an interesting blog that I’d like to mention that I had come across during research for this post. Alan Caruba has a compelling points of view and it’s something I will certainly be keeping an eye on for the future. http://www.anxietycenter.com/