CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 17 November 2018

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Science trumped by political fiction

HONG KONG (SE): Fake news is an art form, but while the expression may be new, the reality is far from a modern creation. It has travelled under various labels for centuries.

In 1906, Winston Churchill spoke of political inexactitudes in the parliament, a euphemism for circumlocution—or in plain language, a lie.

Scientists, who had been brought together in over 600 cities around the world by an innocent looking tweet, “Hell hath no fury like a scientist silenced,” took to the streets on Earth Day this year, April 22, proclaiming, “The point of science is getting to the truth and helping us understand the world, and acting as though this has no role in politics is just ridiculous.”

As scientists have been watching governments quietly slashing budgets for research by removing grants, cutting staff and hiding findings from the public eye, the former leader of the Liberal opposition in Australia, John Hewson, described it as politicians getting away with flagrant dishonesty as a shift from fact to opinion colours the political debate around science and especially the science of climate change.

The mayor of Berlin, Michael Mueller, commented, “We Berliners know from history what repression of freedom means. That is why we have a particular responsibility to mobilise for free science and an open and tolerant society.”

But it was the Russian revolutionary leader, Joseph Stalin, who set the pace in inexactitudes when he presided over some 10 million Russians and Ukrainians starving to death as a result of the politically judicious, but scientifically ridiculous decision to embrace the theories of Trofim Lysenko in the 1930s.

Lysenko discarded the scientifically sound Mendelian genetic theory to claim his own unproven way of improving wheat output would work better. It was an attractive-sounding claim to Stalin, as Lysenko assured him it would be cheaper and quicker.

It was not until the 1960s that Russian agriculture began to recover from that shift from scientific fact to the fiction of political expediency, or was it just an inexactitude of a major proportions?

Lysenko covered his tracks with aplomb, inviting scientists to give lectures at prestigious conferences, then purging those who put forward opinion that did not support his own. Good politics maybe, but they served the public only to the point of starvation and death.

However, today a scientist does not have to live and work in a totalitarian state to be purged, as the deliberate suppression of science by politics is very much alive and kicking.

Threats to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef have been widely published internationally, but not locally, with Canberra even asking the United Nations to delete reference to it from a scientific research paper put together by an international team of scientists.

A report from the country’s National Wind Farm Commissioner, Andrew Dyer, in April this year went almost unpublished.

It reveals that there have only been a small number of complaints registered about wind farms and there have been no verified cases of damage to health or hens laying eggs without yolks.

This is inconvenient news, since as far back as 2011 the Lysenkos of today have been feeding mainstream media with claims that sounds you cannot hear can cause serious damage to health and cause genetic havoc in all forms of life.

The simplest thing to do with any science that does not support your politics or vested interest is to ignore it and, while this may not exactly be an inexactitude, it is certainly fake news, any definition of which must include the suppression of information.

However, while scientists do believe they are fighting an uphill battle with their unwelcome findings, and hundreds of thousands did march in far-flung places, the Earth Day event was not without its own controversy.

Science magazine reported, “Although the march has garnered the endorsement of many prominent scientists and some scientific societies, others have so far remained on the sidelines, cautioning in part that the march could paint scientists as just another partisan special interest group in an already highly polarised political climate.”

The fear in the United States of America is that it could be interpreted as an anti-Donald Trump show. The new president has already deleted public information on climate change from government websites and revoked his predecessor’s measures to prepare the country to face its ill effects.

This has included a US$7 billion ($54.25 billion) cut to the science budget.

Dominique Bossard, a communications researcher at the University of Wisconsin, expressed the fear that the Earth Day marches may politicise science even more and potentially hurt public trust in it as an institution.

But while scientists have had their say, the politically expedient shift from fact to opinion, an escalation in the utterances of inexactitudes and the suppression of scientific findings that do not sit well with vested interests or the moguls who hold vast power over the media, will continue.

And that’s a fact!!!

 

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