Friday, July 04, 2008

Jeff Vandermeer Interview of Paul Barnett aka John Grant: Science Has Been Corrupted

John Grant and Paul Barnett Agree: Science Has Been Corrupted
by Jeff Vandermeer
Clarkesworld Magazine


How did you come to write Corrupted Science?

The book grew naturally out of a previous nonfiction book of mine, Discarded Science (2006). The earlier book was concerned with notions and hypotheses which over the centuries science had, as it were, deposited by the wayside — from the flat earth to the music of the spheres to Creationism, the luminiferous aether, and beyond. While I was writing it, it became apparent to me that there was a qualitative difference between those notions that were wrong simply because of people's lack of information — their position along scientific history's timeline, in effect — and those that were wrong because people were deliberately making them wrong.

To take a single example, when Ptolemy maintained that the Earth was the center of the universe, this was because he didn't know any better: it was a reasonably logical guess considering the state of knowledge in his day. Centuries later, however, when Copernicus and Kepler and Galileo had shown there was a much better explanation for the behavior of the heavens and the Roman Catholic Church was trying to suppress that better explanation, the Vatican was guilty of deliberately corrupting science. The motivation in this instance was a doctrinal one — much like the motivation for most Creationists/IDers today, now I come to think of it. Of course, there have been lots of other motives that have led people — both scientists and non-scientists — to corrupt human knowledge. Personal gain is an obvious one, as is self-deception, but the various ideological motives clearly are likely to have far wider-scale effects. Just think for a moment of the bad anthropology that was used to justify the Nazis' attempted genocide of "lesser races".

So the subject of the corruption of science seemed to me to be an important one.


What would you really like readers to take away from the book?

That the corruption of science, being more truly phrased as the corruption of human knowledge, is IMPORTANT.

We all suffer whenever someone indulges in the wholesale falsification or suppression of knowledge. The most serious suppression of knowledge at the moment is in connection with global warming, where media and corrupt or just plain dimwitted politicians have conspired in the idiotic pretense that there's still debate within the scientific community about the reality. There ain't. There's debate about some of the details, but the only dissent within the climatological community about the reality of global warming is from a handful of mavericks. All power to those mavericks, but their rather noisy existence doesn't imply that the climatological community is riven with doubt.

Because of the media/political pretense, the most important player in the quest to ameliorate the complete hell that's facing our children and grandchildren, the USA, has done almost completely nothing for what may very well have been the crux years — those years in which something could have been done to stave off the worst.

I thought at least the current crop of US presidential hopefuls had cottoned on to the urgency of the need to take action. Now I discover that two of them — McCain and Clinton — are proposing a "holiday" from gas taxes this summer, to encourage consumers to drive more miles than they might otherwise do — i.e., to add more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. It's hard to imagine quite how imbecilic one must be to imagine this could be a good thing.

But it's not just at the political level that seeking to corrupt others' knowledge is a dangerous and indeed criminal act. As I say, it affects all of us. Look at a whole list of cases where drug companies have suppressed knowledge of harmful side-effects some of their products can display. I could go on almost indefinitely!

To Read the Entire Interview

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