The Following Blog Will Make No Sense Unless You Are Familiar With the Wikipedia Entry Named ‘The Seralini Affair’. My Comments on the Following Linked Diatribe Are in Bracketed Italics.
Why the postmodern attitude towards science should be denounced
By Marcel Kuntz1
Postmodernism is a philosophical, political, social and artistic movement [It cannot be termed a ‘movement’ of any kind]. It is mainly defined by its suspicion towards the Enlightenment’s faith in science, progress and the universality of reason [Three reasons – from thousands – justifying such suspicion: the Holocaust, Hiroshima, Thalidomide]. It has become a powerful movement that exerts a strong influence on academic thought in American and European societies, especially as it has become hegemonic in some institutions [Names would be useful: I was at Oxford, three campuses of University of California, and York University, where ‘discussed in the context contemporary works’ would be the description Mr. Kuntz perceives as ‘hegemonic’] . Considering its influence on so-called ‘science–society debates’ and its criticisms formulated against the scientific method, it is legitimate, in turn, to analyse critically its claims and the consequences of these claims, especially those from the ‘science studies’—also called ‘science and technology studies’ [Why the disparaging apostrophes? Why the sudden limitation of this world-wide ‘movement’? Scientific methods are de facto exploratory, rather than tautological, thus always open to criticism] . This postmodernist, mainly sociological [Does he even know what he thinks it is?], discipline has gained momentum in the past few decades in its appreciation of science and technology; it uses specific concepts that create a specific vision of scientific research as a social activity [Like all activities?].
An initial reflection concerns the shift from ‘public understanding’ of science to ‘public engagement’ in science. A typical delusion of the ‘science studies’ community is the belief that “knowledge co-production beyond the classic expert communities… can substantially benefit scientific design.” In fact, science has become so complex and specialized that co-production among scientists from various fields is becoming a difficult task. Therefore, when it comes to the layperson, even with the involvement of social scientists, co-production of knowledge is nothing more than a myth [Like open-souce software, to give but one example?]. Of course, examples of collaboration between professional scientists and ‘amateurs’ do exist, and can be mutually beneficial—when botanists collect seeds from plant species for conservation purposes or when amateur astronomers detect interesting phenomena in the sky[So you admirably refute your earlier contention, and might even add that ‘amateurs’ were largely responsible for the Industrial Revolution?]. But note that in both cases there is no hidden political agenda [Eh?]. By contrast, for genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which are criticized for their industrial and commercial use, and for the alleged political consequences of their use [I assume this means the immense power of lobby groups, like those of Monsanto, over governments like that of the U.S. and Canada?], there are powerful political forces at work [Surely you mean ‘social consequences?]. Collaboration between medics and patients is often cited as a successful example [Why not car-owner and mechanic?], but this cannot be considered as an equal co-production of knowledge, as the two are not commensurate, neither psychologically nor factually: the patient, of course, is the only one who knows what sort of pain he feels, but the physician is the one who has the knowledge to diagnose the ailment and prescribe the remedy [Since 200,000 Americans on average die every year from medical errors, physicians were only permitted to prescribe vitamins relatively recently, and deaths or mutilations from drugs later found to be lethal have been common over the past century, I suggest that ‘the physician is the one who thinks he has the knowledge’ would be more appropriate here].
The second most commonly heard comment concerns the claim that no opinion is better than any other [I have never heard such a ridiculous comment]—which is actually a criticism of mainstream scientists [No, it’s a comment on the idiot who said it – but circumlocution is the name of this game]. Of course, ambiguity and diversity of opinion are both inherent to mankind [Should they not be?]. But this is where science begs to differ by trying to develop a discourse that goes beyond matters of opinion, to demonstrate and express matters of fact and proof [Just like the Medieval Church, in fact?]. No one can claim that the scientific process is purely technical and objective; after all, scientists are human, and there are probably as many dishonest people in the scientific community as there are elsewhere [The Law of Probability would object to this use of ‘probably’]. However, science strives towards objectivity through the implementation of method. One should not confuse, as ‘science studies’ sociologists tend to, science in the making and established science [Which would, of course, eliminate particle and astro-physics entirely – but then all science is ‘in the making’: to quote Einstein, ‘We shall always know more, but we shall never know everything’] . The former can be built on scientific disagreement, but eventually the true facts are established [‘Eventually’ being the operative word – what ‘true facts’ have been ‘established’ in, say, the origins of the DNA double-helix and its quintessential role in forming every aspect of our world? Or even cite one ‘true fact’ that an intelligent child cannot work out for herself?].
The third critical analysis concerns claims of alleged “interests at work in science”. This typically postmodern attitude towards science should be denounced because it casts suspicion on scientific activity as ‘intending’ something other than what it ‘seems’ to be doing [I think he means making money for vast corporations. Canadian scientists have to get official government permission before talking with the media – could this possibly promote such suspicion? Or could it be the embarrassing denial by allegedly legitimate scientists that Climate Change was a myth? Even the CIA abandoned that lie, so it must have been a biggy]. This can be considered a direct attack on the honesty and integrity of scientists as a professional group [Well, you did say there were bad apples in every barrel, no?], as well as an attempt to discredit the scientific method [Which, when tautological, ought to be discredited – if, indeed, such a method is even valid, since it rarely works with particle physics]. One should not confuse scientists (human beings) and science—a conceptual methodological process of accessing the truth in relation to the world. [Or the world in relation to the truth? But when no law of physics applies except within a certain range of phenomena, what can be called ‘truth’, except one’s inevitable death?] Some scientists might have disseminated false information on the health risks of tobacco [I think the ad went ‘Nine out of ten doctors recommend Camel cigarettes’], but the fact that smoking increases the risk of cancer has been proven by science [In fact it has not; it has proved that living in cities increases cancers – which is possibly a consequence of stress or odourless carbon monoxide fumes from cars – but don’t blame Big Oil when you can blame a vice of which even the addict disapproves?]. Following the ‘science studies’ approach, we would still be discussing, in stakeholder forums for example, what is cancer [We still are, but in medical fora, since ‘cancer’ is a nearly meaningless term covering many forms of systemic malfunction, some deadly, others innocuous].
It is regrettable that, as soon as someone denounces attacks on science, some scientists feel the need to express mea culpas in the name of all scientists, past and present [Example? And you cannot utter a mea culpa for others – that would be a nostra culpa, if the collective version even exists]. What is at stake with relativists is that they introduce doubt into everything—truth, value, beauty and reason—that goes beyond sociology [Everything is relative, including the great evil, sociology—where have you been?]. It is unfortunate that some scientists tend to fall into that same trap, confusing the ordinary behaviour of human beings with the capacity of science, as a source of knowledge, to learn about the laws of nature [We’ve established that they are not laws beyond a range of phenomena – 20 years ago you would have maintained that no living entity could exist entirely on methane; now we know different. The process of gaining knowledge has no conclusion]. Relativist ideology is trying to undermine science and it might succeed, especially if scientists themselves express doubts about the honesty and the rationality of their own work [This sounds more like a success for science]. The same holds true for the naive acceptance by scientists of the misuse—by political ecologists, for example—of alleged conflicts of interest. In the case of real conflicts of interest, criticism is entirely appropriate, but the ‘outing’ of conflicts of interest is becoming a ‘weapon of mass destruction’, aimed at any relationship with industry [Which, of course, develops weapons of mass destruction, among its many endeavours]. Meanwhile, activists exonerate themselves from such declarations, despite the fact that they are defending an ‘interest’ per definition, either in support of their own ideology, or even sometimes their interests in ‘green’ business [You mean the continued welfare of our planet, I assume? This would be more properly termed ‘common sense’ than ‘ideology’, unless one’s interest was in making money rather than in making a better environment for future generations].
The role of a scientist is not to engage in decisions concerning the ‘best interests of society’ [Which makes them sociopaths?]. This is, or should be, the role of politicians [Who fund virtually all high-level science, though using our money]. A scientist’s role should be to communicate as honestly as possible about what we know and what we do not know [But what if he or she is Canadian and cannot communicate without the politicians’ permission and approval?]. Contrary to the claims of postmodernists and political ecologists, the truth is that scientists do actually know a lot about GMOs. GMOs have been subjected to an unprecedented battery of scientific studies, conducted independently from the industry [A bare-faced lie, when we know Monsanto, of whom we are really talking, funds the ‘independent’ studies through off-shore funds and shell companies], which have dealt with all possible risks [Impossible in itself]. Scientists are also aware of what they do not know [How in hell does this work, especially when you have just said they are aware of all possible risks?]. Decision-making—which risk management strategy should be implemented, or which risks can or cannot be taken—is the role of politicians and has to be distinguished from risk assessment, which is a complex, highly technical, scientific process [Which no politician could possibly understand? So we ought to fear their decisions?]. It is essential not to drag scientists into the political field. It is also no less essential that politicians and political activists do not interfere with the scientific methods applied in risk assessment. Taking into account social, moral, political and economic opinions, or cultural frames for risk assessment, would mean that the scientific method is supplanted by ideology [Or common sense?], as is often the case in the GMO dispute. As stated by the European Food Safety Authority’s Executive Director, Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle, in an interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro (published 14 November 2012): “If we managed fifteen years ago to shun industrials off the evaluation committees, it was not for NGOs involved in the fight against genetically modified crops […] to take their place! That would be a regression, dangerously turning back the clocks” (translated from French by M. Kuntz).
Accusations of ‘scientism’ are repeatedly uttered against those who defend the scientific method. However, scientific considerations on risk analysis have nothing to do with ‘scientism’, a nineteenth century mystical belief that, to quote philosopher Ernest Renan, wanted to “scientifically organize humanity” [Which is, of course, the job of politicians, silly man!]. One should also note that ‘scientism’ relates to the ideas of Auguste Comte and others, who were convinced about the existence of a “social physics”, that is to say a ‘scientific’ study of man and society—in other words, sociology [Surely, ‘anthropology’, which, alas, did not exist then]. Scientists do not—or should not—talk in the name of society [Even though they are in it?]. It is relativists and political ecologists who continuously—and illegitimately—do so, even in the name of ‘future generations’ [Whose existence the scientific method cannot prove, thus must disregard?].
When postmodern sociologists claim to help science and scientists in their exchange with the socio-political world, it is legitimate to express doubt if the consequences might transform science into a social and political activity devoid of truth-seeking [Or devoid of compassionate common sense?]. It is also legitimate to analyse the way postmodern intellectuals are teaming up with ‘green’ ideology. Criticism of the latter does not mean dismissing public concern, but it is important to point out that some organizations create these ‘concerns’ due to their exceptional ability to use the media and internet [Because real scientists are baffled by such tools?]. They create a ‘parallel science’ with pre-established conclusions that induces confusion in people’s understanding of scientific knowledge. Thus, a small minority exerts a major influence, not only on political decisions, but also on scientific risk assessment. This was exemplified when the Séralini scandal—a high-profile study published in September 2012 that claimed long-term health effects on rats after GMO consumption, which has been widely refuted by other scientists and scientific authorities [And upheld by others]—prompted politicians and French risk-assessment agencies to recommend even more long-term feeding studies on GMOs. Many of these have already been performed and have revealed no health effects [Others claim the reverse]; not to mention that farm animals have been fed on GMOs for the past 15 years with no observed negative health effects [Besides a chronic rise in obesity, and, as anyone with taste buds will affirm, a dramatic loss of flavour].
It is now clear from the experience with the GMO dispute that neither the ‘participative’ postmodernist approach, nor the ‘parallel science’ created by GMO opponents, has led to any benefit for science, for risk assessment or for the general understanding of these processes [You mean besides the destruction of nutrients and an inability to digest properly the products produced?]. Consequently, politicians and the heads of scientific organizations should explore other paths for other technologies that are being designated as bearing ‘potential’ risks, such as nanotechnologies or synthetic biology [Which have no connection with GMOs at all].
The author declares that he has no conflict of interest. [I should hope he doesn’t, since, worse than this self-contradictory mish-mash of hare-brained nonsense, would be the thought that he was somehow employed by Monsanto, or some such greed-oriented mega-corporation, whose money-hungry machinations include attempts to copyright, in effect, nature itself, and have already made it nearly impossible for a poor farmer in south India to purchase anything but their own genetically modified seed. Mr. Kuntz strikes me as a lunatic who once read a brief history of science, yet ought to read a brief history of modern literature and art, since he uses the term ‘postmodern’ the way I would use ‘Nazi’ or ‘demonic’. He clearly has no interest in either contemporary science or the future health of our planet, and his garbled morass of circumlocution and sheer idiocy ought to be ignored, and even denigrated by anyone with a sincere interest in this troubling topic. As anyone who has switched to organic foods, or is growing their own, truly knows beyond all doubt – as a proven fact, as Mr. Kuntz would have it – it tastes better, and more like the food those of us over 60 remember food tasting. Let Kuntz try refuting that!]
Love from Paul William Roberts, who does have a vested interest in corporate stock-holders not financing their greedy lives upon the corpse of this planet.