Forcing consensus is bad for science and society

March to science It took place on 22 April in cities around the world, aiming to “speak for science”, defending the strength of evidence-based policies, peer-reviewed facts and government-funded research.

March shows a growing trend. In February 2017, Lesson Ethics and Theory for Science and Society Policy-making Known as the Brussels Declaration, Was adopted at the American Association for the Advancement of the Annual Meeting of Science in Boston. and both OECD And UNESCO Recently published documents supporting the role of science in informing policy.

Open dialogue between scientists and the societies in which they live and work is, of course, an essential component of democracy. But insisted that science operates under a mandate of consensus, which is the time of many debates, from vaccines to climate change to genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The impure consensus in science is actually inseparable Policy-related scientific and political dissatisfaction.

Scientific risks

Critics of the March for Science, myself included, have noted that the March program is dangerously close to “scientificism” – adopting science as one World view or A religion For exclusion of other approaches.

To do so, both the Brussels declaration, such as March and the Accord, ignore the deep crisis facing science with its daily Casualty bulletin.

Nor is it a good sign that some are being reflected Power asymmetry It explains what science is used for in policy: citizens cannot easily create scientific knowledge, while corporate interests can and do. And the evidence has become the currency used by the lobby Purchase of political influence.
What is Scientology? MIT professor Ian Hutchinson explores the difference between science and scientism.

On the issue of climate change, most scientists have opined that Humanity is basically doing large-scale geophysical experiments With the planet increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases.

The problem is not that the thesis (it is essentially correct) but that it is presented as scientific consensus concerning the proposed strategy for phasing out fossil fuels. Proper mind can Difference on urgency or feasibility of strategy To reduce global warming.

This is one of the reasons that observers of both sides “do it now!” Vs “Wait and see“Can’t agree on how to tame the camp” doubt Hounding both climate research and effective responses to the challenge.

Are climate, vaccines and GMOs common

Childhood vaccination is another Hot topic of competition, And the controversy surrounding them has been raging for two decades. It started with a paper published in The Lancet in 1998 – later move back – To show the relationship between vaccine and autism.

This dispute is as fierce as it is today US President Donald Trump and his party join.

We support vaccination. But we cannot ignore the fact that science has assumed it The responsibility Both for a long time to start fearing and to fix their errors. It is unfortunate that we (And others) There is a need to demonstrate pro-vaccine credentials to attempt meaningful discussion.

It is also regrettable that the vaccine is finally being mentioned Same sentence as climate and gmo. The repeated implication is that science is not the problem, but rather people, who lack the knowledge necessary to make clear decisions, oppose scientific facts.

It destroys the so-called Deficit modelAn age-old theory, which blames public neglect of science for many problems in adopting evidence-based policies.

Golden rice and crime against humanity

Should science speak with one voice? This was without a doubt last year when 107 Nobel laureates signed an open letter accusing the environmental organization Greenpeace Crimes against humanity To delay the commercialization of a genetically modified rice variety called golden rice.

Nobel laureates argued that golden rice, which is high in beta-carotene, has the potential to reduce or eliminate death and disease from vitamin A deficiency and possibly “preventable deaths” of one to two million. Can avoid [that] Every year as a result of this nutritional imbalance. “

Some observers Emphasized the seriousness of the allegations, while leading magazines such as Science And Nature Removed the letter.

Either way, its content is clearly (more) incendiary. Here is the extract). In addition to the above claims, the Laureates claimed that Greenpeace has a “vanguard opposition” to golden rice. “Protests based on dogma, contradicted by emotion and data, should be stopped”, he wrote. “How many poor people in the world should we consider ‘crimes against humanity’ before they die?”

Many of the claims in the letter are either falsely false or have been heavily opposed. Even the thesis that golden rice is a tool in the fight against vitamin A deficiency is questionable International Rice Research Institute. The increased beta-carotene content of the crop appears to be variable and cooking probably reduces its value. Its effectiveness merits further study.

Other scientists have Told All these policies have been successfully implemented over the past decade, with better nutrition, direct supplementation, nutrition education programs, promotion of home gardens or promotion of staple food with essential nutrients such as vitamin A . in many countries.

Golden rice is also a poor solution due to vitamin A deficiency Low yield Compared to other rice varieties, which could Stop farmers By growing it. This is one of the reasons why golden rice is not yet approved For commercialization.

Finally, its yellow color makes it more difficult To detect contamination From a dangerous mycotoxin that can cause serious health problems in humans.

Golden Rice, on the right, is definitely golden, but can it survive?
Eric de Castro / Reuters

All this is to say that the beginning of the harvest in Asia and Africa in the early 2000s would have been beneficial and saved lives are the best. The evidence also does not contradict the alternative conclusion: that delayed commercialization was actually better for the population concerned.

Safe or appropriate?

GMO is a battleground in which the issue of deciding the nature of the problem is paramount.

For two decades, we have been told that GMOs are safe for human consumption. On issues of tunnel vision on food security, due to neglect of other legitimate inquiries The power, regulation and control of the genetic fabric of our food. Such issues are central to why many constituencies opposed GMO crops.

Relevant, and also under discussion, are lessons from unsuccessful GMOs adoption.

Today, increasingly more voices are insisting that new technologies should be regulated not only on their profit-risk profiles, but also on them Social context and need, And the conversation’s quest for “Golden Rice” gives a wealth of opinion, indeed – contrary to a consensus.

This happens Science is a “show me”, not a “believe me”, Farm. The objective is to speak on behalf of all sciences, as Nobel laureates confess what to do with gold rice Science, scientific method and truth.

We live in time Intense ideological conflicts around scientific work. The notion that science works for a good work is sometimes regarded with the prestige and authority of Nobel laureates. But it is dangerous.

“Science is strictly impersonal; A method and a body of knowledge, ”wrote sociologist John Dewey In the 1930s. “It uses its operation and its consequences for the human beings who use it. It deactivates itself for the purposes and desires that animate these humans. “

Dewey called the problem involved in our control of science “the greatest civilization one has ever faced”. This calls for a conscious society and a scientific field that is never important in itself.

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