Friday, February 17, 2006

The Science Establishment ll

I've often wondered why government encouragement would cause scientists to regard truth as irrelevent. It seems to me that it has to do with the essences of the two institutions.

The essence of government is to maintain a monopoly on the retaliatory use of force. The essence of science is to maintain a pursuit of truth through a processes of experimentation and verification. In short, the essence of one is reason and the essence of the other is force. It seems obvious to me that to mix these two in terms of fundmental principles can only have the result of reason being slowly forced out.

When science acquires the mantle of force, it no longer needs the process of verification. Truth is established by decree of consensus. When government force acquires the respect and dignity of science, people will want to trust government to solve all problems. People will mistake the force of government with the absolutism of truth.

Examples of this abound. The most blatent being the CDC fiasco of 2005. In 2004 the CDC director Julie Gerberding hailed a study which she co-authored claiming that 400,000 people died in 2002 from obesity. Trouble is, no one was puting down obesity as a cause of death so how did they know there were 400,000 of them? They didn't. It was just an extrapolation from another study and a poor one.

In 2005 another study done by the CDC, this time by a Katherine Flegal of the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics claimed that the actual number of deaths from obesity was closer to 26,000, not 400,000.

You would think that if Ms. Gerberding were devoted only to the facts, to the truth no matter where it leads, she would say something like "Oh I see. Well we'll have to examine these results and if true we'll have to adjust our policies accordingly." But that was not her response. Instead she claimed that the study was flawed and she had no intentions of scaling back the fight against obesity. In other words, policy trumps reality. Tech Central Station had a good article on this by Canadian John Luik here.

The Washington Times ran an editorial Blubber About Obesity on May 2nd 2005 which said in part:

"This comment from CDC chief science officer Dr. Dixie Snider in february is particularly revealing: 'We cannot and should not let this discussion of scientific methodlolgy detract from the real issue.'" This is another example of how decree takes precedence over verification (methodology) and reason being forced out.

The Body Mass Index or BMI created by the CDC has become dogma. I've seen it posted in doctor's offices. Yet, it is flawed. Studies have shown that mortality rates for obese people 25-30, are lower than those for normal wt. and normal weight 20-25 are lower than underweight. When someone like a 168 pound man at 5'8" can be considered obese, well we see reason being forced out again. The BMI needs to be modified or tossed completely.

A scientist in a private lab or university is in pursuit of facts. But when that lab or university becomes wrapped in the mantle of government, facts will take a back seat to policy. They have to. If there were a ruthless devotion by all government and government supported scientists to nothing but the truth, it would soon be discovered that the government's social policies are based on false premises and are not needed. That is not going to happen anytime soon.

There are too many people making a very good living off the corruption of science by government encouragement. They will continue to put facts second and advocacy in the "public interest" first. To be continued
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