DEPARTMENTS: Opening Salvo
Reporters and journalists have absolutely no problem critiquing policy decisions and pending legislation. They tackle economic issues with a confidence bordering on the impudent. Even religious belief, despite its nearly infinite variety, is put through the media wringer on a regular basis. And yet never do we worry about whether our news sources have the credentials needed to engage in such self-assured scrutiny. The fact of the matter is that journalists aren’t experts in anything other than journalism, and most of us, reporters included, don’t find the situation all that troubling.
So why is it when the topic at hand is science that the swagger with which the press approaches virtually every other subject matter immediately devolves into a timid and awkward shuffle? The NIH makes a pronouncement, and it’s as if the whole media establishment suddenly misplaces its opinions, becoming instead a mere mouthpiece for whatever it is that the researchers want us to hear—and believe. The explanation, more often than not, is that journalists are not scientists and so are incapable of assessing scientific claims. But neither are journalists legislators or economists or theologians, and yet this has never stopped them from delving deeply into these fields and with all the aplomb in the world.
Such inconsistency has given science a free pass when it comes to media coverage, a lack of inquiry that isn’t doing anyone a lick of good. For the scientist, it has led to the temptation to pull a fast one, as we saw with the Korean cloning scandal. And for the rest of us, it has resulted in our worshipful resignation before the altar of SCIENCE ON HIGH—a deference that has made us oblivious to the various agendas currently driving scientific research. Indeed, despite all of our supposed postmodern skepticism, we forget that even science proceeds from distinct worldviews that can color research results, assumptions, hypotheses, and opinions—that it is biased, in other words, and often self-serving. Consequently, it warrants the kind of serious critical examination normally reserved for court rulings or presidential addresses rather than the reverential awe we have traditionally afforded it.
It was with this in mind that we decided to devote the premier of Salvo to just such an examination. I don’t think our timing could have been better. With debates over evolution, stem-cell research, cloning, designer babies, and abortion dominating the headlines, it’s more important now than ever to have a thorough understanding of where science is leading us and why. What we have attempted to do in this issue is remove science from its pedestal for a moment and really take a good look at a few of its most divisive claims and practices. In the process we have also tried to identify the dominant ideologies operating upon those in the scientific community, the beliefs that precede the research process and taint conclusions drawn from that research. My hope is that by issue’s end you’ll see that many of our so-called “scientific facts” are in reality faith claims that reflect merely the wishes of scientists—wishes whose implications are quite horrific at times, even unconscionable.
This is not to imply that all scientists are devious or that most scientific research is bogus or without value. On the contrary, the vast majority of scientific studies are immensely significant and carried out with clear-eyed curiosity. But this doesn’t change the fact that bad science does exist; nor should it dissuade us from rooting out those scientific theories that are grounded in presumptions rather than evidence. At stake is a proper conception of who we are as human beings, as well as where we come from and where we are headed. To just trust science or plead ignorance before its contentions is thus to risk exposing the “meaning of life,” as it were, to the influence of those in its ranks who are deceitful, whether deliberately or not.
Some who encounter this issue of Salvo will no doubt dismiss such assertions out of hand. So deep-seated is our societal conviction that science presupposes truth that suggesting otherwise can mark one as either a liar or a lunatic. Moreover, the mainstream press has done a good job of conflating all who dare question scientific allegations into a single stereotype—that of the backwoods, Bible-thumping fundamentalist who doesn’t know a beaker from a Bunsen burner but is nevertheless positive that the earth was created on Tuesday of last week. It’s an image that keeps many from entertaining their own doubts and questions, if only to avoid being associated with ignorance and superstition. But please don’t you make the same mistake. Don’t automatically write off the data and observations we have assembled here just because they run counter to received wisdom. Don’t just kowtow to the party line.
And that goes for every issue of Salvo. We will continue to interrogate fallacious and destructive thinking no matter who advocates it or from whence it originates. We do so not out of allegiance to a particular political platform or some other interested party but from the belief that we are suffering, both as a culture and as individuals, from a vast and contagious plague of corrupt ideas and short-sighted desires. Indeed, for the sake of our spiritual, emotional, mental, and even physical welfare, Salvo promises to follow wherever the facts may lead, even should they end up challenging a few of our own most ingrained and trusted beliefs. We ask the same of you. •
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