Abusing Science in the Name of ‘Science’

By Wesley J. Smith Published on April 21, 2017

Science shouldn’t be controversial. Why would it be? Natural science offers powerful methods for learning about the universe. Given the benefits that, over the centuries, have been derived from these methods, who on earth isn’t “pro-science?”

Beyond crackpots like Ted Kaczynski, no one I have ever met. So, why are there national marches planned to defend science? Science isn’t under attack. The marches “for science” are nothing more than cynical attempts to prevail in public policy issues where the results of science are being applied to the human condition. It is, in short, to confuse science with politics.

Let me offer one example. A few years ago, self-proclaimed science advocate Hank Campbell, the head of the American Council on Science and Health, tried to persuade National Review to fire me as a contributor. What had I done to attract such scorn? Did I copy someone else’s work? Had I expressed a racist sentiment? Did I publish libel? None of the above. Campbell simply disagreed with me on how reproductive technology should be used. Note that this is a question of ethics and public policy, not natural science.

For that, Campbell accused me of being “anti science” and “hating biology.” He even accused me of viewing IVF “as a tool of Lucifer.” Lucifer? I have never brought up Beelzebub, Old Scrap, El Diablo, Satan, or the devil in any of my many books, articles, or speeches. I hadn’t done so in the column that got Campbell in such a dither. Nor have I ever written anything opposing biology itself.

What I did do was oppose plans to use a novel IVF procedure to create a “three-parent” baby. Here’s what I wrote:

Even though we don’t know about the safety [of the planned procedure], we should go where parents have never gone before?

No. Remember, these embryos would literally be made from broken eggs. As we have seen in cloning, that can lead to terrible developmental problems during gestation, and born cloned mammals often have significant health concerns. IVF babies also have worse health outcomes than naturally conceived children. Allowing the manufacture of three-parent children when safety concerns remain insufficiently explored would be blatant human experimentation.

How is that “anti-science?” I wasn’t opposing science, biology or even reproductive technologies per se. Rather, I made an ethical argument that it would be wrong to use this technique on humans, which until then had been done with animals.

Campbell did not engage or rebut my actual argument. Instead, he tried to shut down that debate by having me exiled from National Review.

That the usual purpose of the “anti-science” slur — to silence debate. Partisans wield it during intense moral and public policy disagreements that involve science in some way. But with few exceptions — such as the GMO debate — the “anti-science” charge is used against only one side of the debate.

Thus, when the National Institutes of Health announced that it would not fund new research using chimps, no one yelled that the NIH was being anti-science. Why not? After all, that decision was based on ethical grounds. And it could even make it harder for scientists to cure human diseases. The hepatitis vaccine, for instance, was based on research on chimpanzees.

Why wasn’t the chimp policy denounced as anti-science? Whether one is deemed “anti-science” or “pro-science” seem to have little to do with science itself. It depends on whose moral ox is being gored.

Activists don’t just use the anti-science label to favor one side in ethics debates. They also use it to stifle heterodox scientific research. My colleagues at the Discovery Institute, for instance, are often accused of being anti-science for promoting intelligent design. (Campbell made this charge in the article attacking me.) They suffer the label even though they use the standard methods of natural science. They simply explore and defend the idea that nature is better explained by intelligent design than blind forces. In this way, they argue that science not be confused with materialism. For that, they are denounced as “anti-science.”

If anyone is “anti-science,” however, it’s surely those who try to silence dissent and to enforce orthodoxies. That applies to the organizers of the March for Science in spades. They want to promote a narrow brand of politics and ideology, not science itself. From the March for Science website (emphasis in the text):

Inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility are integral to this mission and to our overall goals and principles. … We cannot ignore issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, xenophobia, or any other form of discrimination in the discussion and implementation of science…

It was a mistake to ever imply that the March for Science is apolitical — while this march is explicitly non-partisan, it is political. We do not endorse any candidates or political parties, but we do advocate for all policy makers to enact evidence-based policies in the public interest. Politics and science are intertwined, whether we face a travel ban that restricts the free flow of scientific ideas, changes in education policy that diminish students’ exposure to science, or budget cuts that restrict the availability of science for making policy decisions.

They are clearly conflating their own public policy goals with science itself. This could do greater harm to science than anything the activists have labeled “anti-science.” If most Americans come to believe that they must choose between “science” and their their moral and political views, science would be the loser.


Award-winning author Wesley J. Smith, is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. His most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of ‘Do Harm’ Medicine.

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  • Wayne Cook

    Morally abusive people will attempt to force the conversation into an ideological sieve. They’ve lost control of the debate so the next best thing is to club conservative thinkers before they can join the dialogue. The media has become largely minions (yes, the little yellow guys) of a decidedly socialist template. Kill any messenger who discovers anything outside our proscribed committee decisions on life, explorations, and inventions. An oligarchy over science.

    • Dean Bruckner

      I think you mean”prescribed,” but excellent points!

  • Timothy Horton

    LOL! The butt hurt from the Discovery Institute rages on, unchecked.

    Isn’t it terrible the real scientists won’t let the woo merchants like the DI join the march?

    • Charles Burge

      Have you considered the possibility that your constant rants might be having the opposite effect of what you intend?

      Also, did you actually read the article, or are you just robotically posting the same tripe to each of them?

      Isn’t it a fair point that policy decisions are neither “pro-science” nor “anti-science”?

      • Timothy Horton

        Shouldn’t you be reading your usual YEC web sites to learn more Creation “science” to embarrass yourself with?

        • Charles Burge

          LOL…. that’s your rebuttal? Are you so afraid to respond to this simple question?

          Isn’t it a fair point that policy decisions are neither “pro-science” nor “anti-science”?

          • Timothy Horton

            You mean like Trump’s actions to gut the EPA and destroy their entire collection of climate change data just so his oil and gas industries buddies can rape and pollute the land easier? Sure seems anti-science to me and to millions of others. That’s why we have to march.

          • Charles Burge

            That’s a fair point if you’re upset about that, but you are conflating two separate issues. “Is climate change occurring”, and “what should we do about it”, are entirely separate questions. Not only that, they are different kinds of questions. One is a question of science, and the other is a question of policy. I don’t think scientists do themselves any favors by trying to confuse those two issues in the public mind.

          • Timothy Horton

            . “Is climate change occurring”, and “what should we do about it”, are entirely separate questions.

            I’ve only made that point about a dozen times here so far. It’s the political factions of the fossil fuel companies that keep trying to mix the two issues to sow doubt among the lay public. Today’s march is to stand up against that exact political disinformation and meddling.

          • Charles Burge

            Um, hardly. It’s the left who claim that their policy preferences are “pro-science” while anything else is “anti-science”. That’s disingenuous. Worse yet, scientists themselves have been complicit in that activity.

          • Timothy Horton

            Sorry but it’s your moron buddy Trump who for purely political reasons is cutting scientific funding left and right. You couldn’t find a better example of an anti-science position that the Man Baby’s.

          • Charles Burge

            Um, Trump is not my buddy. I didn’t vote for him and if you’ve been paying attention, you would have noticed that I’ve been quite critical of him in comments on this site.

            I really think you should read Dr. Roger Pielke’s article ‘My Unhappy Life as a Climate Heretic’. Just google that phrase. It originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal, but has been reprinted elsewhere.

            In it, Dr. Pielke makes clear that he is on board with AGW and supports action. His only “sin” in the eyes of the left was to question the alleged link between climate change and increased storm intensity. For this, he was vilified, marginalized, and branded a “climate-change denier.” I think this certainly meets your challenge of finding a “better example of an anti-science position”.

            Tell me, is this how science should work? Is this the kind of thing that helps advance our understanding of the world around us? Dr. Pielke’s experience is not an isolated incident. Indeed, it is the modus operandi of the left to employ character assassination and harassment against anyone who presents evidence which might impede the advancement of their agenda. That is about as anti-science as you can get. In contrast, those of us on the right favor open an honest debates about what the evidence is, and what conclusions can be drawn from it.

          • Timothy Horton

            In contrast, those of us on the right favor open an honest debates about
            what the evidence is, and what conclusions can be drawn from it.

            The scientific community is entirely in favor of that too BUT such discussions and debates happen in the professional scientific literature. They don’t happen through disingenuous propaganda aimed at the lay public through the popular press which is the only way the climate change deniers operate. It’s a technique the climate change deniers borrowed directly from the Biblical Creationists and the Tobacco companies. Squirt enough squid ink to fool the public into believing there is a genuine scientific controversy, keep making money and avoiding scientific reality in the meanwhile.

          • Charles Burge

            What is your opinion specifically on the experience of Dr. Pielke? And does it not occur to you that scientists damage their own credibility by hitching their wagons to this sort of leftist activism?

          • Timothy Horton

            Pielke is not a political scientist, not a climatologist. He holds a fringe opinion he has been unable to substantiate with any published data. Sound to me like he is just another self-proclaimed climate “expert” wanna-be whining because the scientific community won’t take his complaints seriously.

          • Charles Burge

            According to his own words:
            “I believe climate change is real and that human emissions of greenhouse gases risk justifying action, including a carbon tax.”

            That’s a fringe opinion?

            He questioned a graph in the IPCC’s 2007 report, which was “later revealed to have been based on invented and inaccurate information.”

            Is that an action that justifies a smear campaign?

          • Jack Reacher

            Once you convince half the country that Evolution is hoax…Climate change is easy!

  • Gary

    These marchers try to make it seem that whatever beliefs they have are based only on “science”. As if every one of the their beliefs have been tested and retested in a lab and found to be true every time. And if their beliefs are based on science, how dare anyone oppose those beliefs. The problem is, the beliefs they are pushing have NOT been tested and found to be true.

    • llew jones

      “The problem is, the beliefs they are pushing have NOT been tested and found to be true.”

      I think Garry you will find many if not most of their beliefs have been tested and found to be false.

      • Gary

        I thought that was what I said. But thanks for the back up.

  • llew jones

    Stand up and “March for Science” say people who don’t know what science is.

    The March for Science is on Saturday.

    Will J Grant and Rod Lambert struggled with the message behind the “March for Science” at The Conversation (a pseudo science program on the Australian Broadcasting Commission that costs Aussie taxpayers over 1 billion per year). We should march, they said a month ago, because “science is a human process”, which will be news to people who thought science was about evidence and reason instead. On Saturday they will be marching for the kind of science that is “passion” and “belief”. Don’t turn up thinking this is about the dispassionate Laws of Physics. You’ll be at the wrong rally.

    The March seems to be fighting strawmen. It is supposedly about “Encouraging scientists to share their research” (as if scientists like to hide their research). We know they hide their data, their methods and their adjustments, but when the ABC turns up to interview them, they don’t seem to hide their opinions. They hide their declines but don’t hide their Nobel Prizes (even if they didn’t get them).

    (These comments are by Joanne Nova who used run a science program for kids on the above ABC. Once a Greenie she saw the light about the science deficient AGW scam and now runs a website which can be found by looking up, Jonova).

  • DoughnutGuy

    These ‘March for Science’ narcissists seem quite unable to appreciate Hume’s centuries old distinction between ‘is’ and ‘ought’.

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