The dangers of opponents of science-based medicine

Michael Specter, author of Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives, on the danger of science denial:

Given that more than half of the video is devoted to discussing vaccine denialism, supplements, and HIV/AIDS denialism, I think Spector’s talk is quite appropriate for this blog. Perhaps the best quote in Specter’s entire speech is this: “When you start down the road where belief in magic replaces evidence and science, you end up in a place where you don’t want to be.”

Unfortunately, for more and more of the population, it seems, when it comes to vaccines and “alternative” medicine that’s exactly where they’re going. They don’t want to be there, but unfortunately they won’t realize it until there there. They might not even realize it even then.

Unfortunately, society will.

Posted in: Herbs & Supplements, Science and Medicine, Vaccines

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67 thoughts on “The dangers of opponents of science-based medicine

  1. Jayhox says:

    This was a great TED talk and I’ve recommended it to everyone.

    My favorite quote was: “People wrap themselves so tightly in their beliefs that nothing can set them free. Not even the truth will set them free.”

    And there’s “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion; however, everyone is not entitled to their own facts.”

  2. Zoe237 says:

    I didn’t watch the video but I read his CNN article diatribe against organic food. Somebody might want to inform the Union of Concerned Scientists and thousands of other scientists with concerns about the world’s food system that they are denialists. @@@

    Here’s a criticism of Michael Specter, mostly that he lets AGW denialists off the hook ftmp:

    Sorry, but as apparently one of the few ‘not a libertarian’ skeptics, I had to speak up. ;-)

  3. provaxmom says:

    I’ve seen him on other shows, and have begun the book as well. I find interesting the points he makes about denialism occurring on both sides of the political agenda. Yet at the same time, I feel like he is on Team Me, which I like.

  4. David Gorski says:

    What I see on TED is a lot of comments from anti-vaxers.

    As for Tom Philpot’s review, he comes of more as peeved that Specter didn’t mention AGW denialists, never mind that, if I recall correctly, Specter laid out why he didn’t discuss AGW denialism.

    There’s also this gem of what can only be characterized as burning stupid in that review:

    So what do we find in these pages? We get a chapter defending the pharmaceutical industry against critics who question its wares–an industry with nearly $300 billion in sales in the U.S. alone, and fast-growing markets overseas. Specter’s defense aside, Big Pharma typically vies with “oil and mining” and “commercial banks” for the title of most profitable industry in the United States.

    There’s a chapter decrying those who question the necessity of vaccinations–even as global child vaccine rates continue to rise. (Indeed, according to a recent report, the main factor holding vaccines back isn’t denialism, but rather their heightened cost.)

    The pain, the pain. What we have is the “pharma shill” gambit coupled with a complete missing of the point in that vaccination rates are going up in Third World countries, but they are falling in a lot of developed countries, which is where we find the anti-vaccine movement.

  5. Zoe237 says:

    “pain, the pain. What we have is the “pharma shill” gambit coupled with a complete missing of the point in that vaccination rates are going up in Third World countries, but they are falling in a lot of developed countries, which is where we find the anti-vaccine movement.”

    Predictably, I think he’s right on. While I think anti-vaccination movement and homeopathy are as stupid as the next skeptic, if one want to have the most bang for your buck/ save the most lives with activism in medicine, one has to work to make vaccines affordable to third world countries and make sure that insurance companies/lawyers/drug companies don’t have undue influence on what should be at essence a non/profit, human rights field. These are the biggest dangers to medicine, not chiropractors. Of course, different people have different interests.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought that gambit was accusing someone of being in the employ of a drug company… which this author didn’t do. I’m guessing he had the same reaction I did when I read that chapter, namely that Vioxx sure as heck doesn’t need any defending!

    Eh, everybody has personal preferences, and there are other skeptics I like more.

    Granted, I only read 50 or so comments on ted, but didn’t see a single anti-vax post. The point is that, no matter what side you’re on, Specter acts like there is no legit debate about the safety of the global food system. To compare it to AIDS denialism… that’s just silly, and it stifles free debate. the whole point of science, when you start accusing the other side of being unworthy/unscientific instead of addressing their points. He’s just a little too black and white and intentionally inflammatory for me.

  6. mfryer says:

    “big placebo” :)

  7. Collin says:

    There’s a conversation going on at about this same video. The comments section is filled with people criticizing Specter’s points about GMOs. Specter says in the video that he can’t understand why people would be against GMOs, and the comments are largely focused on the “bad for you, not natural, big corporations/Monsanto” claims.

    What do you guys think? It’s interesting how this talk breaks down: you have the people who are anti-vax coming out for criticism, then you have the AGW deniers, and now we have the anti-GMOers.

  8. squirrelelite says:

    I thought of doing a quick count of comments, looking for pro or con on vaccination, GMO, etc. But, the comment and response format makes the value of that a bit iffy. So, I read the first several comments and responses. In general, what I saw was a reasonably healthy balance of pro and con with the negative comments generally getting well reasoned responses.

    The early comments seemed mainly to be about the medical issues. Some things I noticed in the “anti-science” comments were:

    A. A tendency to describe science as more absolute than it really is.

    B. Describing science as heavily influenced by “Big Pharma”.

    C. “You were wrong before, so why should we believe you now?”

    Here are a few representative quotes i have “mined” and a few of my thoughts:

    — Science demands scientific fact – absolute truth.
    —- No, science is about reducing uncertainty.

    –real science … has become indistiguishable from real or junk science.
    —- Huh? What are you saying?

    –I suspect that the mere phrase “Big Pharma” is indicative of a mindset that Michael Specter’s talk is trying to warn us about.
    —- Yes!

    –don’t you think its a bit strange that people want proof from Big Pharma, but blindly follow Big Placebo? People never demand proof of anything anecdotal, they just blindly follow.
    —-I agree. Unfortunately, word of mouth speaks louder than a scientific paper.

    –The man in this video is basicly asking for carte blanche confidence in people who claim to be scientists
    —- Perception in a short talk to a general audience can be tricky, but I think what Mr Specter is really advocating is more confidence in the scientific process, not the individual people.

    — The internet is just a tool, and it empowers the stupid, stubborn, ignorant, fearful, and hateful as easily as it empowers the enlightened, courageous, compassionate, and loving among us. For every source of valuable, objective scientific information you can find online, you can (find) at least another tainted by ulterior motives and hidden agendas.
    —- No kidding!

    — My dentist is state of the art, yet he also takes into consideration homeopathy. That’s what I call going forward.
    —- Does he give you homeopathic sugar pills to prevent tooth decay? Like cures like, right? (Personally, I like the chocolate flavored ones surrounded in hard candy. Perhaps, that’s part of why my teeth are a mess.)

  9. Fifi says:

    For me the biggest danger to science and medical science is actually the promotion of pseudoscience. Magical medicine and/or religion that aren’t pretending to be science maybe problematic on a global scale but they’re not actually corrupting science. People who claim to be promoting science or science based medicine – be they CAMsters promoting pseudoscience and claiming their woo is science/evidence based, industry promoting pseudoscience for profit or scientists/doctors promoting an ideology as SBM or science – these actually do much more harm to science than those promoting magic or religion. Why? Because it increases the misunderstandings about science and mistakes faith and ideologies for science.

  10. Fifi says:

    By the way, there are plenty of medical scientists and doctors that are critical of Big Pharma (as well as other corporate players in the healthcare industries) AND Big Placebo. Being critical of industry and the profit-motive is not being anti-science, quite the opposite a lot of the time. You can tell it’s an ideological battle when someone is promoting one or the other and not actually just promoting SBM – not that Big Pharma or Big Placebo actually care about ideology really, it’s just a way to manipulate and distracting people (be they the masses or academics) into fighting over imaginary things like loyal consumers. It’s really just McDonald’s vs Burger King because real science and medicine isn’t about either ideology. However, the more Ronald McDonald and the Burger King duke it out, the better maintained the illusion that it’s about ideology becomes and the more distracted from reality and reality-based thinking everyone becomes. It’s a very Randian tactic, no matter who it’s used by.

  11. weing says:

    “It’s a very Randian tactic, no matter who it’s used by.”

    I wasn’t aware of that. The Amazing Randi sure gets around.

  12. rosemary says:

    Listening to the video, I got the impression, which could be wrong, that I know exactly where Specter is coming from, that his experience is similar to mine. I see a large social movement, a religion, made up of people who have a romanticized view of the past in which everything natural is good and everything manmade is bad. The extremists are most vocal or maybe just most open about their views in the “raw milk” debate in which proponents oppose heating milk to kill pathogens for fear that it kills wonderful nutrients in spite of the fact that there is abundant evidence showing that pathogens in raw milk cause serious harm and that if there are nutrients killed by pasteurization the result is not harmful.

    Adherents of the Natural-Is-Good or Natural-Is-Best religion, reject science and facts. They embrace false hope that promises simple, risk free, happy solutions to complex problems. They use and promote granny’s meds and granny’s food without knowing how bad they were for granny. They embrace alt. med, not CAM, as well as whole, organic and natural foods and farming. They view all things “natural” as safe and beneficial and all things man-made, except machines and modern technology, as evil. Their views about what is good and what is bad are not based on science or facts. They are based on beliefs, philosophies, faith.

    That is not to say that there aren’t scientists studying alt remedies (dietary supplements), organic food and farming. That is not to say that all organic farming practices are bad and unscientific and all conventional ones are good and scientific. However, in my experience living in the heart of organic country there is a huge gulf between the scientists at the ag schools who study organic farming and the farmers who practice it. In my experience those practicing it are wacky and not people I’d trust to produce my food. They really do reject all things rational and scientific. They treat farm animals the way they treat themselves and their families – with alt. remedies and nothing but alt remedies. I do not assume that those remedies are benign, not even the homeopathic ones, because I know that in this marketplace anyone can make a remedy and label it homeopathic even if it contains active ingredients. I think that as long as there are stringent government rules about what certified organic farmers can and cannot do and their operations are rigorously inspected that organic food will be relatively safe. However, once those rules are relaxed, as they probably will be as the industry grows, and inspections become few and far between, I think we will see a great deal of harm caused by organic food produced by people with irrational, wacky beliefs.

    I have not investigated GMOs. My intuition tells me that drastically modifying food that quickly is risky just as it is risky to consume supplements that contain ingredients in amounts far larger than what people ordinary take them in. But there is a difference. With supplements there are no demonstrated benefits so there are no benefits to weigh against the risks.

    According to Michael Specter, many Africans subsist on cassava which lacks nutritional content. He says that scientists are working on using GMOs to grow varieties that will contain nutrients that will greatly improve the health of large numbers of people. If that is true and if that is the only viable option available, and I don’t know if it is, I think that using GMOs in that case is probably worth the risk.

    I don’t have a problem with people practicing religions that they truly believe in, not even the Nature-Is-Good or Natural-Is-Best religion, until they try imposing it on society which in my opinion is exactly what proponents of the Nature-Is-Good faith have been doing very successfully for a long time now. They have been doing it by making claims they say are based on evidence which in reality are really based on beliefs.

  13. Zoe237 says:

    “By the way, there are plenty of medical scientists and doctors that are critical of Big Pharma (as well as other corporate players in the healthcare industries) AND Big Placebo. ”

    Exactly. Most of the scientists I personally know in my small university town argue that the answers are not as simple as ideologues on either side make them out to be. While there is certainly a “nature is best” religion like movement, there is also a “technology will save us all and don’t question it” religion like movement. For example, those who believe we don’t have to do anything about global warming or population control because technology will prevent catastrophe. Extremists on both sides, iow.

    I actually think gmos are certainly not the evil one side makes them out to be. In terms of environmental danger, according to the EPA, they are extremely low down on the list. Yet the EU I believed has completely banned them.

    Mostly, it was Specter’s defense of Vioxx in his book that now makes me question everything he says, or at least look more closely at his arguments.

  14. Fifi says:

    lol @ weing. Hey, just because Randi is Gay doesn’t mean he’s a slut! ;-) All in all, I actually think more people are pro-science than actively anti-science – including many people into CAM who think it is science-based (which are quite a lot of people in my experience). Just as many people mistake Big Pharma for being science-based when what these corporations really are is an industry that uses science (and pseudoscience tactics like hiding negative results and gaming it so things appear more positive than they are).

  15. squirrelelite says:


    I appreciate your comments because you seem to have a genuine point of view that you are expressing (although I sometimes disagree with it).

    However, I am curious about a couple things you mentioned in your last pair of comments.

    You referred to an “ideological battle” as “a way to manipulate and distracting people (be they the masses or academics) into fighting over imaginary things like loyal consumers” and called it “a very Randian tactic”. I am guessing that you weren’t really referring to the efforts of James Randi to help us avoid being fooled, although that was a very humorous interpretation.

    Were you thinking of the writings of Ayn Rand? Since Wikipedia (not the most impeccable source, but convenient and useful) describes the typical Ayn Rand hero as “a man whose ability and independence leads to conflict with others, but who perseveres nevertheless to achieve his values” and compares him to ” Aristotle’s conception of agathos, in that both are morally heroic and heroically rational”.

    If so, manipulating and distracting people actually sounds like an anti-Randian tactic. I suspect that if we had more people who were heroically rational, there would be a little more confidence in the scientific method and less willingness to merely accept the claims of pseudo-science.

    Which brings me to question #2. You talked about “scientists/doctors promoting an ideology as SBM or science”. Certainly promoters of the whole spectrum of CAM modalities are happy to try to assume the mantle of science and use it support their claims. Even the most dedicated practitioner of science or medicine can forget Feynman’s rule and fool themselves into doing so. But, I think most serious scientists are careful to distinguish that science is not an ideology or religion. It is a method for studying the world around us and within us and reducing our uncertainty about how things work.

    Science can give us answers, but they are not true just because science says so. They are true or at least a usefully accurate approximation of reality because anyone (at least with training and equipment) can perform the same tests or experiments and replicate the results for themselves. That is why practically all the regular bloggers on Science Based Medicine place so much emphasis on replicating results and not just on what the latest test seemed to show.

  16. squirrelelite says:

    I guess I never really asked question #2.

    What would you consider a good example of a scientist or doctor promoting an ideology as SBM or science?

  17. Fifi says:

    squirrelelite – When I say Randian I am referring to Ayn Rand’s followers such as Greenspan, Cheney and the like and the think tanks that use her as their philosophical base. Machiavellian would also be appropriate (even though Machiavelli himself was more interesting than the term has come to denote, which is acting purely in one’s self interest).

    Seems to me that Rand was really simply creating a philosophy to justify her narcissism and elitism (and writing really overwrought novels that aren’t about real people or the real world). She was an interesting character and certainly an influential one. While Rand may have called her philosophy Objectivism – she wasn’t actually promoting the promotion of reality-based thinking in general from what I’ve read. In the context of her life, her philosophy quite ironically is pretty much a justification of the subjectivity of an elite. I can understand that fans of Rand and her philosophy don’t particularly like it being associated with the NeoCons but it is – not only because Greenspan was part of her entourage but also because the NeoCons claim to be Randians.

    All one needs to do is look at the history of medical science and one finds ideology/religious beliefs being promoted as SBM. The idea that homosexuality isn’t natural is a religious one. It’s taken medicine a long time to shake off the shackles of religion and religion does keep trying to get control back in various ways (by getting stem cell research banned in the US, etc).

  18. Fifi says:

    Unfortunately Ayn Rand’s acolytes tend to be heroic rationalizers not heroically rational! ;-) The heroic self image isn’t realistic, it’s an idealized narcissistic self image that actually denies (and even looks down on) humanity. Rand proposed elite heroes who are innately superior (as she considered herself to be) so therefore justified in being abusive to others and taking what they want when they want it – like a greedy five year old. Which, not coincidentally, is pretty much the definition of a narcissistic personality disorder. Her insistence on the heroic individual vs the evil collective – really just an intellectualization of her own neurotic issues related to her childhood – isn’t realistic or even reality based.

    On the other hand, Randi is a good example of someone who is heroically rational. As well as being someone willing to make personal sacrifice for the common good :-) It’s actually quite interesting to compare Rand and Randi when it comes to discerning who is actually promoting reality-based thinking and who isn’t. Rand used her philosophy to justify her romantic interests (and to try to get laid apparently in at least one case), while Randi stayed closeted so his sexuality didn’t get in the way of the message he is trying to promote regarding reality based thinking.

  19. provaxmom says:

    Michael Specter has a fb fan page, if anyone is interested. And definitely not enough fans, considering his message!

  20. squirrelelite,

    If I were answering your Question 2 I would use the example Fifi gave you of scientists promoting faith in technology to resolve all problems. The world will not face a resource crisis of any kind. People will get richer and reproduce less. Some sort of renewable energy will replace fossil fuels. We’ll fertilize salps to control climate change.

    Most scientists investigating the impact that resource depletion and climate change will have on the conditions of life for humans and other living things in the future have a very realistic sense of the limits to what can be done about them. But there are scientists who work on the premise that there must be a technological solution; it’s just a question of finding it. These scientists aren’t hard to find. Turn on any geeky science show and they’re right there, blathering on enthusiastically.

    My friend Kalpesh was a researcher investigating HIV treatments in the mid to late 80s. He was extremely motivated because he was HIV-positive. He was literally trying to save his own life. Not only was he unsuccessful in this effort (he died in the mid 90s), he had trouble in his lab because his boss didn’t like having HIV+ researchers on staff. He felt they weren’t objective enough, that they were biased. (see )

    It’s entirely possible that his boss was right.

    It’s also entirely possible that Kalpesh was not the only smart, caring, creative, inspiring scientist to ever be motivated by thoughts about the outcome of his work, or to have an agenda.

  21. weing says:

    “But there are scientists who work on the premise that there must be a technological solution; it’s just a question of finding it.”

    I certainly hope there are scientists like that, and that they never give up looking. I like their approach better than the new agers who, instead of changing a light bulb, start a coping with darkness support group.

  22. squirrelelite – Overall I’d have to agree with FiFi on her analysis of the Rand books. I remember being intrigued by them in high school and college, particularly The Foutainhead (required reading for every self-prescribed future brilliant artist). I think the message is very appealing to that age group and to some extent worthwhile. But the story, characters and their motivation are all built around proving Rands philosophy, an ultimate emphasis on the individual over the social. They are very anti-socialism, anti-communism. Obviously this message had great appeal in the cold-war era. But, the characters are more caricatures, the stories are fantasies.

    Then again, I have always been a bit leery of those perfect heroes. Luckily, in high school, I read Catch-22 around the same time as I read Fountainhead. I guess in a way that book also emphasizes the individual over the collective, but I think in a more valuable way, and it has some nice little lessons in logic (or anti-logic) as well.


    On another note, I’m having a hard time getting through the Randi video. I’m not familiar with him and I’m getting too heavy a science will fix everything vibe. Also, I wish he would tuck his shirt in. But, I think I’m just in a mood.

    Many people here certainly seem impressed with him. Maybe I’ll try again tomorrow.

  23. sorry – I meant to say “science will fix everything if we just let it” vibe.

  24. weing,

    Sure. But both the scientist who is convinced there is a technological fix (we will be able to quintuple the number of people on the planet! feed them all better than anyone eats now! and we will all manage our lives using the iPads grafted into our arms!) and the new-ager who is convinced that there isn’t one are acting on faith.

    In this context, the person who thinks there’s enough for 35 billion people to live like Paris Hilton only with more gadgets — if we can just figure out how — seems to be the one whose faith is most in conflict with what we know about physics.

  25. weing says:


    Personally, I am for getting an Avogadro’s number of people, but no way would I expect them to be on the earth.
    I am for space exploration and colonizing the galaxy. Too much Star Trek as a kid, I guess.

    I’ve heard of Ayn Rand, but never could get into her books. I did watch the Fountainhead film. My impression was that the characters were not true to life. I prefer biographies. I do agree with her anti-socialist stance and understand it perfectly as a visceral reaction to living in the Soviet Union. That comes from spending about 15 years in a workers’ paradise myself.

  26. Fifi says:

    There’s a hell of a lot of crossover between the technofuturists and the new agers! SF is the home of both hippies and the digerati. I’ve actually found that computer geeks (and engineers) can be quite susceptible to pseudoscience, particularly when it comes to medicine (which is nothing like computer programming) and quantum woo flavored spirituality. Of course, people tend to see technology as being the same thing as science but it isn’t really even though science uses a lot of technology and technology is built using a lot of science. Science is a process and a body of knowledge, technology is machines and the networks they use.

    You’ll also find quite a lot of people on the cutting edge of geekdom eat organic (not that eating organic is in any way anti-science, factory farming isn’t actually more scientific just because a farmer plants GMOs and uses chemical pesticides). For instance, it seems that Steve Jobs used to be a raw foodist and by all accounts was very reluctant to use SBM to treat his pancreatic cancer. (There’s a story that he was inspired to name Apple by a raw food magazine called “Just Eat An Apple” – it may or may not be true, I tend to think it isn’t simply because there are many better reasons to call a computer company Apple.) More than anything else, I’d say this has a lot to do with science fiction as well as the obvious SF cultural influences.

  27. squirrelelite says:

    Fifi, Michelle, Weing,

    Thanks for your comments.

    It’s been a long time since I read Atlas Shrugged. I don’t think I ever got around to The Fountainhead. I was a bit interested in her philosophy at the time since I try to think for and make decisions for myself (or at least I perceive that I do, but that’s for another day and blog). I seem to remember someone saying that it’s a good philosophy for adults, but the me first, self centered approach doesn’t have a place for children (or self sacrifice). So, it doesn’t work very well in the long run. I think I agree with that.

    On the global future front, as a species we are so good at exploiting our environment that we have reached the point where our only significant competitor is ourselves. We haven’t reached the Malthusian limit yet; science has helped us stay one step ahead in that race. However, we are starting to see that continuing population growth is having negative impacts on the environment and creating friction and competition for limited resources.

    It is going to take international agreement on some tough decisions to find a way to transition into a stable, sustainable world economy and population. And, when Michael Specter says that we are going to have to feed 70% more people in the next 50 years, I am afraid he is right. I don’t think we can just go on and blithely count on science to somehow come up with solutions. But, if we deliberately choose not to use many of the ways science can help us solve them, the problems will only get worse and in the end a lot of people will be “very put out”.

  28. Fifi says:

    weing – You don’t need to dismiss the crappiness of living in the Soviet Union or under Stalin’s version of communism (which really sounds much more like a dictatorship and just a new form of serfdom) to notice that the Rand/NeoCon version of capitalism isn’t much better. Rand didn’t really promote democracy in any way, she promoted elitism and every man for himself while democracy promotes one vote but respecting the majority’s votes…democracy is actually antithetical to Rand’s philosophy because it places the collective above the individual! It’s kind of interesting how both Rand’s version of capitalism and Stalin’s version of communism both lead to fascism where the many serve the elite few.

  29. weing says:

    I also wonder if the anti-vax movement is not led by some cabal to leave people susceptible to diseases that they plan to release in order to whittle down the population. Why haven’t they destroyed the smallpox strains that are kept in storage? We’ve let lots of harmless species go extinct, why not this one?

  30. weing says:

    “It’s kind of interesting how both Rand’s version of capitalism and Stalin’s version of communism both lead to fascism where the many serve the elite few.”

    Not sure if I agree with all of that. She has a point about the many living off the few also. Would you say that all those working for Microsoft are serving the elite Gates and co-founders, or are they are living off of what Gates and his henchmen built?

  31. Fifi says:

    weing – How deliciously paranoid! I’m tempted to go over to PrisonPlanet or some Tea Party site to plant that paranoid conspiracy…might just work and fits very neatly into the NWO population reduction conspiracy genre… ;-)

  32. Fifi says:

    Oh please, when have the “many lived off the few”! That’s like saying the King is supporting his serfs and they’re living off him. Gates, Jobs and all other CEOs are the few living off the many (hell, their bonuses are even being paid out of public taxes at the banks). Anyway, the whole capitalism vs communism cold war crap is sooooo last century no matter how much the NeoCons try to keep it alive. They’re not actually a very creative bunch, even if they did declare a war on reality-based thinking (well at least they wanted to discourage reality-based thinking amongst the masses and promote unreality-based thinking…propaganda, it’s the same whether it’s in the service of communism or capitalism). Not that NeoLiberals are any different – just two slightly different flavors of the same thing in North America pretty much.

  33. weing says:

    So if Bill Gates, Jobs and their henchmen never started their companies and decided to live in communes, peacefully tilling the earth, all those currently working for Microsoft and Apple and their products would no longer be supporting them? They would be also happily tilling the soil for themselves? Enjoying the absence of ipods, personal computers, and the internet?

  34. weing says:

    No way. I wouldn’t have my Xbox and wouldn’t be able to pay Halo and Modern Warfare 2.

  35. weing says:

    “That’s like saying the King is supporting his serfs and they’re living off him.” In a sense he is, if it’s his land and he gives them protection. I guess, it’s similar to the glass being half empty or half full.

  36. Fifi says:

    weing – With all this plowing of fields talk, it seems like you might be sort of trapped in the same cold war mentality that Rand was….though you don’t seem to be a McCarthyist like she was! Nothing like a good witch hunt to prove you’re a supporter of individual freedom ;-)

    Just so you know, I think communism is as much of a heroic pipe dream as Rand’s version of capitalism is – they’re simply the opposite sides of the same extreme coin. The whole communism vs capitalism really is not only sooo last century, it’s also ignoring the ways that technology has already changes our world. At this point the dialectic is really democracy vs fascism – fascism is equally at home as either communism or capitalism. There’s that quote attributed to Mussolini – “Fascism should rightly be called Corporatism, as it is the merger of corporate and government power.” This is certainly happening in the US and is very much the case in China.

    Are you aware that both Microsoft and Apple take advantage of open source software? In fact, that both companies live off the collective work of many and not just the labor of the kings and serfs of Microsoft and Apple? Not that they’re particularly willing to share in the other direction – both of them are aiming for a monopoly, a sort of economic fascism where there is no choice – but they’re both certainly willing to take from the many.

  37. Fifi says:

    Ah but the King didn’t earn “his land”, he’s not an elite because of anything other than chance. He’s a stand-in for God or, in some cultures, a God. And it’s only “his” land until someone offs him and takes it away. None of these people created the land, none of them create the food it produces – generally speaking, royalty doesn’t actually create much and is simply the elite few living off the productive many. That’s the issue isn’t it, why should someone own all the land because of some superstitious belief in gods and other archaic rubbish? And, yes, I’m aware that Rand was an atheist. That she apparently DID like about communism! ;-) Or maybe it was another way to erase her Jewish heritage (along with changing her name so that it sounded WASPy American and potentially male).

    It’s a bit hard to take seriously the philosophy of a woman who wrote with glowing admiration about a serial killer because to her he was “the amazing picture of a man with no regard whatsoever for all that a society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. A man who really stands alone, in action and in soul. … Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should.” Nietsche, the poor miserable bastard, and his ideas about elite supermen inspired not only Rand but also Hitler (fact not Godwinism!). That kind of image of oneself as a elite superman who has the right to crush others underfoot in pursuit of one’s own desires is kind of textbook narcissism.

  38. weing says:

    I have no choice but to use my computer to go on the internet, forced to buy video games for my Xbox, and forced to enjoy them.

    I’ve lived under both and I prefer capitalism. I also know it needs to be watched carefully. I don’t consider corporatism to be capitalism but a degeneration of it.

  39. Fifi says:

    weing – You’re missing or avoiding the point – which is both Microsoft and Apple very much benefit from and use open source programming that is done by the collective (the unpaid collective who are happy to share what they do with others) and aren’t just Jobs and Gates creating and then people who do nothing living off them. If anything, Gates and Jobs take from the collective without giving anything back (though they’re happy to sell it back and certainly both men want to be seen as philanthropists). It’s not about whether you can choose to use the internet or not – which was actually invented to make it easy to openly share information, something corporations have been trying to put an end to ever since it started to become mainstream.

    Sure you could just not use computers or the internet if there was a monopoly but that’s hardly the point or the choice being discussed. And it’s not really much of a choice which is why monopolies suck – particularly if they control something one needs to use.

  40. Fifi says:

    And, to be fair, Russian communism was a degeneration of communism and not the ideal. I’m not standing up for or advocating communism, I’m just pointing out that neither lives up to the idealized version people tend to promote when stuck in the binary and no longer really relevant cold war communism/Russia vs capitalism/US. I’m not interested in living under either – I’d rather live in a system that acknowledges both the individual and the collective because that’s dealing with reality. Us humans are social animals, we live in societies because we are dependent upon each other and, like chimps, have a need for fairness in our transactions…this isn’t ideological, it’s simply how us apes seem to function (apart from the crazy apes like Rand, who I actually feel quite sorry for because despite all her selfishness and self indulgence she didn’t actually seem to be happy at all).

  41. Zoe237 says:

    Ayn Rand was a nutcase. Love Joseph Heller though.

    Hmm, I know who Fifi could come up in the “idealogy masked as science” camp… better not go there though.

    Socialism vs. capitalism. Now there’s another false dichotomy, about as prevalent as the timeless science vs nature debate. Many have their faith. Of course, there’s no such thing as pure capitalism and it’s not an *either-or must choose one* scenario. In science it’s called confirmation bias, although it’s the one mindset that does its damndest to detect any bias. Which is of course why I prefer science. Not always possible though.

    Scientists are human, and they can also (even as a collective) become too attached to an idea that’s wrong (e.g. continental drift CAN’T be right!). I find it interesting that I’ve read many comments in the past few months on SBM that a historical perspective on scientists getting it wrong is irrelevant. Some take it too far and completely reject science, but others have an appropriate skepticism or a healthy “questioning authority” based on this history. (My focus in college was the history of science, along with education). Everybody wants to claim science as “on my side” as if science is a weapon. Creationists reworked their ideology as intelligent design. Politics became political “science.” People go around accusing this side or that of being “denialists.”

    While science itself doesn’t have an idealogy, it’s extremely dangerous to claim that (some) scientists don’t. It’s the difference between theory and reality. Good scientists are always on the lookout for their own bias. The bad ones deny that they could ever possibly be. It’s like doctors who constantly deny that accepting gifts from pharma companies could possibly compromise their outlook.

    While it’s also dangerous to completely disregard science, I see others who simply believe everything they read because it came from SBM or the NIH or someone with an M.D. Advertisers use it as “7 in 10 dentists recommend our toothpaste!” Both are BAD ideas.

  42. lkregula says:

    A couple of points. There has never been a country that functioned on the principles set forth in the Communist Manifesto. They’ve used the word communist, but they haven’t been truly communist because Marxist communism is a direct democracy. There’s other differences as well, but that’s one of the biggest disqualifiers for the countries claiming to be communist. All of the current communist states are also pretty fascist, which also disqualifies them from actually being communist.

    Similarly for capitalism in the US- too much government involvement to be true capitalism.

    And of Nietzsche- his Ubermensch idea was grossly distorted by many people, but overall his idea is pretty positive. Shaq (the basketball player) did his best after he had been told to read Nietzsche and did. The Ubermensch is better than other people, yes, but s/he uses his/her abilities to help others succeed, reach their full potential, and recognizes that with greater abilities comes greater responsibilities. The Ubermensch doesn’t work solely for him/herself, the Ubermensch uses his/her abilities to improve the world. For a while, Shaq was great at that; when he lost his way, he lost his appeal. And there’s the little problem that the Ubermensch is defined by what they do, not who they are (race, sex, nationality, etc.), so Hitler was not following Nietzsche.

  43. Zoe said – “Everybody wants to claim science as “on my side” as if science is a weapon.”

    Not to disagree, but to use you phrase as a jumping off point…

    Science is a weapon or a shield, medicine or a toxin. I have no problem with science, but it is a tool in the hand of humankind. Perhaps if I had more faith in us, I would have more faith in science. But as far as I can see we have the ability to do great good or great evil with excellent science.

  44. weing – as I’ve said before, I have a faulty irony meter…was this serious or ironic?

    “Why haven’t they destroyed the smallpox strains that are kept in storage? We’ve let lots of harmless species go extinct, why not this one?”


    regarding communism – democracy – capitalism. I find people sometimes confuse capitalism with democracy, but it is the constitutional democracy that ensures our freedoms. And capitalism modified by that constitutional democracy that has been relatively successful in our economic health. I believe that Rand either didn’t understand or ignored the nature of a constitutional democracy. She represented a model where the many would control the few through democratic measures (not totalitarian). In fact the U.S. (and many other countries) constitutions have foreseen this problem and ensure that we have individuals rights and freedoms, so that a majority opinion can not legally over ride individual rights to hold property, speak, etc.

    This is not to say that historically everyone has enjoyed these freedoms or rights in all constitutional countries, corruption and prejudice still exist. But I feel that Rand was setting up a bit of a straw man in Atlas Shrugged with the majority led government’s subjugation of industry leaders.

  45. Regarding Jobs and Gates and their “workers”. Having worked at a couple of tech companies I can say that neither Jobs or Gates are so brilliant (in comparison to their employees) that they would have succeeded with the unmotivated, uncreative, lazy workers that populate Rands books. But they did provide leadership and a start-up idea.

    The relationship between leader and worker is a symbiotic one. When one role becomes overly powerful, bad things happen. The Russian revolution, The French revolution, yeast infections…same thing in my book.

  46. Fifi says:

    ikregula, we’ll be really Godwining this thread if we start discussing Nietzsche’s influence on Hitler! Too bring it back on track, Hitler also used (pseudo)science to justify his philosophy – that doesn’t mean science is evil or is to blame for Hitler’s insanity, it just means it can be used as a tool by sociopaths.

    michele – “The relationship between leader and worker is a symbiotic one. When one role becomes overly powerful, bad things happen. The Russian revolution, The French revolution, yeast infections…same thing in my book.”

    Good point – we’re apes and like chimps we’re not so down with unfairness (to be entirely simplistic). It’s one reason blaming strategies are used so successfully – blame the Jews/commies/Gays, it’s their fault!

    And I agree, I love science but it’s a tool and a body of knowledge, not something I put faith in since it’s what humans do with science that determines whether the end results are destructive or constructive. It’s why we now have fields like medical ethics and rules about what medical science and doctors can and can’t do ethically.

  47. JMB says:

    “Why haven’t they destroyed the smallpox strains that are kept in storage? We’ve let lots of harmless species go extinct, why not this one?”

    When I was in the military, we had to get a smallpox vaccine, even if we had a previous vaccination. We were told that some foreign countries (didn’t specify who) were believed to have stored it for a biological weapon.

    “Perhaps if I had more faith in us, I would have more faith in science.”

    IMHO, you can have faith in religion, you can have faith in leadership, you can have faith that a treatment will help you since it is based on scientific study, but you cannot have faith in science. In science, you should only have skepticism and curiosity. The only faith that you should be asked to accept in SBM (which is not science), is that what has been observed in the past, will likely be observed in the present.

    You need only believe in a part of science when you repeatedly observe that part of science being correct. That belief is justified so long as you continue to observe the same results. Science should be belief in what you observe, not faith. There are questions that science cannot answer, faith can be applied to those questions.

    In a scientific argument, the better argument will lead to a better hypothesis or experiment, not to a change in policy or lifestyle. Scientific arguments are often obtuse to anybody who has not been involved in the study of a particular subject. There are many who take advantage of that obtuse nature, and use sounding sciency to sway opinion without having the data to back it up.

  48. weing says:


    It’s just my paranoia coming out. I believe in Murphy’s law. If I knew how to put an emoticon in, I would have. How do you guys do it anyway?

    I agree that it’s a symbiotic relationship between job creators and their employees. Call it mutual exploitation, if you want. In collectivist systems, it’s difficult to find job creators, as they tend to be eliminated. That’s why we have had most of the innovation coming from the US.

    Whoever mentioned Heller? I couldn’t stop reading Catch-22 when I first picked it up. I was pleased to find, after over 30 years, that my daughter found it just as hilarious in English.

  49. Fifi says:

    weing, actually there’s plenty of innovation that comes out of social democracies and all kinds of systems, American news just doesn’t really report about much outside American borders and tends to exaggerate American innovation. It’s part of the rahrah nature of the American Myth – we’re #1!!! we’re #1!!! Er, no, not anymore. The US is actually quite far behind in regards to some newer technologies (Asia is eons ahead of North America when it comes to digital innovation these days), and the reality is that the vast majority of large corporations that pay researchers and inventors tend to be multinationals.

    People don’t just innovate or get involved in medical science to make money, in fact not a single medical researcher I know personally was motivated to go into research by a desire to make money. It’s a rather sad indictment of US culture if you believe that the only thing that motivates and drives people in America is money. Most creative and inventive people I know do it first and foremost because they love inventing and creating – some will even turn down offers of more money and choose less money and more freedom to pursue their own interests. Not everyone is for sale or motivated by greed – even in the US. Online culture and open source software are very big examples of the reality that people are often motivated by things other than money, the internet wasn’t invented for commerce. The sad thing is that money seems to stand in for so many real desires or needs in the US – as if the really important things in life can be bought and sold.

    And I agree totally about Heller and Catch-22, brilliant book!

  50. Harriet Hall says:

    “Why haven’t they destroyed the smallpox strains”

    Hasn’t the genome of the smallpox virus been completely sequenced? Couldn’t we build it again from the instructions? If the military thinks it might be stored or rebuilt by an enemy and used as a weapon, couldn’t they justify keeping their own stock of the virus in one lab to speed their ability to respond if needed?

  51. JMB – “IMHO, you can have faith in religion, you can have faith in leadership, you can have faith that a treatment will help you since it is based on scientific study, but you cannot have faith in science.”

    Yes, good point JMB. When I made the statement I was thinking of Randi’s observation that most people don’t want to visit the future. If I was following his suggestion properly, he believes that science has produced so many good things that have improved our lives thus far, that we could reasonably assume that by supporting the scientific process we will continue to make progress as a species. (perhaps my interpretation is debatable).

    So my previous comment would have been more accurate had I said. Because human’s may use science for good or ill. I do not have faith that human kind’s effective use of science will mean positive progress for human kind. So it is more an issue of trust/distrust in human’s than science.

    Regarding smallpox – Yes, I heard an interview with David Hoffman who wrote the book “The Dead Hand” on the Soviet Cold War and the Arms race. He seemed to believe that there was a lot of evidence that the Soviets (at least) had a biological weapons program and experimented with smallpox. There is some speculation that a smallpox outbreak in Aralsk, Kazakhstan, 1971 was from the Soviet bio/warfare program, since the USSR tested alot of weapon technology in Kazakhstan. The concern is that many arms secrets and materials were not well secured when the USSR broke up and we are not even sure where all the technology ended up. – Que sera sera.

  52. FiFi – I agree with your point that often innovators are not motivated by money. An idea that comes to fruition, a well run successful business, fame, accolades, being able to produce something that give you satisfaction or improves the human condition, all motivators.

    But I also agree with you, Weing, that many (all?) communist nations have a rather intense history of eliminating innovators and job creators. Work camps, prison, re-education, redistribution of personal property or being made an outcast are rather compelling disincentives.

  53. weing – I’m not really sure how this will read, but my attempt at an emoticon key. Take out the space between the punctuation to show the face in the browser.

    : ) is :) ; ) is ;) : P is :P : ( is :(

    my problem is, I don’t know if there is an internationally recognized emoticon for irony – sarcasm. the happy face seems to cheery.

  54. BillyJoe says:


    “On another note, I’m having a hard time getting through the Randi video. I’m not familiar with him and I’m getting too heavy a science will fix everything vibe. “

    I suggest you ignore Randi on science, it is not his field of expertise.

    “Also, I wish he would tuck his shirt in. But, I think I’m just in a mood.”

    I can’t view the video until the 21st April because my server is choking me, but unless you can see belly-button fluff, I wouldn’t hold that against him.

    “Many people here certainly seem impressed with him. Maybe I’ll try again tomorrow.”

    His area of expertise is the debunking of paranormal claims. I would suggest you choose someone else on science topics.

  55. Bettong says:

    Loved his medical content, totally hated his GM content. What a shame he ended it with such a bizarre rant about GM.
    Why do skeptics fall over themselves to unconditionally back GM as a ‘defending science’ issue when in fact 90% of the debate about it focuses on the politics and economics of it? If GM is such an unconditionally awesome benevolent movement to save the 3rd world why were all the products initially rushed to market (over 10 years ago now) simply tacky moneyspinners like roundup ready soy which helped no-one except monsanto and the glyphosphate-resistant weeds they helped create? Yes, just like chicken farms overusing antibiotics breeds drug-resistant bacteria roundup ready GM products are breeding weeds resistant to one of the least environmentally harmful herbicides around. Exactly what is unscientific about being concerned about that?
    The new super-rice and its kin have been a long time coming and I can’t help think that they look more like belated PR exercises for the 1st world agri-biz block than huge advances for mankind. I’d love to be proved wrong on that one by the way…
    3rd world agriculture would benefit far more from money going into mundane things like irrigation efficiency, erosion control and produce refrigeration. Until these things are in place GM crops will just be another over-engineered expensive import for 3rd world farmers. As for the GM developments which would be of genuine use to everyone everywhere- salt and drought resistance- don’t hold your breath.

  56. :) no belly button fluff, only a un-tucked shirt with a suit coat. I do believe in “you can’t tell a book by it’s cover” critical listening, but some days overcoming the fashion statements takes more mental energy that I feel like expending.

    Regardless I’m not a huge fan of videos. Since I do a lot of skimming til I find an interesting bit, videos insistence on going their own speed gets on my nerves.

    Not that this should be a deciding factor in posting a video, but there are also problems with audience limitations to consider. Viewer bandwidth, but also folks with hearing or vision impairment could have less access to video content. Although, I think youtube does have CC for those who want to edit it in.

    But a lot of folks do love video, so that’s a positive for them (the videos).

  57. weing says:

    “weing, actually there’s plenty of innovation that comes out of social democracies and all kinds of systems, American news just doesn’t really report about much outside American borders and tends to exaggerate American innovation.”

    I agree. I consider it tinkering. I think we all have this tendency to tinker. Just like Steve Wozniak tinkered when he developed the first apple pc. It’s what happens after you’ve tinkered and come up with something that counts. They were able to set up a company and produce their product. That is what led to jobs, improved efficiency, and further tinkering. I did not see that happening in collectivist systems. Yes, setting up a company is risky, but if it succeeds, it’s very profitable. I have nothing against profit.

    I am well aware that the internet was developed by DARPA. It wouldn’t progress beyond use by universities and the armed services unless companies seeking profit were set up.

    That other countries are getting ahead of the US in innovation is worrisome to me and should be to the US. We are losing our edge. Why is that happening?
    I think, ideology plays a role here. Blocking stem cell research is just one example that comes to mind. Are we making it more difficult for new products and procedures to go from just tinkering to use?

  58. Fifi says:

    In China they could also set up a company – it appears that capitalism can coexist besides communism in the real world. Not that I don’t personally think that this whole communism vs capitalism thing is rubbish and just repetition of the lingering cold war propaganda (and a rather hokey means to distract and manipulate the public via fear, and to blame the Other as a means to avoid responsibility). I find it funny that people are so hung up on arguing about the past that they’re not even really looking around and seeing the current state of the world and human affairs…it’s not the 1950s anymore! We’re transitioning beyond the industrial revolution and into the information/digital age – which is one reason that the old systems are being exposed, and are changing or trying to prevent change. The cultural and economic shifts of the industrial revolution gave rise to a very different society, the same is happening today.

    The internet, which is driving much of this change in social and economic terms, wouldn’t exist if people were only motivated by making money. (The industries freaking out the most are the ones used to having monopolies.) The invention of the internet itself is a collaboration, as is it’s ongoing development. Curiosity, the desire to see if something is possible, simply taking the next logical step in applying what we know, all are factors in innovation and it’s not necessary for there to be commercial applications for people to invent things. A large part of the reason the internet exists is the desire of academics to share information (as the internet proves over and over again, lots of people actually enjoy sharing for the sake of sharing). This is especially true for science, which is all about sharing information and collective knowledge. If anything, our society is in a crisis over ownership – we’re quickly running out of land to steal from the people who live on and off it so we can suck the materials out of the land for short-term gain. We’re on the brink of oil/energy scarcity – an issue that doesn’t get addressed because scarcity is highly profitable for corporations. (And those corporations are quite willing to screw with science and promote pseudoscience – and manipulate governments – to keep the money flowing and their control over energy sources.)

    It really isn’t about communism vs capitalism at this point – it’s about reality. The reality is that we share this planet – what happens on one side of the world influences all kinds of things on the other side. We ARE a collective whether you like it or not, the question is whether we’re a social or an antisocial one. Do we create a healthy collective or a pathological one? Do we use the new inventions to increase democracy and personal freedom or do we use them to create police states and reduce personal freedom?

    I do find it interesting that you keep using Apple as an example because it’s actually a corporation that goes out of its way to try to limit personal freedom in various arenas and uses its size to stifle competition.

  59. Fifi says:

    weing – It seems like a bit of a bias to call any invention that isn’t made for profit “tinkering”. Do you consider medical researchers doing public science mere tinkerers?

    Also, it was Berners-Lee and Cailliau at CERN who invented the WWW (which is distinct from the internet though we tend to use them interchangeably).

    An interview with Berners-Lee:
    Q: What did you have in mind when you first developed the Web?

    From A Short Personal History of the Web:

    A: The dream behind the Web is of a common information space in which we communicate by sharing information. Its universality is essential: the fact that a hypertext link can point to anything, be it personal, local or global, be it draft or highly polished. There was a second part of the dream, too, dependent on the Web being so generally used that it became a realistic mirror (or in fact the primary embodiment) of the ways in which we work and play and socialize. That was that once the state of our interactions was on line, we could then use computers to help us analyze it, make sense of what we are doing, where we individually fit in, and how we can better work together.

    Q: Do you have had mixed emotions about “cashing in” on the Web?

    A: Not really. It was simply that had the technology been proprietary, and in my total control, it would probably not have taken off. The decision to make the Web an open system was necessary for it to be universal. You can’t propose that something be a universal space and at the same time keep control of it.

    Q: What do you think of the commercial turf wars going on the Web?

    A: There has always been a huge competition to come out with the best Web technology. This has followed from the fact that the standards, being open, allow anyone to experiment with new extensions. This produces the threat of fragmentation into many Webs, and that threat brings the companies to the W3C to agree about how to go forward together. It is the tension of this competition and the need for standards which drives W3C forward at such a speed.

    It’s worth noting that the competition to create the best Web technology isn’t only driven by commercial competition but just generally by competition – and that he points out that it’s the tension created by the need for standards (human needs) and competition that is driving innovation (not just greed!).

    weing, has it ever occurred to you that capitalism and capitalist competition can actually sometimes get in the way of innovation and stifle competition? Corporations routinely stifle competition by using their political clout or by buying up and killing their competition. Also, corporations that take gvt handouts but pay no or little taxes, are another example of the few living off the work of the many. (And, yes, Randian fantasies about pure capitalism are not less fantasies than fantasies about pure communism – dealing with reality means putting those fantasies aside and dealing with reality and not nationalist myths or how the world used to be. Nostalgic fantasies about empire are no less unrealistic at this point than fantasies about returning to live like hunter/gatherers.)

  60. weing says:

    I think the Chinese learned their lesson and have faced reality, as you would say it, and have allowed the formation of companies. I just wonder if the US is facing “unreality” and stifling innovation.

    The reason, I mentioned Apple, is that its beginnings readily come to mind. I recall that HP had the right to any patents that Wozniak produced and they waved it because of the lack of vision to see the desire for a personal computer by the general population. This from a profit motivated company too. A government with a huge bureaucracy would have much less vision, in my opinion. If the governments end up deciding what’s worthy of funding, then our only hope for progress is from start ups. Hope they don’t get stifled. Apple hasn’t really limited my personal freedom but I am not its competition. I am sure they try to stifle competition, it is only natural and to be expected. This is where governments need to come in and stop them from doing that. Again, that is just my opinion. FWIW.

  61. “The internet, which is driving much of this change in social and economic terms, wouldn’t exist if people were only motivated by making money. (The industries freaking out the most are the ones used to having monopolies.)”

    One industry that seems to be freaking out the most is the News media. While I abhor the large monopolies that have taken over the news in recent years, I still feel concerned that no one has yet figured out how to produce excellent quality news which support international reporting with the internet income models available. I believe this is one reason that the news media has becoming increasingly reliant on opinion (cheap) and poor quality reporting.

    Good quality, educated, ethical journalists need to be paid as do the administrators, techniques, etc that support them. I do not look forward to a future of man on the street blog reporting. What is the answer, a pay to read model that benefits sensationalism? government funding with potential media bias? Public fund-raising (NPR style)?

    The internet, definitely a blessing and a curse.

  62. Oh Dear, I don’t even have time with China and the Free Market. :)
    seven issues, Fuel Consumption, Environmentalism, Copyright Protection, Human rights, Consumer Rights, Corruption.

  63. Dacks says:

    I agree. Skeptics on the libertarian side of things tend to accept the claims of the GM producers at face value, and spend very little effort to understand the real arguments that are being made about GMOs, which, as you say, tend to involve economics and political influence. I have been trying to find some forums where this topic is discussed rationally, and I know there are few sciblogs that handle it, but the authors often seem to be talking past one another.

    Guess it just shows how someone – Specter, Randi, for example – can be truly insightful in one area, and yet dogmatically stubborn in other areas.

  64. Happy Camper says:


    As a libertarian and a skeptic I tend to be a bit ambivalent about GM crops. On one hand GM shows great promise to grow food crops in arid regions of the world and help curtail hunger. On the other hand I do have some problems with some of the companies having exclusive control of those crops. In addition if a particular strain of a food crop becomes the norm then there is a very real danger of another “potato famine” event happening. I have other concerns but I believe that many of the concerns in the anti GM side of debate are a bit overblown. Do I buy all the arguments on the pro side? No.
    I do believe we have digressed from the original topic.

  65. Harriet Hall says:


    Randi may be many things, but he is definitely not “dogmatically stubborn.” He is willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads. He doesn’t have a dogmatic bone in his body.

  66. Zoe237 says:


    I agree. Skeptics on the libertarian side of things tend to accept the claims of the GM producers at face value, and spend very little effort to understand the real arguments that are being made about GMOs, which, as you say, tend to involve economics and political influence. I have been trying to find some forums where this topic is discussed rationally, and I know there are few sciblogs that handle it, but the authors often seem to be talking past one another.

    Guess it just shows how someone – Specter, Randi, for example – can be truly insightful in one area, and yet dogmatically stubborn in other areas.”

    Amen! Confirmation bias is so incredibly powerful- nobody is immune. It’d be nice if science were objective, and ideally it is, but, for example, the facts that get emphasized over others, or the observations made, or the confounders thought up… it’s all so sticky. Medicine is even harder since it’s an applied science. One thing that squirrelelite brought up was that science offers better approximations of the truth, but not a single objective truth (at least, not yet). E.G. even Einstein’s relativity is recognized as incomplete. And one of my pet peeves is the phrase “well, it’s just a theory.” People just don’t understand the nature of science at all.

    Fifi brought up oil companies, corporations, and energy. I’d be very interested in a link/article on the effect competition and capitalism have on the pursuit of science. I’m guessing that it’s a mixed bag, but I don’t recall ever reading anything about it.

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