Richard Dawkins on Radio Four, talking Nonscience with other such experts.
I had to catch up on this a day later as I’d missed the live show. So I’d been given a first impression by one who did listen and was told it was “OK and not very controversial”.
It depends how you measure it but I’d say my informant was wrong. To me, the broadcast simply once more showed evidence that the scientific hierarchy is in an advanced state of entrenchment. This saddens me as, at university, Richard Dawkins radical anti-establishment views had appealed to my reformist attitudes. “This is how to approach science” I’d thought, “with an open and inquiring mind. Together, we’ll drive forward the boundaries of understanding”.
The programme was the standard BBC fodder of a number of interviews strung together with apparent live chat between host and “special guest”. When Dawkins is host and Ben Goldacre the SG my more recent experience suggested to me that I could have issues with their approach and I’ll admit to having been more than a touch wary!
I took no notes and so for full review I’ll have to “listen again” again – this is just the intro. Oh how hard I work in my bid to overturn the established status quo! On first listening, though, it was the deep, ingrained, effortless arrogance which stood out. “I’m a scientist – trust me”. Translation: “We feel equipped to mock anyone who does not agree with our positions because we are scientists and they clearly cannot be”.
[There is a sub-plot here as there’s also a clear reference to the medics’ “Trust me, I’m a doctor”, with one of their indicator topics being vaccination. So much background psychology going on, eh?]
Anyway, they started by grouping people who purportedly go by the Terry Pratchett FlatEarth/Discworld idea with others who describe the vaccination industry as a rogue trade, selling a pack of lies. Of course, Pratchett wrote his books as farcical p*sstakes of our world and never once suggested that he believed our planet to be an interstellar pancake. It was a useful mechanism to poke fun at, for example,bankers or government administrators or any experts or tradesfolk.
Nowadays, there are reputedly to be found individuals who are so taken by the flatearth idea that they have clubs and internet sites to discuss the details. They boast having branches “all round the World”. Good, harmless fun, but remind them not to sail too close to the edge……. No, their ideas are not supported by a shred of evidence – no giant turtles have been demonstrated supporting our planet.
Me, as a scientist, a true scientist, I would actually group these flatearthers with those who DO believe in vaccines because the very idea is as far fetched and, frankly, as farcical! I mean, really, when did Jenner’s mad notion that filling an open wound with pus drawn from a cow’s pox spots become other than what it says on the tin – “This process is insane”!
And I went back again and this time I took notes on their pronouncements and ponderings. This analysis provided a list of these scientists’ examples, used to illustrate their “case”:
- US President Trump and the climate change deniers.
- The flatearthers, discussed above.
- MMR and general vaccine refuseniks/”antivaxx” groups.
- Lunar landing deniers – saying it was all filmed in the Arizona desert.
- Families, in Flint, Michigan, USA, poisoned by lead in their water supply.
- Kids who, coming from their faith base, believe in creationism, not evolution.
In truth, on this trip through the programme, I actually had more time for Goldacre – he voiced some common sense. He even suggested Dawkins sometimes went too far in his anti-Godism tirades and I heard bristles on Richard’s back twitch! Ben says he uses “all media and won’t dumb down”. He suggests TV programmes should say “this new idea has evidence in favour of it but also evidence questioning its validity”. That “it’s reasonable to question all published theories”. He talked of the problems arising and the mistrust engendered when the results of clinical trials of medication are routinely left unpublished or only selectively released.
Yet he STILL thinks vaccination is beyond suspicion? He still portrays Andy Wakefield as the Devil incarnate and pronounces anti-vaxxers as heretics and an anti-scientific mob. Practice what you preach, Ben, practice what you preach. Question your assumptions and give credence to the countless, clear accounts of vaccination precipitating collateral damage in their recipients. A cot death is NOT “an anecdote” – it is evidence. Read about the late Sally Clarke. Allergies, eczema, SSPE, autism, childhood diabetes – the list of vaccine associated physiological damage is long, much longer than I’ve just cited.
He and Dawkins talked of statistics and the worry that a young-mum-to-be develops when she hears of or even meets a baby/infant whose mum says was damaged by its vaccination.
“She should look at the statistics” Dawkins cries “and not just be swayed by anecdotes”. Leaving aside the fact that ALL SCIENCE is constructed from collecting observations – ie “anecdotes” – I have to ask “Have you looked at vaccine statistics, Richard?” Show me any which carry rational merit. No, you cannot, as there are none. There are indeed many studies published but they all look at skewed populations, use specious comparison methods or do not follow the populations correctly over time.
Looking at the impact of the MMR vaccine over large European populations they followed children who’d had all childhood jabs except the MMR and compared them with those who had simply “had all their jabs”, so including the MMR. There was no difference in rates measured of autism in the two groups. They concluded “The MMR does not cause autism”. However, both groups showed, over around twenty five years, a steady increase in levels of autism.
Yes, rises in autism prevalence correlate very well with the increased total number of jabs administered to European kids during this period – all jabs, of course, not just the MMR. Clearly, though, as generally a later vaccine, MMR is often the final precipitator of a profound autistic regression. Therein lies the confusion in analysing these statistics.
[I have no space here to delve further into the whys and wherefores of these impacts – they are covered, along with a whole lot more in my two books “Vaccinology – voodoo science” and “Vaccine Voodoo, books 2&3”, both on Amazon.]
No, I’m not a climate change denier and I understand that it is now extensively driven by anthropogenic forces. I have planted many thousands of sapling trees in deciduous woodlands to help combat the problem. I do, of course, concur with suggestions that, were modern man not creating so much havoc, the planet may well have been tumbling back towards a glacial maximum at this point – yes, the next Ice Age has probably been postponed indefinitely, as Prof Bill Ruddiman suggests!
And I excitedly watched Neil Armstrong take his “one small step” as a wee young t’ing. Looked good to me! I mean, yes I see there was a “Space Race” but don’t you think the Soviets would have cried foul if a spaceship had not even left the earth’s surface?
My credentials as a Neo-Darwinist, allied to the late Steven Jay Gould, are unchallengeable. Darwin himself was an amazingly good chronicler and indeed he left so much more than just a description of the process of evolution of species. I lived close to a huge pile of boulders above Rhosgadfan in Gwynedd, near the North Wales coast, named “The Darwin Stones” as it was he who, 160 years earlier, on examining them, concluded they had been transported to the site from the West Coast of Scotland by the glacial ice sheets.
Erin Brochovitch type tales always have me sympathetic to those harmed by such events and this lead poisoning was another such history. I’m glad these campaigners were able to break through the institutionalised, state authority suppression of their case, to obtain justice as the truth was finally exposed and it was good to hear Prof Marc Edwards, the American academic on the programme, had been part of their support.
So why, oh why, oh why, cannot Dawkins and Goldacre see that the anti-vaccination campaigners have an equally strong case? Marc Edwards would, I think, have agreed with me on this, but they did not ask him the question.
In an attempt to clean up the image of science these two science-media-celebrities just dumb it down further and demonstrate what an arbitrary, cash chasing and prostituted institution it really is.
PS– There was also a section in which RD interviewed a female academic on peer review. They noted criticisms of like spawning like as peer reviewers only recognise what they already know and understand. They don’t approve of rule breakers who look at matters in a different manner, so closing off science to either innovation or critique of their foundational philosophies. However, the bulk of her critique was that women are selected against by peer reviewers, who tend to be establishment, white and middle or older aged males. Like she really thinks that women arriving in these situations will change the system? No way would that happen – as another guest – yes, male! – pointed out!
No, the system needs wholesale restructuring, away from deep dependence on industry sponsorship and through the top heavy structures of professional institutions. Methinks such a purge, intensely overdue, may depend on certain bodies of truth being allowed to take centre stage and be celebrated as the truth that has been suppressed for far too long.
Much as the lead poisoning story detailed here only FAR, FAR more significant!
Cast list, nicked from another blog…..
Richard Dawkins considers what scientists are doing right and what they’re doing wrong, concentrating on the process of science, communication, education, and policy with experts in their field. These include Bad Science author and academic Ben Goldacre, physicists Dr Jess Wade and Prof Jim Al-Khalili, science policy fellow and podcast presenter Dr Maryam Zaringhalam, Virginia Tech’s Marc Edwards, who exposed the Flint water crisis, Norman Lamb, MP, chair of the HoC science and technology select committee, education consultant Tom Sherrington, head teacher Alan Grey and director of the Science Media Centre, Fiona Fox.