Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Scientific knowledge is mostly 'hidden in plain sight' - or worse

A couple of years ago I published an editorial which, amongst other things, noted that the history of IQ research showed how the subject had been 'hidden in plain sight' since about the mid-1960s -

http://medicalhypotheses.blogspot.com/2008/09/pioneering-studies-of-iq.html

I said: "It seems that even in modern times, and in a liberal democratic society such as the UK where information is freely and easily accessible, scientific knowledge can apparently be ‘disappeared’ when it comes into conflict with the dominant socio-political agenda: can become, as it were, ‘hidden in plain sight’."

My conclusion was:

"Since this area of science [IQ research] has so been comprehensively ‘disappeared’ from public consciousness in the face of socio-political pressure, it seems probable that other similarly solid and vital domains of scientific knowledge may also be hidden in plain sight."

***

Taking on board this lesson has been a slow process for me. But the implications of what I know happened to IQ cuts at the very root of the pretentions of liberal democracy.

It really is inconceivable that IQ is an unique exception; rather I would now regard the IQ story as typical of the relation between 'science' and general, public knowledge and public policy.

The IQ story shows that no amount of relevant evidence is ever going to be enough to change people's minds when they do not want their minds to be changed; and this resistance to evidence is the case for even some of the wisest and most intelligent of people - given that some very decent and smart people are able to write-off reams of IQ research without a blink, and believe what they want instead.

The IQ story is doubly important since the IQ literature largely conforms with traditional wisdom, common observation and spontaneous belief. So it ought to be pushing at an open door.

Yet it looks very much as if since at least the mid-1960s our society's much vaunted scientific basis has been a sham. In other words, the more modern, rational and scientific we believed ourselves to be in The West - the less true this really was.

***

'Influential' science, science that is linked to policy and supposedly drives policy (e.g. 'climate science', or 'evidence based medicine'}, is now - and long has been - constructed by policy: the tail of politics is wagging the dog of science.

Yet even influential science is only apparently influential, since it is wholly driven by policy needs, and if one person does not do it then another will - or it will be conjured up from pre-existing material, or something or somewhere... The climate science story demonstrates that it is now facile to construct a truly vast and all-pervasive yet utterly fake-science from dullards, errors, lies and rumors to rationalize political demands.

***

Influential scientists are servants, albeit well paid servants, they are not masters. This can be seen by the fact that they write and speak only what is acceptable to their masters (or else they stop being influential). The mismatch between what everybody knows and what can be published or even mentioned get larger with each passing year.

Real science, truth seeking science, where it exists, has been since about 1965 (probably earlier) a free-spinning cog, a group hobby - albeit perhaps a well-funded hobby - when it conflicts with the needs of policy.

Just think – whole research units, dotted round the world, headed-up by professors and assisted by armies of technicians, well-funded, publishing and discussing stuff that solid knowledge, is disseminated in the media – yet utterly ineffectual, beyond the pale of policy.

There but not there. Whole lives of delusion. Occupational therapy for intellectuals.

We are living in an age where politics controls science just as much as it did in the remote ‘medieval’ past. The autonomy of science - such as it is - is a sham, in the sense that autonomy comes at the price of disarticulation from the rest of life.

If the IQ story is typical rather than exceptional, does this imply that the scientific discourse and literature is basically worthless, a fraud in its relation to human belief and behaviour? It does begin to look that way, as a generalization.

But that seems too much even to bear contemplating.