It must be a syndrome

Climate studies have been the topic near the top of the list but that issue is only one of several plagued by a common set of symptoms. Gary Taubes describes another in his book Good Calories, Bad Calories (2007 Knopf).

The institutionalized vigilance, “this unending exchange of critical judgment,” is nowhere to be found in the study of nutrition, chronic disease, and obesity, and it hasn’t been for decades. For this reason, it is difficult to use the term scientists to describe those individuals who work in these disciplines, and, indeed, I have actively avoided doing so in this book. It’s simply debatable, at best, whether what these individuals have practiced for the past fifty years, and whether the culture they have created, as a result, can be reasonably be described as science, as most working scientists or philosophers of science would typically characterize it. Individuals in these disciplines think of themselves as scientists; they use the terminology of science in their work, and they certainly borrow the authority of science to communicate their beliefs to the general public, but ”the results of their enterprise,” as Thomas Kuhn, author of the Structure of Scientific Revolutions, might have put it, ”do not add up to science as we know it.”

Though the reasons for this situation are understandable, they offer scant grounds for optimism. Individuals who pursue research in this confluence of nutrition, obesity, and chronic disease are typically motivated by the desire to conserve our health and prevent disease. This is an admirable goal, and it undeniably requires reliable knowledge to achieve, but it cannot be accomplished by allowing the goal to compromise the means, and this is what has happened. (P 451)

There are many common symptoms for this syndrome. Here are a few.

  1. A complex technical topic with many facets that can influence the health and welfare of society
  2. A ‘cabal’ of highly motivated individuals with strong extrinsic values that appear altruistic and not so obvious intrinsic motivations who join like minded colleagues in efforts to control the agenda. This requires an esoteric topic where the top standing in the field is occupied by a rather small population.
  3. Simplistic theories that tend to ignore many variables and don’t explain gross observations
  4. A disdain for heretics and skeptics that goes well beyond civility
  5. An emotional basis that paints Western Culture as a source of guilt for greed, envy, excess, or evil
  6. A penchant for forecasting disaster that is oblivious to historical trends and events

The syndrome demonstrates how a small coterie of dedicated individuals with strong shared commitments that appear to have important altruistic implications can drive a social paradigm that is self reinforcing to the point of the end justifying the means and the abandonment of intellectual integrity.

Comments are closed.