On Twitter recently, someone asked the question "Why do people doubt science?" Accompanying the tweet was a link to an article in National Geographic that implied people who are suspicious of vaccines, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), climate change, fluoridated water and various other phenomena are confused, adhere to conspiracy theories, are motivated by ideology or are misinformed as a result of access to the 'University of Google.' … Who tweeted the question and posted the link? None other than Robert T Fraley, Monsanto's Vice President and Chief Technology Officer. – CounterPunch
Dominant Social Theme: A plague of scientific doubts is upsetting the proverbial applecart. Monsanto's feelings are hurt.
Free-Market Analysis: We've noticed an uptick in this meme over time. In various feedbacks, we've noted commentators being questioned regarding their educational background.
For instance, someone may make a comment on the 'Net regarding the lack of believability of global warming. A retort may feature the commentator's lack of formal educational background, the implication being that if he or she doesn't have a PhD in the field, then the opinion is uninformed.
Likewise, as we have noted in the past, the current status quo emphasizes "experts" and "expertise." In part this is because the foundational meme of modern society is based on central banking – and central bankers are presented as having the expertise to predict the future.
If people generally came to doubt the ability of central bankers to peer into the future in order to generate accurate monetary prices, then central banking itself would become a doubtful proposition. The same thing holds true in other fields.
Science – faith in science – was supposed to justify the modern technocratic society. It is in fact an ancient manipulation. The meme of the "expert" is that of the technocrat – a model of social manipulation that dates back at least to Socrates and his theory that "philosopher kings" ought to run the world.
This approach resonated with Marion King Hubbert, a Shell geoscientist who developed the "peak oil" theory. Hubbert was also involved with a movement of his day (in the 1930s) called technocracy. It was his belief that the world ought to be run politically by those who were "expert" in their fields.
Of course, today Hubbert's prognostications as to when the world would start to run out of oil lie in tatters. There is plenty of oil and natural gas around and more seemingly coming online every day.
Hubbert's technocratic vision relied on the kind of expertise that would allow someone like him to peer into the future to make accurate predictions. Central bankers present themselves as good gray men (mostly) for the same reason. Theirs is the dullness of expertise. Their colorlessness is matched only by their perspicacity.
So it is with Monsanto as well. There is plenty of "science" explaining that Monsanto's GMO concoctions are credible; the food is harmless; the technology is "cutting edge."
People don't believe it. Throughout the 20th century, the cult of "science" as promulgated in the corporate world and sanctified by government regulators swept away all objections. But in the 21st century many memes once unquestioned are now looked on with considerable doubt.
But the answer to the question "Why do people doubt science" is not because they have read Kuhn, Feyerabend or some sociology journal. Neither is it because a bunch of 'irrational' activists have scared them witless about GM crops or some other issue. It is because they can see how science is used, corrupted and manipulated by powerful corporations to serve their own ends. It is because they regard these large corporations as largely unaccountable and their activities and products not properly regulated by governments.
That's why so many doubt science – or more precisely the science corporations fund and promote to support their interests.
US sociologist Robert Merton highlighted the underlying norms of science as involving research that is not warped by vested interests, adheres to the common ownership of scientific discoveries (intellectual property) to promote collective collaboration and subjects findings to organised, rigorous critical scrutiny within the scientific community. The concept of originality was added by later writers in order to fully encapsulate the ethos of science: scientific claims must contribute something new to existing discourse. Based on this brief analysis, secrecy, dogma and vested interest have no place.
The article explains that "secrecy, dogma and vested interests" are exactly what many people perceive as having an exceptionally negative impact on science. "People's faith in science is being shaken on many levels, not least because big corporations have secured access to policy makers and governments and are increasingly funding research and setting research agendas."
Of course, this is the leftist CounterPunch, so the rhetorical analysis is bound to focus more on the private sector rather than government. In fact, it is an unholy alliance of the two that has provoked people's skepticism in the 21st century.
There is too much information available these days. A cursory investigation of the Internet allows people to see a variety of viewpoints – and often the "scientific" one is found lacking. Global warming is said to be scientific but people continue to doubt it. Vaccines are said to be scientifically necessary to "herd immunity" but people's faith in vaccines is reportedly diminishing as well.
There are plenty of people these days who don't believe in the conclusions that "science" provides to them. Modern science is too-often placed in the employment of centralization and the corporate and military-industrial complex. Scientific conclusions are massaged to support an elite agenda.
Monsanto execs were apparently confident that if the "science was right" consumer sentiment would trend their way. What Monsanto execs probably didn't appreciate was that consumers have become rightly suspicious of "science" that endorses bigness and rips the cultural fabric to pieces. More and more it seems to provide a kind of justification for authoritarianism.
People don't believe in this kind of science, nor do they believe in the academic system and university degrees that produce it. Over time this skepticism must deepen and lead to further sociopolitical and economic dysfunction.
The trend is inevitable unless science ceases to be harnessed by elite agents for cynical purposes. Monsanto execs may wonder where the faith in science has gone. First they ought to look in the mirror.