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Thursday, November 12, 2020

Science dies in an age of censorship

The latest editorial in Science looks more like a Maoist forced confession than a political statement

P olitics is on everyone's front burner this month. Everyone's worried about what the next president, whoever he is, will do. Will he declare war on Brazil, disband the US military, or both? Will he raise the capital gains tax and thereby crash the stock market and send all the retirees out into the streets? Who knows?

Politicians aren't decapitating each other or slamming iron masks on each other anymore, but they are still a problem. The problem for us is that the issues change so rapidly that much of the time what people are saying makes no sense. So I almost fell off my chair when I saw this in Science magazine:

“Racism, climate denial, and coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) are the major crises standing in the way of a prosperous future for the United States, and resolution of all three could be enabled by science that is persistently ignored.”

Nature has gone to the dogs, editorially speaking, but this is just . . . strange. Calling people “Climate denialists,” by which the writer presumably means people who are skeptical about those doom-prophesy­ing climate models, is sooo 1990s. Racism exists mainly in the fevered imaginations of news reporters, and even there it's questionable: most of what we're being fed is expressly designed to create fear and consternation. Truth is nowhere to be found in the press, and if science follows along it too will lose its grasp of reality. The writer continues:

“Will people of color in the United States have to endure yet more violence from white supremacists before the next inflection toward racial justice?”

Has anyone ever actually seen one of these white supremacist bogeypersons? Just because CNN claims they're everywhere doesn't mean it's true. More to the point, resolution of these three political issues, even assuming they're real, is not going to be enabled by any science. It is not the job of science to fight phony political battles for the political elites.

We can't even be sure he's serious. This editorial does everything but call us capitalist running dogs.

In an era when Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post can openly threaten Republicans by saying “We have a list,” it's impossible to believe anything anyone says. The majority of humans value their financial survival more highly than their ability to speak the truth. When speaking your opinion gets you fired and your name on a ‘list’, some people will inevitably cave.

As happened in the Soviet Union and in Mao's China, such professions of adherence to the oppressors' dogma sound stilted and predictable. They're full of slogans and outdated accusations that make little logical sense. The tortured writing is the writer's version of the POW who blinks his eyes in Morse code to let us know he's been tortured and his confession is being coerced.

In fact, it doesn't matter whether that guy was sincere or not: the mere existence of this editorial, and hundreds more like it in scientific magazines, means they are now just another part of the news media. Anyway, I've got bigger problems: my router just crapped out and I'm getting weird messages in my log file. Those are making even less sense than Science—but only just.

Science editors, we got your message. Just give us a sign: arrange your commas and hyphens in Morse code. Or put a steganographic message in your photo. We'll send a squad of postdocs to rescue you.

nov 12 2020, 6:59 am. revised version

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