NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

When Advocacy Disrupts Science

January 15, 1999

Two new books warn that political, ideological and religious zealots are undermining legitimate scientific inquiry. They are "The New Know-Nothings" by State University of New York professor Morton Hunt and "Silencing Science" by Cato Institute scholar Steven Milloy.

Here are a few of their observations:

  • The idea that a group has a moral right to disrupt and halt research its members disapprove of or find offensive has diffused throughout our society," Hunt writes.
  • Hunt contends that while they have a right to their beliefs, "they do not have a right to force scientists to abstain from seeking knowledge that may challenge those beliefs."
  • Milloy observes that having a legitimate scientific debate is great, but "having a political agenda is wrong."
  • Citing the activities of the Animal Liberation Front in blowing up laboratories, Milloy says "that's not scientific debate."

Here are some other examples cited:

  • After researchers at the famed Mayo Clinic concluded there is no link between silicone breast implants and connective tissue disorder in women, lawyers for the women succeeded in shutting down all epidemiological research at the clinic.
  • Protesters told University of Western Ontario professor J. Philippe Rushton "you won't be living much longer" when he tried to explain his theory that differing brain sizes differentiate the races -- then threatened to put his picture on a "Wanted Dead or Alive" poster.
  • Members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals dressed up as bloody cats to protest research on birth defects sponsored by the March of Dimes.

Observers speculate that opposition to science probably far pre- dates the Roman Catholic church's opposition to the astronomer Galileo -- who dared to say that the Earth revolved around the Sun. Only in 1992 -- 350 years later -- did the church finally admit that he was probably right.

Source: Ruth Larson, "Scientists Increasingly Find Themselves on the Defensive," Washington Times, January 15, 1999.


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