When Science is Wrong

snake oil

Found at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie

“Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen. My name is Dr. Eric Sandersen, Director of Climate Studies at the American Foundation of Science Awareness. My studies of climatic changes due to atmospheric pollutants based on a half-century of data compiled by my department have shown conclusively that the Earth is headed toward an imminent and catastrophic ice age.”

Both the audience of scientists at the 1965 Conference of Climate Scientists and the much wider body of people watching on their television sets around the country started murmuring.

“I know this is a difficult piece of knowledge to take in, but the survival of our civilization is at stake.”

The crowd seated in the auditorium became louder and there were small outbreaks of arguing among some of the delegates.

“Geological and astronomical studies from 1923 and 1926 respectively have shown that a new ice age has been rapidly approaching. Both northern and southern glaciers are advancing, and the overall mean temperature globally has been subtly but steadily decreasing. Since the early 1950s, this temperature change has accelerated, mainly due to pollutants released into the atmosphere during nuclear weapons testing.”

An atomic scientist from the Soviet Union got into a shoving match with one of his counterparts from France and ushers had to separate them.

“I urge you all to remain calm. While my findings point to a dire conclusion, there is a solution to all of this. We must immediately cease all above-ground nuclear testing. I have written a report urging both the President of the United States and the Chairman of the Soviet Union to negotiate an agreement to begin reducing their nuclear arms arsenals.”

Approximately 20% of the television audience got off of their easy chairs and sofas, walked over to their TV sets, and either turned them off or changed the channel. Ten delegates in the auditorium stood and walked out producing the same effect.

“Further, we must cease the use of any and all aerosol products and begin diminishing our dependence on all technologies that release carbon dioxide and other pollutants into our atmosphere.”

Several members of the audience began yelling obscenities at Dr. Sandersen.

“Please, I beg you to hear me out.”

“You’ll ruin the economy,” shouted someone.

“The government will never fund your research again,” cried someone else.

“My conclusions have been verified as well as my proposed solutions. This is science and it cannot be argued with. I can save the Earth and reverse the cooling trend within the next twenty years, but we must take action now.”

At that point, a near-riot broke out among the hundreds personally listening to the climate scientist and security guards had to escort him offstage and out of the building through a back exit for his own safety.

As Sandersen was being driven back to his hotel and considering getting an earlier flight back home, he made a mental note to ask the Alliance for Ending Nuclear Arms and the Clean and Green Energy Foundation to increase his research grants so he could present a more convincing argument. If both the scientific community and the general public wouldn’t buy global cooling, how about a different approach … something like global warming?

I wrote this for the Making Sense of Nonsense – Adder’s Milk writing challenge hosted at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie. The idea is to use the concept of Snake Oil, which according to my source:

…was the term used to describe any product that promised to cure any disease. Often salesmen would have a stooge in the audience to come forward at the end of the salesman’s presentation claiming to be cured of whatever disease they claimed they had.

A good salesman could convince you to buy their product and always made sure to be well out of town within days of selling their product.

…and use it as the basis for writing a poem, short story, or other creative work.

Believe it or not, Global Cooling used to be a thing. I remember hearing about it in the 1970s, although according to the Wikipedia article, the idea went back decades before that. The article also said not much scientific credence was given to the theory, but as I recall, it was all over the news media at the time. The write-up further states that even back then and previously, scientists were much more concerned about global warming, though I can’t recall hearing about it much over a decade or so ago.

No, I’m not a Luddite or anti-science, but when I saw today’s prompt, I was reminded that science or rather scientists (who after all are human beings) aren’t above fudging their conclusions for a variety of reasons, not the least of which are to preserve their reputations based on past claims and to garner future government research grants.

There are any number of articles about why some people don’t trust all scientific pronouncements, or how they don’t believe everything they read or hear.

The pundits present a wide variety of information about how this could be, but what they generally leave out is how scientists are not immune to all sorts of scandals including peer review fraud.

Of course, there are times scientific conclusions are later proven wrong, sometimes to the point of requiring that we rewrite our textbooks.

At its core, science is really just a standardized method of observation of testing, not the Holy Grail, and scientists are just people who have (supposedly) been trained in this method relative to a specific field of study.

But as I suggested in my wee fictional tale, science requires money just like anything else, and human beings could possibly be less than completely factual and honest if they thought it was going to result in a loss of funding, assuming their conclusions suggested something unpopular politically or socially. I even wrote a story a couple of years ago using that theme.

Generally, I’ve loved science and technology ever since I was a child, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that you can’t automatically trust and believe someone just because they say “I’m a scientist” or “I’m a doctor.” Get a second opinion and do a little reading, especially about the possibility of differing conclusions on the same topic. You never know what you might find.

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