Blinding Us with (Bad) Science

Blinding Us with (Bad) Science

We’ll be honest with you, for the most part, we are entirely uninterested in relitigating the whole COVID fiasco and are, therefore, personally uninterested in the finer details of who said what about the virus almost four years ago and whether they did so honestly and in the spirit of scientific integrity.

At the same time, however, we must concede that the conversation about this “integrity” is important for several reasons, the most obvious of which is that many of the people we were told to trust during the pandemic lied to us – repeatedly and remorselessly – with the specific intention of undermining those who strayed from the “official” storyline.  That they did so in the service of “politics” is unsurprising but nevertheless well worth remembering.  As Jon Miltimore notes in a recent piece for the American Institute for Economic Research, the evidence here is devastating:

A growing number of people, including prominent scientists, are calling for a full retraction of a high-profile study published in the journal Nature in March 2020 that explored the origins of SARS-CoV-2.

The paper, whose authors included immunology and microbiology professor Kristian G. Andersen, declared that evidence clearly showed that SARS-CoV-2 did not originate from a laboratory.

“Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus,” the authors wrote in February. 

Yet a trove of recently published documents reveal that Andersen and his co-authors believed that the lab leak scenario was not just possible, but likely. 

“[The] main thing still in my mind is that the lab escape version of this is so friggin’ likely to have happened because they were already doing this type of work and the molecular data is fully consistent with that scenario,” Andersen said to his colleagues, according to a report from Public, which published a series of Slack messages between the authors. 

Anderson was not the only author who privately expressed doubts that the virus had natural origins. Public cataloged dozens of statements from Andersen and his co-authors—Andrew Rambaut, W. Ian Lipkin, Edward C. Holmes, and Robert F. Garry—between the dates January 31 and February 28, 2020 suggesting that SARS-CoV-2 may have been engineered.

” …the fact that we are discussing this shows how plausible it is,” Garry said of the lab-leak hypothesis.

“We unfortunately can’t refute the lab leak hypothesis,” Andersen said on Feb. 20, several days after the authors published their pre-print.

To complicate matters further, new reporting from The Intercept reveals that Anderson had an $8.9 million grant with NIH pending final approval from Dr. Anthony Fauci when the Proximal Origin paper was submitted. 

The findings have led several prominent figures to accuse the authors of outright deception.

Richard H. Ebright, the Board of Governors Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Rutgers University, called the paper “scientific fraud.”

Scientists lied; people died.

The bigger issue here, of course, is that some people – namely those on the political Left, who have been doing thusly for more than 200 years – insist that public policy must, at all times and in all cases, be guided by “the” science.  They told us what we could and could not do during the pandemic based on “the” science.  They told us who could keep their jobs and who couldn’t, based on “the” science.  And more generally, they want to destroy almost everything Western Civilization has created, provoke deindustrialization, and lead us all into economic stagnation and feudalism based on “the” science and the remedies it proposes for hot summers and stormy hurricane seasons.

On a macro scale, the problem is that science isn’t a thing.  It’s a methodology.  And one of the key components of the methodology is that any statement under consideration must be testable with results that are repeatable.  Karl Popper famously distinguished between Einstein’s theory of general relativity and Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis by arguing that the former was scientific because it was falsifiable, while the latter was pseudo-scientific because it was not falsifiable (and could thus not be corroborated either).  Science isn’t something that scientists produce.  It is something they do.

Unfortunately, in our hyper-politicized and overly ideological age, much of this – many of the distinctions between good science and bad science, as well as the differences between science and pseudo-science – have largely been ignored.  On a micro-scale, then, scientists with political predilections, politicians looking for scientific legitimization for their statist schemes, and countless others with countless other motivations must be watched carefully and treated skeptically.

Marc Tessier-Lavigne will be leaving his post as the President of Stanford University at the end of this month because he conducted “flawed” scientific research.  And while Tessier-Lavigne was cleared by an investigation of knowingly submitting “fraudulent” work, his research contained knowingly manipulated data, which renders his conclusions meaningless.  And in this, he is far from alone:

Around a third of studies published in neuroscience journals, and about 24% in medical journals, are “made up or plagiarized,” according to a new paper.

The research, referred to as a preprint — meaning it has not yet been peer-reviewed — looked at 5,000 published papers, as first reported by Science.

Using a simple, automated detection system the researchers looked for two telltale signs: Whether an author was registered with a personal, rather than institutional, email address, and if the author listed their affiliation as a hospital. The papers flagged as potentially fake were then checked by humans. About 1,500 of the papers were likely fraudulent, the researchers concluded….

Everyone in science knows about these problems. But surprisingly few people do anything about it.

The microbiologist Elisabeth Bik has an extraordinary ability to spot duplicated or faked images in scientific journals: She has spotted hundreds over the years. But she told Nature that even five years after she’d reported the fakes to the journals, most of them had not been dealt with.

The Oxford psychologist Dorothy Bishop says this matches her own experience: “If one points out academic malpractice to publishers or institutions, there is often no reply.”

There are plenty of other issues with scientific research and publishing. Journals take scientists’ work for free or even charge to publish it, then charge them again for access.

Editors at one journal walked out recently over “unethical” publishing fees. And the demand for “positive” results incentivizes scientists to hack the data up until they find something. Those are deep systemic problems within science.

But outright fraud, you’d think, should be easy to fix if detected. And yet the scientific community often ignores it….

Obviously, none of this – from COVID to Stanford to the study on fraud – should be taken as an indictment of all science or a suggestion that fraud is rampant throughout the scientific community.  That’s simply not true, and we don’t mean to imply that it is.

Nevertheless, the tendency in some corners of our society to view “the science” as infallible, or to treat scientists as Catholics treat the Pope on the vanishingly rare occasions that he speaks Ex Cathedra, is serious and problematic.  Sometimes, it encourages bad behavior in the name of science, and other times it coerces bad behavior.

Politics taints everything it touches.  And while we’d be fine if we never heard the words “lab leak” or “pangolin” or “Fauci” ever again, we know that exposing the political abuse of science is important, largely because it is hardly restricted to the development of the now-irrelevant COVID policies and guidelines.

Stephen Soukup
Stephen Soukup
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Steve Soukup is the Vice President and Publisher of The Political Forum, an “independent research provider” that delivers research and consulting services to the institutional investment community, with an emphasis on economic, social, political, and geopolitical events that are likely to have an impact on the financial markets in the United States and abroad.