Guest post by David Middleton
Dr. Alex Berezow, founding editor of Real Clear Science, posted a great essay on the American Council on Science and Health website:
Ideological Conflicts Of Interest Are Worse Than Financial Ones
By Alex Berezow — May 31, 2017
“Follow the money!” activists shout. The money trail, according to this logic, always leads to lies and deception.
This puerile fallacy, argumentum ad aurum, is just a thinly disguised ad hominem attack commonly used against scientists. Instead of criticizing the quality or conclusions of the research, activists instead assault the integrity of the scientist.
For certain, money can be a corrupting influence. That’s why journals require scientists to disclose financial ties to industry. But money isn’t the only source of corruption. Indeed, anything that causes a person to reject evidence-based science should be considered a conflict of interest. By that definition, ideology and politics would qualify as conflicts of interest, as well. And that would make some people very uncomfortable.
Ideology as a Conflict of Interest
In 2015, the New England Journal of Medicine ran an article by Lisa Rosenbaum on bias as a conflict of interest. Many academics and even doctors are ideologically opposed to industry, no matter what. As the author writes, this stigma results in a “stifling of honest discourse and potential discouragement of productive collaborations.” She then poses a damning question:
When we study whether people with financial ties are more likely to vote in favor of a product, shouldn’t we also ask whether those without such ties are more likely to vote against it?
In other words, if scientists with ties to industry are assumed to be corrupted by money, shouldn’t we assume that anti-industry zealots are corrupted by their ideology?
As a geologist/geophysicist, employed in the oil & gas industry since 1981 and member of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, Society of Exploration Geophysicists and Houston Geological Society, I have had the argumentun ad aurum fallacy directed at me more often than Cook’s cooked 97% consensus. So, I find it particularly refreshing to see this particular logical fallacy dissected so thoroughly.
Dr. Berezow then points out the quasi-religious zealotry with which environmentalists “swear by the benefits of organic food, oppose GMOs and nuclear power (and often vaccines, too), and believe that the Earth is overpopulated by a destructive force called humanity.” Environmental zealots cling to these beliefs despite the fact that there is no evidence that “organic” (isn’t all food organic?) is any better than conventional food, that GMO crops are harmful, that nuclear power is particularly hazardous (9.0 earthquakes and tsunamis aren’t nuclear hazards) or that the Earth is overpopulated (Paul Ehrlich, the poster child for Malthusian failed predictions). And he concludes with the following:
An easy way to determine if a person has an indefatigable ideological conflict of interest is to ask, “What evidence would make you change your mind?” If he can’t answer that question, then there is little point in continuing the dialogue.
Regarding the CAGW failed hypothesis, any actual evidence could make me change my mind.
The abject failure of the climate models over the past 30 years and the insane resistance among the so-called consensus to accepting the fact that all of the actual evidence supports a climate which is relatively insensitive to human impacts on the carbon cycle makes me quite confident that no such evidence will be forthcoming.
As an added bonus, the first comment makes Dr. Berezow’s point:
Steve Coats • 10 hours ago
This is a laughable attempt to smear environmentalists. First of all, there are reasons to buy organic other than health, safety, or taste: “Organic livestock must be raised in a way that accommodates their health and natural behavior: Access to the outdoors, shade, clean, dry bedding, shelter, space for exercise, fresh air, clean drinking water, direct sunlight.” https://www.ams.usda.gov/si…
There are also reasons to oppose nuclear power other than fear of meltdowns (e.g., concerns about storage of spent fuel rods, uranium mining), the planet can only support a finite amount of people, and the link to environmentalism and vaccine use is suggested without any evidence. What, for example, is Greenpeace’s position on vaccines? Do they even have one?
Irony is so cool.