Science falsely so called

The Bible speaks of pseudo-science as well as science.

Paul warned Timothy to avoid “profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called” 1Tim 6:20.

Christians are taught not to be gullible.

Jesus teaches critical thinking, counter-cultural thinking and delivers us from servile following of the crowd.

Medical trials

On 18 Feb 2020 BBC Newsnight followed up its earlier report about withholding data in a medical trial comparing coronary artery stents with open heart surgery. Stent makers wanted to prove that stents were as good as, if not better than, open heart surgery, and certainly cheaper. Those reporting the trial withheld some data that was inconvenient to the outcome they wanted. The results as published were influential in altering medical guidelines on treatment options.

On BBC Newsnight the Editor-in-Chief of The British Medical Journal Dr Fiona Godlee said: “[Grubby] is a very good word and people should be shocked by what they hear, but the sad and perhaps the most shocking thing is that one isn’t surprised. This has been the situation in medical research for many years. … This situation seems to be getting worse and not better.”

Godlee criticised the New England Journal of Medicine that it had not done a very good job in this case: “we need, as The BMJ does, to insist that trialists provide their data on request, which didn’t happen in this case – the data only available to the trialists.” She concluded: “[Patients] are rightly sceptical. They should be sceptical about the results of clinical trials at the moment, those that are funded by industry, where the principle investigators are paid by industry as in this case, where the guidelines have conflicts of interest on the panel. We have to change the system. We have to have more independent research publicly funded. We need to have guideline bodies that are not linked to industry. We need to have data accessible. We need to have transparency enacted by law so that people have to declare their conflicts of interests. None of that is the case at the moment.”

Public trust

In surveys about public trust, doctors are usually among the highest trusted, but such is the love of money, fame and prestige that some doctors are undermining that trust. They are bringing their profession into disrepute.

Immoral behaviour may bring shame on individuals but it does not bring the profession itself into disrepute. However, wrong-doing in the sphere of their employment is another matter. If they can get away with this behaviour, how does the public know if they can trust their advice?

Academic exegesis

I have already shown the poor scholarship manifested in modern translations of the Bible. In that long blogpost I have occasionally shown that this applies to other academic disciplines also, including medicine. More and more people are questioning academia for the reasons mentioned by The BMJ editor above. Conflict of interests and one’s own reputation are put ahead of the interests of the public and the reputation of the profession.

Then there is the opposite problem – protecting the reputation of the institution at the expense of the individual, which I call the Caiaphas Principle.

The central problem is the inability of many people to face the truth and live with it and its consequences.

“The godly man honours them that reverence the Lord. Although he swears to his own hurt, he does not change.”

Psalm 15:4.

The medical case above is a mere illustration of modern attitudes.

Here, in this blogpost, I wish to compile a list, rather like my list of failed academic biblical exegesis, of failed and failing academia, in view of the fact that many gullible people are taken in by academia.

Academia is a good thing, like science, but false science is as real as and as dangerous as fake news. There are good and bad doctors, good and bad lawyers, good and bad preachers, good and bad politicians, good and bad teachers, parents, friends, etc.

We need to learn critical thinking, discernment to distinguish good from evil. Life is not merely a series of choices, but of good and bad choices.

Academic qualifications are not good enough. Freeman Dyson speaks of academic snobbery and Christians should understand this.

Academics have learned the process of study but it does not mean that they have studied important topics beyond those in which they have specialised. Nor does it make them good people. Nor does it mean that they will continue to be honest in their studies.

Vested interests

Such is the concern in the scientific community that the most recent scandal is in the medical research world. It is seen also in the climate change debate where long-standing academics are being no-platformed and sacked from academic positions because of presenting data that contradicts the ‘academic’ consensus, as if there is such a thing.

Updates:

23 Jul 2017: “fraud and deceit is now epidemic in science and medicine”.

17 Oct 2020: failed economics in mainstream universities.

26 Oct 2020: copying in linguistic academia: “even the most authoritative recent sources should be taken with caution because reference books tend to copy from one another. Recycling a plausible opinion again and again produces an illusion of solidity in an area notorious for debatable results. That is why it is so interesting to read books published before Skeat’s dictionary (1882) and the OED came out. After their appearance, the lines of English etymological research hardened and few people took the trouble of questioning the giants’ conclusions.” This shows the state and attitude of current academia.