The “decline” of science? Not so much

I’ve on occasion been asked why I even bother responding to the brain–and I do use the term loosely–droppings of Mike Adams, the purveyor of one of the largest repositories of quackery on the entire Internet. Good question. Sometimes I wonder that myself. After all, Adams is so far out there, so beyond the realm of rational thought, so full of bizarre conspiracy theories and defenses of quackery that anyone the least bit rational and science-based should be able to see through his nonsense. Applying a heapin’ helpin’ of not-so-Respectful Insolence to someone as reality-challenged as Mike Adams at times seems like killing a flea with thermonuclear weapons.

So why do it?

I do it because (1) there are times when I enjoy it and, more importantly, (2) there are times when Adams so perfectly encapsulates the sheer unreason that undergirds so much of “alternative” medicine. A few days ago, Adams did it again, in fact. His distillation of the nonsense behind so much of “alt-med” was entitled The downfall of science and the rise of intellectual tyranny. “Intellectual tyranny.” You keep using that term. I do not think it means what you think it does. Not that that ever stopped Adams from going off the deep end of crazy before. And when Adams goes off the deep end, sometimes killing a flea with thermonuclear weapon is not only justified but required. You’ll see what I mean when you read:

The very reputation of so-called “science” has been irreparably damaged by the invocation of the term “science” by GMO lackeys, pesticide pushers, mercury advocates and fluoride poisoners who all claim to have science on their side. It seems that every toxin, contamination and chemical disaster that now infects our planet has been evangelized in the name of “science.”

Where “science” used to be highly regarded in the 1950’s, today the term is largely exploited by pharmaceutical companies, biotech giants and chemical companies to push their own for-profit agendas. Actual science has little to do with the schemes now being pushed under the veil of science.

I love how, whenever science doesn’t support Adams’ woo-ful beliefs, it’s obviously been corrupted by corporations. It’s lying to him. It’s all gone bad. Even more hilariously, to Adams, this pharma-corrupted science is promoted by–you guessed it–science bloggers:

To make matters even worse for the sciences, many so-called “science bloggers” have been revealed to have financial ties to the very same companies whose profits are shored up by their activities (http://www.ageofautism.com/2010/08/…).

Rather than defending any sort of scientific truth, science bloggers have become the internet whores of Big Pharma, Monsanto, pesticide manufacturers, chemical companies and toxic mercury factories. There’s hardly a dangerous chemical in widespread use today that the science bloggers haven’t venomously defended as safe and effective. Many are just blatantly paid off by corporate entities to run around the internet pushing GMOs, chemicals and vaccines.

This realization has caused the science bloggers to be widely ridiculed by intelligent people who see right through their thinly-veiled (but well-funded) disinformation campaigns. Where science bloggers once had credibility, they now are seen as intellectual prostitutes for dangerous corporate agendas that benefit powerful companies at the expense of environmental health and human health.

If they weren’t doing all this in the name of science, it wouldn’t be so bad, actually. If they called themselves “corporate whore bloggers” instead of “science bloggers,” their actions wouldn’t be so harmful to the reputation of science itself. But, to the great detriment of actual science, they insist on calling themselves “science bloggers.”

Hilarious! Adams actually believes Jake Crosby! As I pointed out a long ago, Jake is a crazy mixed up kid who came up with a crazy mixed up conspiracy theory about a crazy mixed up blog collective. If there’s one thing about Jake Crosby that I can say, it’s that his research skills are best characterized as…well, not exactly Woodward and Bernstein-level quality. And that’s putting it mildly. In fact, Jake’s journalistic skills rival that of the typical Weekly World News writer. No, actually, that would be an insult to your typical Weekly World News writer. They, at least, have much more active and creative imaginations. No wonder Adams believes Crosby!

I’m half tempted to claim the title of “corporate whore blogger” just as a joke, even though I don’t receive any financial recompense or research support from any company, pharmaceutical or otherwise. Sad, but true. When I sit in my underwear blogging, it’s on my own dime and on my own free dime, not because some nefarious pharma masters have put me up to it. (At least, that’s what Lord Draconis Zeneca tells me to say.) In fact, maybe I’ll change the title of this blog from “Respectful Insolence” to “Corporate Whore Blog” in his honor.

Or not.

This brings me back to the reason why it is sometimes worthwhile to take on Mike Adams and his nonsense. The reason is that his “thinking” process (such as it is) is quite revealing. Although Adams cranks it up to 11 and puts it all on steroids, so to speak, at its heart Adams’ thinking reveals something about belief in alt-med, and that’s a profound anti-science attitude, a profound distrust of what is accepted as science. If it doesn’t fit within Adams’ magical thinking that forms the core of his world view, it must be corporate corruption. it couldn’t possibly be that Adams is wrong or that science doesn’t support his beliefs. In fact, if science doesn’t support his beliefs, Adams declares it an “intellectual bully”:

Where real scientists once used to welcome debate and discussion, today’s “science” advocate operate with the intellectual finesse and flexibility of a two-ton block of granite. You either agree with them or you are branded an idiot. There is no discussion, no debate, no thought and no real science involved. On so many of the big issues that matter today — vaccines, GMOs, mercury, fluoride, pesticides and so on — the “science” position is that of a self-proclaimed dictator (or tyrant) who believes he causes things to be true and factual through the mere act of stating them. That isn’t science. It’s just an advanced form of arrogant bullying framed in the language of science and carried aloft by a never-ending stream of corporate dollars.

It is, in essence, intellectual tyranny.

Not quite. You’re branded an idiot when you are an idiot. Adams just doesn’t understand science. It doesn’t support his fear mongering about vaccines, GMOs, mercury, fluoride, and such. Unfortunately, Adams won’t accept the science and instead lashes out against it, branding it “arrogant bullying.” In reality, the arrogance is his. He is ignorant, but doesn’t realize it. He thinks he knows better than scientists who have dedicated their lives to studying various questions. In this, he is like Jenny McCarthy. He is like J.B. Handley. He is like Deepak Chopra. Actually, he is all of them rolled into one.

If there’s one characteristic of advocates of pseudoscience, particularly advocates of pseudoscience who have a huge investment in their unsupported beliefs that is emotional (such as anti-vaccine advocates), ideological (advocates of complementary and alternative medicine) or political (anthropogenic global warming denialists), or religious (evolution denialists, some varieties of CAM advocates), it’s that they often know that science does not support their beliefs. As a result, whether intentionally or not intentionally, they have to find a way to dismiss the science that tells them that their beliefs are not in line with our current understanding of reality.

Adams may be, as they say, bat shit crazy and over the top when he attacks science, but if you tone down Adams’ post and strip it of some of its more hyperbolic rhetoric, you’ll find the same sorts of arguments you find on any crank site: Science is arrogant (which is why science dismisses my favorite pseudoscience, not because it’s magical thinking with no basis in reality). Science has been totally corrupted by corporate interests (which is why my favorite pseudoscience isn’t accepted, not because it’s magical thinking with no basis in reality). Science will doom us because it is so corrupt (which is why I’m so hostile to science, even though I always preface my broadsides against science with “I love science” in the same way anti-vaccine activists preface anti-vaccine rhetoric with, “I’m not anti-vaccine”). A good example of this latter tactic is right there in Adams’ screed:

As a proponent of scientific discovery, even I have to admit that science has lost its credibility due in large part to the corporate takeover of science. Whereas science was once a popular and highly respected field of study for young thinkers, very few people in America enter the sciences these days. More and more people are waking up to the reality that many of the great evils that have been unleashed upon our world have been conducted in the name of science: GMOs, seasonal flu vaccines, plastic food containers, pesticides, mercury poisoning, fluoride in the water supply, psychiatric pharmaceuticals and so on.

Translation: I’m not “anti-science,” but science is pure evil. Not just that, but there are “other ways” of knowing:

For the record, I am not opposed to actual science, nor the use of the Scientific Method as one avenue through which wisdom may be gained. There are other methods of gaining wisdom, however, such as spirituality, meditation, the study of consciousness and even quantum connections between sentient beings. All of these non-science methods are utterly disregarded by the “scientific” community which believes so strongly in its own dogma that the brains of its top scientists have no room left for any ideas other than their own.

Science. Quantum. You keep using those words. I do not think they mean what you think they mean. Big surprise.

So, coming back to why I sometimes consider it worthwhile to “slum” a bit by taking down something as easily deconstructed and loony as a typical Mike Adams screed, I usually do it for one of two reasons. Either it’s so bizarre or despicable that its utter bizarreness or despicableness fascinates me, as when, for example, Adams abuses dead celebrities by claiming they could have lived if they had only just used his quackery du jour rather than conventional medicine. The other reason is that Adams really can teach us about the mindset behind a lot of anti-science beliefs. He’s like a black hole of anti-science, concentrating the beliefs and arguments into a natural reductio ad absurdum, so that I don’t have to reduce them to that myself. Science is not perfect. There might even be a grain of truth in some of Adams’ rants. But, by taking the occasional valid criticism and amping the crazy up to 11, Adams performs a valuable service by making it easier to recognize less hyperbolic versions of such arguments.