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Scientific “Decadence” and the Myth of Objectivity

David Klinghoffer | @d_klinghoffer

decadence

Writing here yesterday about the mischaracterization of 437-million-year-old scorpion fossils, paleontologist Günter Bechly used an apt but unexpected word to describe evolutionary thinking. It isn’t just mistaken. It reflects a state of “decadence”: 

In today’s science world it is no longer sufficient to objectively describe some nicely preserved ancient fossils. You must overinterpret the evidence and oversell their importance with a fancy evolutionary narrative. And you do not have to hesitate to be really bold with your claims, because neither the scientific reviewers nor the popular science media will care if your claims are actually supported by the evidence. This system is broken. It was broken by the pressure to publish or perish, by the pressure of public relation departments to generate lurid headlines, and by the pressure of the idiotic paradigm that nothing makes sense in biology except in the light of evolution.

“By the Wayside”

Under these circumstances, “Good science falls by the wayside.” Now neuroscientist Michael Egnor comments over at Mind Matters on decadence in a completely different scientific field: medicine and medical ethics. Abortion advocates have long advanced the falsehood that babies in the womb feel less pain than we do or no pain at all. The truth is the exact opposite: “An unborn child with an immature brain probably experiences pain more intensely than an individual with a mature cortex.”

Perhaps the most disturbing damage that the abortion lobby has done to our society — aside from the systematic killing of tens of millions of innocent human beings — is the corruption of science in the name of ideology. Nowhere is this corruption more obvious than in the misrepresentation of the neuroscience of fetal pain perception.

A new article in the Journal of Medical Ethics titled Reconsidering Fetal Pain (open access) is a welcome correction to the abortion lobby’s systematic misrepresentation. The authors, one of whom is an abortion advocate, reviewed the literature on the perception of fetal pain and came to the conclusion that there is clear scientific evidence to support the view that unborn children feel pain as early as 13 weeks of gestation.

This should not have come as a surprise, since doctors who work with newborns and premature babies routinely observe that they respond with screams to a needle prick that an adult would barely register. 

Dr. Bechly calls it “decadence.” Dr. Egnor calls it “corruption.” It’s one and the same thing: whereas, according to widespread legend, scientists just objectively sift facts, in reality ideological ax-grinding is common and probably worse than it ever was. Remember, what Bechly and Egnor are describing isn’t limited to a stray scientist here or there. It is systematic. Hence the state of decadence.

Corrosive or Worse

As the new “Long Story Short” video from Discovery Institute on homology puts it, “Scientists are just like everyone else: people. And we can be uncritical of things that we want to believe.” 

That’s a charitable way of putting it. In one way, scientists aren’t like “everyone else”: that is, because of the enormous prestige they enjoy, the impact of their being “uncritical of things that [they] want to believe” is tremendous. And it can be quite corrosive, quite malign. It affects how the rest of us think about the origins of life, about the nature of reality — ultimate questions — and about how to treat the most vulnerable members of humankind, the unborn in the womb, whether with care or savage disregard.

These are reasons for applying special scrutiny and an extra degree of skepticism — they are reasons for thinking your own thoughts rather than be spoon-fed — when considering what “Scientists Say.”

For more on the culture of contemporary science, see Egnor’s post, “Jeffrey Epstein and the Silence of the Scientists.”

Photo: A baby in the womb at 17 weeks, by Nogwater, via Flickr (cropped).