Do yourself a favor and read a heartbreaking and beautifully written essay at Tablet, “I Have Been Through This Before.” The writer, Ann Bauer, recounts her experience with her son Andrew, diagnosed with autism and subjected to the tyranny of the medical experts with their ever-changing treatments and medications. Andrew died at age 28: “My personal explanation is that he was tired of being controlled by the fickle czars of autism and he was just done.”
“Fickle czars” — of science and medicine — is a great phrase. It belongs in the Science Uprising series.
Bauer recounts the strange and fascinating career of psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, with his cult-like Orthogenic School, who developed the cruel “refrigerator mother” theory of autism that won praise from the experts, only to be sharply rejected later on by still other experts:
This was the moment Bettelheim’s work was entirely spurned by a new group of experts who neatly whipsawed the other direction. They changed positions but held onto the religiosity. Nature was in, nurture was out. Brain chemistry became the only thing that mattered. Everything we’d done during Andrew’s childhood — talk therapy, sensory integration, cross-patterning, behavior training, biofeedback — they rejected as quackery.
That’s far too often the way it is with expertise.
Where She Is Heading
From the title of Ann Bauer’s essay, you may see where this is going: namely, March 2020.
Suddenly there emerged a cadre of pandemic experts who recommended — then quickly required — extreme and unprecedented things. People shouldn’t see their parents, visit friends, hold funerals or hug. We could never shake hands again. Wearing masks was useless! We MUST mask, both indoors and out. There were hotlines set up in many cities — including mine — for citizens to report their neighbors who did not comply. Police were sent to break up a Jewish funeral in New York City.
Day after day, media rained down information about who was to blame. Millennials, spring breakers, Southerners, motorcyclists. Scientists who proposed different theories were muffled, derided, sidelined. They were deemed dangerous, their ideas “misinformation.” To question was sacrilege.
I had lived through all of this before.
The “Shape” of Tyranny
Indeed, so have I. I’m not talking about the pandemic, or about treatments for autism, but about controversies around the study of biological and cosmic origins — the themes of the Science Uprising series: “To question is sacrilege.”
Bauer cites her husband:
John is an internet security expert with a background in mathematics. He’ll often talk about the “shape” of a problem. This is its outline, its gestalt. He envisions it like dots on a chart, or waves on a graph. I see holographic images — the shape of an ambitious refugee [meaning, Bruno Bettelheim], white coats and flimflam men, glimmering under the figures we see today.
That is a useful way of thinking about the experts and the tyranny they may impose, that we allow them to impose. It all assumes a certain familiar “shape.” There is an eerie sameness.
At any given moment, what the experts say before the next “whipsaw” switch in their favored opinions might prove ultimately to be correct. Or maybe not:
In the end, what I believe doesn’t really matter. History will out. Ten or 15 or 25 years from now there will a reckoning, deep research, a spate of biographies and memoirs from the people who spent 2020-21 under the sway of gurus. News media that trumpeted their wisdom and methods will issue brisk, researched, documentary-style reports. People will swarm out of the shadows to claim they didn’t really believe the experts embodied science and were secretly resisting all along; even those who preached their gospel and strong-armed the public’s obedience will insist they actually did not.
This is how I see the scientific reckoning to come over intelligent design and evolution, which the most esteemed experts tell us will never come, since the theory of evolution is already perfect: “There are no weaknesses in the theory of evolution.” The controversies are different, but the “shape” is hauntingly familiar.