Inventions and Deceptions: Post-Normal Science

Oh! what a tangled web we weave
When first we practice to deceive!

Sir Walter Scott – Marmion – 1808

Arguably, the rise of Post-Normal Science during the 20th century can be attributed to the imperatives and necessities associated with the First and Second World Wars:

Post-Normal Science is a concept developed by Silvio Funtowicz and Jerome Ravetz, attempting to characterise a methodology of inquiry that is appropriate for cases where “facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent” (Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1991). It is primarily applied in the context of long-term issues where there is less available information than is desired by stakeholders.

According to its advocates, “post-normal science” is simply an extension of situations routinely faced by experts such as surgeons or senior engineers on unusual projects, where the decisions being made are of great importance but where not all the factors are necessarily knowable. Although their work is based on science, such individuals must always cope with uncertainties, and their mistakes can be costly or lethal.

Because of this, advocates of post-normal science suggest that there must be an “extended peer community” consisting of all those affected by an issue who are prepared to enter into dialogue on it. They bring their “extended facts”, that will include local knowledge and materials not originally intended for publication such as leaked official information. A political case exists for this extension of the franchise of science; but Funtowicz and Ravetz also argue that this extension is necessary for assuring the quality of the process and of the product.

Post-Normal techniques became dominant [and entrenched] during the 1950s as direct government funding [and control] directed education and scientific research.

Before World War II there was very little government funding of science, but that changed because of war-time necessities.

In 1951, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) was established to provide support for post-World War II scientific research. The methodology for administrating science-funding, invented in the early 1950s by NSF, has been adopted essentially unchanged by virtually all subsequent U.S. Government funding agencies, such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

Unfortunately, in more peaceful times the shortcomings of the Post-Normal Science procedures are counterproductive:

Statement of Flaw #1:
Proposals for scientific funding are generally reviewed by “anonymous peer reviewers”. NSF invented the concept of “peer review”, wherein a scientist’s competitors would review and evaluate his/her/their proposal for funding, and that the reviewers’ identities would be concealed.

The idea of using anonymous peer reviewers must have seemed like an administrative stroke of genius as the process was adopted by virtually all government funding-agencies which followed and was adopted almost universally by editors of scientific journals.

But no one seems to have considered the lessons of history with respect to secrecy. Secrecy is certainly necessary in matters of national security and defense. But in science does secrecy and concomitant freedom from accountability really encourage truthfulness? If secrecy did in fact lead to greater truthfulness, secrecy would be put to great advantage in the courts. Courts have in fact employed secrecy – during the infamous Spanish Inquisition and in virtually every totalitarian dictatorship – and the result is always the same: Unscrupulous individuals falsely denounce others and corruption abounds.

The application of anonymity and freedom from accountability in the peer review system gives unfair advantage to those who would unjustly berate a competitor’s proposal for obtaining funding for research. The perception – real or imagined – that some individuals would do just that has had a chilling effect, forcing scientists to become defensive, adopting only the consensus-approved viewpoint and refraining from discussing anything that might be considered as a challenge to other’s work or to the funding agency’s programs. And that is not what science is all about.
Statement of Flaw #2:
NSF invented the concept of scientists proposing specific projects for funding, which has led to the trivialization and bureaucratization of science.
Why so?
The flaw is that it is completely impossible to say beforehand what one will discover, which has never before been discovered, and to say what one will do to discover it.

The consequence has been the proposing of trivial projects often with non-scientific end-results, such as the wide-spread practice of making models based upon assumptions, instead of making discoveries.

Further, proposal “evaluation” is often a guise to engage in exclusionary and ethically questionable, anti-competitive practices. Moreover, bureaucrat “program managers” decide which projects are suitable for the programs that they design. There is no incentive to make important discoveries or to challenge existing ideas; quite the contrary.
Statement of Flaw #3:
NSF began the now wide-spread practice of making grants to universities and other non-profit institutions with scientists, usually faculty members, being classed as “principal investigators”. The consequence of that methodology is that there is no direct legal responsibility or liability for the scientists’ conduct. As a consequence, all too often with impunity scientists misrepresent the state of scientific knowledge and engage in anti-competitive practices, including the black-listing of other capable, experienced scientists. University and institution administrators, when made aware of such conduct, in my experience, do nothing to correct the mal-conduct, having neither the expertise nor, with tenure, the perception of authority or responsibility. The result is that American taxpayers’ money is wasted on a grand scale and the science produced is greatly inferior to what it might be.
Statement of Flaw #4:
NSF began the now wide-spread practice of the government paying publication costs, “page charges”, for scientific articles in journals run by for-profit companies or by special-interest science organizations. Because these publishers demand ownership of copyrights, taxpayers who want to obtain an electronic copy must pay, typically $40.00, for an article whose underlying research and publication costs were already paid with taxpayer dollars. Moreover, commercial and protectionist practices often subvert the free exchange of information, which should be part of science, making the publication of contradictions and new advances extremely difficult.

Furthermore, publishers have little incentive or mechanism to insist upon truthful representations. For example, in ethical science, published contradictions should be cited, but with the extant system it is common practice to ignore contradictions which may call into question the validity of what is being published. The net result is that unethical scientists frequently deceive the general public and the scientific community and waste taxpayer money on questionable endeavors.

American Science Decline: The Cause and Cure
J. Marvin Herndon

Tragically, by the beginning of the 21st century it was becoming evident that Post-Normal Science had reversed its philosophical rationale and was obtaining government funding by manufacturing scientific “scares” that required “urgent” government action because the scientists reported the stakes were “high”.

Scared to Death: From BSE to Global Warming: Why Scares are Costing Us the Earth [2007] by Christopher Booker and Richard North

From salmonella in eggs to BSE, from the Millennium Bug to bird ‘flu, from DDT to passive smoking, from asbestos to global warming, ‘scares’ have become one of the most conspicuous and damaging features of our modern world.

This book for the first time tells the inside story of each of the major scares of the past two decades, showing how they have followed a remarkably consistent pattern.

It analyses the crucial role played in each case by scientists who have misread or manipulated the evidence; by the media and lobbyists who eagerly promote the scare without regard to the facts; and finally by the politicians and officials who come up with an absurdly disproportionate response, leaving us all to pay a colossal price, which may run into billions or even hundreds of billions of pounds.

Fear of the Invisible [2008] by Janine Roberts

This book takes its readers on a journey into the very heart of the hunt for viruses – to the key experiments originally performed to prove that these invisibly small particles are the cause of diseases previously blamed on toxins or bacteria and into the latest research. It sheds light on the extraordinary assumptions that underlay much of this research – and on the vaccines that developed from this.

The author, an investigative journalist who has researched and produced investigative films for the BBC, American and Australian television, was asked by parents with children severely ill after vaccination, to discover if the medical authorities were hiding anything from them. She agreed, but had no idea how long this search would take. She expected at best to uncover a small degree of contamination.

On the ensuing decade-long journey of discovery, she learnt it is not just the added mercury that we have to worry about. She discovered that the top government scientists admit to colleagues that vaccines are contaminated with viruses from chickens, humans and monkeys, with RNA and DNA fragments, with ‘cellular degradation products’, and possibly ‘oncogenes and prions.’
They report alarmingly that it is impossible to commercially purify vaccines.
They express great concerns, but the public is not told despite the possible consequences for long-term public health. A recent US court decision has linked autism with vaccine contamination.

The author cites her sources by name – and gives references and Internet links where they are available. She reveals evidence that the World Health Organisation has discovered the MMR vaccine is contaminated with chicken leukosis virus, but has decided not to tell the public of this, and to continue to make the vaccine with eggs from contaminated chickens.

She reports US biowarfare researchers tried to create new agents to destroy our immune systems – and worked on a bacterium to make it a hospital superbug.

Did they manage to create HIV?
A senior professor told her that the vaccine program was so contaminated that HIV might well have spread though it without any need for military intervention.

She set out to find the evidence to resolve this, and to learn how HIV apparently spread so far and fast. She needed to know more about this virus so went to the foundation research widely held today to have found HIV and proved it caused AIDS.

She was then rocked to discover that this same research was investigated for scientific fraud for a five year period by powerful US scientific institutions and by Congress,

Why is this not widely known?
She found their reports and discovered they found major errors in this research, some so serious that these made it impossible to repeat these experiments and thus to verify them! She reveals the evidence unearthed – reproducing key documents so the reader can assess them for themselves. This is explosive material.

In the final part of this book the author reports recent research that is revolutionising biology and offering much hope for the future. These new developments shed new light on the relationships between our cells and viruses. They are not necessarily enemies. Readers may find these new developments radically change the ideas they have held about viruses since childhood. This book has over 500 references and includes several documents unearthed under Freedom of Information legislation. `It has a scientific glossary and is fully indexed.

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One Response to Inventions and Deceptions: Post-Normal Science

  1. Pingback: The Cholesterol Correlation – Forgotten History | MalagaBay

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