The power of a religious belief or a cult towards science in medieval times is well known, especially in relation to poor old Copernicus and Galileo, both of whom held heretical beliefs that it was the Earth that revolved around the sun. Copernicus published his findings in 1543 just before his death, and so got away with his heresy because the Catholic Church didn’t react to it until 60 years later when it was Galileo who supported the view of Copernicus.
Now it was poor old Galileo who copped it as the Church used Giovanni Tolsani to argue philosophically that the Copernicus model was unproven, and that he had merely used phenomena to support his flawed idea. In essence the Church asserted that it was God’s hand that had placed the Earth at the centre of the universe. This later led to charges of heresy against Galileo in 1632 and he was forced to recant and was placed under house arrest for the rest of his life. This happened only 10 years before the birth of Isaac Newton who, with many others, completely revolutionised science and overturned fetish for facts, engaged in personal experiments, created evidence based theories, and subjected themselves to what we now know as peer review, questioning and debate. Real science had arrived! But it looks like it’s starting to disappear again!
Firstly however let me speak from personal experience and describe what Dr C and I were both subjected to, professionally, whilst doing our PhDs. We were both conducting research in the field of Analytical Chemistry, Dr C focusing on kinetics and myself focusing on electrochemistry. The details don’t matter but the process DOES. The first step for us was to conduct a thorough literature search of ALL previous published papers on our chosen field, and this took about three months ….. remember, no internet in the 1960s so we ploughed through dusty tomes of scientific journals at the University of Strathclyde library. Then we discussed a possible direction with our professor before we began the practical work which would take 3 years. Now, here’s the important bit; every 3 months or so we had to prepare a paper and presentation for our professor and fellow PhD students. They would all critique our results and question us. Scary! Then we would have monthly “interrogations” from our professor alone. During the 3 years we would have to present an original paper on our research to date at the annual conference of The Society for Analytical Chemistry. Mine was held at Durham University attended by eminent scientists from all over Europe. Double scary! Finally to obtain the PhD you had to write a thesis on your work, submit it to the university plus an external examiner, another professor from a different university who would then visit you and conduct a thorough interview. Triple scary! So what we experienced as scientists was peer review, challenge, discussion, debate, and reflection.
The even bigger scary thing today however, is that scientists are being no-platformed and “cancelled” by a combination of the Twitter Mob and Snowflake Students with a political agenda. No intellectual discussion and no debate that works both ways to educate, redirect and develop. Science and human progress just doesn’t work like this, closing down someone else’s research or professional argument because you disagree with the “possible sentiment” or are “offended” by facts or concept does nothing to promote either view, and actually stifles scientific progress. Here’s a few generalised examples:
- Extinction Rebellion co founder, Roger Hallam, uses an “extreme” scenario put out by a single scientist that uses a 4 degrees rise in temperature over the next 4 years. The scenario assumes that the use of fossil fuels increases exponentially, that we recommence coal mining and build more coal fired power stations. This scientists work has not been peer reviewed nor allowed to be challenged by other scientists.
- Scientists who identified a laboratory in Wuhan as the source of the Covid pandemic with firm evidence and data in 2020 have been silenced, in some cases solely because it was Donald Trump who quoted their claims 18 months ago! Now suddenly it becomes believable as Joe Biden says so with a number of scientists “in hiding” who have factual evidence of the cover-up.
- Lisa Mackenzie was a policy officer for the Royal College of Nursing when she was hounded out of her job for researching gender identity. At a meeting at Edinburgh University where she presented her research findings, the hostility towards her was so intense that one MSP said, “Never in more than 25 years of going to political meetings have I felt the intimidation that I felt then.”
- Big Tech media giants are censoring scientists in a number of fields such as climate change, Covid and Transgender issues because it doesn’t fit the prevailing narrative or agenda of social media users. They have become the decision maker in what we are allowed/not allowed to read.
I have focused mostly on the cancellation or shut down of scientists in this post, but there are many more examples in a broader context. Censorship used to be a tactic exclusive to totalitarian regimes, especially in the Soviet Union and China, but nowadays it is a tactic of organisations and individuals across the whole world, but especially in democratic countries. It is rife in U.K. universities with many examples of formally invited scientists and politicians being cancelled at the last minute or prevented from speaking, often by many students who are from overseas and here as our guests. One non science example brought a mixture of anger and hilarity to the whole country, when an American student/lecturer backed by a number of students at Oxford University voted to remove a portrait of our Queen because it made them feel uncomfortable in their common room! But I suppose they still use our bank notes without feeling uncomfortable despite Queen Elizabeth’s image being on all of our currency! This is medieval!