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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Publisher’s Notebook

• The ‘Science’ of Malibu Lagoon •

ANNE SOBLE


When there are irreconcilable differences of opinion in the public policy arena, there are often those who will respond that the decision should be left to the experts, or it is best decided by the science of whatever subject matter is involved.
It is conveniently forgotten that science is as science does and often serves as the handmaiden of those who control society. When religious institutions were the source of power, they dictated science. Now it is government, corporations and foundations that hold the scientific reins, as well as the research purse strings.
No one wants to remember that it was science that once held that the world was flat, that people of color were inferior, that women were unable to be educated, and working in mines and mills would not harm children. The list goes on.
Everyone is familiar with the maxim that patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels, but academics have several sayings to the effect that the laws of science bend for whoever is paying the bills. The concepts of scientific objectivity and “truth” can and often do take opposing forms.
Scientists bought by big agriculture will say that pesticides do no harm and their impact on local groundwater is negligible. Scientists for mining interests say that gouging the earth is good for the environment. Scientists for the food industry say that additives that prolong shelf life have no effect on those eating their products. Caveat emptor.
Go to any local, state or national hearing on just about any proposal to regulate anything and there will be scientists with comparable credentials at opposite ends of the opinion spectrum.
Thus, it is always imperative to ask which master a particular scientist might be serving. The pretense remains that there is an irrefutable truth like a simple mathematical formula with only one correct answer. The objective application of this so-called truth is often the ploy used by the so-called expert to deny the citizenry an opportunity to have a say about what directly affects them.
It is not yet clear which “science” has the upper hand in the Malibu Lagoon project. Is it the science of bureaucrats, the science of the well-paid consultants, or the science of those who will benefit from project contracts? Without that information, scientific directives are meaningless.
Scientists have political views and economic needs that affect their outlook and can dictate which variables they will include and which ones they will ignore, with the latter often assuming greater importance than the former in the end result of their efforts.

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