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PHI 3640- Discussion: War on Science

Aug 1, 2023

Required Discussion: War on Science: Why do so many reasonable people doubt Science? FYI, A great Nat Geo Article about culture/ethics

*Ongoing Class Required Discussion: War on Science: Why do so many reasonable people doubt Science? FYI, A great Nat Geo Article about ethics and culture.

This will be an ongoing class discussion throughout the semester but due in about two weeks (and I may add to it with other questions with later due dates). Please READ this article below and comment with a few paragraphs or longer. Post as much as you want after that but I would like to see a lively discussion and responses from any of your class members — feel free to move forward with this after readings some chapters and really thinking about our (human) relationship with the environment (we are indeed part of the ecosystem).  What does this article have to do with Environmental Ethics?

Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?

We live in an age when all manner of scientific knowledge—from climate change to vaccinations—faces furious opposition.
Some even have doubts about the moon landing.

By Joel Achenbach

Photographs by Richard Barnes

There’s a scene in Stanley Kubrick’s comic masterpiece Dr. Strangelove in which Jack D. Ripper, an American general who’s gone rogue and ordered a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, unspools his paranoid worldview—and the explanation for why he drinks “only distilled water, or rainwater, and only pure grain alcohol”—to Lionel Mandrake, a dizzy-with-anxiety group captain in the Royal Air Force.

Ripper: Have you ever heard of a thing called fluoridation? Fluoridation of water?

Mandrake: Ah, yes, I have heard of that, Jack. Yes, yes.

Ripper: Well, do you know what it is?

Mandrake: No. No, I don’t know what it is. No.

Ripper: Do you realize that fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face?

The movie came out in 1964, by which time the health benefits of fluoridation had been thoroughly established, and antifluoridation conspiracy theories could be the stuff of comedy. So you might be surprised to learn that, half a century later, fluoridation continues to incite fear and paranoia. In 2013 citizens in Portland, Oregon, one of only a few major American cities that don’t fluoridate their water, blocked a plan by local officials to do so. Opponents didn’t like the idea of the government adding “chemicals” to their water. They claimed that fluoride could be harmful to human health.

Actually, fluoride is a natural mineral that, in the weak concentrations used in public drinking water systems, hardens tooth enamel and prevents tooth decay—a cheap and safe way to improve dental health for everyone, rich or poor, conscientious brusher or not. That’s the scientific and medical consensus.

To which some people in Portland, echoing antifluoridation activists around the world, reply: We don’t believe you.

We live in an age when all manner of scientific knowledge—from the safety of fluoride and vaccines to the reality of climate change—faces organized and often furious opposition. Empowered by their own sources of information and their own interpretations of research, doubters have declared war on the consensus of experts. There are so many of these controversies these days, you’d think a diabolical agency had put something in the water to make people argumentative. And there’s so much talk about the trend these days—in books, articles, and academic conferences—that science doubt itself has become a pop-culture meme. In the recent movie Interstellar, set in a futuristic, downtrodden America where NASA has been forced into hiding, school textbooks say the Apollo moon landings were faked.

In a sense, all this is not surprising. Our lives are permeated by science and technology as never before. For many of us, this new world is wondrous, comfortable, and rich in rewards—but also more complicated and sometimes unnerving. We now face risks we can’t easily analyze.

We’re asked to accept, for example, that it’s safe to eat food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) because, the experts point out, there’s no evidence that it isn’t and no reason to believe that altering genes precisely in a lab is more dangerous than altering them wholesale through traditional breeding. But to some people the very idea of transferring genes between species conjures up mad scientists running amok—and so, two centuries after Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, they talk about Frankenfood.

The world crackles with real and imaginary hazards, and distinguishing the former from the latter isn’t easy. Should we be afraid that the Ebola virus, which is spread only by direct contact with bodily fluids, will mutate into an airborne superplague? The scientific consensus says that’s extremely unlikely: No virus has ever been observed to completely change its mode of transmission in humans, and there’s zero evidence that the latest strain of Ebola is any different. But type “airborne Ebola” into an Internet search engine, and you’ll enter a dystopia where this virus has almost supernatural powers, including the power to kill us all.

In this bewildering world, we have to decide what to believe and how to act on that. In principle, that’s what science is for. “Science is not a body of facts,” says geophysicist Marcia McNutt, who once headed the U.S. Geological Survey and is now editor of Science, the prestigious journal. “Science is a method for deciding whether what we choose to believe has a basis in the laws of nature or not.” But that method doesn’t come naturally to most of us. And so we run into trouble, again and again.


War on Science  – Discussion          

The article “War on science: Why do so many reasonable people doubt science?”, published by Nat Geo is indeed a wonderful article explaining the complexities that human beings and their ecosystems are going through in recent times. It is well-accepted truth that we are in a time of scientific innovations, and technological growth is at a rapid pace, we also refer to this era as the era of information. However, this article made me critically think about the issues that we have been dealing with for such a long time, yet there is no particular initiative to counter or overcome it and that issue is our ethical code of conduct.

The critical issues of the citizens of Portland, Oregon regarding the fluoride issue are very shocking from the environmental wellness point of view, it sets a disastrous example of unethical misinterpretation, misinformation, and manipulative approach to the suppression of truth for personal political gains. It is an undeniable fact that with time science and technology have absorbed us completely, and we are massively dependent on them, however, it is our responsibility to understand that the environment around us, the ecosystem that we live in is our ultimate essence of existence, if that is disturbed, everything perishes (Lemke, 2018, p.40).

I can relate this article to our studies of environmental ethics, as the core solutions to these environmental problems mentioned in this article, can only be resolved by the ethical code of conduct that we as human beings can follow to save our world. It is very much evident that philosophical beliefs, political indulgences, and economic needs are the parameters that have a huge impact on the ethical sustainability of the environment, and the most important question that human beings need to explore is how well we recognize the ways of our life, the socio-political structures, its impact on the ecosystem and the overall sustainability of the environment where we exist and only with sustainable developmental initiatives, it can be resolved (Keitsch, 2018, p.829).


Keitsch, M. (2018). Structuring ethical interpretations of the sustainable development goals—Concepts, implications and progress. Sustainability10(3), 829.

Lemke, T. (2018). An alternative model of politics? Prospects and problems of Jane Bennett’s Vital Materialism. Theory, Culture & Society35(6), 31-54.

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