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Are the ‘deniers’ practicing better science?

Are the ‘deniers’ practicing better science?

I don’t deserve to be called a scientist, but maybe I’m at least a fringe scientist after spending 50 years doing engineering and then medicine.

What I learned about science during that half-century is that it is not about being right, but about finding weaknesses in prevailing theories. Its attitude is ever-skeptical. It is all about uncertainty, not certainty.  

Ignaz Semmelweis (1818-1865) was a Hungarian physician who practiced medicine before the discovery of germ theory. He is famous for …  washing his hands. In his day, the medical consensus was that washing hands before examining patients was unnecessary, and so, Semelweis and his physician colleagues serially examined pregnant women with bare, unwashed hands. On a different hospital floor, similar groups of pregnant women were being cared for by midwives, who did wash their hands between patients. The result: postpartum deaths from infections were 18% for the physicians and 6% for the midwives. 

When Semmelweis pointed this out, instead of effusively thanking him and immediately changing their practices, his fellow physicians stuck to the “settled science,” labeled him a denier, continued their deadly examinations and eventually drove Semmelweis — a true medical hero — insane.

What theories today do we accept as being settled but in fact are wrong? 

For example, President Biden has said that the sole threat to humanity’s existence is climate change, and that not even nuclear conflict poses a similar danger. That sounds too sure, too certain, and certainly hyperbolic and very unscientific. It is more like an apocalyptic religious prediction. Yet if you’re a climate scientist whose research findings cast any doubt on that prevailing theory you’re labeled a denier just like Semmelweis and your results are not going to get published nor are you going to get money for your research.

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Similarly, during the COVID lockdowns, doctors who suggested any deviation from the government’s party line were ostracized. For instance, we now know the virus most likely came from the Wuhan lab, yet to suggest that in 2020 was anathema to the doctor who said it. Same with scientists who had non-consensus opinions about masks, or letting kids return to school. Read about the “Great Berrington Declaration” to see what happened to top scientists at Stanford, Oxford, Harvard and the like, who dared to have a different opinion, yet now have been proven right. Furthermore, Sweden’s choice not to close schools and businesses now appears to have been a wise one. 

Climate change activists in particular have created a problem of credibility by pushing their claims of catastrophe so far that the only possible way out is to spend trillions and submit ourselves to an authoritarian global government because that is the only way we can be forced to change our behaviors that they say we must do or else be damned. The science is not settled on climate change despite activists and journalists blaming it for causing every severe weather event, including extreme cold and snowstorms this winter. I even heard one report which blamed climate change for causing increased earthquake activity.

Anyway, we humans are much better at adapting to change than mitigating it, especially when the change is going to be more gradual than the alarmists would have us believe. When temperatures vary 10 to 20 degrees from high to low on any given day, it’s hard to convince the lay public to live on less and the poor of the world to remain in subsistence-level poverty to prevent an overall increase of 2.5 degrees in average global temperature over the next 50 years.

We are not doing science when only certain results are acceptable. We must return to scientific skepticism which allows opposition. Enough absolutism about what we call “the science” which is anything but real science. Let us at least ponder the lesson of Semmelweis.

(Steven Crider is retired physician who lives in Waynesville. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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