Commentary  Shh! The scientific rationalists are speaking!


Dear Daily,

I was stunned to learn, in a recent issue of The Daily, that members of the “McGill science community” were so “deeply disappointed” with recent articles in the Health & Education section that they took to the pages of this hallowed publication to form a rebuttal (“Lies, damn lies and pseudoscience,” Commentary, January 28, page 7).

This letter does not attempt to argue against what I assume are well-researched counter-claims on homeopathy (who amongst us could argue against the ineffable study by Shang et al., which needs no explanation but its name?) and radiation from cell phones (their safety is proven by a cursory Google search! Duh!).

In a publication that “recognizes that all events and issues are inherently political, involving relations of social and economic power and privilege,” it seems ironic that Palus and Sheridan would, after ostensibly recognizing the value of criticizing science, patronizingly demand the caveat that those criticizing science would “not conflate other kinds of speculation, or critical thinking, with science.”

In other words, feel free to criticize science, just make sure to do it with scientific language.

To borrow a word from The Daily’s own vocabulary, this demand is problematic. There are countless examples in the history of science and medicine where the language of empirical proof and scientific reasoning has been used to justify practices that later caused great harm. McGill graduate Frances Kelsey, for example, was reticent to give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for the drug thalidomide, despite evidence from Europe cited by her colleagues that ‘proved’ its innocuity. The drug, which causes severe birth deformities if taken when pregnant, affected countless babies in the 1950s and 1960s.

The implication that science is somehow a separate, august entity, made up of purely rational and empirical facts is simply untrue, ridiculous, and unfortunately perpetuated by the aforementioned writers.

—Peter Shyba

Daily Health&Education Editor, 2011-2012