No rationale for debating with nonsense…

BMJ Published 23 June 2010     Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c3367

Northern Ireland’s minister for culture once wrote to the Ulster Museum urging it to reflect creationist and intelligent design theories of the universe’s origins. While being interviewed about this on BBC radio he was ambushed by Richard Dawkins, whose withering scorn reduced the minister to an incoherent babbling about intolerance and equality and the need for debate. It was funny but also embarrassing; yep, that’s our minister for culture, folks, don’t it make you proud?

It also illustrates the dangers of a politically correct search for balance. When the director of the CERN Institute is interviewed about the hadron collider and the nature of the universe, you don’t expect an alternative view from Mrs Poots from Barking, who believes that the stars are little fire-folk sitting in the air and that quarks are little white mice that can scurry very fast and that the hadron collider obviously wasn’t going to work because the scientists didn’t put out enough cheese. The interviewer then turns to the director. “So, why didn’t you put out enough cheese?” he asks accusingly.

In science there is no point in debating with nonsense and superstition; even entering a debate lends the nonsense an undeserved credibility, implies there is a middle ground, that the truth lies somewhere in between. Medicine is particularly vulnerable to those who peddle the illusion of knowledge to the gullible and the vulnerable; consider MMR versus anti-MMR, homoeopathy versus medicine that actually works, the tooth fairy versus regular dental hygiene, Santa Claus versus your parents buying stuff, female circumcision, astrology, the stork theory of making babies.

It’s not even lies, it’s just . . . bullshit.

Science acknowledges uncertainty, so I’ll allow that I might be wrong. Some of these mightn’t be just fairytales; the tooth fairy could be a very hardworking lady; and it’s theoretically possible that there’s a big fat beardy guy at the North Pole who can warp time and space. If there are so many imitators, as with Elvis, then yes, Virginia, there must be a real Santa Claus somewhere. There, you see, I’m being properly scientific, always ready to change my mind when presented with credible evidence.

OK, I know this isn’t fair, I’m being narrow minded, I’ve sold out to the Man, I’m under the thumb of big pharma; but you’ll have to forgive my cynicism.

I can’t help it because I’m a Scorpio.

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