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Relying solely on empirical facts

Science-lovers are Nazis, redux

The sacking of Professor David Nutt (cf) from his role as chairman of the British government’s Advisory Council on the “Misuse” of Drugs has provoked much comment, but none, I think, so chuckleheaded as that by AN Wilson yesterday, in which he trots out Hitler and the Spanish Inquisition to prove that science is not to be trusted. His argument is not only cod-historical, however; it is methodological too:

The trouble with a ‘scientific’ argument, of course, is that it is not made in the real world, but in a laboratory by an unimaginative academic relying solely on empirical facts.

Oh yes, that is the trouble with scientific arguments! Which is why we need a government that is, by contrast, superlatively “imaginative” and utterly contemptuous of “empirical facts” to save us from ourselves.

  1. 1  smfifteen  November 4, 2009, 9:44 am 

    Presumably, then, if AN Wilson ever (god forbid) ended up in hospital with a serious illness, he would be happy to receive treatment determined solely by a doctor’s hunch, imagination, or what day of the week it was, rather than treatment based upon scientific enquiry, statistical evidence, and challenged by peer review?

  2. 2  ste  November 4, 2009, 10:35 am 

    That Daily Mail link is amazing. Not the content — I haven’t clicked — but the URL alone.

  3. 3  Steven  November 4, 2009, 10:40 am 

    Yes! The URL is certainly informative in that it makes it very clear that you don’t need to waste your time reading the article in question. To save readers the trouble of hovering over it I will reproduce its insane poetry here:


    Perhaps the Daily Mail website is run by Cylon hybrids (or wry piss-takers)?

  4. 4  Kirk  November 4, 2009, 11:25 am 

    Some wags have noticed that you can add anything you like to a Daily Mail URL and it will still work. Thus they have been putting this story about as:

    Such things give me small amusement.

  5. 5  Other Alex  November 4, 2009, 11:44 am 

    Pah. This is NOTHING compared to this AN Wilson offering:

    Definitely a triumph of imagination over facts.

  6. 6  richard  November 4, 2009, 2:42 pm 

    This sort of thing used to give me headaches, but Microsoft Word recently provided me with a useful out; now I just say “there are too many errors in this document for me to continue displaying them.”

    I don’t envy you the job of trawling the Mail. It’s a rich source of both Unspeak and simple stupidity, and it is widely circulated, but really, don’t you long for something worthy of your talents?

  7. 7  Steven  November 4, 2009, 2:47 pm 

    Even Microsoft Word is a critic now?

  8. 8  Bruce  November 4, 2009, 3:28 pm 

    This is a subcategory of Crime Unspeak, I think. The British Crime Survey (for example) may not be perfect, but it compares pretty well (in terms of numbers surveyed, quality control, etc) to most other crime studies around the planet.

    But if the BCS shows falls in various categories of crime (as it tends to in recent years), then, hey, it’s just damned statistics. What about the “real world” of anecdotes. My parents’ neighbours’ friends got burgled only last week. So you can’t trust the stats.

  9. 9  Bruce  November 4, 2009, 4:37 pm 

    Incidentally, the studies aren’t conducted in “laboratories”, are they? Do they give subjects ecstasy in Lab A whilst getting people to ride horses in Lab B?

  10. 10  Steven  November 4, 2009, 4:41 pm 

    I should bloody well hope so, or I will demand to be refunded that portion of my tax which goes to science fascists to conduct their perverse Hitlerian-equestrian experiments.

  11. 11  des von bladet  November 4, 2009, 7:09 pm 

    Pig-ignorance is the Jew of science fascism!

    But surely Richard “All-Dawk” Dawkins is the one true Science-Hitler? This Nutt is barely a Science Goebbels.

  12. 12  Louis  November 5, 2009, 1:28 am 

    I thought the funniest part was the distinction he draws between ‘laboratories’ and the ‘real world’, as if the very existence of laboratories was a figment of some overly active imagination – or perhaps it was meant to mean that scientific laboratories exist in some other dimension entirely, governed by different physical laws.

  13. 13  sw  November 5, 2009, 2:48 am 

    I don’t know – I think my favourite was this:

    Going back in time, some people think that Hitler invented the revolting experiments performed by Dr Mengele on human beings and animals.

    How the hell are some people going back in time?

  14. 14  NomadUK  November 5, 2009, 7:09 am 

    How the hell are some people going back in time?

    Clearly, they’re only doing that in laboratorys; it has nothing to do with the real world.

  15. 15  Alex  November 5, 2009, 9:08 am 

    Wilson recently came out as a believer in sterilising the poor.

  16. 16  Alex  November 5, 2009, 9:09 am 

    Bah, html stripping is so 2003.

  17. 17  roger migently  November 6, 2009, 12:29 pm 

    Just want to thank you for introducing me to the Light of Reason, the Beacon of Common Sense, AN Wilson. (Who could have predicted on empirical grounds that he would get his gig in the Mail? )

    In Alex’s linked story about the “14th-time-benefits-pregnant” mother Wilson says her children “should, of course, be given every opportunity which society can afford to become decent citizens. We should encourage them to live life to the full.

    See, now there I have a problem. “Decent” people don’t “live life to the full”. They control their base urges like the good little secular Augustinians and Calvinists most of us grow up to be. Our quiet desperation is our “decency”, or at least decency is the cause of it; you know, not scientifically-speaking, like in a laboratory-tested sort of way. Just a non-scientific imaginative leap.

    May I misquote Wilson? “The trouble with anti-science argument is that it is not made in the real world, but in the roiling cesspit of his head by a raving-loony shock-jock relying solely on unquestioned, neanderthal stereotypes.”

    PS: I just love the url-crafters’ term, “benefits-pregnant”. The rest of the story is superfluous

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