“Parallel science” of NGO advocacy groups: How post-modernism encourages pseudo-science

Political ecologists–commentators in the media and among NGO advocacy groups–like science…when it confirms their views. When it contradicts them, rather than changing their minds, they often prefer to change the science to fit their ideology. They have thus created a “parallel science.” Which should not be confused with pseudo-sciences (e.g. astrology, false medicine, the paranormal, ufology, etc.).

Pseudo-sciences may harm naive believers, parallel “science” is harming democracy. It is a component of a predetermined political project to the exclusive benefit of the ideological views of a minority. “Parallel science” seemingly resembles science, but it differs from science since its conclusions precede experimentation.

Parallel “science” has been created to replace scientists, especially in risk assessment, by “experts” (often self-proclaimed) supportive of a political project. This parallel “science” is hidden behind positive-sounding terms, such as “citizen science” or “independent” or “whistleblower”, while mainstream scientists are accused of having “conflicts of interest” or having ties with “industry”. In order to further propagate distrust in current risk assessment, parallel “science” will invoke unrelated past health problems or environmental damages, but never to the way science has solved problems.

Real impediment for public understanding of science

Political ecology has turned to the strategy of the parallel “science” on various themes. Recent examples of this in France are the “Centers for Independent Research and Information” (CRII), with separate organizations focused on nuclear energy (CRIIRAD), electromagnetic waves (CRIIREM) and of course GMOs (CRIIGEN). The latter just republished his controversial retracted paper that tried, but failed, to show a link between herbicide resistant GM corn and the herbicide glyphosate to tumors in rats.

“Parallel science” is not a marginal phenomenon. It has highly publicized heterodox publications (e.g. CRIIGEN’s study on rats), organizes “conferences” inviting activist scientists (e.g. the International Conference on Implications of GM Crop Cultivation at Large Spatial Scales (GMLS) “conferences”), owns “research institutes” (mixing parallel “science”, ideology and business; e.g. Center for Biosafety (GenØk) in Norway) and even “scientific” journals. “Parallel science” likes to constitute networks of “independent scientists” working for the “public-good” (e.g. European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility—See GLP profile of ENSSER) Parallel “science” has huge financial means and dominates the Internet.

Never-ending controversies

Critical views of GMOs (and other technologies) are not always based on facts, but often on personal choice. This is not the problem. The problem is when allegations that have been demonstrated to be erroneous are kept alive as if they were true. This is because “parallel science” is impervious to criticism by the rest of the scientific community (the two parallel lines never meet). While orthodox scientists want primarily to convince other scientists and review all empirical data, parallel scientists want media attention and present cherry-picked data. Therefore, parallel “science” will show rats with tumors allegedly caused by a GMO or a pesticide, but will omit to show pictures of control rats that also had similar tumors.

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Post-modern drift

Why is parallel “science” not discredited and why is it represented so uncritically by the media? The answer partly lies in the current dominance of a relativist ideology. The danger of such a postmodern approach to science is that it considers all points of views to be equally valid and thus raises the value of “independent” (in fact ideological) views to the same level as scientific ones. Multidisciplinary approaches (which are necessary in science) are often confused with the pluralistic expre­ssion of opinions (which are necessary in democracy). But science is not a matter of democracy; science is about the application of a method. What is a matter of democracy is to share scientific knowledge and the ability to exclude adulterated products of all kinds. This is not to say that an “educated” public will necessarily accept all technologies. But without education, freedom of choice will definitely not exist.

Counter-productive background noise of false allegations

It is clear from the experience with the GMO dispute that the “parallel science” created by its opponents has not benefited the public; it has only led to the spreading of unfounded fears. Therefore, when parallel “science” self-proclaims itself as a counterweight to corporate power, this should, at best, be considered as political sleight.

Criticism of political ecology and its “parallel science” does not mean dismissing existing concerns, but it is important to point out that some organizations create these “concerns” due to their exceptional ability to manipulate the media and Internet. This diverts resources targeting scientific risk assessment, public authority actions and media attention from real threats to fake problems.

Marcel Kuntz is director of research at CNRS (France). His new book (OGM, la question politique) was just published by Presses Universitaires de Grenoble.

32 thoughts on ““Parallel science” of NGO advocacy groups: How post-modernism encourages pseudo-science”

  1. “Pseudo-sciences may harm naive believers, parallel ‘science’ is harming democracy. It is a component of a predetermined political project to the exclusive benefit of the ideological views of a minority.”

    You mean like global warming/climate change/climate disruption/whatever?

    Funny you should say. Dr. Andrew Lobaczewski was a psychologist in Poland during the Soviet era. Dr. Lobaczewski worked with other mental health experts in appalling Soviet-controlled conditions to produce a striking analysis of mental disorders associated with totalitarian dictators, also known as psychopaths. Dr. Lobaczewski posited that psychopaths, psychopath enablers, and psychopath foot-soldiers shared a variety of hereditary abnormalities or traumatic injuries which created psychopathic and related conditions.

    Psychopathy is the world’s worst mental disorder, causing the deaths of millions, and massive economic damage. The good news is that psychopaths always fail. The bad news is that the psychopath’s supporters and his opponents both pay the high social and economic costs of the psychopath’s failure.

    We are not through paying the costs of psychopath Obama and his supporters in the Democratic Party.

    • What, exactly, does this have to do with this article?

      We agree at least insomuch that climate change is one of these sciences that has become heavily politicized and, thus, represents two parallel lines of study.

      I suspect we (and the bulk of the scientific literature) disagree on which of those is the parallel science, though.

      Whether or not the president of the United States is a psychopath, however, is an entirely irrelevant point to this discussion.

      • Pseudo-science is a primary indicator of psychopathic personality disorder. Psychopaths ignore that which is important, like the unemployment problem, and waste billions or trillions of dollars on the irrelevant, like fake climate problems.
        Hitler ignored real German economic problems to start a quite unnecessary war. That is what psychopaths do.

  2. Yes. This seems to reflect some of the thoughts I had when the Seralini article was republished in Environmental Sciences Europe. I made a comment on GLP’s “Scientists react to republished Séralini GMO maize rat study” article:

    – From the republished article introduction, “The only aim is to enable scientific transparency and, based on this, a discussion which does not hide but aims to focus methodological controversies.” That, I believe, is a positive. What I’m wary of though is in which context this study will be referred to, and by which audience. If this article were cited in a context referring to methodology, fine. But what’s more likely is that this article will be cited in context of it’s conclusions of exposure to Roundup not by scientists or peers, but by agenda driven conspiracy theorists that are all too eager to, “Find the one article that disproves all the rest.”

    ….. Public belief is not science. Fox News’ clips discussing polls saying that 1 in 4 Americans don’t believe climate change exists is a testament to that….. Scientists underestimate what it means to “defend themselves” in terms of public opinion, because public opinion is not based on rational argument, intellectual rigor, and reproducible study. It’s based on emotion, hearsay, and conjecture. You can scrutinize the methodology of the Seralini study until you’re blue in the face. They’ll only walk away with the part they do understand, “Tumors seen in mice…..” –

    And indeed, there are already those politicos that are citing the republished article as ‘evidence’ of glyphosate being unsafe. A farce for anyone that has read the Seralini study critically, but arguing with those that believe it does cause cancer is a fool’s errand. It’s unfortunate that these people can use their misguided beliefs to petition and sign laws that have no basis in fact, only their opinions.

      • Yes. I know what a GMO is. My point is the concept of “parallel science”, or finding evidence based on a forgone conclusion, can also be applied to the pseudo-science known as Climate Change. In fact, the “parallels” between GMO and Climate Change are striking.


        • Sorry, but 10,000 independent scientists from all around the world, not just the USA, disagree with you. This is not an AMERICAN conclusion. This is a world-wide conclusion. You still are not paying attention.

          • Logical fallacies: appeal to authority and Argumentum ad populum. Just because 10,000 people believe something and that those 10,000 people are (supposedly) scientists does not mean it is true. See the research on ulcers, once thought (by almost all physicians) to be caused by stressed, proved to be caused by bacteria.

            Sorry. Try again.

          • But they are authorities and they are from more than 100 nations so your arguments fall flat on their faces into the mud. Ulcers? Now who is changing the subject.

            Seriously, if you cannot accept science, which gives us our best approximation of what is, then you are a solipsist and there can be no reality for you.

          • Again, you need to stop with the appeal to authority. It is not a rational, logical, scientific argument. It is a logical fallacy. The data, and the science, just do not substantiate an increase in temperature due to CO2. There is no direct link. It just isn’t in the data. Correlation does not prove causation, and there isn’t even correlation. The most that can be concluded is, maybe, the increase in CO2 follows an increase in temperature, but even that is tentative. The science is far from settled. You and your scientists have nothing. And people are waking up to the fact.

            Sorry, try again.

          • ok, i’ll bite. 10,000 scientist state that something is a fact, then it’s a fact.
            you say, no, it’s not a fact (your words “true”)
            so, how can anyone know what a fact is?
            also, your example is a medical cause and effect, which (you say) was incorrect.
            so, what? medicine and scientist continually update their conclusions based on the available evidence.

  3. Postmodernism, an approach to literature, has nothing to do with the phenomenon of bad science. Bad science has been out there as long as there have been strong economic interests to protect. So, for a long time, as Los Angeles sweltered in yellow smog, the auto and oil companies protested that there was no proven link between smog and disease. (Just as now the threatened economic interests are denying climate change.)

    Recent studies have shown the difficulty in getting rid of the claims of bad science. Putting ads on television, for instance, to say “Vaccines do not cause autism” apparently has the effect of reinforcing the false belief in a certain section of the community, a section that has been sensitized to question scientific claims, not by parallel scientists, but religious groups whose rigid Biblical beliefs are most at stake in their war with science.

    • Actually literature is only a tiny subset of postmodernism. Need to freshen up on idigicsl and philosophical movements. I’m 62 years old and can tell u flat out that no one–in science or industry–denied link of smog to health. The reality is that enviro NGOS in invoke relativism and the so-called subjective nature of truth to reject empirical data for ideological memes. Enviro romanticism gone wild.

      • As to your blinkered comment about no one denying a link between smog and health, the GOP right wing is still doing it today: http://mediamatters.org/research/2011/07/27/smog-screen-conservative-media-contradict-healt/183368

        And as to the opposition from the auto and oil industry to the truth of the connection in the 1940s and 50s, see: http://www.autolife.umd.umich.edu/Environment/E_Overview/E_Overview4.htm

        In particular, this quote:

        “Multiplied by thousands of cars, the smog problem in Los Angeles was critical. California became the logical testing ground for several emissions-control devices and some pioneering legislation. Initially, neither the automobile industry nor the petroleum industry was a willing participant in addressing the problem. For its part, the auto industry was not interested in committing time or money to redesigning its cars, and only reluctantly and largely because of new legislation was forced
        to retrofit cars with emission-control devices.”

        • Interesting that you should call the GOP “right wing” as if it were a bad thing. I presume you are a Dem which is also a party of the far right, and actively engaged in suppressing debate on scientific issues.

          • Suppressing debate on scientific issues???? I don’t think that calling religious claims “debate on scientific issues” is accurate. If you are thinking of global warming, scientists and Democrats have responded to all of the false scientific claims of the far right – also known as the GOP. That is hardly suppression of debate.
            But I don’t find that anyone in the GOP respects science. Just look at the public statements of GOP politicians.

    • The only economic interest threatened by the denial of Climate Change is the scientific-grant complex. It is hilarious how you warmists will go to great lengths to prove a connection between so called “Climate Change” denial and the oil and gas industry, but ignore the obvious and monstrous scientific grant industry in funding research into “Climate Change.”

      Hypocrisy thy name is Climate Change.

  4. This balderdash showed up when I signed out of my yahoo e-mail account. It seemed to be posing as a news article. Parallel science, or just evil nonsense?

      • It’s not a logical fallacy to appeal to authority, when the people you’re pointing to are the actual authorities on the subject. The fallacy you’re referring to is actually an appeal to an _inappropriate_ authority, like asking a mechanical engineer for advice on health issues. He’s pointing to climate scientists, who are the appropriate authorities on climate science.

    • PR and science are not necessarily exclusive. NGOs ran PR campaigns on many issues, and as in the case of GMOs, it’s often in defiance of science and not in support of it. Industry PR on GMOs are usually far more science based than NGO PR on GMOs. Everything depends on the kind of companies or organizations making up a lobby group. Tobacco companies and environmental groups share a common legacy–both are ideological driven with problematic reliance on science. So addressing such issues on a case by case basis is critical.

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