Virtual Voices

Beware of science and public policy

Science

Scientists, like doctors, hold enormous sway. When they pronounce, people listen. For example, some scientists in recent years have made much of the world believe that global warming is primarily man-made and must be stopped at all costs. The fate of the planet, they tell us, hangs in the balance. Cracks in their research reporting and their scientific neutrality regarding policy, however, have recently emerged. Could it be that they're wrong? That's a serious question to ponder when considering the costly, drastic steps they recommend.

Michael Cook, writing in the current issue of Salvo magazine, reveals the fact that it was science (junk science, as it turns out) that was behind China's one-child policy, instituted in 1980. As a revered scientist, Chinese missile expert Song Jian was allowed the rare privilege of traveling overseas. In 1978, Song was shown a computer model by two Dutch birth control theorists that predicted global catastrophe if the world's population was not brought under control. Song bought into their theory and sold it, so to speak, to his friends in the Chinese Communist Party. As Cook writes, "What Song confidently offered them was the illusion of precision. In their isolation from the West, these Chinese officials had never even seen computer modelling and graphs. They found ideas like 'spaceship earth' and the mathematical control of childbearing utterly compelling."

Thirty years later, millions of babies have been aborted or killed. By some estimates, the growing elderly population, with fewer middle-aged workers to support them, threatens to crush the Chinese economy. Because more baby girls than boys are aborted or killed, it's predicted that up to 15 percent of Chinese men will never be able to find wives.

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Scientists, like everyone, are fallible, and so are their theories. There's almost always a place for some healthy skepticism and, more importantly, the knowledge that science is never the ultimate answer.

Marcia Segelstein
Marcia Segelstein

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