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Freedom and Censorship: A Compilation

Krisis 5/6 (1987), 236-239.

IDEALS

“In my view science is not just an epistemological but also a moral achievement. . . . the scientific community exhibits a model or ideal of rational co-operation set within a strict moral order, the whole having no parallel in any other human activity. . . . [it] enforces standards of honesty, trustworthiness and good work against which the moral quality of say Christian civilisation stands condemned.”
Rom Harré, Philosopher, Oxford University

Selling Dolly: An Ethics Hoax

Scientists Advocate Policy: In Vitro Fertilization in Australia
Freedom and Censorship: A Compilation
The Resource Allocation Dilemma

“Uncompromising, indefatigable pursuit of truth, then, is the hallmark that distinguishes science from the charlatan. It constitutes the indispensable ethic of science.”
Max Born, Physicist

“The scientist must be willing to retrace his steps, eat his words, admit errors and defeat, change his mind under pressure of better argument, even acknowledge the superiority of a rival scientist. To live up to these tenets is not always easy, and our saintliness is not unstained.”
Hans Gaffron, Salk Institute

“The assumption [of academic freedom] is that he or she is a free agent, not under orders from an outside group to indoctrinate or cook his evidence, not bought, and not a fanatic committed to a predetermined conclusion regardless of the evidence.”
Sidney Hook, Philosopher

“There is no reason to suppose that scientists, as a class, whatever their opinions of themselves, have been born free of any modicum of human frailty to make them morally superior to any other group of people. Scientists can often been seen to be unduly proud of their work, usually in inverse proportion to its worth, and as with ordinary unthinking mortals, they become so attached to their ideas as to be incapable of being adequately critical of them.”
R. A. Lyttleton, FRS, Astrophysicist

“Now I would like to challenge a simplistic value—that it is wrong to use unscrupulous means to advance one’s career in biology. Before you steadfastly answer yes, look closely at some role models of the profession. . . . why should less distinguished scientists be honest when unscrupulous behavior is rewarded with celebrated scientific recognition? Science advances by finding answers to questions about nature. Whether or not a scientist is scrupulous has no bearing at all on scientific discoveries.”
Donald Perry, Biologis

  • ORTHODOXY
  • PEER REVIEW
  • ACADEME’S TAMMANY HALL
  • Thomas Gold on The Science Career
  • Luc Montagnier on The Science Career

“I think it’s fair to say that a new idea, something that confronts existing dogma, has an uphill road . . . there is certainly no question that there is prejudice in favor of the existing dogma.”
Daniel Koshland, Editor of Science

“My own experience is that senior biologists come down hard on subordinate biologists who speak their own mind about unflattering subjects of biology.”
Donald Perry, Biologist

“If I go out and do something that’s unpopular, I’m not going to get tenure . . . That’s true. So there aren’t very many unorthodox [grant] proposals, and those that come in are usually treated very harshly.”
Geoffrey Burbidge, University of California

“Perhaps the only thing that saves science from invalid conventional wisdom that becomes effectively permanent is the presence of mavericks in every generation—people who keep challenging convention and thinking up new ideas for the sheer hell of it or from an innate contrariness.”
David Raup, Geophysics, University of Chicago

“Can political ideology destroy a field of science in a democratic society? I think not. Where free speech is guaranteed and the laws of libel are upheld, a fair share of adventurous and creative individuals in each generation will always be drawn to subjects considered to be forbidden or dangerous. They are the taboo breakers who enjoy the whiff of grapeshot and the crackle of thin ice.”
E.O. Wilson, Sociobiologist, Harvard University

“I think we must all try to be a little more vigilant about the possibility of censorship in science. Those who oppose publication of scientific ideas out of fearfulness about social consequences should heed the lessons of history.”
J. Philippe Rushton, Psychologist, University of Western Ontario

“I have had to face a large amount of opposition in virtually every case in which I have produced anything of novelty. In 1948 when we proposed the steady state theory of cosmology, Bondi, Hoyle and I found all the official astronomers extremely hostile. My theory of hearing was totally ignored and now 40 years later, when it has been found to be correct, the original paper on the subject is mostly forgotten. In the meantime someone who espoused the opposing and incorrect theory received a Nobel Prize for it.”
Thomas Gold, Physicist

“[W]hen I attended a faculty seminar at Berkeley devoted to [Derek] Freeman’s work, . . . I was not particularly surprised at its condemnatory tone. What did surprise me was the fail¬ure of the speakers to explain the substance of his critique of Mead to an audience largely made up of students. Indeed, the session seemed almost designed to convince the students that there was little of substance to Freeman’s attack; anthropology had nothing to fear and they—and their parents—could relax. All the speakers debunked his book as a piece of shoddy scholar¬ship. . . . despite his own clear condemnation of the eugenics movement . . ., Freeman was tarred with the brush of racism before an audience who, almost to a person, had not read his book. If this speaker had his way few did, as he pronounced its reading a waste of time before turning to consideration of the sinister motives which might have impelled Harvard University Press to publish such a poor piece of scholarship in the first place.”
Richard Basham, University of Sydney

“With the institutionalisation of science on a large scale, truth has triumphed. By collective fiat, the individual scientist is deemed to be among the elect; any serious deviation from the consensus, as may happen should he discover something new and profound, accordingly marks him as unsound or wayward.”
Hiram Caton, Griffith University

“Political rivalries are small passions compared to the hatred the average solid scientist has for the heterodox, hatred that has surely not been equalled in its fury since the days of the Spanish Inquisition. . . . Pressures are so great towards orthodoxy that it is unwise for a young scientist to report an observation or experiment should it happen to favour a declared heresy.”
Sir Fred Hoyle, Astronomer

“Peer review works against the really creative people who come along with new proposals that go against the mainstream. I think everyone knows that peer review basically leads to conformity.”
Geoffrey Burbidge, University of California

“The prejudice in favor of a pat ‘interpretation’, no matter how anomalous the observed phenomena, is particularly stifling when, as in journal refereeing and grant reviewing, it is essential to get consensus: Originality and independence of mind are least to be found in a committee.”
Philip W. Anderson, Nobel Physicist, Princeton University

“Peer review, in secret, is probably the single, most-abused ritual in academia. This is where the ugly biases of peers and seniors become law. This despicable mummery should have long ago been abolished.”
Donald Perry, Biologist

“Peer review in grant-giving process is so restrictive that most innovative scientists know that they would never receive funding if they actually said what they are going to do. Scientists therefore have to tell lies in their grant applications. Such views have been explicitly stated by a least two Nobel laureates.”
David F. Horrobin, M.D., Editor, Medical Hypotheses

“The preference for triviality in the truth industry appears from the production statistics. There are 40,000 scientific journals with an output of 2800 articles per day. This mighty deluge of truth is however apparently not consumed. Studies of readership indicate that the average scientific article has less than one reader—0.6 to be precise, based on citation counts.”
Hiram Caton, Griffith University

“It is . . . short-sighted to leave the management of the production of the end-product, which is the publication of results for general dissemination, in entirely irresponsible hands answerable to no one beyond their immediate coterie for their conduct, or in some cases hands concerned only with commercial success. Unrestrained censorship goes on in all directions, but the system [of peer review] is widely regarded as one of freedom when it is really no better than anarchic suppression to keep in countenance manifest rubbish claimed to represent scientific research.”
R. A. Lyttleton, FRS, Astrophysicist

“ . . the system of anonymous referees and blind refereeing is an insult . . . . an editor can intentionally pick a referee known to be strongly for or against the position presented in a paper, more or less ensuring the paper’s acceptance or rejection. In this way the editor’s evaluation can be covered up by reference to referees’ reports. The system also allows a ref¬eree to read a paper quickly and to accept or reject it on superficial grounds, or to make sar¬castic and destructive criticisms . . . the system presents authors with anonymous critiques that they are expected to take seriously even though they are written by referees who do not have as firm a grasp on the issues as have the authors themselves.”
Richard A. Watson, Philosopher, Washington University

“Nobody has yet presented me with a convincing argument in favour of anonymous refereeing. . . . Most vulnerable to anonymous refereeing are those working in controversial or rapidly developing fields . . . . Show me a scientist who favours anonymous refereeing and I will show you someone who is insecure. That is my opinion after thirty years’ experience.”
J. B. Wright, Geophysicist, Open University

“A negative report is tantamount to a veto. No matter how eloquent and justified a response to a report may be, no matter how persuasive an editor may be before the Board, no matter how many letters of support there may be, the Board will continue to be troubled by the issues raised in the critical reader’s report, members will focus on the negative aspects of the manuscript, and in the end reject it.”
Lewis Bateman, Executive Editor, UNC Press

‘However, fairness is a bilateral affair and what we have observed as professional presenters of dissenting papers is the appalling lack of objective scientific appraisal, some of it close to drivel. The reviewers frequently do not comment on very obvious key points, points that if they could refute would demolish our argument completely and remove us from the arena permanently.
Val Turner, MD, dissenting from the HIV/AIDS hypothesis

“. . . refereed publication has become a tyrant that must be dealt with by those who aspire to a career in academic science . . . current publication policies dictate what can and cannot be viably studied, what methodologies are acceptable in cost-benefit analyses of how research should be approached, and so on. Not only are there constraints on the quality of the questions that can be asked, but only certain ‘answers’ have any hope of public registry.”
Michael J. Mahoney, Psychologist, University of California

Chaos Theory
‘Editors of the top academic journals had deemed [Mitchell Feigenbaum’s] work unfit for publication two years after he began submitting it. The notion of a scientific breakthrough so original and unexpected that it cannot be published seems a slightly tranished myth. Modern science, with its vast flow of information and its impartial system of peer review, is not supposed to be a matter of taste. One editor who sent back a Feigenbaum manuscript recognized years later that he had rejected a paper that was a turning point for the field [of nonlinear dynamics]; yet he still argued that the paper had been unsuited to his journal’s audience of applied mathematicians. In the meantime, even without publication, Feigenbaum’s breakthrough became a superheated piece of news in certain circles of mathematics and physics. The kernel of theoy was disseminated the way most science is now disseminated--through lectures and preprints’.
James Gleick, Chaos: Making a New Science

Superconducters
“[R.A.] Ogg preceded Cooper by about a decade [in proposing a superconducting electron pair] but his ideas were put forward in the language of an experimental chemist, which is unforgivable. No one believed him, and his suggestions faded into oblivion. This may seem rather unfair to you but that’s how contemporary science works. In every discipline there is a select band of men whose ideas are taken up and propagated, so if you want to invent something great, try to associate yourself with the right sort of people . . . don’t try to make any contribution to theoretical physics unless you are a trained theoretical physicists, and don’t meddle in theology unless you are a bishop.”
Solymar and Walsh, Lectures on the Electrical Properties of Materials, 3rd ed, Oxford Press

“There is a current trend toward Public Relations and Power Politics in the academy, and the old standards are vanishing. Group dynamics and consensus are more important than validity.”
Colleen Clements, University of Rochester Medical School

“We have to be careful about legalities here, as [my adversaries] were not in the open as Derek [Freeman’s] were. Mine, being ethicists, were much more diabolical, and therefore perversely clever.”
Colleen Clements, University of Rochester Medical School

“It is interesting that before I became controversial, I was being nominated for high offices in various professional organizations, but the controversy brought all that to an end. . . . I have been excluded from certain forms of recognition on the grounds that it might bring opprobrium to the organization because of my ‘controversial’ views.”
Arthur R. Jensen, University of California

“It is becoming quite clear to us that the ethics game is rough at times and that some individual players are not above unethical behavior to win their advantage. . . . Since we reject certain foundational assumptions of the current vogue in medical ethics, there are a number of ethicists who, it appears, would like to vote us out of the club.”
Roger C. Sider, M.D., University of Rochester Medical School

“The most pressing problem for researchers has become how best to preserve their careers and financial support, not how best to search out the truth. In this atmosphere, anyone who points to problems of misrepresentation is automatically perceived as a troublemaker.”
Margot O’Toole, Whistleblower at the Whitehead Institute, MIT

“A theme running through all my conversations with my contact at Harvard [University Press] was that ‘we can’t afford another Freeman.’ I understand that several editors threatened to resign over my book [Feminism and Freedom], and again, the great fear in his mind was that one ‘controversial’ book was enough. It was quite clear from his remarks, over a period of a year, that ‘the Freeman book’ was a great trauma for Harvard.”
Michael Levin, City University of New York

“Publishing in the western world is an enterprise whose success depends on freedom of expression. . . . Reputable publishers know this, and do not lightly accept restraints on that freedom. Eminent historians have a duty to their subject; they do not readily collaborate with attempts to conceal historical truth. . . . These points are axiomatic. Or so I supposed until very recently. In the last few months I have had an experience which calls them into question. The experience has staggered me.”
Geoffrey Sampson, Historian

“The Problem that faces you, trying to make a career of science, is that you have studied a lot of facts and you have studied a lot of theory, and it becomes clear, as it always does, that the two don’t fit.

The question is, which to bend.

Now bending has become quite a science in itself. Anything can be bent, given the goodwill, the patience, the perseverance, the skill. To decide which to bend, you must think of the audience that your work will have. If this is a lot of characters who are keen on facts but are not too hot when it comes to thinking. . . then of course you would choose to bend the logic. They won’t notice. Or if they do, they will only say how sophisticated you are.

If, on the other hand, you are concerned with intellectuals or types of that kind, who think they are awfully smart and would like to trip you up on your logic, well then, of course, you must bend the facts. Those types usually don’t care too much about the facts anyway.

At first you may think that facts are hard and don’t bend well. But they do. The hardest facts can be bent by an expert like a twig on a willow. Or molded like putty. . . . No, facts just aren’t strong or hard. Only they are sometimes brittle. You mustn’t try to bend them all at once; but patiently, gradually. by degrees—paper after paper.”

“Many a young man ruins his career by publishing a set of facts, and a theory, and showing that they don’t fit together. That is quite wrong. It makes people mad, especially those who thought they had gotten things nicely adjusted. If you have to write about a conflict, do it with subtlety—one thing in one paper, the other in another.”



“We are raising young men that will not look at any scientific project that does not have millions of money invested in it. We are for the first time finding a scientific career well paid and attractive to our best young go-getters. But the trouble is that scientific work of the first quality is seldom done by the go-getters, and that the dilution of the intellectual milieu makes it progressively harder for the individual worker with any ideas to get a hearing. The degradation of the position of the scientist as an independent worker and thinker to that of moral irresponsibility has proceeded even more rapidly and devastatingly than I had expected.”
Norbert Wiener

“[D]uring the past two decades, the ethics of the scientific profession (at least among mathematicians) has declined to such a degree that pure and simple plundering among colleagues (especially at the expense of those who are not in a position to defend themselves) has almost become the rule, and in any case is tolerated by all, even in the most flagrant and iniquitous cases.”
Alexandre Grothendiek, University of Montpelier

‘In science there are always new problems. If it weren’t AIDS, it would be something else. I’m a gambler out for a big killing. Like a roulette player at the table, I’m addicted to getting results out of my laboratory’.

‘The media and the public think of us [scientists] as a cross between magicians and movie stars.’

‘From the start, AIDS has been a show business disease. The press and media have been fascinated by it. People are making major discoveries in other domains, but they receive none of the attention accorded to AIDS . . . ’

‘Scientists in the United States are forced to produce results, which sometimes warps their sense of ethics’.

On the US-French accord for licensing rights to immunoassay kits

‘This affair caused a lot of ill will, and AIDS is too important for the problem to have remained unsolved. It was giving certain scientists—and science itself—a bad name. Not to have fought would have created a bad precedent. It would have signaled that one can get away with anything in science, which isn’t true’.

Sources: Interview with Luc Montagnier, The Scientist, Dec 13, 1993, pp. 11, 21. Excerpt from Thomas A. Bass, Reinventing the Future: Conversations with the World’s Leading Scientists. Boston: Addison-Wesley, 1993.


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