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Steve Hansen: Be wary of who is funding scientific research


Can modern science be corrupted?

In today’s world, most tend to think of scientific conclusions as absolute. We assume ethical pathways to these unquestionable truths are always followed. In support of these perceptions, all of us have heard comments by zealous pundits such as, “All the scientists say ...” or, “Anyone who disagrees is a ‘denier.’”

But history has taught us a different lesson about the purity of science — especially when it is funded by those with political agendas. Take Nazi Germany, for example.

Research financed by the Third Reich had the primary purpose of supporting ideology promoted by the ruling party. Science did not exist to find unbiased truth, but rather to support the powerful with conclusions that they wanted to hear. It was a way to justify predetermined beliefs.

Scientists had to show results within this limited perspective or lose funding. Public ridicule, banishment from the profession, imprisonment and even death were all possibilities for those who went against the common wisdom.

The Nazis were out to prove the superiority of their mythical Aryan origin. University scientists, social scientists and anthropologists “cherry picked” data in order to support the idea of a “master” race, and that “pure” Germanic people were all direct descendents of it. Racial research “proved” that they were the oldest on Earth. Science was used to justify a number of governmental policies, ranging from rules for procreation to the extermination of the Jewish people.

The Nazis did not view themselves as evil, but rather as saviors of the human race. Their research supported beliefs that “purification” of bloodlines was necessary if mankind was to survive for another 1,000 years.

When distorted science was joined with a charismatic and powerful political leader, disaster occurred. Emotions ruled over reason. Group-think overpowered individual thought.

One result was a stand-out scientist named Albert Einstein, who left the country shortly before widespread persecution of the Jews began. His unique views on relativity were seen by the regime as threatening.

The Nazis had their own scientific theories. One was called the “Cosmic Ice Theory” — a belief that ice was the basis of all cosmic development in the universe. They saw this concept as the antithesis to what was referred to as “Jewish science.” Heinrich Himmler was reported as saying that one could not be a good National Socialist without supporting this “scientific” thinking.

Nazis used Darwinism to bolster their beliefs and to justify waging war. Adolf Hitler believed strongly in the “survival of the fittest” concept. The animal kingdom was at war for species dominance, and in his view, so was man. Only the strongest would survive.

In order to support his dogmatic thinking, the Nazis attacked traditional Christianity and tried to replace it with a secular belief system loyal to the party. They used the movie industry to influence the masses toward Hitler’s view of the world. Children were indoctrinated from an early age in schools and youth organizations.

But what does a study of history from 70 to 80 years ago have to do with modern science?

Whenever government leaders with political agendas join forces with the scientific community via researching funding, the results can run the risk of distortion and false conclusions. This can also apply to support by large corporations as well.

Scientists and their institutions are only human. It’s doubtful that a number of universities and researchers are willing to give up millions in monetary grants, as well as their livelihoods, by going against the grain of those who fund projects with expected predetermined outcomes.

Today, history could be partially repeating itself with agenda-driven, government-sponsored research. It may be simply cloaked within a different set of circumstances for a different set of political causes.

Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.