by Denyse O'Leary
Winnick observed the same pattern - during roughly the same time period - in the public panic about overpopulation. (Pp. 40-44) Discussing a widely read population zealot, insect specialist Paul Ehrlich, she notes,
Few in the scientific-intellectual community or in the media challenged Ehrlich's preposterous claims or the coercive methods he suggested. Those who did were treated like heretics. (p. 40)Actually, the dissenters were in fact heretics because "science", in the Sputnik and "space race" era, had rapidly morphed into a popular religion, one that would deliver us from evil, real or imagined.
In the case of Ehrlich's "population bomb," the evil was imagined. People might as well have worried that the devil would run off with them. Actual population trends during the period clearly showed that the peak had already passed. Birth rates were falling on most continents.
The world's population increase (chiefly due to reduced childhood deaths) was the outcome of previous higher growth rates. That is, people who were born into large families grew up to have children themselves instead of dying young. That created the impression of continued rapid growth. But those people were not in fact having nearly as many children.
As I noted at the time, if there had ever been a crisis, it was over before it was announced.
However, the outcome of the panic has been that birth rates across Europe and in many parts of North America have fallen to such low levels that planned social programs for the elderly may not be sustainable. So much for the benefits of pop science panic.
Now here is the remarkable part of the story, which Winnick points out: The correct information was both easily available and easy to understand. But,
... the very scientists who preached the scientific method, who glorified the study of science for its objectivity, these were the very men and women who chose to ignore the data there in front of them. These were the folks who pushed their political agenda at the expense of fact. (pp. 41-42)
Deeply concerned with the social justice issues that often result from the popular glorification of science, Winnick then tells the story of Baby Fae, the heart-damaged child who received the heart of Goobers, a baby baboon, in 1984. Her doctor enthused that she might live to see her twentieth birthday.
Next: Part Two: The social justice costs of glorifying "science"
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