“The reality is that all scientists have personal ideologies, motivations and goals – all of which can potentially introduce bias into research. Scientific work should be evaluated on its merits, not on ‘conflicts of interest’ that may or may not exist,” wrote Elizabeth Whelan recently in Spiked Online.
Playing the card of ‘conflict of interest’ is perhaps playing the first rule of propaganda:
1. The rule of simplification: reducing all data to a simple confrontation between ‘Good and Bad’, ‘Friend and Foe’.
Norman Davies in Europe a History, has written that theorists of propaganda have identified four other basic rules:
2. The rule of disfiguration: discrediting the opposition by crude smears and parodies.
3. The rule of transfusion: manipulating the consensus values of the target audience for one’s own ends.
4. The rule of unanimity: presenting one’s viewpoint as if it were the
unanimous opinion of all right-thinking people: drawing the doubting individual into agreement by the appeal of star-performers, by social pressure and by ‘psychological contagion’.
5. The rule of orchestration: endless repeating the same messages in different variations and combinations.
Many of these rules of propaganda are applied in various combinations on popular blogs – but I wonder how often they are recognized as such.
The rule of unanimity (no. 4) is perhaps the card most frequently played against my work on the Murray River and also often played against ‘climate skeptics’.
And I am reminded of Henry Miller’s joke:
“How can you tell whether a whale is a mammal or a fish?” a teacher asks her third-grade class.
“Take a vote?” pipes up one of the pupils.