Education

Academia’s Consilience Crisis

The term ‘consilience’ has the enigmatic ring of some arcane secret quarantined in Ivory Towers, accessible only to the ghosts of wizened sages haunting cloistered halls. This is true in some sense – it was first conceptualized by the now-quite-dead William Whewell, a 19th-century natural philosopher, linguistic sorcerer, and polymath also credited with coining terms such as scientist and physicist, among other esoterica. Whewell made contributions to many budding fields of inquiry, a fact key to appreciating the definition of ‘consilience’ offered by gold-star biologist E. O. Wilson in his 1998 book, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge:

…literally a “jumping together” of knowledge by the linking of facts and fact-based theory across disciplines to create a common groundwork of explanation.

Dr. E.O. Wilson with insect collecting tools, Walden Pond, Massachusetts

Consilience makes the case for epistemological inter-relation, put into practice by the congregation of diverse fields of inquiry; it seeks to complete a magnificent chimera composed of illuminating ideas, seamlessly woven together. Wilson’s definition speaks to the vision of thought-leaders who foresaw hubris in forbidding different streams of knowledge from intermingling in our reservoirs of truth and wisdom, knowing they stagnate in isolation. Why then does ‘consilience’ remain underscored in red per spell-check’s sensibilities? Why is it a concept unfamiliar to most ears, including those of the highly-educated? Why does this legacy exist only in obscure reference and not in ubiquity?

Gad Saad is professor of marketing at Concordia University’s John Molson School of Business, and he uses his background in evolutionary psychology in a consilient approach to studying consumer behaviour. He is responsible for ‘The Saad Truth,’ a web-show on which he offers his perspective on current issues, and elicits commentary from a buffet of high-profile guests. The Saad Truth 431 features Dr. Saad pointing to the absence of consilience in many social studies programs as the vector point for epidemic-level insularity that compromises the integrity of scholarship, and carries consequences for our collective grasp of reality downstream. On Dr. Saad’s view, social scientists studying human behaviour who disregard our underlying biology are blunting their work’s explanatory force, and fatally diminishing quality by eschewing consilience.

Supplementing Dr. Saad’s views are those of famed decision-theorist Nassim Nicholas Taleb, showcased in his freshly-pressed Skin In The Game: Hidden Asymmetrics in Daily Life. They recently sat down to discuss the book, highlighting concerns about the modern state of academia. Taleb argues that, because scholarly success is determined by other academics in the realm of abstraction, opportunity exists to create intellectually sequestered spaces in publications and institutions. In these spaces, far-flung notions can circulate by catering to an audience of sympathizers unrestricted by competing theories; a rendition of the “echo chamber” phenomenon, in which only reaffirmations of specific views and attitudes are given oxygen. In contrast to the remote academics under discussion, Taleb provides counter-examples of various tradespeople such as bus-drivers and physicians, whose means of subsistence are subject to regular performance reviews and end-consumer satisfaction. They therefore cannot appeal to cadres of sympathetic colleagues for career sustenance. Taleb makes distinctions between the Arts and STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics); because the latter interfaces with material reality, the echo-chamber effect is largely circumvented.

Non-consilient attitudes from academics increasingly break the surface of the mainstream, making prophets out of Dr. Saad and Dr. Taleb. Consider the exchange on TVO’s The Agenda during a panel discussion involving, among others, psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson and Dr. Nicholas Matte, an interdisciplinary historian. Dr. Peterson supports his professional opinion with reference to data from a panoply of fields, many outside his areas of expertise. Dr. Matte’s position as an interdisciplinary scholar, likewise implies a consilient leaning. However, when they discuss gender identity, Dr. Peterson defers to the scientific consensus that gender has a heavy basis in biology, whereas Dr. Matte blithely declares that, “Basically, it’s not correct that there is such a thing as biological sex.”

Is this a watershed moment for the future of high-school biology curriculum, or a pardonable gaffe? It seems Dr. Matte did not include biology in his interdisciplinary catalogue, despite being a historian of science. As the discussion unfolds, he reveals an alarming investment in the absolutist gender-as-social-construct boilerplate – a claim disputed within the wider academic community, yet unchallenged in gender theory courses and leftist milieus. How can two professionals navigating similar seas face such a gulf in epistemology? Do the scientifically illiterate front the fields Nicholas Matte dabbles in, despite having presumably passed high-school biology themselves? Are they creating echo-chambers in which a regression in our understanding of reality is instilled?

As it turns out, not all social sciences are made equal – some are not even scientific, and will henceforth be referred to as ‘social studies.’ In an interview for the Simulation Series, Dr. Peterson explains the important difference between psychology and women’s studies: the former makes use of stringent scientific methodology for conducting research whereas the latter has none to speak of whatsoever. Peterson goes on to point out that women’s studies scholars generate hypotheses but do not test them, with no attempt at falsification or replication; two prerequisites for virtually everything considered true using the scientific method. Instead, women’s studies instructors insist on notoriously unreliable subjective accounts and rhetoric as the foundation of scholarship. Professors and students of any field employing similar pedagogy therefore have no ground on which to dispute the results of scientific research, if their claims are given by fiat and unsupported by anything meeting comparable standards of evidence.

Social studies, in contrast to the structured social sciences, appears to be a free-for-all. Consider the crisis of replicability in psychological research, which is characterized by researchers playing fast and loose with the scientific method in order to yield publication-worthy findings. Their results betray both a lack of transparency and intellectual honesty when they fail to replicate, rendering them suspect at best and fraudulent at worst. In a hierarchy of objectivity and empirical rigor, diligently conducted research resides in the top tier and invalid research in psychology sits in the middle, still ranking higher than anything on offer from social studies by dint of making at least partial use of the scientific method. This is an indictment of women’s studies and related fields, based on the fact that their work has less integrity than outright charlatanry elsewhere. The persistent rivalry between social studies and the sciences is illustrative of non-consilience, and isn’t a simple matter of disagreement: if social studies scholars seek to make categorical truth claims akin to the existence of gravity, they must concede that their current methods require overhaul to meet standards previously established in the sciences – business as-usual would be unbridled casuistry, usurping attention and resources.

Examples of non-consilience abound, confirming Dr. Peterson’s diagnosis of methodological failings now emblematic of social studies; a swift glance over New Real Peer Review’s Twitter feed suffices to jade even the most sanguine optimist. The page streams excerpts from work in a variety of social studies fields, and entry after entry reveals caricatures of scholarly undertaking bordering on self-parody. It is often the case that papers resulting in graduate and doctorate degrees read as nothing more than diary entries, strategically coated in a dense lacquer of incoherent jargon to distract readers from the lack of substance. Peruse the written confabulations at your leisure:

Pedantry posing as polish; diary entries are self-evidently anti-consilient because they are self-referential and anecdotal. Salt-worthy researchers of any stripe know that anecdotes do not qualify as research but are mere drops in the ocean of lived experience. Passing off personal diaries as scholarship is an affront to serious scholars, and it cheapens the painstaking work undertaken to earn their degrees. Weep for the culture when tenure is being awarded for glorified journaling, through institutions of higher learning using clear double-standards for academic achievement. Social studies neophytes should, at a minimum, familiarize themselves with methodologies used in other disciplines in order to round themselves out and become pedagogically savvy. By doing so, they can learn to identify quality work, and not wind up duped by zealot professors into adopting practices antithetical to honest inquiry.

Deliberately discarding consilience as a salient part of scholarly endeavour carries profound ethical implications, and amounts to the forced segregation of presently-available knowledge. It is easy to sympathize with tenure-track researchers, the value and longevity of their life’s work threatened by the intrusion of unfamiliar expertise – but, as scholars, they should know that avoiding contact with competing insights is tantamount to wilful ignorance. Social studies fledglings will understandably spout inchoate pronouncements on interpersonal and group dynamics because they have been kept in the dark about what real research looks like – that same understanding cannot be afforded to Dr. Nicholas Matte, a professor familiar with the scientific method as part of his training, but still content to mouth obscurantist agitprop.

Beyond sabotaging the pursuit of truth, there are material costs to foregoing consilience in academic discourse. What becomes of impressionable students? Are they to perpetuate dynasties of intellectual unscrupulousness, and internalize non-consilient attitudes? What of the tax-paying public upon whom researchers rely for their wages? Are they to be eternally fleeced, funding projects put forward by the undeserving? Such problems are only compounded when they evade attention and become generational. Cemented into the substructure of institutional operation, they become covertly normalized, and finally passed off as routine without a second thought. Worse still, culprits will insist on preserving these parochial trends, protected by the letters of false merit and authority next to their names.

Consilience is the highest-order, universal peer-review, with appropriate entailing demands; describing the world as it is – not as we arbitrarily perceive or wish it to be – requires an accounting of all information relevant to a topic of inquiry, especially that which challenges previously-held positions and biases. All of this is necessary to help ensure that we do not deceive one another in the name of academic territoriality. Scholars must finally concede that a refusal to engage with findings and methods in competition with their own is intellectual subterfuge; appeals to professional disagreement are only valid if all parties agree to professionalism. There is a difference between the scientist candidly stating the limitations of her work alongside the results, and the women’s studies professor using rhetoric in lieu of rigor to push unqualified ideological narratives; only the former can claim intellectual humility. Indeed, to reject consilience is to concede implicitly that one was never truly interested in truth at all, just an endorsed version of it.

Non-consilience in academia results in decaying scholastic integrity, brought about by a lowered bar for achievement in many social studies programs. How dare we balk at the number of doctorate degrees dished out in exchange for diary entries when review boards and supervising professors are lending them, with abandon, the credibility reserved for double-blind control studies? Fidelity to truth is regularly undercut by the stubborn provincial impulses of wannabe-scholars peddling bald assertion as currency. This is industrial-scale snake-oil retail, and it uses affectations of scholarly decorum as a marketing ploy. There is cause for indignation when the Dr. Mattes of the world receive funding, limelight, and credentials over honest researchers forced to slash at each other’s throats in gladiatorial contests for limited grants, ponied up by tax-payers. Accreditation policy screams for reformation; administrations must stop equivocating for anti-consilient practices endemic to many social studies programs, and hold all prospective alumni to standards becoming of higher learning.

The public is rarely clued-in to internal on-goings such as the consilience crisis in academia described here. Perhaps the discussion’s confinement to academic venues only adds to the list of reasons why it has gone largely undetected by the mainstream – but that can change with adequate exposure to sunlight. It is the prevailing nature of the consilience crisis that should give us pause. It is, at bottom, a problem of neglect, intentional or otherwise. Foregoing consilience has severe, reverberating consequences, causing exponentially more damage if left alone. Consciously adopting such a counterproductive modus operandi should come at a price – it is already costing everyone else, and the tab is heavy.

 

Phil Theofanos is an alumnus of Concordia University’s undergraduate Linguistics program. He is an idea connoisseur and mercenary wordsmith. You can follow him on Twitter @PhilTheofanos 

22 Comments

  1. Lilly P. says

    Brilliant. To see so much I have assumed through my own experience and observation so elegantly illuminated is truly special. There is, indeed, a consilience crisis and far too much pedantic academic arrogance… “parochial trends, protected by the letters of false merit and authority next to their names.” Lovely.

  2. ga gamba says

    How dare we balk at the number of doctorate degrees dished out in exchange for diary entries when review boards and supervising professors are lending them, with abandon, the credibility reserved for double-blind control studies? Fidelity to truth is regularly undercut by the stubborn provincial impulses of wannabe-scholars peddling bald assertion as currency. This is industrial-scale snake-oil retail, and it uses affectations of scholarly decorum as a marketing ploy. There is cause for indignation when the Dr. Mattes of the world receive funding, limelight, and credentials over honest researchers forced to slash at each other’s throats in gladiatorial contests for limited grants, ponied up by tax-payers.

    This is one the most pertinent points on the subject of autoethnographies I’ve read recently.

    This cloak of reputability and esteem also makes it difficult to purge the practitioners from the academe because they are lumped in with all those who are doing the genuine research. “You’re attacking education, you heathen. Cancer won’t cure itself, will it?” Nor will a diary entry do much to that end. Further, these academics’ views are privileged by both the legacy media and the unaware public. When “reputable” media broadcast and publish their opinions there’s a knock-on transnational effect; universities and mass media outside the Anglosphere tends to take what’s put out by academic journals and the MSM, in particular US and UK-based, at face value. When it’s a professor or even an advanced-degree holder, especially from an illustrious university, saying so it’s gospel.

    As a business model, autoethnographies are a cash cow for unis. They are easy for students to complete, don’t pose a challenge for the academics to supervise (provided the candidate complies to cherished identitarian narratives), don’t require the institutions to invest to expand research facilities, and typically don’t increase the number of people competing for research funding. Money in bullshit out.

    • So, Latin American academics don’t do research and think, they just read the English-language mass media for the truth and when they see a PhD after a name emanating from an American university, accept whatever notions espoused as obviously superior. Care to be a bit more condescending in your description of non-Western academics?

      • Bill says

        I agree with Rosa in that it overgeneralizes and is condescending; however, when you have tremendous pressure around “scientific consensus” in certain fields where disagreement with the consensus is heresy and gets one branded with monikers and stigma, it is plausible that academics in parts of the world already at a disadvantage to publication are skewed. The disadvantage is not necessarily condescension or racism but recognition of lower standards (aka degree mills) found at higher levels in some countries over others. Equally as skeptical as some non-US researchers views at US academics when they recognize that for many US institutions completion of the dissertation is often political and simply a matter of serving out the slavehood to their mentor’s research grants and saying the things that make their committee happy.

      • Yes that’s exactly what ga gamba was saying Rosa. You nailed it. He referred to the U.K. and the mass media and never mentioned Latin America yet you saw right through it. Brava.

      • ga gamba says

        Golly, you really hit the accelerator and drove right off the cliff there. Lemme send a wrecker.

        Did I say there’s no research happening? Of course not. What I said is overseas media and universities unduly privilege opinions and research coming from the US and the UK academe. I certainly didn’t say work is superior. This will be amplified more by mass media which preferences certain types of sensationalised research, but we see this problem in academic journals that are also favouring certain narratives and increasingly shying away from papers deemed controversial by the prevailing ideology. The institution issues a sexed-up press release; Anglophone MSM publish a story, often cherry picking the findings that conform to an editorial bias and omitting or downplaying less favourable info; this is picked up by overseas media for translation and publication. I think no one can deny the global reach and effect of US and UK media and academia dwarfs others, often to the detriment of the overseas audience mislead to believe certain things.

        But, since you said so…

        Regarding research outcomes and research development, several indicators again show that universities in the region are not performing well. For example, research outputs are low in the whole region with only one exception: Brazil, a country which is positioned in 15th place in the world (SCImago Journal and Country Rank 1996- 2014). Behind Brazil, we find Mexico (29th place), Argentina (32nd place), Chile (45th place) and Colombia (53rd place). Regarding the Science Citation Index 2011
        (CINDA 2015), Chile leads the group with 431 citations followed by Uruguay (294) and Argentina (275). The countries of the region with the lowest citations are Honduras (16), El Salvador (15) and Guatemala (14). Most of the citations are in specialised areas of science such as agriculture, natural sciences, microbiology, ecology and environment. And most of the research is conducted in mega universities (20 per cent of research) (CINDA 2015). […]

        A third issue is related to research and development. As described above, although the higher education system has grown both in the number of institutions and in widening participation, institutions are not strong in terms of research outcomes. This might be explained by several factors, the most important one being the low state investment in research and development across the region.

        But, don’t fret. As I wrote in my first comment there’s a lot of rubbish coming out of the US and UK due to the massification of tertiary education, the expansion of ‘studies’ departments, and the ease of which advanced degrees are awarded in many subjects (because students spend a lot money). This article explains the glut of uncited papers in the West. Here’s a highlight… erm… lowlight: Many academic articles are never cited, although I could not find any study with a result as high as 90%. Non-citation rates vary enormously by field. “Only” 12% of medicine articles are not cited, compared to about 82% (!) for the humanities. It’s 27% for natural sciences and 32% for social sciences. For everything except humanities, those numbers are far from 90% but they are still high: One third of social science articles go uncited!

  3. Jack Staff says

    This is an excellent summary of a serious failing in academia. We are turning out a generation of scarcely-qualified people who believe the world must conform to their personal interpretation of it, with no connection to fact, research or objectivity. No wonder the public is confused when so-called experts give opinions on important matters, and instead turns to the drivel spouted by celebrities.

  4. Alexandre H. says

    With all the talk about failing academia going on, it’s very nice to see it addressed with actual examples and reasons why it’s in such a bad state. Great article.

  5. I wrote about this last year on my blog in an essay titled “The Future of Social Science.”

    Academic social science is currently mired in a process and approach that narrows, rather than widens, its thinking. Here’s a quote from a prominent academic social scientist:

    “My field is not very scholarly. We are focused on experiments and methods. We are not even scholarly about the experiments and methods used 30 years ago; we are too caught up in the present

    This is what I came to see when I did a post doc at Chicago, in cultural psych; the anthropologists lived in a world of books and ideas. The psychologists lived in relatively recent journal articles.”

    Ironically, the place that seemed to me to suffer the most from the crisis of consilience was Heterodox Academy (HxA), the group formed to increase viewpoint diversity on college campuses because the lack of it harms science, the quest for knowledge, and academia itself. I’d post my thoughts in the comments section of some of their blog posts. Some of the worst instances of the crisis of consilience came from some of HxA’s core members.

    I’d make an assertion, they’d say “Show me the evidence,” I’d list the multiple books from history and social science and philosophy (e.g., Burke, Oakshott, Sowell) that inform my positions. They’d respond to the effect of “That’s not evidence, show me the scientific study.”

    It’s the reason I’d mostly given up on following what HxA was doing (until Musa al-Gharbi’s recent post). It felt like talking to a wall. The intellectual orthodoxy was impenetrable. My experience with HxA members is what prompted me to write my essay Future of Social Science.

    Human history is a massive trial and error experiment in how humans can best organize and administer societies. The evidence from this experiment is mountainous and rich. To effectively ignore it and instead focus on experiments and methods seems small minded; infantile.

    I’d even suggest that this fixation on WEIRD thinking (from “The Righteous Mind” by Haidt) and the eschewing of holistic, consilient thinking is a major factor of The Coddling of the American Mind, and its accompanying campus shout downs, shut downs, no-platforming, vandalisms, riots, and assaults: It shrinks, infantilizes, rather than expands the mind. It creates small minded, short sighted, thinking.

  6. The Iconoclast says

    OK, there’s a problem. Now what? How do you force rigor into or diminish the harm being done by these non-consilient social studies programs?

    • ga gamba says

      Roll back the ‘studies’ and ‘critical’ departments. The accreditation process needs to be overhauled, too. I think the professional associations and guilds have a part to play by examining what’s taught in unis and by whom. For example, twenty-one years ago the Society for Professional Journalists dropped objectivity from its code of ethics. Further, it replaced “the truth’ with ‘truth’, which embraced the dodgy notion of “my truth”, “your truth”, “his/her/their truth”. This green lit advocacy journalism and post-modernist ideology.

      These professional organisations’ official positions may not reflect the considered opinions of their members. They tend to be adopted by the small cadre of ideological activists who run the organisations and who slide in wording that appears benign. For example, the American Institute of Certified Planners’ code of ethics says: We shall seek social justice by working to expand choice and opportunity for all persons, recognizing a special responsibility to plan for the needs of the disadvantaged and to promote racial and economic integration. We shall urge the alteration of policies, institutions, and decisions that oppose such needs.

      Would a member taking part in the building of Trump’s border wall violate the ethical code? I suspect many members thought social justice was about hiring the marginalised, and it was likely pitched to them as this, but such language allows the interpretation that a wall doesn’t “promote racial and economic integration”. Thus, members working on such a project fail to meet their ethical responsibility to seek social justice. Let’s not forget, professional associations have the ability to sanction members.

      Within many professions exist sub groups committed to “social responsibility”, which sounds well intended, for example the Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility, yet another group that seeks “social justice”. It petitioned the American Institute of Architects to revise the code of ethics to reject projects “intended for torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment”. What are these buildings of terror? Prisons with cells for solitary confinement. Without an AIA member’s stamp of approval on the blueprints a project is stalled.

  7. While I sympathize with your concerns, it is disingenuous to lump together all of qualitative research methods under the heading of “autoethnography.”

  8. Derrick says

    Social sciences don’t have a problem specifically with “consilience” – they have a problem with the scientific method in general. The author seems to acknowledge this when he points at the neglect of falsification and replication in women studies, but otherwise he insists that the main problem is “consilience”. The real problem is the refusal of the scientific method, which includes “consilience”, falsification, replication, and several other principles.
    So the “consilience crisis” in academia is actually a “scientific method crisis”. This is very well known. I don’t see how stressing the importance of one aspect of the scientific method (in this case “consilience”) is going to improve the situation, when many social pseudo-scientists explicitly and proudly attack the whole scientific method.

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  10. Jesse M. says

    Dr. Matte’s claim that “it’s not correct that there is such a thing as biological sex” was not really elaborated in the clip I saw, but it might be interpreted as a statement that the notion of biological sex is just a matter of statistical correlations between various sex-linked anatomical traits, but that the correlations are not absolutely perfect (i.e. having one trait that is more typically male doesn’t make it 100% certain that all one’s other traits will also be typically male) so that there’s no absolute standards for putting every individual in one category or another. See for example the article from the scientific journal Nature at https://www.nature.com/news/sex-redefined-1.16943 which says “The idea of two sexes is simplistic. Biologists now think there is a wider spectrum than that.”

    • WeronikaD says

      This article was written by an ideologist, not a scientist. People are mammals. Mammals are sexually dimorphic. Chromosomal or genital abnormalities happen, but they represent a tiny proportion of all human births. That’s not sex being a spectrum. That’s sex being binary and having extremely infrequent exceptions. We’ve spent 1000s of years developing categories for things including sex and we use these categories to communicate to each other more efficiently. Society creates definitions for things that have a fundamental root in our biology.

      • Jesse M. says

        The article quotes numerous scientists and refers to scientific papers, did you read it? For example:

        The main problem with a strong dichotomy is that there are intermediate cases that push the limits and ask us to figure out exactly where the dividing line is between males and females,” says Arthur Arnold at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies biological sex differences. “And that’s often a very difficult problem, because sex can be defined a number of ways.”

        “Chromosomal or genital abnormalities happen, but they represent a tiny proportion of all human births”

        Do you think there is any precise scientific way to define what is an “abnormality” and what is within the “normal” range of variation?

        “We’ve spent 1000s of years developing categories for things including sex and we use these categories to communicate to each other more efficiently.”

        But now you’re talking about ordinary “folk” categories, not scientific categorization. From a scientific point of view, it’s important to understand that basically any category that isn’t defined in some mathematically precise way (as a function of precise arrangements of elementary particles, say) is inherently somewhat vague at the boundaries, even if it’s useful in a pragmatic sense and does reflect some *statistical* patterns in nature (so the claim is not that these are totally arbitrary social constructs). For example, when astrophysicists recently made the definition of “planet” more precise in a way that excluded Pluto, they didn’t claim to have made some new discovery about the objective physical world, merely noting some vagueness in previous usage of the term and picking the new definition for pragmatic (and possibly aesthetic) reasons. Likewise, dividing animals into distinct “species” may be straigthforward enough in most real-world applications, but we know any two organisms are connected by a chain of parent-offspring relationships to common ancestor, so there is no objective basis for saying where one species ends and another begins, all species differences lie on a spectrum. In science, intuitions based on essentialism or “natural kinds” (see https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/natural-kinds/ ) almost always lead one astray.

  11. Jay Salhi says

    “Taleb makes distinctions between the Arts and STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics); because the latter interfaces with material reality, the echo-chamber effect is largely circumvented.”

    While that statement is accurate it is ironic to see it coming from Taleb — a tinfoil hat conspiracy theorist who preaches hysterical nonsense about GMOs and biotechnology. Taleb is a high priest of an anti-science eco-chamber. Physician, heal thyself!

    • anon says

      Your comment is full of ad hominem attacks on Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I wonder if there is any history of coordinated attacks on critics of Monsanto, or on agencies raising concerns about the safety of Monsanto’s products?

      “We have been attacked in the past, we have faced smear campaigns, but this time we are the target of an orchestrated campaign of an unseen scale and duration.”

      -from Christopher Wild, Director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)

      from Le Monde (article translated from theFrench)
      http://www.ehn.org/monsanto-glyphosate-cancer-smear-campaign-2509710888.html

      I also wonder if there is a documented history of Monsanto spreading propaganda through major media outlets?

      “Documents show that Henry I. Miller, an academic and a vocal proponent of genetically modified crops, asked Monsanto to draft an article for him that largely mirrored one that appeared under his name on Forbes’s website in 2015.”

      https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/08/01/business/monsantos-sway-over-research-is-seen-in-disclosed-emails.html

      I also wonder about the supposed lack of possible tail risks presented by the widespread use of Monsanto’s genetically modified Roundup-resistant crops and the concomitant heavy use of Roundup (glyphosate)?

      “Just as the heavy use of antibiotics contributed to the rise of drug-resistant supergerms, American farmers’ near-ubiquitous use of the weedkiller Roundup has led to the rapid growth of tenacious new superweeds.”

      https://mobile.nytimes.com/2010/05/04/business/energy-environment/04weed.html

      http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2015/roundup-ready-crops/

      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5250645/

    • anon says

      Your comment is full of ad hominem attacks on Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I wonder if there is any history of coordinated attacks on critics of Monsanto, or on agencies raising concerns about the safety of Monsanto products?

      “We have been attacked in the past, we have faced smear campaigns, but this time we are the target of an orchestrated campaign of an unseen scale and duration.”

      -from Christopher Wild, Director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)

      “They show that Monsanto uses third-party companies that “employ individuals who appear to have no connection to the industry but who in turn post positive comments on news articles and Facebook posts, defending Monsanto, its chemicals, and GMOs.”

      from Le Monde (article translated from French)
      .ehn.org/monsanto-glyphosate-cancer-smear-campaign-2509710888.html

      I also wonder if there is a documented history of Monsanto ghost writing articles to influence public opinion?

      “Documents show that Henry I. Miller, an academic and a vocal proponent of genetically modified crops, asked Monsanto to draft an article for him that largely mirrored one that appeared under his name on Forbes’s website in 2015.”

      mobile.nytimes.com/2017/08/01/business/monsantos-sway-over-research-is-seen-in-disclosed-emails.html

      I also wonder about the supposed lack of risks presented by the widespread use of Monsanto’s GMO crops and the heavy use of glyphosate (Roundup)?

      “Just as the heavy use of antibiotics contributed to the rise of drug-resistant supergerms, American farmers’ near-ubiquitous use of the weedkiller Roundup has led to the rapid growth of tenacious new superweeds.”

      mobile.nytimes.com/2010/05/04/business/energy-environment/04weed.html

      How about concerns that Roundup could be carcinogenic, specifically raised by the IARC?

      “In a 2003 email, a different Monsanto executive tells others, “You cannot say that Roundup is not a carcinogen … we have not done the necessary testing on the formulation to make that statement…. The documents also show that A. Wallace Hayes, the former editor of a journal, Food and Chemical Toxicology, has had a contractual relationship with Monsanto. In 2013, while he was still editor, Mr. Hayes retracted a key study damaging to Monsanto that found that Roundup, and genetically modified corn, could cause cancer and early death in rats…

      “If somebody came to me and said they wanted to test Roundup I know how I would react — with serious concern,” one Monsanto scientist wrote in an internal email in 2001.”

      mobile.nytimes.com/2017/08/01/business/monsantos-sway-over-research-is-seen-in-disclosed-emails.html

  12. dirk says

    Even in my short life, I experienced the whole metamorphosis of social sciences in the Wageningen Agricultural University. Sociology in my youth was about enlightenment (voorlichting in Dutch) of traditional farmers, who had to be taught about modern, scientific methods like the proper fertilizers, breeding and betterment of plants and animals, cooperations, soil science, investments and financial book keeping and the like. The term used is: extension (of the knowledge of natural sciences). All of a sudden, the whole idea of enlightenment was forgotten, or ousted, and knowledge systems became the new hype, you had to listen to the farmers wisdom/nonsense/traditions. Enlightenment was arrogant, everybody,s knowledge is worthwhile. O.K., no problem for the Dutch farmers now, because they have become modern entrepeneurs long since. But in many development programmes for the third world this new approach (financed by many NGO,s) is rampant, because now the traditional ways (local seeds,no fertilizer, hybrids, etc etc) are propagated as worthwhile knowledge systems. An inconvenient truth, because not dynamic and stagnant. And the population boom is going on like hell of course in Africa. Post modernism at work. Where will this end?

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