This Is Not A Post About Global Warming

This is definitely not a post about global warming.  Except that it is.

A friend this morning sent me a link to the Quillette website, which a few days ago posted an edited version of a speech that was to be delivered at Kings College, London, by a guy named Adam Perkins.  The title of the speech is "The Scientific Importance of Free Speech."   Unfortunately, Kings College canceled the speech at the last minute because it was deemed to be too "high risk."  Perkins thus joins the ranks of Charles Murray, Christina Hoff Sommers, and -- as of just two weeks ago -- Josh Blackman, as people who have been run off campus or shouted down for holding views deemed by contemporary progressives as too offensive to be heard.

Try reading the Perkins piece, and see if you can figure out what about it is so offensive.  I'll give you a few excerpts that summarize the theme:

[W]hy do we specifically need free speech in science? Surely we just take measurements and publish our data? No chit chat required. We need free speech in science because science is not really about microscopes, or pipettes, or test tubes, or even Large Hadron Colliders. These are merely tools that help us to accomplish a far greater mission, which is to choose between rival narratives, in the vicious, no-holds-barred battle of ideas that we call “science”. . . .  

[W]e can see that even in situations where laboratory experiments can provide clear evidence in favour of a particular scientific opinion, opponents will typically refuse to accept it. Instead scientists tend cling so stubbornly to their pet theories that no amount of evidence will change their minds and only death can bring an end to the argument, as famously observed by Max Planck:  "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."

Now, there are some scary thoughts!  Definitely, run this guy out of town!  By the way, if you think perhaps it is something else about Perkins's remarks that must have caused the controversy, try reading the whole piece.  I can't find anything more controversial than what I just excerpted.  He never actually mentions global warming or climate change.  But he must have been thinking about them!

As one of his main examples of the phenomenon he is discussing, Perkins summarizes the case of Robin Warren and Barry Marshall.  They are the Australian doctors who in the 1980s upended the scientific consensus of the mid-twentieth century that stomach ulcers and gastritis were caused by stress, proving the real cause to be bacteria.  For their efforts, they received "skepticism from the medical establishment and . . . difficulties publishing . . . academic papers."  The orthodoxy police were out in force!

And here's another example of the same phenomenon, not mentioned in the Perkins speech, but currently in the news.  Vitamin supplements!  Do you take them?  Bloomberg News is reporting just this morning that "There's not much evidence that they do any good."   Read the article, and you'll realize that a more accurate headline would say "no" evidence, as opposed to that "not much."  The Bloomberg piece principally relies on an April 3 post from Liz Szabo of Kaiser Health News titled "Older Americans are 'Hooked' on Vitamins."   Bloomberg's summary of the Kaiser piece:  "The story . . . detailed a litany of scientific studies showing vitamin supplements either failed to deliver benefits or caused harm."

From the Kaiser piece itself:

There’s no conclusive evidence that dietary supplements prevent chronic disease in the average American, Dr. Manson said. And while a handful of vitamin and mineral studies have had positive results, those findings haven’t been strong enough to recommend supplements to the general American public, she said.  The National Institutes of Health has spent more than $2.4 billion since 1999 studying vitamins and minerals. Yet for “all the research we’ve done, we don’t have much to show for it,” said Dr. Barnett Kramer, director of cancer prevention at the National Cancer Institute.

OK, Kramer is still clinging to the "not much" bit, but he can't actually cite any significant positive result in favor of vitamin supplements.  Meanwhile, for decades the cabal of the government and the medical establishment, practicing the usual evidence-free "consensus" science, has foisted billions upon billions of dollars worth of these useless (and sometimes harmful) vitamin supplements upon the American public.  The numbers of Americans who take these things, and the amounts that they spend, are staggering.  From Kaiser:

More than half of Americans take vitamin supplements, including 68 percent of those age 65 and older, according to a 2013 Gallup poll. Among older adults, 29 percent take four or more supplements of any kind, according to a Journal of Nutrition study published in 2017.   

Good grief!  Amounts spent?  The answer somewhat depends on what you count (minerals? herbs?), but a middle-of-the-road estimate comes from Healthline in 2015, who put the figure at about $21 billion annually.  That would be in the range of 5% of all grocery sales in the U.S.

Doesn't anybody around here read the Manhattan Contrarian?  If they had, they would know that way back in April 2014, the Manhattan Contrarian nominated vitamin supplements as "the single biggest fraud on the American consumer."  From that piece:

[This scam] has all the key elements of the massive successful fraud.  It's not just the endless ridiculously false claims.  (Vitamins protect against cancer!  Vitamins will make you live longer!  Vitamins make you look better! ).  But then there is the very name itself -- "vitamin" suggests "vital" and "vitality."  And there's the not so subtle implicit government backing for the claims.  And the groupthink acceptance.  I'll bet you take a daily vitamin!  

OK, $21 billion a year would not be all that big if it were a government fraud (those can run into the trillions), but for a private fraud practiced individually upon consumers, it has to be among the biggest.  My post cited a 2013 study of vitamins in the Annals of Internal Medicine that concluded: "[T]here was no clear evidence of a beneficial effect of supplements on all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease or cancer."

And the key to it all is groupthink, evidence-free, "consensus" science.  It is truly incredible how, once one of these groupthink consensus things takes hold, seemingly no amount of adverse evidence can dislodge it.  Does your doctor continue to pester you to take vitamin supplements?  Next time you go to see him/her, can you gently ask what is the evidentiary basis for this recommendation?  

As you can see, this post is definitely not about global warming.