The British socialist daily "The Guardian" has published what they think are the top 100 world-changing British scientific discoveries in the last 50 years.
Although there are many entries in this list that are good science (and technology and medicine), I think that the bulk of their list is another outrageous example of politicization of science, another example of misunderstanding of the truly important values and ideas, and another example of increasing influence and pressure of ignorant people who are not willing to think much on science.
Three sections out of nine are dedicated to health sciences. That may look too much to some but medicine is important, after all. However, there are much more serious problems with their list. Let me mention a couple of entries that I view as purely political ones and, from a scientific viewpoint, more or less worthless.
Most of the section 6 is a political dumping ground
- someone "found" that poverty is behind learning difficulties ;-)
This BS discovery was added purely because of left-wing bias. The authors of that list simply want to paint poverty, a natural state of affairs before the people establish the system that can increase wealth by a concentration of capital, as the cause of many other evils.
- Arthur Lewis' speculations on poverty
The previous one was not the only bogus discovery related to the interpretations of poverty. Arthur Lewis et al. studied how poverty emerges from a combination of markets and local agriculture. He apparently missed the fact that poverty is a natural state of affairs, and additional processes - requiring free markets but not only free markets - are necessary to accumulate wealth. What did Lewis exactly discover so important? As far as I can say, it's more or less pure propaganda.
- Amartya Sen and famines
Sure, there is also a third big "discovery" related to the interpretation of poverty. Sen - whom I actually know a bit because of my Marxist colleagues - concluded that famines appear not because of shortage of food but because people don't have money to buy the food. Wow. ;-) What this "discovery" is supposed to imply does not need any explanations. But one shouldn't forget that if the link between the money and the ability to buy things like food is broken, you should not be surprised that you can't buy toilet paper for months in a central European country in the 1980s, among many other things.
Of course, I can even give you the fourth "discovery" about the interpretation of poverty:
- Michael Rutter et al.
argued that schools in poor neighborhoods may be successful. Well, but they don't have to be, and usually they are not, even decades after Rutter's "breakthrough". I could also mention the fifth discovery related to a fight with poverty - proposals about the pension system by Peter Townsend and Brian Abel-Smith - but I choose not to discuss this discovery about poverty because even the liberals who read these lines could start to feel sick. Also,
- Kevin Bales counted the slaves.
His result was 27 million and it became a top 100 discovery in science. Are they joking? The precise number has no information value. It depends how you exactly define a slave. There is no God-given boundary between slaves and non-slaves. The number is just a political slogan. Some prostitutes are partially slaves, others often feel as slaves, too. They have contracts that force them to work under conditions that others would not like. They are upset. Sometimes they are rightfully upset. There is no objective way to decide whether they are slaves. The idea that people in the current complex world can be divided to slaves and non-slaves is another example of the left-wing inability to think about very elementary issues in the society and of a breathtaking naivite of neo-Marxist sociologists.
Why are they imagining that people can be sharply divided to exploited ones and un-exploited ones, instead of accepting that there are many ways how people can arrange their relationships? Because they are still dreaming about the ideal communist society where all relations between the people are simple, cows are sorted in regular boxes, and people are treated analogously: everyone must follow the same, very constraining rules and whoever does not follow these rules must either be a slave or his owner. They obviously learned nothing whatsoever from the fact that these egalitarian ideas have crippled nearly one half of the world for the last 50 years.
The quality of the remaining "discoveries" in section six is similar but I just chose some of them. Margaret Thatcher has introduced ideas and policies that have led to a clear strengthening of the British economy etc. and these policies - privatization, reduction of the power of the unions, and others - were clearly more world-changing than all the left-wing pseudodiscoveries listed above combined. Is it surprising that The Guardian can't include her? Even though I am a Thatcher fan, I would not include her discovery about the power of privatization among the top scientific discoveries - even though they have been experimentally proved - because I am less tasteless than my counterparts in The Guardian.
David Hazell has
- empowered nations and regions
while David Butler has "discovered"
- election swings. ;-)
Roughly 10 citations, and no comment. According to the committee, this discovery is on par with LCDs, holograms, or Magnetic Resonance Imaging.
Section seven - understanding ourselves
This section is mostly a junk, too. The first discovery is called
- Third way
because a certain Mr. Anthony Giddens proposed that we must invent a "third way", new political tools to respond to the new world blah blah blah. No third way has ever led to anything useful, the "third way" has become a motto for the political parties struggling for the least demanding voters (for example, Smer - "Direction Third Way" - in Slovakia whose membership in the European Socialists was just suspended is a proponent of a Third Way; they were punished for their new coalition with Slovak neo-Nazis who want to raze Budapest), and there is an overwhelming evidence that the ideology of Giddens and many others is just plain wrong. But The Guardian still counts it as a top 100 discovery.
- Alan John Percivale
has changed "our" perception of the war forever. He certainly did not change mine, but what is clear is that "our perceptions" are not science even if he changed them. It shouldn't have appeared in this list.
- War and peace
This "discovery" by Michael Howard cannot even be described by words. He "continues to study" whether peace will ever be possible. Complete junk. No results. And let me tell you that there will always be some conflicts as long as there are humans. This guy should return all the money that the taxpayers have ever paid him for producing this junk. Instead, he is chosen among top 100 U.K. discoverers.
- Debunking science
This is a really cute description of the work of Karl Popper: he was "shaping politics and debunking science". Although it might be insulting for Popper himself, it is certainly a very correct description of some recent people who refer to Popper's ideas because all of them are science-haters or, as they are called by similarly misled journalists, they are "debunkers of science".
Section eight - environment
Needless to say, this section is mostly garbage, too. The first top 100 discovery from this group is
the idea that the Earth is a living organism. From a scientific viewpoint, this is a meaningless combination of words, much like the sentence "green ideas are sleeping furiously". Incidentally, the last sentence is more meaningful than it was 30 years ago - it means that the environmental movement is not using their brains.
But as they correctly say, Gaia helped to transform many people's (mis)understanding how the environment works. It has certainly helped to spread all the myths about the "ideal equilibrium", the completely flawed and thoroughly dumb idea that the Earth has been essentially constant in all respects and the lions, antelopes, insect, and volcanos were happily living in a perfect harmony until the evil humans have violated this "holy constancy".
- Hubert Lamb
was a name of a climatologist that was not known to me before, but Willie S. has explained me that it was my ignorance and he belonged among the top climate scientists. So I believe him that it is fair that he appeared in the list although my knowledge does not allow me to confirm it. There can be roughly one additional mis-judgement in this article - a guaranteed fair appraisal of all 100 discoveries would require a multi-day research. ;-) Rae Ann has noticed something that I initially missed: the discovery of possible
- long-term psychological effects of floods
is another top 100 discovery. Even though such an effect must be an obvious (but clearly not guaranteed) possibility to every kid in the kindergarden, its discovery is on equal footing with plane tectonics (the modern observational proofs of the continental drift).
The only British discovery related to theoretical physics or mathematics or anything that requires a bit deeper quantitative thought that has made it to top 100 are Hawking and Penrose's
- singularity theorems.
After reading the gigantic pile of political excrements painted as "top discoveries" above, let us admit that one is not too many. Moreover, the singularity theorems might be interesting but counted by objective scientific measures such as the citations, they are six times less important than the Stephen Hawking et al. discoveries related to black hole thermodynamics and their evaporation or Michael Green et al. discoveries of the anomaly cancellation in string theory that has transformed theoretical physics for decades.
Where do they get their self-confidence to include discoveries that are, according to the experts, seven times less important than those that are omitted? What I think has happened was that the committee that was creating the list - primarily a committee of Marxist sociologists - decided that leftist sociology and closely related "discoveries" will get around 20 slots and theoretical physics (which also includes all of mathematics) 1 slot even though the opposite ratio would be a bit more reasonable.
Because they realized that it was not yet acceptable to mention no discovery of Hawking or no discovery of Penrose in the list of 100 major British scientific achievements of the last 100 years (because some people might still remember the names of Hawking and Penrose), they chose a paper that contained both names. Next time, when the political correctness - or perhaps the specter of the new communism - spoils the society even more than today, they will omit theoretical physics altogether.
What kind of trash is being served to the readers, particularly in the U.K., is really alarming, and you should not be surprised that cheap science-hating books are sold well in this troubled country that used to be a leader in physics and other sciences 150 years ago. Things are going to get even worse as science is disappearing from British classrooms and it is being replaced exactly by the kind of garbage that has dominated this article.
This is unfortunately a self-feeding process. The more idiots there will be among journalists and "academics" who compose similar lists, the more they will increase the relative representation of stupid ideas, and the more they will attract even dumber people and the harder it will be for everyone else to say anything that is reasonable. Once things get a wrong turn, things can't suddenly get better in a continuous fashion. British Academia has entered the quasi-Darwinian mode of survival of the biggest and dumbest commies - the ultimate dream of the politically correct people.