They’re at it again. It isn’t enough that scientists imperilled our very economic existence by pointing out that a variant of flu remarkably similar to one that slaughtered a hundred million people in 1918 was spreading around the globe like lightning, and – worse – by urging us to invest in pharmaceutical precautions just in case it mutated into something worse. Nor is it sufficient that that they advocated being a bit careful with how much radiation we allowed our nuclear power plants to emit, as they weren’t sure “it was entirely safe in the long term”. One could even forgive the misguided, money-grubbing buggers for daring to suggest that an unprecedented amount of volcanic ash in the upper atmosphere might very well cause aeroplanes to “fall out of the sky”, and that it might behove us to run precautionary tests before opening airspace.
Any arts graduate could have told you at a glance that Swine Flu would come to nothing, that radiation does wonders for the complexion and that ash is perfectly safe. But next to this latest debacle, such previous examples are laughable. I am referring, of course, to that upstart Polish ingénue Nick Copernicus and his suggestion that the Earth actually “rotates around the Sun”. Yes, you read that correctly. Predictably, the Royal Society – credible mugs to the last – have embraced his idea hook, line and sinker. Any suggestion that the Sun obviously rotates around the Earth, rising as it does every morning and setting in the evening, is met with swift and violent knee-jerk derision by the “scientific community”. Brave dissenters are subjected to ridicule, death threats and even the odd custard pie, while followers of Copernicus’s insane world view are back-slapped by their peers and showered with public money to take things forward. What next: modern astronomy, CERN and the invention of the Internet?
Scientists often take the lofty high ground, sneering down from their Ivory Towers and proclaiming that they are “only interested in Truth”. But the scales have fallen from the public’s eyes now. A few dozen bad apples have rolled their putrefying spheres out of a barrel of millions of working scientists, telling it like it really is. Yes, white-coated untouchables, I’m afraid we no longer buy that pathetic “knowledge for knowledge’s sake” get-out-of-jail-free card. Oh no: we know why you really went into science. It wasn’t so you could delay getting a real job for ten years as you laboured in one low-paid post-doctoral training job after another. It wasn’t so you could work eighty-hour weeks in the lab, struggling to find the time to spend time with your family while your friends in finance earned megabucks in the City. It wasn’t even so you could live in the perpetual uncertainty of the scientific job market, with the horrific spectre of – despite all your training and hard work – having to drop out and become a biotech sales rep. Oh no – it was so you could get lots of money. Lot of money, and free plane tickets to swanky conferences in Birmingham.
Oh, I forgot: it’s not all about the money, is it? We’re neglecting one crucial ingredient. You also crave with every polyester fibre in your pristine white coat the undying, uncritical worship of the BBC. Why, only yesterday, those slavish proponents of science devoted an entire two minute segment to an interview with Copernicus, squeezed like an eyesore between a Front Row re-run and the Archer’s Omnibus. And was the presenter even remotely critical? Not a bit: she fawned over him as if he’d somehow “enriched society” – it all had the air of a Gardeners’ Question Time on lithium. And as a mellifluous soundtrack to Copernicus’s unchallenged poppycock, I could hear the dulcet tones of our BBC licence fees spiralling down the plughole. Meanwhile, what was axed to make way for the hastily arranged pas de deux with the Polish fraudster? Being an important media insider, I happen to know: an in-depth profile of Manchester bad-boy sculptor Max Megafreud and his new installation of Paris Hilton composed entirely of his own ear-wax.
People often point to journalists as being fallible, and I’d be the first to hold up my hands and admit, yes, what I write isn’t half bollocks. But ever catch a scientist criticizing one of his peer’s talks at a conference or – God forbid – recommending the rejection of one of his manuscripts in a scientific journal? When that happens, we’ll know the Earth really does rotate around the Sun – and the end is nigh.
(A post in honor of Spoof Simon Jenkins Monday)