Is science as objective as we might like to think? Not necessarily. As I discovered when writing my new book Hitler’s & Stalin’s Misuse of Science: When Science Fiction Was Turned Into Science Fact by the Nazis and the Soviets, the scope for deliberate misuse of science for political ends is large indeed.
The Nazis and Soviets are indelibly associated in the public mind with all kinds of often rather unpleasant forms of pseudoscience, from bogus fascist concepts about human genetics which led to the mechanised murder of six million, to equally fake Marxist notions about plant genetics whose misguided agricultural application starved millions more.
But, as I show, there were also far, far weirder such ideas abroad in the 20th century’s twin worst dictatorships too, albeit much less well-known. Was homosexuality a transmissible disease? Were stars a fake concept? Was chemistry inherently Communist? The answer to these questions was, of course, ‘no’.
But under totalitarian rule, this fact was frequently irrelevant. What really mattered was what the answer to these questions was politically, not factually: and the official answer to each of the above was often thought to be ‘yes’. To disagree could easily be considered a crime not only against science, but, far worse, also against the State.
People in the West today tend to look back on such absurdist horrors as mere cautionary tales of the past, like lurid tales about medieval witch-burnings or the beheading of heretics. They couldn’t happen over here anew today, in our own contemporary advanced liberal Western democracies like the United States, Great Britain and Australia, could they? I’m afraid, as my book conclusively demonstrates, they already have – and here are just a few recent examples.
History repeats itself
Not long after the end of the Cold War, a new front suddenly opened up within the West’s replacement internal conflict of opposing political cultures – the Great Map War of 1991. The so-called ‘problem’ centred upon the standard global map known as the ‘Mercator Projection’, after the 1569 chart’s original creator, the supposedly depraved white Belgian racist Gerardus Mercator (1512-94) – the very man after whom this very website is now named.
Due to arcane technical reasons, the Mercator Projection does not depict landmasses by their actual true size-ratios to one another, with nations near the equator, like those in black-majority Africa, appearing smaller relative to the (currently) majority-white nations of Europe. Evidently, this was racist, certain terminally over-sensitive left-wingers thought, so an alternative map, the ‘Peters Projection’, was devised by morally superior German historian Arno Peters (1916-2002) to counter such imperialist “European arrogance”, making Africa look larger.
The US National Council of Churches, now worshipping at the altar of political correctness, not Christ, released a statement strongly approving of the Peters map, which they intended to make use of henceforth, in spite of criticisms of its actual accuracy. But accuracy did not matter to the churchmen. “The political implications of this map are true, whereas the political implications of the Mercator map are false,” they said, like true Party cadres. “The question for the Church is not one of scientific reliability. We see this map as being very central to the establishment of a correct worldview.”
But correct in what way? No map, being drawn upon a flat sheet of paper, can ever properly recreate the actual layout of our broadly spherical globe (technically, it’s an oblate spheroid), not even the Peters Projection.
Mercator pragmatically chose to draw his map in the way he did because, whilst it did indeed distort the relative size of various nations, its layout happened to be more practically accurate for sailors to navigate with, not to pointlessly belittle Congolese egos.
Peters’ new map may have been more politically correct, but any ships actually using it to cross the oceans would have been more likely to get lost or run aground. Still, this did not matter, as “the political implications of this map are true” — pure cartographic Lysenkoism.
It sounds like a cautionary parable, and indeed it is…
The sick men of Europe (and everywhere else)
Across the entire world, new forms of ethnic, political and religious pseudoscience are today engaged in a process of deadly combat over what constitutes reality itself, exactly as they once were in the days of the Soviets and the Nazis.
Just consider the following different national (or nationalist) responses to the recent Covid-19 pandemic:
- In India, patriotic Hindu science promoted by the Far-Right BJP government tells citizens cow-pats and cow-urine, produced as they are by animals considered sacred in native religious lore, can act as coronavirus cure-alls.
- In China, worthless traditional Chinese medicines are promoted by the ruling Far-Left Communist Politburo as a plausible means of alleviating symptoms of the disease their bio-labs very possibly unleashed upon the world in the first place.
- In Iran, Islamic clerics solemnly warn against injecting Western-produced COVID-19 vaccines into human bodies, as their infidel biowarfare side-effect is to twist good Muslims into hellfire-bound homosexuals.
- In Germany, long memories of Nazi-era abuses of medicine lead numerous sceptics to decline jabs and claim to be living under a new “vaccine dictatorship”.
- Across Europe, thousands of blacks refuse vaccines on the grounds they are secret white plots to kill them off or render them infertile, whilst white nationalists in these very same nations reject them too, thinking their race-traitor rulers are seeking to do something similar to them.
- In the US, Republicans are statistically shown to be less likely to accept vaccines than Democrats, with medicine becoming a new and potentially fatal partisan battlefield.
This is pure epistemic balkanisation, and within Western nations, demographically transformed by decades of uncontrolled mass immigration, whites, blacks, Hindus, Muslims, Chinese and others all now mixed endlessly with one another, providing a wide-open target for our enemies to aim at.
If different demographic groups inexorably grow to possess different internal scientific maps of the world, like the Mercator and Peters Projections, then why would an avowed enemy of the West like, say, Vladimir Putin, refrain from exploiting this fact to widen existing societal rifts even further?
Scientific narratives could easily become effective misinformation weapons, unleashed upon societies by their external foes to undermine them from within under the modern-day Russian tactic of hybrid warfare – an attack-method the Kremlin inherited from Soviet times, when the KGB spread the lie that the white-led US military had created AIDS as a way to kill off their troublesome black population, a lie swallowed eagerly by racial extremists of an Afrocentrist persuasion, helping foster racial unrest in inner-city areas.
This could all easily lead to disaster, with a world split asunder between different views of what scientific reality itself is, even in terms of simple, commonsense things like what constitutes a biological woman.
In order to try and raise awareness of this growing problem, a rash of fake science papers have appeared in recent years, in which whistle-blowing scientific hoaxers have devised deliberately absurd theories that could never possibly actually be true, but which did appear to contain ideas, implications and data which could prove useful to politically motivated scientific partisans. They then submitted these hoax papers to ideologically captured journals to see if they would publish them anyway – which, with alarming frequency, they actually did!
One of the most telling was devised in 2018 by Gary Lewis, a senior lecturer in psychology at a London university, hoping to expose how many ‘scientific’ journals these days are simply profit-making exercises that will publish literally anything in return for cash.
Posing as a fictional academic from the equally fictional Institute of Interdisciplinary Political and Faecal Studies, Lewis’ paper Testing Inter-Hemisphere Social Priming Theory purported to provide “compelling evidence”, based upon “structural equation modelling”, that the hand a person used to wipe their bum clean with after visiting the toilet was determined by their political preferences, left-wingers using their left hand, right-wingers their right one.
A suggestion for a follow-up study was to see how political centrists operated: “Do they alternate hands, or do they use both hands at the same time?” Naturally, Lewis’ paper was accepted for publication, the journal in question even agreeing to waive their usual publication fee, feeling the text’s absurd conceit would gain them some good publicity.
Lewis’ paper stands as a great allegory for the way many people’s opinions about what constitutes scientific reality increasingly now seem determined more by the position they occupy on the political spectrum than anything else. The US military has deemed such trends in fake research to be an actual national security threat, their DARPA research unit pledging up to US$7.6m to create an AI-driven “bullsh*t-detector” program intended to sift out the genuine research from suspect, non-repeatable twaddle in the social (pseudo-)sciences like psychology, sociology and anthropology, all of which the armed forces make use of when analysing things such as enemy morale or troops’ likely reactions to different scenarios on the battlefield.
Divide and conquer
If the US military now has an academic bullsh*t-detector, perhaps Vladimir Putin’s Russia might equally usefully develop an academic bullsh*t-generator (presuming much of Western academia has not already become one of its own accord, that is).
Hoping to increase Western overreliance upon Russian gas and oil, thereby allowing it to blackmail short-sighted nations like Germany militarily, the Kremlin has in recent years sought to both downplay concern about global warming, while simultaneously pushing Green-style environmental concerns about alternative Western sources of energy.
In 2018, Putin warned that wind turbines “shake so hard the worms crawl out of the ground”, making such items environmentally unfriendly, and has in the past point blank denied global warming is substantially driven by mankind. Yet, at the same time, Russia can secretly fund anti-fracking protestors in Britain, dubiously arguing such sources of fuel cause dangerous earthquakes and only supercharge climate change ever more.
If these positions sound mutually contradictory, then all the better: they help further sow political division in the West, while simultaneously encouraging Europe’s continued future dependency upon Russian gas.
Come the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, Russia spied further potential to foster division, with State media and online campaigns pushing ludicrous claims Britain’s AstraZeneca vaccine, which used a chimpanzee-virus as part of the development process, had the unfortunate side-effect of transforming patients into monkeys.
Images of the UK’s then-PM Boris Johnson photoshopped to make him look even more like a yeti than usual were captioned, ‘I like my Bigfoot vaccine!’ while a video of vaccinated astronauts shows them devolving into violent apes on their spaceship.
The point of the propaganda campaign was not only to make Westerners distrust their yeti-led governments, but also to persuade nations like India and Brazil to reject Western vaccines in favour of buying Russia’s own Sputnik V version instead.
This is all part of Russia’s ‘Gerasimov Doctrine’ of hybrid warfare, named after Russian Chief of Staff General Valery Gerasimov, who argues that “the role of non-military means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown and, in many cases, they have exceeded the power of force of [physical] weapons.” In other words, epistemic warfare is often now more cost-effective and efficient than actual warfare.
Welcome to the dawning new age of the Science Wars. You’d better get used to them. They won’t be ending any time soon – and that’s a pure scientific fact!
Edited and extracted from Hitler’s & Stalin’s Misuse of Science: When Science Fiction Was Turned Into Science Fact by the Nazis and the Soviets by S.D. Tucker, out now in hardback (Pen & Sword/Frontline Books, ISBN: 9781399073158). All references for material cited above can be found within.
Steven Tucker is a UK-based writer with over ten books to his name.
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EDITORS NOTE: This Mercator column is republished with permission. ©All rights reserved