As I explained in the first post of this series, there is widespread and unfounded disagreement between what scientists know to be true and what the general public chooses to believe. Many people choose to blindly reject the science behind vaccines, global climate change, evolution, etc., but this position presents an obvious dilemma. Namely, why is it that virtually every scientist in the world accepts these as fact? How is it that virtually the only people who reject vaccines, climate change, etc. are non-academics that have never done any actual research? When confronted with this issue, people in the anti-science movement usually take one of two approaches (or often a combination of the two). The first, which I will deal with here, is simply to claim that the scientists are actually involved in an enormous conspiracy. The second response, which I will deal with in a later post, is to claim that scientists are biased, and in order to keep getting funding and be accepted, they have to go along with scientific dogma, even though they know it isn’t correct.
First, let us consider the scope of these conspiracies. The plausibility of a conspiracy theory increases as the number of people involved decreases. Simple logic and common experiences tell us this. For sample, a secret is easier to keep when fewer people know it. When a massive group of people know it, it is harder to prevent someone from slipping. This is especially true for a secret whose story changes constantly. Consider a lie that has to be constantly built on as people ask questions. Everyone has to be in agreement on what the false answers will be in order to prevent inconsistencies, but this gets harder and harder to maintain as the number of people who are in on it increases. Just for example, if someone proposes that a small group of ten solders are involved in a conspiracy, that is plausible, it would not be difficult to keep the story consistent with only ten people involved, but, it is far less plausible to think that every solder in every branch of the military is involved in an elaborate conspiracy. It would be virtually impossible to maintain a constant story with that many people involved.
Now, let’s think about the notion that virtually all of the world’s scientists are involved in a conspiracy. We are talking about millions of people that would have to be in agreement. Further, science evolves constantly, making it necessary for continual contact among all members of the scientific community in order to maintain a consistent story. The amount of networking that would be have to be involved in this is ridiculous. It is utterly absurd to think that millions of people from all over the world are in on this.
The second, and perhaps greatest problem is a lack of motive. Conspiracy theorists often cite money as the motive (especially for vaccines where false claim is made that all of the research supporting vaccines is funded by pharmaceutical companies), but this argument suffers multiple flaws. First, only a small portion of the scientific community is funded by pharmaceutical companies, climate change focused agencies, etc. so what is in it for the rest of us? Why would we go along if we aren’t getting the money? There is utterly no motive for the rest of the scientific community.
Further, this argument presents a clear misunderstanding of how science works. When a researcher gets a one million dollar grant to study climate change, he doesn’t get to go out and by a new Ferrari. Rather, he gets to go buy a bunch of expensive equipment for his research. We don’t get to keep grant money. Look at the average income of a scientist. It’s not much. If we wanted a career that would make money, we could have done much better than science. We don’t do research to get rich, we do it for the love of knowledge.
Additionally, there is an inherent paradox here. The supposed money flow is circular. Supposedly, scientists are going along with vaccines and global warming to get money, but the committees of most granting agencies are composed of scientists (remember that these scientists also have to be in on the conspiracy). So why on earth, would the scientists on the committee who are not personally receiving one dime of the funding that they are passing out agree to fund research on something that they know is a load of crap!? Scientists don’t need to invent phenomena to get funding, there are plenty of legitimate research questions out there.
Finally, let’s consider the inherent absurdity in the notion that scientists are involved in a massive lie. Generally speaking, becoming a scientist requires four years of undergraduate studies, 6-8 years of graduate studies, and 1-2 years of postdocing. During this period, you will work all day, every day, and you will forgo sleep and free time in order to achieve your goal. Even after you finally get a job as a professor (which is the job held by most scientists), you will work a minimum of 60 hours a week at an often thankless job, and you will make very little money. The salaries of scientists are absolutely pathetic compared to those of lawyers, doctors, and other professions that require comparable amounts of training. So, why does anyone go through that? Why would we subject ourselves to all those years of hard work if we don’t even make much money? Quite simply, we do it for the love of knowledge. We do what we do because we love to ask questions, learn new facts, and share what we have learned. So, why would anyone, go through all of that training, all of those years of long, often miserable days just to throw away everything that they have learned and join some bizarre conspiracy that is intent on deceiving everyone? The very notion that all scientists are in a conspiracy is antithetical to everything that we started studying science for in the first place.
To sum up, the idea that scientists are involved in massive conspiracies is utterly ridiculous for the following reasons: first, this would require a massive and constant networking and agreement of millions of people working under different granting agencies, from thousands of universities, from every country of the world! Second, there is utterly no motive. It takes an incredible amount of work to become a scientist, and scientists don’t make much money. If we were really interested in money, we would never have gone into science, because very few people get rich from studying vaccines, climate change, etc. The cost/benefit ratio simply doesn’t play out here. In short, scientists do research for knowledge, not money.