How to respond to living in a post-truth ‘democracy’?

It’s hard, today, to know how to try and make any impact at all in an increasingly dysfunctional political system in which money and privilege are, more than ever, distorting the democratic process.

Although I’m a member of the Green Party, I live in an area with a good Labour MP who pays attention to what his constituents tell him (and is also environmentally-minded). Recently we’ve been doing our bit to help him, distributing leaflets about Brexit options, attending open meetings, etc. But it seems pathetically little and does nothing to ease the anxiety of what’s happening nationally and internationally. But easing that anxiety in one’s own life is not really the point, is it?

In terms of making any kind of positive social difference, the most useful things I can do at present are all small and domestic. That is, I can free up more of my wife’s time to get on with the major, Welcome Foundation funded project she’s currently working on. Be a better house-husband, basically. So as to keep up with what she’s doing I have just read both Brian Hughes’ book Psychology in Crisis and his recent blog article The Triumph of Eminence-Based Medicine, from which I quote here.

Both give irrefutable evidence of the corruption of science by professional groups who “try to face down objective criticism, look the other way when ineptitude is exposed, and doggedly stick to their guns in order to avoid threatening their own interests”. Something they are supported in by the universities that employ them and for whom they generate the research income needed to pay wages and overheads. All of which further adds to the sense that, as David Tuller and others have demonstrated through their examination of the mis-presentation of ‘scientific’ work so that it matches Government ideology, means that the whole interface between the academic and political worlds is becoming ever more deeply flawed by a toxic mixture of cronyism and self-interest. A situation in which the supposedly ‘liberal’ media is deeply complicit through, among other things, its reliance on organisations like the Science Media Centre, which purports to be independent but, as a past investigative article in the Guardian itself has shown in the past, is nothing of the sort. The result of this failure is, with regard to the current rearguard action to defend what is now agreed by all but those with a vested interest to be totally unacceptable psudo-science of the PACE trail, Hughes notes that:

“the producers of the Guardian science podcast decided that this week’s guest should be none other than a colleague of one of the authors of the withdrawn Cochrane review, and — for good measure — himself an author of the maligned PACE trial. Not just marking his own homework anymore, but now — in defiance of expert criticism — defending how well it had been marked.”

That a newspaper of the Guardian’s supposed standing allows itself to be hoodwinked into supporting: “the hegemony of the cognitive approach to ME/CFS”, which is clearly partisan, is deeply worrying. For readers such as myself, it undermines any residual trust in a paper that purports to take investigative journalism seriously. As Hughes points out, the PACE trail results are: “at variance with much of the scientific literature. The very fact that its status is disputed exposes as logically unwise any claim that there is only one side to the ME/CFS story”. [The current defence of the indefensible PACE trial is that patients are ‘bullying’ the professionals. An absurd and unsubstantiated claim that, none the less, led to the establishment bestowing a knighthood for Sir Simon Wessely]. Hughes continues by pointing out that the continuation of the PACE supports’ claims are the result of “professional politics, not scrupulous science”.

His verdict is that PACE represents the worst kind of abuse of science and is nothing more than: “a grand sanctimonious delusion shared by a professional clique who, for circumstantial reasons, find themselves dominant in British behavioural healthcare”. Yet the Government and its senior ‘scientific’ advisors are doing everything in their power to ensure that this “sanctimonious delusion” is maintained because it fits with their ideology, which includes the ‘outsourcing‘ of every possible aspect of healthcare to the private sector. Nor is PACE just a case of ‘one bad apple’, but rather it is illustrative of an entire socio-political and academic apparatus in disarray. When Hughes writes that: “The echo chamber in which reviewers review each other’s work, award each other’s grants, and line up as one other’s acolytes, suggests that little of this will change any time soon”, we can reliably read as a critique of the unholy larger alliance between academic research, ‘big science’ and Government ideology. He concludes his blog piece by writing: “Bad science is bad enough when it is just science. In the case of ME/CFS, where flawed research materially damages the lives of hundreds of thousands of blameless people, it is nothing short of a scandal, about which the establishment should feel acute embarrassment and, ideally, shame.”

Sadly, as we see everyday, embarrassment and shame are feelings that are wholly alien to the ‘big beasts’ of the political, academic and business worlds. If we wait for that to change, our situation can only get much worse, and quickly. We have to do whatever we can, however, mundane and on however small a scale, to address this situation.