Even scientists are not immune to mass hysteria

Something I notice, when I read the tales of Jewish survivors of the second world war, is that what injured them most, more than any of the suffering imposed on them by the Nazi’s, is that they were betrayed by people they trusted. Neighbors, acquaintances, people they got along with. The social consensus had shifted and those people became willing to stab them in the back. The thing that most people fail to understand about fascists, is that they’re not uniquely evil people. As Hannah Arendt famously pointed out long ago, they’re average, normal people. Given the right situation, even average good people, can be swept up into a state of mass hysteria.

Fascism should not be understood as an ideology, so much as an atmosphere. It’s an atmosphere of intense fear, an atmosphere of anger, of envy and of resentment. It’s not so much an ideology, as a state of being that average people will succumb to, given the right conditions. Throughout history, we have seen periods when people were swept up into mass hysteria. Consider for example, Koro. In some cultures, a group of people suddenly start to panic, believing that their genitalia are retracting into their bodies. Often they end up holding some people responsible, those people may end up paying with their lives.

In other cases of mass hysteria, we’ve seen towns, where dozens or hundreds of people became convinced that they had found witches, who have to be tortured. Sometimes, episodes of mass hysteria take on a religious form. The “miracle of the sun”, was an episode when people in Spain became convinced that God was making the sun dance back and forth for them. Even atheists present considered this miracle to be authentic. What actually happened of course, is that people began seeing strange after-imagery after staring at the sun for too long.

What makes the rise of the Nazi’s so interesting, is that it shows that mass hysteria is not somehow something that is the sole domain of uneducated poor people. Consider the Nazi minister of propaganda, Goebbels. Goebbels was not a dumb or marginalized man. He earned a doctorate in philology, in an era when having a doctorate was still a rare achievement. The mass hysteria that Goebbels was swept along in, was antisemitism. He had initially no clear antipathy towards Jews. He studied under Jewish professors, without making any problem out of it. He simply got swept up into an atmosphere of hysteria that affected the people around him. He allied himself with Hitler and although he initially had his disagreement with him, he gradually found himself in an atmosphere where disagreement was no longer tolerable. He could have ended his participation at such a point of course, but that would mean throwing everything he had worked on in his life away.

But let me put it this way. Imagine you live in a democratic republic, where a new political party emerges, the ranks of which are filled with society’s outcasts. Art school rejects, graduates with no clear career path ahead of them, soldiers humiliated by returning from a war they had lost, the unemployed, eccentric occultists, you name it, all the people forced to live on the margins of society. These people come to believe that they are a superior race that once ruled over India and descends from the Ancient Atlanteans. They have a leader who continually seems to be seething with rage and they consider the whole world to be governed by Jews who are seeking their destruction. What would you call this? You would call this an episode of mass hysteria.

Scientists are generally eager to make it seem, as if science is perfectly oblivious to the governing emotions, fashions and ideologies of its era. And yet, what we witnessed in Nazi Germany, is that scientists were perfectly willing to adjust themselves to the absurdity they witnessed around them. Scientists decided to fit their innovations and ideas, into the dominant worldview of their era. There was a morbid fear among scientists for example, about transfusing Jewish blood into “Aryan” soldiers. Scientists developed absurd theories, that blood from a pure Aryan could cure a patient, whereas Jewish blood would make him sick. German Phd biologists, like Mengele and his advisor Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, had no qualms with experimenting on children and infecting people with Typhus, despite the Hippocratic Oath.

Of course, once the war was over and the governing societal consensus had abruptly shifted, these people were eager to distance themselves from this era. First they were devout Nazi’s, then they became devout believers in liberal democracy overnight who merely pretended to be Nazi’s to fit in, or so we must believe. The most likely reality of course, is that they were neither. They were chameleons, who adjusted themselves to the dominant cultural consensus of their era. They spotted opportunities to pursue their own personal interests and they adjusted their own mentality to fit into the niches that were open in their particular era.

The scientific community of course, is eager to distance itself from such people who have fallen into discredit. Yesterday’s science, receives a new term: Pseudoscience. Pseudoscience is science that scientists wish to dissociate themselves from. What Mengele performed, despite his cum laude doctorate in medicine, was pseudoscience. Even his doctorate itself had to be revoked by the university that awarded it. Had his research been incorrect? At the time it must have been perceived as a work of genius, by the same university that later sought to distance itself from him.

There are two things that make scientists furious. The first thing they hate is when they are contradicted by those outside their realm of expertise. They have spent years of their life, in pursuit of the sole final word on a particular niche branch of knowledge. To be contradicted by non-experts is experienced as an insult and a form of humiliation. The second thing that makes scientists furious, is when their insistence that we should “listen to the scientists”, is met with a reminder of the science of yesterday, that we were supposed to listen to back then.

The public of course, is not supposed to have any sort of long term memory. The science of yesterday is supposed to be forgotten, because it almost inevitably turns into an embarrassment as time goes by. And if we try to remind scientists of what they told us in the past, we tend to be gas-lighted. “Those were not real scientists, they were pseudo-scientists.” “Only a minority of scientists believed that.” The excuses are numerous, but what can not be acknowledged is that more often than not, the “scientific consensus”, is simply a reflection of the currently fashionable beliefs of a society’s elite.

Who remembers for example, the consensus among psychiatrists that homosexuality is a mental disorder? When did the psychiatric community stop treating homosexuality as a mental disorder? After the Stonewall riots and the emergence of the gay emancipation movement. These same psychiatrists are now of course completely convinced that homosexuality is an innate human sexual orientation, that trying to treat homosexuality is unscientific and a violation of human rights. And, I should note, these same psychiatrist are now convinced that they can take children and teenagers who suffer gender dysphoria and refer them for surgical alteration of their bodies to conform to their gender identity. It is of course impossible for me to criticize this mentality, without being seen as a bigoted and uninformed individual. But then I would have suffered the same response of course, if I had questioned the psychiatric community’s attitude towards homosexuality in the 1950’s.

Another example to consider, is the approach to human evolution. The victories of the civil rights movement and the horrors of the Holocaust, had led to a situation where people did not want to think about human differences. We were so afraid of how we might respond, if we were to discover that groups of people differ fundamentally from each other, that we sought a worldview in which our differences were shallow and more or less irrelevant. To reconcile such a worldview, with a worldview in which we are nonetheless the result of a product of evolution, a solution had to be found.

That solution, is the recent out of Africa model. No scientists who adhered to the recent out of Africa model would have told you “I believe in this model because it makes racism obsolete”, but it came at a perfect time, in a society that hoped to get rid once and for all of the human habit of treating each other differently according to the ethnic group we come from. The problem was, that the theory was incorrect. It was contrasted with the multi-regional hypothesis, the idea that human beings as we know them now, evolved over a longer period of time, in different regions, with some of those differences leading to what we now experience as racial differences. As genetic evidence became available revealing that we’re descended from Denisovans, Neanderthal man and various other branches of evolution, the multiregional hypothesis popular among a fringe minority of scientists in the 80’s was shown to be correct. It couldn’t be acknowledged as such of course, because that would suggest the scientific consensus had been wrong and guided by ideology.

If you’ve spent some time on this planet and paid attention to the news, then over time this leads to distrust and a reluctance to go along with whatever now happens to be in fashion among the scientific community. Young people often complain that the elderly are “conservative” and “anti-science”. The problem of course, is that those elderly have been around long enough, to have seen that scientists are in fact not oracles that channel divine truths, but regular human beings whose opinions are influenced by the range of ideas that happen to be tolerable among their peer group.

If anything, scientists are more vulnerable to adjusting their opinions to fit those of their peers, than the rest of us. The reason is because they have more to lose. A career in science is an uncertain existence. You have to publish or perish. Your publications have to be influential. What makes you influential? When others cite you. When do others cite you? When they like you and your ideas. Scientists can succumb to group think and just like the rest of us, scientists can succumb to episodes of mass hysteria.

Greta Thunberg’s rallying slogan works perfectly fine to inspire the youth, because “listen to the science” is a slogan that only the young can get behind with wholehearted enthusiasm. With every year you age and pay attention to the news, you find that it becomes more difficult for you to follow whatever the latest dictates from the scientific community for us mere mortals might be. The elderly were around when nuclear power was perceived as a great threat to the environment. Then as time went by, nuclear power transformed from a villain into the one solution that might save us from climate change.

To avoid succumbing to endless fractures about this awkward history, the modern climate change activist movement has settled on a message of “it doesn’t really matter whether nuclear is good or bad, because renewable energy is so cheap and efficient that we won’t really have to bother with nuclear energy anyway, but now we just have to get the government to figure out that this cheap and plentiful energy source is right in front of them”. It goes without saying that this creed inspires little confidence in the general public.

When it comes to the Coronavirus, which I promised myself I would stop mentioning, it’s apparent that most of the general public has succumbed to apocalypse fatigue. A sizable portion of our population was around and paying attention to the news, when in 2009 we were warned that the swine flu pandemic would exceed the 1918 influenza pandemic in severity. Once the initial wave proved disappointing, the British government was nonetheless instructed to start preparing mass graves, for the second autumn wave that would inevitably follow. The scientists who warned us of mass death of course never faced any significant consequences for their apocalyptic predictions. They moved on with their lives and simply brushed off the whole affair.

It’s hard for people to make sense of what is happening around us right now. Unfortunately, we are in the middle of a perfect storm. A sense of absolute belief in the infallibility of the scientific community, has found itself combined with a public attitude of mass hysteria. Fascism as I said earlier, is not an ideology, it’s an atmosphere. It’s the atmosphere we live under, when people start begging their government to lock them up inside their homes. It’s rarely a good idea, to display an unwavering and blind faith in the infallibility of authorities. Oftentimes, this blind faith leads people to march towards their own demise, in violation of common sense.

Those who dare to reject such a suicide pact, tend to be met with the kind of hysterical anger and resentment that we see displayed all around us today. Consider the endless hatred displayed for those healthy young people in Europe today, who dare to simply live out their lives. People go to the forest or as in Florida, to the beach, enjoying the fine weather and the beauty of nature. And yet, others are desperate to see them locked up in their homes, as a consequence of their own complete faith in authorities they perceive as infallible.

At this point, it is my conviction that the degree of mass hysteria being displayed right now is so severe, that it will result in a broad societal crisis of confidence in the scientific community as a whole. This is entirely justified, because the quality of science has gone down tremendously. The people with the highest degree of faith in the scientific community are the “half-wits”, young people who come from an upper-middle class background and insist that all of us must “listen to the science”. And yet, when we look within the scientific community, we see a crisis of faith. That crisis has a name: The replication crisis. The replication crisis is the observation that scientists who try to replicate scientific studies done by their peers end up finding entirely different results. Medication that was supposed to treat a disease turns out to have no clear effect.

This is not some sort of frivolous concern. This is a problem that is killing people. There was a time when Beta blockers, a kind of heart medication, was given to patients during almost every surgery. The outcomes from the use of beta blockers were supposed to be dramatically improved. In fact, the success was so miraculously high, that some people were skeptical. But those skeptical people, were afraid of speaking out. After hundreds of thousands of people had received these beta blockers, it became clear that they don’t work. The findings were based on scientific fraud and people have died as a consequence. Estimates are that 800,000 people have died in Europe alone, due to this episode of scientific fraud. The scientist involved, Don Poldermans, had his career destroyed, but of course the hundreds of thousands of people who lost their lives will never receive justice.

I am willing to guess that you have never heard of beta blockers, or the fact that 800,000 people are thought to have lost their lives from them in Europe. You have however heard of the 15,000 people who are thought to have lost their lives in a virus epidemic that has received an awful lot of media attention and effectively shut down Western civilization. I had hoped to stop discussing this subject, but I find it important to note that a very prominent and respected scientist has written a scathing rebuke of the currently ongoing episode of mass hysteria.

This scientist, John P. A. Ionaddis  is one of the most-cited and respected scientists in literature. His most famous paper is “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False”, which examines the issue of the replication crisis. He is a well known debunker of shoddy science and he has called attention to the fact that the ongoing reaction to the Coronavirus is an episode of mass hysteria that is vastly more destructive than the virus itself. As with the Swine Flu epidemic of 2009, all evidence suggests that the mortality rate of this virus is much lower than the initial estimates had suggested. His article can be found here and I hope that all of you will read it. Unfortunately human beings are rarely willing to admit their mistakes, especially when they can get away with not admitting it. My expectation is that the people whose mass hysteria caused the collapse of our economy will never acknowledge that this entire panic was unnecessary.

1 Comment

  1. Very interesting. I was worried reading the first paragraph, Jews, nazis, Jean Paul Sartre, Holocaust, Hannah Arendt blah blah etc but then the article turned out to be about the reliability of science.
    We will see.
    The system seems to be going down the pan, thats a worry even if one doesn’t like the system!

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