Sunday, February 8, 2009

It defies description

When I was earning my PhD, someone with whom I was working fairly closely got cold busted falsifying data. He lost his job (of course), vanishing from science completely after working for years to get where he was, and he and several authors were forced to retract a high-profile paper from a very high-profile journal. That experience reinforced something I already knew: Don't lie. Especially, do not lie to scientists. Especially do not tell high-profile lies to scientists. Someone will find you out.

It's one thing to tell the kinds of lies that cost money or time, I guess. It's another thing entirely to tell the kinds of lies that pervade the globe, that influence the way parents choose to protect their children, the way research entities choose to allocate millions. It's a big deal to tell a lie that costs lives or that diverts hard-to-come-by funds from research that could save lives.

And that just leaves me wondering: How do you think Andrew Wakefield feels right now? Do ya think he's feeling Thoughtful? By the way, I've had four colonoscopies, and my GI doc never once referred to them as "diagnostic endoscopies," given that they weren't endoscopy in general, but quite specifically lower gut endoscopies. Oh, and let's not get into the appropriate indications for performing such a procedure. It's amazing, isn't it, how far a little euphemistic language will go with some people. But not quite as amazing as calling something colitis when it isn't, or even more relevant, calling something autism when it isn't. Or saying that something happened around the time of an MMR shot when in reality, it showed up weeks or months before.

But what's a little lie here and there when one can say, "It's a moral issue for me"?

That's funny. It's a moral issue for me, too. When did morality become such an elusive, diaphanous thing that ducks and covers and equivocates and omits and shape shifts to suit the very real material gains of the person using the word? I know, I know. Since forever. The godawfulness of this one is that this particular form of morality spread like a virus across parental brains around the globe, infecting our culture, our minds, our thinking, our lives. Hmmm...I wonder if there's a vaccine for that?

Edited to add: Liz Ditz over at I Speak of Dreams is compiling an excellent listing of blog postings and media responses related to this report. Head on over and check it out.