Reviewed by Carol Van Strum, Independent Science News
“Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts,” Richard Feynman famously declared in 1966. Ever quick to challenge accepted wisdom, he distinguished the laudable ignorance of science, forever seeking unattainable certainties, from the dangerous ignorance of experts who professed such certainty.
Twenty years later, he would drop a rubber ring into a glass of ice water to show a panel of clueless rocket experts how willful ignorance of basic temperature effects likely caused the Challenger shuttle disaster (1).
Experts with delusions of certainty create imitative forms of science, he warned, producing “the kind of tyranny we have today in the many institutions that have come under the influence of pseudoscientific advisors.” (2)
Feynman’s warning against faith in the phony trappings of “cargo cult science” fell on deaf ears. Policies affecting every aspect of our lives are now based on dangerous forms of ignorance.
A prime case in point is the noble edifice of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where a high-ranking EPA official was recently jailed and fined for collecting pay and bonuses for decades of non-existent work while he claimed to be working elsewhere for the CIA. Such long-standing fraud would hardly come as a surprise to Evaggelos Vallianatos, who toiled for a quarter of a century in the EPA’s Pesticide Division, ostensibly responsible for protecting human health and the environment from commercial poisons. His new book, Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA, documents a culture of fraud and corruption infesting every corner and closet of the agency. Read the entire story.