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Be wary when placing trust in junk science

A recent poll asked Americans who and what they trust. It found that Republicans trust religion more than science; Democrats trust science more than religion.

Neither should trust in science, as it is a discipline of proof.

Most religious beliefs cannot be proved, so those who submit to religion do so in nothing more than willing faith. When we submit to science, trust and faith should have no role. To act upon science, we must demand proof beyond reasonable doubt.

Science has proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that microorganisms exist and the world is round. Seemingly countless scientific truths require no faith.

Unfortunately, faith is often extended to ideas and theories simply because someone labels them as science. Too often, we place faith in junk science.

Anthropogenic global warming theory may someday rate as proven science. It remains unproved and in question by some of the world’s leading scientists. It requires an extension of faith in humans who insist it is true. We’re not certain, beyond reasonable doubt, this theory won’t unravel.

Throughout much of the 20th Century, suspects were convicted by jurors who placed blind faith in fingerprint analysis, deceptively characterized as a science. Today, we view much fingerprint analysis as junk. A higher science, DNA analysis, brought this to light by exonerating convicts whose lives were ruined by fingerprint junk science. Even sophisticated machines cannot match most prints with certainty, and usually it isn’t a machine doing the work.

“The supposed science of fingerprints is more like an elaborate boys club of certified examiners who decide — subjectively and not always consistently — what constitutes a match,” wrote New York Public Defender David Feige, in a 2004 article for Slate.

This month, ABC News reported on another once-accepted theory that’s on its way to the scientific scrap heap. Victims of sexual abuse sometimes come forth in their retirement years to sue, having said nothing for 40 or 50 years. One suit may inspire hundreds like it. Why didn’t they speak sooner? Sometimes we’re told they had “repressed memory syndrome,” caused by an event so traumatic the victim forgot.

A former seminarian accused then-Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in 1993 of abusing him in the 1970s. He claimed repressed memory syndrome. The man later recanted, explaining a therapist suggested events and urged him to recall them.

Increasingly, as reported by ABC, scientists are outing repressed memory syndrome as a scam. A briefing of the U.S. Supreme Court by Harvard Psychology Professor Richard McNally called repressed memory theory “the most pernicious bit of folklore ever to infect psychology and psychiatry.” The New York Times tells of 100 psychologists, psychiatrists and researchers signing a friend-of-the-court brief denouncing repressed memory theory.

We should take seriously the claims of people who come forward with old abuse claims. But we shouldn’t have blind faith just because someone speaks of repressed memories in a context of science. It may well be scientific mythology.

Science and religion shape our world. To make big decisions based on science, we need proof. Faith and belief are allegiances extended to religion.