Junkfood Science: Paranyms

March 26, 2008


"Every age has its dominant caste. This is the age of the zealot," writes Dr. John Brignell, Ph.D., of Number Watch. In an article that will invite controversy and discussion, he explains how and why Orwell’s vision of the future has become our reality. Interestingly, he mentions the use of paranyms to create an obesity crisis, just as we’ve been looking at words like “overeat,” “maintain,” “fit” and obesity “paradox.” As he writes:

In the world of the zealot, which is now our world, there are no simple problems. Everything is a crisis, epidemic, disaster or catastrophe. There is always the need for urgent action, which usually means taxation, authoritarian control and further loss of liberty….

The obesity crisis. Fat is the new age is deemed unaesthetic. There have been times when a different view prevailed: it is all a matter of fashion, but now fat has to be condemned without trial. The overweening state, by dint of the efforts of the zealots, demands the right to determine the shape of its clients.

Zealotry is rich in paranyms. A paranym is a word used as an evasion, often in a sense that is opposite to its actual meaning: liberate for conquer, liberal for authoritarian etc. Zealots like to change the vocabulary in this way and paradox is one of their victims. Time and time again reality diverges from the dogma, so there has come to be, for example, the obesity paradox. Never mind though, for one of the first principles of zealotry is to ignore any contrary evidence. Another of their favourite techniques is to exploit the end-point fallacy. In Britain, for example, they almost invariably choose the fifties as a point of reference, a time when British women had suffered more than a decade of starvation. In America obesity rates have not changed for seven years, but are still routinely portrayed as a growing crisis. Over and over again the obesity scam is exposed, but the campaigners simply ignore the contrary evidence and march on.

There’s been a lot of talk among bloggers about how we could have possibly reached the point where so many people believe things about obesity, diets and our world that aren’t true. Dr. Brignell notes it was foreseen by Orwell. The control of language is the key to political power, as Orwell wrote: “Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”

Also, “it would be difficult to overstate the effect that the decline in standards of statistical practice have had on science in general and medicine in particular,” Dr. Brignell writes. “Examples abound, the valuable drug Vioxx was withdrawn on the basis of a statistical absurdity, while the multibillion dollar statins industry flourishes on, to say the least, dubious grounds. The whole drugs industry is a lottery for unprecedented prizes (and losses). Junk epidemiology can produce results to order by statistical insouciance and manipulation. The establishment is able to purchase the ‘evidence’ it requires.”

Along with control over language, the abuse of science and statistics to create whatever evidence the establishment cares to purchase, he writes, are fallacies of logic. He describes some of the factors needed to create what he calls a campaign of zealotry, which begins by creating a myth and ignoring all evidence countering the myth, encouraging an authoritative government, damaging science and its methods, collusion by the established media, and “promotion of limits and constraints that are simply invented without reason.”

When the media is complicit, all that is reported and repeated is the newspeak, the myth, making it inconceivable to think anything different. And all the more important for people to think.

His full article, “March of the zealots” is here.

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