Galileo 2010 – The New Inquisition

Social Insight — POSTED BY Michael Carmichael on April 12, 2010 at 11:40 am

Today, a struggle is taking place in Great Britain between prejudice and science. The Conservatives have attacked a major scientist and are attempting to humiliate him through a trial-by-tabloid of dogma versus science.

Here is a brief backstory. Exactly four hundred years ago in 1610, Galileo Galilei published The Starry Messenger, a book that defined his monumental theory that the sun – not the earth – is the center of the solar system. Galileo’s theory flew in the face of long-established Catholic dogma that the earth does not move. Eventually, Galileo would collide with the awesome power of the Pope.

In 1632, Galileo faced trial for heresy, a capital offense. During his trial, Galileo was threatened with the instruments of torture that were maliciously brandished in his face. Under duress of the dual threats of torture and execution, Galileo recanted – but he lived under house arrest for the rest of his life in a form of suspended animation rather like Aun Sang Suu Kii, and he became the Renaissance icon of injustice and the overarching powers of the Papacy. For these reasons, Galileo is indisputably the most iconic figure of scientific persecution, a genius whose ideas displaced religious orthodoxy with reason and fundamentalist fantasies with rational analysis.

Today in Britain, the tabloids are unfolding yet another case of scientific inquisition. In the Information Age, the Tabloid Editor has replaced the Papal Inquisitor. Instead of astronomy, the field of pharmacology is the latest battleground between the forces of fundamentalist orthodoxy and the scientific community.

Targeting Dr. Les Iversen, a scientist with impeccable credentials and the Chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, The Mail on Sunday published a sensationalist diatribe against the scientific analysis of drugs that would abolish the entire field of drug reform. The slanted story pointed out that Dr. Iversen published a book about the medical uses of marijuana, The Science of Marijuana, and is an advisor to the Beckley Foundation, a scientific research organization that has established the gold standard for objective analysis of existing drug laws with the publication of The Global Cannabis Commission Report of 2008 that called for sweeping drug reform.

To tarnish Dr. Iversen with the taint of political controversy, the deeply conservative tabloid quoted a right-wing member of parliament named Ann Widdecombe (Britain’s answer to Michelle Bachmann) who had the effrontery to say, “The fact that he was prepared to lend his name to a body pushing for softer policies on drug use means he should not be advising the Government on this issue.”

There we have it. Because of his scientific research, Dr. Iversen stands accused of thoughtcrime. According to Widdecombe, only malleable simpletons who are willing to agree with orthodox policy should be appointed to the post of scientific adviser to the government for we have no need for rationality and no respect for divergent viewpoints – none whatsoever.

In the case of Dr. Iversen and the Beckley Foundation, we witness the collision of inveterate orthodoxy versus scientific analysis exploding in the pages of an inquisitorial tabloid that fortunately does not possess the power of physical torture. In 2010, we have advanced from the unspeakable tortures of the Inquisition to psychological torture by tabloid.

The head of the Beckley Foundation is Amanda Feilding, Lady Neidpath. One decade ago, Lady Neidpath and her husband established the Beckley Foundation for the scientific analysis of the mind and the broad spectrum of human consciousness.

In addition to work on cannabis-marijuana, the Beckley Foundation has obtained official licenses from the government to conduct the first research with LSD in decades. LSD is one chemical along with many others that can alter human consciousness. For a quarter of a century, LSD and other psychedelic substances were the cornerstones of research into altered states of consciousness, but religious orthodoxy merged with political pressure – and government repressed this rich field of scientific research – much to its discredit.

The current situation is rather like the 16th century, when Copernicus published his revolutionary work to inform the public that the sun was the center of the solar system. Copernicus’ book was banned, and it was over 60 years before Galileo published his much more lucid and convincing scientific analysis based on astronomical observations with a telescope.

In the clash of orthodoxy versus science, the future of civilization is literally at stake. From evolution to global warming to drug reform, the scientific community confronts orthodox dogmas to help guide civilization toward justice and survival.

By accusing intellectuals of thoughtcrime – such as Dr. Iversen and Lady Neidpath – the modern inquisition threatens our very existence.

In America in a parallel development, Michelle Alexander has just published her eloquent call for drug reform, her highly acclaimed book, The New Jim Crow. Alexander argues very forcefully that the drug laws do little more than legitimize racism via the premeditated and systematic incarceration of racial minorities. In America, the drug laws destroy the lives of a disproportionate amount of racial minorities where up to 50% of the young male population is permanently engraved with the indelible stain of criminality. The same is undoubtedly true in Britain.

In 2010, four hundred years after the rise of Galileo, science must reject the yoke of orthodox dogma. Not only our survival, but justice itself depends upon it.

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  • ToNYC says:

    Perhaps the most elemental and difficult paradigm shift is a daily effort to overcome our hard-wiring in dealing with incoming present data.
    I think Marshall McLuhan said it best, “We look at the Present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the Future.”

  • David Luke says:

    An excellent article Michael. Thank you.

    Not only are (some) Government officials refusing to look down the telescope, they have been trying to get us to look through the other end for years by banging on about prohibition as the solution to drug problems, when in fact it is actually much more of a cause of the problems itself. Prohibition does not lead to reduced drug consumption, it leads to organised crime and more dangerous drug consumption.

    Science and sense must prevail over political posturing.

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