Wonderful sentiment expressed on New Scientist’s letters page (22 March 2008, page 20). (The web version is a little messed up; Herzenberg’s letter starts about halfway down the page.)

From Caroline Herzenberg

I must disagree with the sentiment expressed in the headline “Nothing but the truth” on Robert Matthews’s article. After a lifetime in science and of wholehearted commitment to protecting intellectual integrity, I have come to the conclusion that in the world outside science, cold facts alone are not enough.

Truth travels slowly, and falsehood moves fast. Additional techniques must be used by scientists in struggling against propaganda, and I recommend ridicule. Here in the US we are contending with huge amounts of propaganda from very powerful institutions, including corporations and our own government, as Dan Hind has already set out (19 January, p 46).

This propaganda generates and publicises falsehoods at a greater rate than any well-intentioned individual or limited group of individuals could possibly research and examine on the timescale of an effective counter-argument. Of course we must present the evidence and the facts, but this response will be too little and too late when the propaganda is being churned out by well-funded political or corporate noise machines working around the clock.

I suggest an immediate response of publicly ridiculing the most obvious lies and propaganda, followed promptly by a detailed response that is as thorough, thoughtful and accurate as possible.

Chicago, Illinois, US