Everything popular is wrong

  • Wednesday, January 29, 2014

There was a time when doctors used to “bleed” patients. They did this not because they were malicious beasts or secret imposters from the “Twilight” series, but because that is what was popular. That practice was the convention.

There was a time when the convergence of technology, cultures, and post-WWII circumstances brought a new music genre called Rock and Roll into the mainstream. The general opinion of just about everyone over the age of 30 at the time was that Rock and Roll meant the end of the world was near. Why? Because that, too, was the convention. We now know, of course, that Rock and Roll wasn’t the end of the world. Whatever “music” Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus perform certainly is, though.

Fast forward to recent times.

There was a time when a huge part of the financial industry was gambling on credit default swaps related to the sub-prime mortgage market. They did this, not because they were stupid – heck, Wall Street is run by graduates of the elite MBA schools – but because somehow that became the convention. When it all came crashing down, the country was thrust into The Great Recession, a presidential election outcome was affected by it, and the taxpayers had to bail the MBA wizards out with our hard earned money.

The convention for a decade or more is that paying almost double the price for organic foods is beneficial to our health. This popular and generally accepted notion led to skyrocketing sales of organic produce, from $3.6 billion in 1997 to over $24 billion in 2011. Then along comes a recently released study by Stanford University (which has a tree as its athletic mascot, even though the team is called the Cardinal, with no “s.”) Stanford’s research concludes there is “little to no benefit” from consumption of organic foods. “There isn’t much difference between organic and conventional foods, if you’re an adult and making a decision based wholly on your health,” said Dena Bravata, the senior author of the research paper published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Now, if this finding was published by a conservative institution like Liberty University or Bob Jones, you might expect wide ranged skepticism. But Stanford? It’s hard for that to be easily dismissed by the educational and cultural elites.

Next is where I venture into the realm of absolute heresy and cast aspersion on perhaps the biggest belief and group-think trend of our time, man-made (or “anthropogenic”) climate change. Yes that climate change – the phenomenon formerly known as global warming. I recently saw an article touting the fact that out of something like 9,000 peer-reviewed climate change articles, there was only one dissenter, or “denier,” as the term is applied. This was supposed to be prima facia evidence upholding the convention. However, this article did not mention Richard Lindzen, the atmospheric physicist who retired in 2013 as the Sloan Professor of Meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, as some of us laymen like to call it. Lindzen has poured cold water on the hot earth mania, both in published articles in places like the Wall Street Journal and in a television interview on CNN. Lindzen views climate change based on eons of known trends, patterns, and data, not just recent short-term observations. He believes that anthropogenic CO2 increases are naturally offset by other atmospheric occurances. Criticizing his climate colleagues for being slavish to convention, he said, “You have politicians being told if they question this, they are anti-science. We are trying to tell them, “No, questioning is never anti-science.”

So Oscar Wilde was right. The grandeur of individuality is in questioning and discovering truth for ourselves, and then we truly own it. A wise person should always ask, “Is this person teaching me this to empower me, or in order to exercise power over me?” Just think – if it hadn’t been for a few people questioning the convention of their day, we’d all still think the world was flat.

Will Haynie has published more than 400 oped columns as a feature columnist for the Asheville Citizen-Times and the Hendersonville (N.C.) Times-News when it was owned by the New York Times. His niche is as a humorous conservative. Find him on Twitter at @willhaynie or email him at Haynie.will@gmail.com.

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