If you attach the words ‘science proves this’ to a statement most people, almost as a reflex, will believe it. Often without a second thought.
The other day the newspapers reported a scientist at Granada University in Spain had published a study on the ‘evolutionary history of lethal violence.’ The scientist had carefully created a ‘database’ of 4 million mammal-on-mammal murders – which allowed him to compare murder rates among 1024 types of mammals. When he was done he announced ‘science’ proved meerkats are the most murderous mammals. Precisely 20% of the meerkats are murdered by other meerkats.
The next most murderous mammals are monkeys, lemurs, and sea lions. Finally, the scientist got to humans and his ‘study’ became a lot more detailed.
In Paleolithic times, he announced, 2% of the hunter-gathers were murdered by fellow hunter-gathers.
During the Middle Ages, he reported, the murder rate rose to 12%.
And in modern times, another scientist added, 1 in 10,000 humans (or .01%) are murdered by other humans.
Now how on earth could a scientist figure out exactly how many meerkats are walking the earth and how many are murdered? Or that exactly 2% of the cavemen were murdered by other cavemen? Or that 12% of the serfs, long-bowmen, and Sir Galahads living 15 centuries ago during the Middle Ages were murdered?
It hardly seems possible. We have statistics that prove how many people live in Chicago and how many murders are committed there. But no one even knows how many cavemen there were 2 million years ago.
Either way, the media – from the Washington Post to NPR – bought it hook, line and sinker.
These days ‘science’ has gained the status of a sacred totem. If science says 20% of the meerkats were murdered it must be so.