On the other hand

A cow writes, that I have been unfair to her and her kind. The cattle are a benign race, she claims. They are not nearly so manipulative as Perfesser Fleischkopf has alleged. They are not, certainly not, like the white lab rats who delight in getting the white lab-coats scurrying about, by such simple devices as running through doorways, ostentatiously twitching to shocks, ringing little bells, and so forth. And it is true enough, that between lab rat, and behaviourist, there is an intellectual chasm — the Rattus norvegicus wins every time. Which is why, I suppose, the behaviourists treat them so cruelly.

Cows, my correspondent writes, are not so sportive. And she reminds me that they are not only milked, but sometimes slain and eaten: think of that! Hardly anyone eats rats any more, at least in the West (I have a recipe from Malawi); and they are seldom milked, either, even though the protein in their milk is ten times that in the human lactation — a matter that has surely been brought to the attention of the Nestlé food company, famous for its nutritional research, and innovative approach to baby formulas.

(Now let me confide, that while this email was signed “Elsie the Cow,” I have reason to believe it was written by another.)

True, there is some evidence in the Internet of progress on the rat-milking front. But here it should be plainly said, that the story is a hoax. Though more modest in its claims than those for “climate change,” it exhibits the same propensity to manufacture evidence.

An article in Modern Farmer points to the inconvenience of milking 674 largish rats, to match the daily output of one healthy Holstein. While it would not be impossible, in principle, to make cheese from rat’s milk, there is no truth to an account of the invention of an automated rodent milking machine by a Copenhagen Institute of Agriculture (neither exist); and even at the suggested retail price of 139 dollars, one cannot purchase (the imaginary) “KG Blue Cheese,” made from the milk of the (non-existent) “Siberian Udder Rat,” and (never) advertised as the “nectar of the gulags.” Nor should we believe that George W. Bush is among those who favour it.

Though if you put a product so packaged and priced in a specialist section at Whole Foods, with some earnest (if fictive) testimonials, I think you might find a few customers in the Greater Parkdale Area.


A great deal of modern science and technology is of this sort, as we learn from multiple recent sources. I celebrate the original paper on rat cheese, because it was a joke, and because it provided sufficient internal clues to debunk itself. Unlike the sceptical Modern Farmer, I would not condemn it for being a joke. I would rather condemn works in which more effort is taken to make the falsehoods plausible; where there is no joke, but instead a little humourless agenda to entrap the gullible.

I daresay more is written than is attentively read, in science and technology today; and what is read is often to a questionable purpose. It is good to seed the literature with parodies, to demonstrate the truth of this assertion.

As Richard Horton, editor of the British medical journal, Lancet, wrote after a secretive symposium last spring on the reliability of biomedical research:

“The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.”

But he thinks this is a recent development; and he thinks something can be done about it by spending more money on research. To my mind the evil of scientism is older than that; and the excess of money paid out for “results” contributes powerfully to the corruption.

This is an old story; I taught a course on it once. The same thing happened in the ancient world, to dismember an earlier development of empirical science in the Hellenistic age, centred finally on Alexandria. By the time of the Roman Empire, it was quite dead. The focus of all work was now on applied technology; scientific thinking had, not in contrast to this, but by the same oppressively practical habits, turned to astrology, alchemy, and other fanciful researches. Science had succumbed to scientism, and its results were now the product of “consensus.”

It took more centuries than ten for the idea of demonstrable scientific truth to slice back out of the cocoon of superstition — a large, still mostly unknown history that, in turn, connects the renaissance of the twelfth century with the baroque renaissance that led to such as Newton, and Pasteur.

Yet no sooner had that been achieved, than the gnostic impulse was re-asserted. By the nineteenth century, the “just so stories” (of Marxism, Darwinism, Freudianism, &c) were back in play, masquerading as empirical science, and we began again weaving our way into a sack of darkness, under the direction of scientistic high priests, girded about by “consensus.”

“Go, go, go, said the bird,” as T.S. Eliot put it in Burnt Norton. “Human kind cannot bear very much reality.”