Let’s put it out there from the get go, non weird science can be amazing too, right? Perhaps it’s greatest strength is the core principal of asking questions, and not just any old inquiry but carefully selected and following empirical protocols. The results are then subject to peer review and eventually, if not countered as lacking evidence or repeatable proof, declared as scientific fact. Awesome hey? Sure, but before we hit the sidewalk in celebration we need to ask does science get it wrong? Totally! Another question which needs to be considered is, does science get manipulated and exploited for reasons of commerce and politics? You betcha! From the dangers of smoking, GMO and pharmaceuticals to water pollution and events like Fukushima scientists have been co-opted (some willingly) to push ‘facts’ that suit the interests of corporations and also government. The person in the lab-coat is thought to be authoritative, objective and lacking in bias, right? What more convincingly neutral messenger if you wanted to influence public opinion, after all they’re dedicated to fact and impartiality. You can trust them, can’t you?
Which brings us to China and its regime, long known for propaganda, censorship and ruthless totalitarian control, exerted over every facet of Chinese society, including academic institutions and media. Both areas are entirely politicized and subject to the ideological dictates of China’s communist party (CCP) under the control of President Xi Jinping. Nobody better represents this dismal state of affairs than Professor Huang Jiefu, a member of the CCP and Chinese government with disturbing links to the forcible removal of human organs from political prisoners inside China. Yet the same individual has the role of professional liar, touring the international circuit of surgeons’ conferences to deny and deceive, an enthusiastic propagandist! We’re not claiming that every academic declaration from China is to be dismissed, but those related to politically sensitive issues should be scrutinized with a particularly critical lens, especially when linked with Tibet!
On July 18 2018 we noted the publication of the following paper: ‘Traditional Tibetan Medicine Induced High Methylmercury Exposure Level and Environmental Mercury Burden in Tibet, China (sic)’ It was copyrighted to the American Chemical Society SOURCE and authored in the majority by Chinese writers from Chinese government controlled academic institutions. It claimed the inclusion of mercury in Tibetan medicines, which the authors reportedly measured “in the municipal sewage in Tibet”. Not exactly a positive news story on Tibetan culture is it? What impression does it give? Does it cast Tibetans into a negative light? But they are questions of a political shade. Let’s get back to the science for now.
Now we imagine that the loyal academics of; China’s Ministry of Education Laboratory of Earth Surface Process (Beijing University), Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, (Beijing) and Chinese Academy of Sciences East China Normal University, (Shanghai) when formulating their central thesis statement followed standard scientific procedure and allowed for critical examination of any and all factors that could impact findings and tests?
We raise this important question because what’s been published gives an impression of a paper which had the objective of fitting the ‘facts’ to a predetermined conclusion. That of course would be bias. Surely those eager academics are dedicated to impartial research only, right? Well if so we would expect them to examine a range of factors that could result in significant levels of mercury in Tibetan sewage, and moreover to include results and measurements on other possible contributory sources in their paper. Unless of course what we have here is a politicized study which has propaganda aims? Dang there goes the political reflex again! Now where did we get too? Ah right! The science part.
An obvious start point would be for them to ask, is their geographic sample sufficiently diverse and of a range to be regarded as an accurate representation?
Did they consider other sources of mercury which could explain the supposed presence in those sewage samples taken?
What measures did they employ to identify what percentage of mercury in the sewage could be shown to be derived from traditional Tibetan medicine, as opposed to pollution incidents and or industrial wastage/use?
Were those who supplied the Tibetan medicine samples unknowing of the claimed mercury content, or complicit in adulterating such treatments?
In declaring Tibetan medicine to contain mercury did their paper examine the sources of constituent herbs, to establish if such plants were on contaminated soils or exposed to wind borne pollution?
Did the authors sufficiently examine the role of gold mining and its use of mercury which escapes into the surrounding environment, including the hydrosphere?
Were measurements taken in those limited sites where sewage was examined, to test water quality and presence of metals such as mercury?
Did they properly assess the possibility of mercury contamination from gold mining and the fact that mercury can contaminate the atmosphere and water at a very long distance?
It’s our view that such questions would be fundamental to any proper scientific examination of a thesis which was to conclude the production of Tibetan medicine as the causal factor of mercury within sewage. We invite the paper’s authors and its copyright holders American Chemical Society to furnish evidence that these possible other factors were included in the research, otherwise people may well speculate if the paper can considered a serious academic work.
While we await a response on that, back to our favorite subject, politics! Yay! So what to say about all this, well had Sherlock Holmes been investigating no doubt he would have remarked:
“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.’ (Conan Doyle, A Scandal in Bohemia)
Are we witnessing such a manipulation with this paper? Does the Chinese regime control academic bodies and use them as a conduit for its disinformation? What’s known for sure is that the once pristine land of Tibet has, since China invaded in 1950, been ruthlessly exploited for its minerals, water, gas and forests. The environmental impact has been devastating, rivers and lakes polluted, the atmosphere and soils contaminated by mining for gold, other metal ores and asbestos. Taking all this into account it’s reasonable to consider that mercury contamination in occupied Tibet is significant and probably widespread, with frequency variation.
To blame this upon Tibetan medicine is a cynical duplicity and calculating falsehood, sure metals such as gold or silver may traditionally be included. Who knows mercury may have been, or some unscrupulous or ignorant supplier may add it. It’s not exactly an empirically derived conclusion. When compared to the magnitude and nature of China’s rampant mining of Tibetan lands, with its resultant pollution and industrial scale use of mercury, Tibetan medicine cannot justifiably be cited as the source of such contamination. It is founded upon principles that are in harmony with the land and respect the environment.
Back-in-the-day reports emerged of deforestation in eastern Tibet, a handful of publications associated such destruction with the lifestyle of Tibetans living in those areas. Such journalists, and environmentalists chose to ignore Chinese state supported lumber corporations who were transforming the once verdant forest of Tibet into a lunar landscape. They turned a blind-eye to the never ending convoys of trucks shipping timber back to China. They chose to cast a judgmental eye on Tibetans, now why would they do that? Perhaps, as in the case of this latest questionable ‘research paper’, the answer may be found in China’s Ministry of Disinformation!