A short description of what we’re up to can be found here. Comments are welcome but may be moderated for content and tone.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: Will Science Survive Our Politicized Culture?

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

The Autumn 2016 edition of City Journal is home to a lengthy but remarkably even-handed piece entitled “The Real War on Science”, in which author John Tierney points out that it’s actually Progressives rather than right-wingers that are holding science back.

Tierney reveals that academia has become what he calls a “monoculture”, much like the media, that is in danger of losing public trust because so many scientists insist on mixing politics with their jobs.

Tom: We’ve documented this trend here a number of times, Immanuel Can [way too many times to link to, in fact; click “science” in the topic sidebar on our main page to view all our articles on the subject].

But Tierney’s piece is just one more reminder how important it is to drill into our children, especially before they reach college age, that because they are taught something in a school classroom or read it in a textbook does not mean it’s true.

Thinking at the Level of Children

Immanuel Can: Well, yes — but it’s not actually the children I’m really worried about; it’s the vast number of people — secular liberals and, yes, even many Christians — who think about science at the level of children.

Tom: Ooh, zing. You must expand on that.

IC: Well, lots of people have really na├»ve views of what science is, views that cause them to be both more fearful and less respectful than they should be of what science can really do. For example, many people think science is about certainty; and everything else — and in particular, “religion” — is just superstition, emotion or gratuitous faith. Or they think that science can be ignored if it contradicts their personal agendas, and not only will bad things not follow from that, but good ones will happen. So they block science in all of its good uses, and are totally credulous about its limitations.

Tom: Right. Science is one of those areas that provokes strong opinions from people who are actually acting on very little information indeed.

Two Great Threats to Science

Now, Tierney’s piece dissects two great threats to science from Leftist ideology: confirmation bias, and the aforementioned mixing of science with politics.

Let’s talk about confirmation bias for a moment: we’re all predisposed to it. By that I mean the very human tendency to seek out and accept information that confirms our beliefs and prejudices.

In science, this tendency can manifest in publishing recommendations: if you lean the wrong way politically, or if your thesis is anti-PC, it’s likely to be ignored. It manifests in the tendency to use peer reviewers that are sympathetic to a researcher’s ideological position. It manifests in groupthink, and the inability to see the world from the other side’s perspective.

Are Christians ever guilty of confirmation bias, IC?

IC: Oh, sure … everybody is. But unless you understand that, you’re not able to guard against it at all. The problem with postmodernist thinking is that they believe (a) nobody ever can get beyond confirmation bias, so (b) the truth is that we’re all just lunatics fighting for our own agendas. Truth is out.

Truth and Personal Preference

Tom: Do you think? They seem awfully dogmatic about their view of the universe for people who don’t actually believe anything to be objectively true.

IC: Heh. Yes, that is terribly ironic, isn’t it? But look at how they interact with the opposition: their interest in truth is zero. Absolutely zero. Posing, virtue-signaling, bullying: all very important to them. But truth matters not a jot. It’s all about them advancing the version of the world they believe will fulfill their personal preferences.

More irony: as David Adams Richards, the famous novelist has noted, they are perfectly willing to hurt anyone, in any unscrupulous way, in order to promote their vision of a world where nobody is hurt.

Tom: Oh, I see that last bit, definitely, and it’s rather funny. But I do detect on the Left a sense that they the guardians of Truth, capital “T”. Even the post-modern Lefties seem convinced they have latched onto something real that nobody else has grasped.

I believe they have actually drunk their own Kool-Aid.

Insensible Objectivism

IC: Well, that has to be what they mean, doesn’t it? I know they’re absolutely terrible at things like logic, but even they must see that unless their vision of the future is better — truly better — then they have no reason to believe anyone should prefer it. So under their relativism is a most harsh, absurd, unwarranted, dogmatic and unthinking kind of objectivism.

Now, I would be an objectivist about truth myself. I think any sensible person has to be. But there’s nothing sensible about their kind of objectivism. They believe, without any reason to do so, that they have grasped truth at a level nobody else has or can. And boy, they’ll tell you about it.

Tom: Well, we’re certainly seeing that in the streets currently. Nothing the Left is saying about the Trump presidency is coherent, and at least half the complaints are mutually contradictory. But what I am seeing is real, wholly deluded conviction. And much of that is simply confirmation bias.

You’ve Got Your Politics in My Science!

We’ve drifted into Tierney’s second point a little, which is the intermingling of science with politics. But once that starts to occur, as it has, we should not find ourselves surprised if Leftist scientists put their Leftism ahead of their Scientistry. It is, after all, a worldview. Science is just a method.

IC: Right. That phrase is hugely important: “Science is a method”. The problem is, most people don’t realize what a “method” is.

Tom: Tierney gives nice examples of Lefty prejudice within the sciences against Christians and conservatives that exist primarily because the Left happily skips the rather important methodological step of conclusively demonstrating the validity of a hypothesis. Like Michael Mann, they jump right to demonizing anyone opposed to their point before they have bothered to prove it. They assume their conclusions, as with the whole “CO2 causes climate change” debacle, and then attack anyone reserved about those conclusions as “irrational” or a “denier”.

IC: Yes, they do. They actually shut down science by using rhetoric. They call themselves “Progressives”, implying that they are on the side of historical progress, but they don’t want science to progress in any area dangerous to their agenda.

The Influence of Marxism

All this comes from Marxism, actually. Marx claimed he knew where history was headed — the “triumph of the Proletariat”, he called it — the ideal worker’s State. History was going to go that way anyway, he said, and anyone who was holding it back was simply “on the wrong side of history” (to borrow an Obama phrase). Historically, that has meant that the opposition can be harmed without impunity or limit, since they are holding back the good we all should want.

Tom: And it’s a small step for an ideologically motivated scientist to go from attacking fellow scientists who are thought to be holding back the tide of history to erasing, ignoring or dismissing facts and data that inconveniently contradict that ideology.

IC: Now, any time somebody tells you they know where history is progressing to, that man is either a prophet or a dangerous fool, since we all know that (Que Sera, Sera) “the future’s not ours to see”. Only God knows where it’s headed. But in pursuit of their fanciful utopia, the “Progressives” will commit any unscrupulous act, convinced all the while that their hands are continuously purified by dint of them serving “progress” toward their ideal vision. No evil can be done by someone serving The Cause, they think. So, ethics? Who cares? Truth? The only truth that matters is the truth of The Cause. And mercy? The only mercy possible is forcing the ideal future State to exist as soon as possible ...

And science? The only “good” science is that which supports The Cause.

The Corruption of the Scientific Method

Tom: In that sort of ideological environment, scientists don’t stop discovering and implementing new things, but they use the scientific method in a corrupted and rather horrible way. For example, they stop addressing the question of whether excessive CO2 emissions cause climate change, and instead dedicate their efforts to obscenities like the task of reengineering human beings solely for the purpose of reducing those emissions.

What conclusions can we draw here for Christians, IC?

Realistic Expectations

IC: Oh, rule number 1: have a realistic view of what science actually is and does, and tell your kids about it.

Science helps us with our observations of the physical world — things you can taste, touch, smell, measure, heat up, bend, drop, and so on. It does no work — and does not even pretend to work — on things that are real but untouchable. For example, science can tell you if you have hormones rushing through your system: it cannot tell you if that is because you are ill, or because you have “true love”. Science can tell you how the world works mechanically: it cannot tell you why the universe exists. It can even tell you a bit about what the Creator might be like — but it cannot tell you what he can tell you about himself by speaking through his word. Science, rightly understood, is no threat to faith; wrongly understood, it is.

What do you think, Tom?

Shrewd as Snakes

Tom: Christ-likeness makes us shrewd, not gullible. Be cautious about new pseudo-scientific pronouncements in the media; they tend to appear at remarkably convenient times to support already-existing views, rather than arising in a political vacuum and changing minds organically. Homosexuality and transgenderism were normalized by political pressure from shrieking minorities, not through the accumulation of irrefutable scientific evidence. In fact, they were normalized in the face of the evidence.

For this reason, I anticipate within the next decade we’ll see scientists make convenient new “discoveries” about gender fluidity, etc. I would give them about as much weight as they merit, which is none.

Follow the Money

Secondly, follow the money. I was suspicious of the climate change racket years ago, well before Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. But the massive wealth-transfer potential of global warm-mongering was less apparent at that time than was the questionable nature of the evidence for man-made warming. That part was obviously dodgy. And in time it became obvious that all the people shouting out “The science is settled!” stood to benefit in some major way from the universal acceptance of their theory. Big lies usually have financial incentives baked in.

As little people in an environment largely controlled by others, we may not be able to do much about the big lies they tell us. But we can certainly avoid repeating them, telling them to our children, or voting for them.

IC: Great advice, Tom. I guess the big message is this — follow the truth, not the rhetoric, eh?

No comments :

Post a Comment