Conservatives & Science

To repeat: I am of the ‘A Pox on Both Your Houses’ party. I’m not attacking one and defending another. What I am doing is pointing out that this is a prime case of Lying through Statistics:

Turns out, according to a study, of all things, that Conservatives have less confidence in Science than others.

I hardly know where to begin. How about pointing out that ‘esteem’ and ‘trust’ are not words with any bearing on science – do I trust scientists? Hold them in esteem? Should anyone? Does the fact that Elle, for example, esteems certain women mean I should trust them? About what? Maybe climate change? Economic policy? The limits of scientific understanding? Where to get some totally pumped up kicks?

Maybe the problem has to do with ‘esteemed’ and ‘trusted’ scientists like Carl Sagan turning out to be disingenuous publicity hounds more interested in their Q-rating than, you know, actual facts that can be backed up with real science. Or fundamentalist loonies like Richard Dawkins, who believes that his admirable work on popularizing evolutionary theory means that we are obliged take his opinions on topics upon which his ignorance is blindingly obvious as Gospel. Trust either of those guys? Yes – if I need an estimate of total energy output of a main sequence star during different phases of its life cycle, or a plausible explanation of the evolutionary development of certain characteristics of beetles. But about the ‘probability’ of intelligent life in the universe? (hint: there’s no probability of a second case if there’s only one known case – there’s no probabilistic analysis of a single unique case). Or of the adequacy of science to answer ‘why’ questions when, by definition, science considers such questions irrelevant to science? Really?

And, then, let’s talk about the scientific validity of a study based on self-reporting by sample populations. The scientific conclusions from such a study can only be very timid – all you might be able to say is something like: the respondents of this survey who self-identified with the undefined category ‘conservative’ also self-identified as having less trust – another undefined term, in context – of science – ditto – than respondents who self identified as independents or liberals, terms which are also undefined.  If you think that conclusion is the equivalent of Conservative Have Less Confidence In Science Than Others, then, well, you might need to avail yourself of a remedial course on the scientific method.

But, hey, it’s clear from the rest of the article that the author either doesn’t understand or care about the scientific method – he’s interested in painting Conservatives as ignorant bumpkins, as opposed to the clearly more enlightened, urban and sophisticated independents and, especially, liberals. His efforts run aground on, what do you call those things? Oh yea, FACTS. You know, the stuff science is supposed to deal with?

Here’s one: If you have a degree from an American University, are you more likely to be a Democrat or a Republican? Turns out that you’re significantly more likely to be a Republican. But isn’t holding a degree an indicator of superior intelligence? So, how does one explain such a thing?

Conversely, if you are a high school drop out who votes, what are you likely to be registered as? What do you think? Why aren’t the results of  a study on this issue plastered all across the newspapers and interwebs? Since just about everybody but me agrees that academic achievement correlates almost exactly to native intelligence, shouldn’t the above issues be critical to our understanding about the relative intelligence of the members of political parties?

How about I write a survey – it’ll have to be a thought experiment unless somebody’s got a couple hundred grand or so to fund it – where I ask people who they voted for in the last presidential election, a series of true or false questions about the Chicago Political Machine, (Sample; over 50 people associated with the CPM are currently doing time in prison – true/false/don’t know)  and then ask them to identify sciences:

Are the following fields sciences?

– Freudian Psychology

– Jungian Psychology

– Other Psychology

– Sociology

– Economics

– Astrology

– Political Science

and then crunch some correlations. I’d be guessing the results might be informative.

Personally, I care little about whether members of the Stupid Evil Party had more or less success in school than members of the Evil Stupid Party. But I’m appalled and infuriated at the continued misuse of science for political ends by hacks like the authors of that study and the piece linked above.

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

3 thoughts on “Conservatives & Science”

  1. Great post, unfortunately the link doesn’t work (actually the arstechna site crashes IE) but your observations seem spot on. Like you I find both parties just two sides of the same corrupt coin, but as both a working scientist and former Mensa member, I am also constitutionally conservative. I have no doubt that your proposed survey would be both telling, and ignored by the MSM.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Funny, the links work for me when I try them.

      How is it that stuff like this poll gets published without any backlash by science-types, or skeptics, or statisticians or just people that understand polls? I think I know the answer, and it’s not pretty.

      I, also, am ‘conservative’ by nature, in that I love and admire many old things and do not take it for granted that the new is, by the simple fact that it is new, better than the old. But politics? That’s a whole ‘nother kettle of rotten fish.

  2. Well, it works today, maybe they were having some server issues or something when I tried the first time. Now I can actually see what you were talking about and you’re right about the writers understanding of the scientific method. This is my biggest gripe with the folks who push the whole Global Warming/Climate Change theory. As Einstein said… “No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.” Yet Al Gore keep claiming “It’s settled” when nothing is further from the truth. No wonder the public at large, and perhaps Conservatives in general don’t trust science, because the only ones paraded to the public are the liars who push the agenda.

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