Please read The Real War on Science by John Tierney, of whom I knew nothing before reading the article linked (name was vaguely familiar). Writer for the NYT, which is supposed to confer non-fake status (non-fake if one has forgotten Walter Duranty, among others. I haven’t.) However, since he says a lot of what I’m trying to say, in my own humble way, on this blog, we’ll set that aside for now.
He begins thus:
My liberal friends sometimes ask me why I don’t devote more of my science journalism to the sins of the Right. It’s fine to expose pseudoscience on the left, they say, but why aren’t you an equal-opportunity debunker? Why not write about conservatives’ threat to science?
My friends don’t like my answer: because there isn’t much to write about. Conservatives just don’t have that much impact on science. I know that sounds strange to Democrats who decry Republican creationists and call themselves the “party of science.” But I’ve done my homework. I’ve read the Left’s indictments, including Chris Mooney’s bestseller, The Republican War on Science. I finished it with the same question about this war that I had at the outset: Where are the casualties?
Where are the scientists who lost their jobs or their funding? What vital research has been corrupted or suppressed? What scientific debate has been silenced? Yes, the book reveals that Republican creationists exist, but they don’t affect the biologists or anthropologists studying evolution. Yes, George W. Bush refused federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, but that hardly put a stop to it (and not much changed after Barack Obama reversed the policy). Mooney rails at scientists and politicians who oppose government policies favored by progressives like himself, but if you’re looking for serious damage to the enterprise of science, he offers only three examples.
All three are in his first chapter, during Mooney’s brief acknowledgment that leftists “here and there” have been guilty of “science abuse.” First, there’s the Left’s opposition to genetically modified foods, which stifled research into what could have been a second Green Revolution to feed Africa. Second, there’s the campaign by animal-rights activists against medical researchers, whose work has already been hampered and would be devastated if the activists succeeded in banning animal experimentation. Third, there’s the resistance in academia to studying the genetic underpinnings of human behavior, which has cut off many social scientists from the recent revolutions in genetics and neuroscience. Each of these abuses is far more significant than anything done by conservatives, and there are plenty of others. The only successful war on science is the one waged by the Left. (emphasis mine)
Mostly good stuff, but with a few important gaps/omissions/dissemblings. From the first paragraph, check out:
Conservatives just don’t have that much impact on science.
Now, in context, a generous person would read that to say: When it comes to pseudoscience disrupting real science, Conservatives don’t have much of an effect. But that’s not what it says. What it says is rather more – dismissive?
This little bit of editorial oversight might seem like nit-picking, but I think not. Further on, he opines:
The danger from the Left does not arise from stupidity or dishonesty; those failings are bipartisan. Some surveys show that Republicans, particularly libertarians, are more scientifically literate than Democrats, but there’s plenty of ignorance all around. Both sides cherry-pick research and misrepresent evidence to support their agendas. Whoever’s in power, the White House plays politics in appointing advisory commissions and editing the executive summaries of their reports. Scientists of all ideologies exaggerate the importance of their own research and seek results that will bring them more attention and funding.
This, I think, is the flat moral universe I rail about just peeking out from behind the curtains. Those who do no damage to science despite their ideological opposition to some of science’s findings are just the same, morally, as those who, as the rest of the essay makes clear, foment ideologically-driven hysteria that results in real people really suffering harm and, in the case of Africans dying of malaria and Chinese women undergoing forced abortions, dying. Only where one accepts a weirdly flat world, where the difference between Stalin and Buffalo Bill(1) is *this* tiny can the difference between hurting people’s feeling and killing them be insignificant enough to casually dismiss.
Thus, the Left and the Right are equally guilty – except, as the essay clearly lays out, in the real world, anti-science is a distracting and ineffective hobby when engaged in by the Right, but a central structural element of the Left. How else to understand the wild disparity in academia? Only someone chugging cool-aide could believe that college faculty in all fields where reality doesn’t trump theory are overwhelmingly leftists as a result of some sort of meritocracy.
Scientists try to avoid confirmation bias by exposing their work to peer review by critics with different views, but it’s increasingly difficult for liberals to find such critics. Academics have traditionally leaned left politically, and many fields have essentially become monocultures, especially in the social sciences, where Democrats now outnumber Republicans by at least 8 to 1. (In sociology, where the ratio is 44 to 1, a student is much likelier to be taught by a Marxist than by a Republican.) The lopsided ratio has led to another well-documented phenomenon: people’s beliefs become more extreme when they’re surrounded by like-minded colleagues. They come to assume that their opinions are not only the norm but also the truth.
Some sage said that tradition is the solution to problems we’ve forgotten. So, academics ‘traditionally’ lean left? For some mysterious reasons that might have to do with the modern research university (the Prussian Model university) being designed from the ground up as a tool for reshaping society and culture to better suit those in charge (2), almost all the faculty are leftists. This fact might *be* the problem itself; everything else under discussion in the essay is just the fallout from this one fact.
The narrative that Republicans are antiscience has been fed by well-publicized studies reporting that conservatives are more close-minded and dogmatic than liberals are. But these conclusions have been based on questions asking people how strongly they cling to traditional morality and religion—dogmas that matter a lot more to conservatives than to liberals. A few other studies—not well-publicized—have shown that liberals can be just as close-minded when their own beliefs, such as their feelings about the environment or Barack Obama, are challenged.
It means something different to a leftist than to a normal person to say science should not be political – a normal person can conceive of science outside both left and right pieties, while a leftists thinks his pieties ARE where science lives. That’s the whole religious aspect to Marxism and Progressivism in general, why we are asked ad nauseam to pronounce ‘Shibboleth’ – to say if we *believe* in science or progress or evolution or global warming or some such. Science can only be discussed using the language of faith. This religious aspect is both blindingly obvious and completely denied and ignored.
Anyway, read the essay. The points raised good, even if Mr Tierney writes as if he hopes to continue getting published by the NYT – a hope certain to be dashed if he displayed any more honesty than he displayed here.
- Buffalo Bill was a scout during the Indian Wars, so, oppressor.
- From the Oracle Wikipedia: “For the reformers, the reform of the Prussian education system (Bildung) was a key reform. All the other reforms relied on creating a new type of citizen who had to be capable of proving themselves responsible and the reformers were convinced that the nation had to be educated and made to grow up. …In place of a wide variety of religious, private, municipal and corporative educational institutions, he (Humboldt) suggested setting up a school system divided into Volksschule (people’s schools), Gymnasiums and universities.” He ‘suggested’ in such a way that school-age kids were marched off into the new state schools at bayonet point. In case the goal here is not clear, Humboldt appointed Fichte head of the new University of Berlin – the Fichte who said: “Education should aim at destroying free will so that after pupils are thus schooled they will be incapable throughout the rest of their lives of thinking or acting otherwise than as their school masters would have wished.” See how that works? The only competition, then, is in deciding who will be the school masters otherwise than which properly schooled children cannot think.