“Follow the science” has become one of the most tiresome clichés of our time. It didn’t begin with the climate hustle, and it won’t end with the government’s COVID power lust, which is doing more than the endless hyperbole of the climatistas to reveal to the public what a clown show “authoritative” science has become.
The roots of this pretense stretch back to the Enlightenment and the rise of the narrow empiricism which holds that the only propositions that can be considered “true” are those that can be verified by the “scientific method,” i.e., things that can be studied with “objective” data and replicated. Of course, lots of things in the supposedly subjective world of political and social “values” can be replicated, like socialism, for example. Just how many times do we need to replicate the East Germany/North Korea/Cuba/Venezuela experiment before we reach a solid conclusion—a “consensus” even—that socialism doesn’t work?
Instead, right now the U.S. is embarked on twin replications studies in the real world of Keynesianism in economic policy, and lax law enforcement in social and urban policy. Don’t expect many “social” scientists, who attempt to replicate the empirical precision of physics and chemistry with extraordinary zeal, to recognize the repeat failures from these replication studies; most of “social” science today seems dedicated to denying or obfuscating what anyone with common sense can see. Which is why Aristotle’s social science is still the best. In social policy, we appear to be back to the good old days of 1960s-style “root causes” liberalism, when in fact the root cause of a lot of our social ills is . . . liberalism. No wonder liberals don’t—and won’t ever—get it.
Beyond these methodological problems, the scientific community, like most other parts of the mainstream establishment today, has allowed itself to become politicized. This is not new, but it has been getting worse. Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin, who recently passed away, wrote a shocking admission in the New York Review of Books way back in 2004:
“Most scientists are, at a minimum, liberals, although it is by no means obvious why this should be so. Despite the fact that all of the molecular biologists of my acquaintance are shareholders in or advisers to biotechnology firms, the chief political controversy in the scientific community seems to be whether it is wise to vote for Ralph Nader this time.”
“This time”? As I liked to say to Nader voters after the 2000 election, “George W. Bush thanks you.” With political judgment this bad, is it any wonder there might be doubts about the policy prescriptions of scientists?
So let’s take in a few recent developments in the world of “science,” starting with Nature magazine, which I read so that you don’t have to.
NASA is considering whether to rename its flagship astronomical observatory, given reports alleging that James Webb, after whom it is named, was involved in persecuting gay and lesbian people during his career in government. Keeping his name on the US$8.8-billion James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) — set to launch later this year — would glorify bigotry and anti-LGBT+ sentiment, say some astronomers.
Maybe astronomers should look in the mirror at themselves first, before looking askance at the big mirror they want to point out at the cosmos:
Bullying and harassment are rife in astronomy and geophysics in Britain and perhaps other regions, according to the results of a survey conducted last year by the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) in London. Among 661 researchers polled, more than half of whom were in the United Kingdom, 44% said they had experienced issues in the previous two years.
“The results from the survey are very concerning indeed, and we must act to change this unacceptable situation,” says RAS president Emma Bunce, an astrophysicist at the University of Leicester, UK.
RAS diversity officer Aine O’Brien, who conducted the survey with RAS education, outreach and diversity officer Sheila Kanani, says, “We knew from anecdotal data and other evidence that there was likely to be a sector-wide problem, and I wasn’t super shocked by the trends of the findings — but I was certainly shocked by the extent.”
To paraphrase Glenn Reynolds, behold another cesspool of sexism and bigotry in a domain of liberals. It’s almost like they’re hypocrites or something.
Meanwhile, over in medical schools, there is increasing pressure for professors to stop referring to “male” and “female.”
During a recent endocrinology course at a top medical school in the University of California system, a professor stopped mid-lecture to apologize for something he’d said at the beginning of class.
“I don’t want you to think that I am in any way trying to imply anything, and if you can summon some generosity to forgive me, I would really appreciate it,” the physician says in a recording provided by a student in the class (whom I’ll call Lauren). “Again, I’m very sorry for that. It was certainly not my intention to offend anyone. The worst thing that I can do as a human being is be offensive.”
His offense: using the term “pregnant women.”
“I said ‘when a woman is pregnant,’ which implies that only women can get pregnant and I most sincerely apologize to all of you.”
It wasn’t the first time Lauren had heard an instructor apologize for using language that, to most Americans, would seem utterly inoffensive. Words like “male” and “female.”
This is a great example of the consequential logic of progressive identity politics. For the last several years, I’ve heard the identity mongers say that there is a distinction between biological sex, which is clearly related to anatomy and biochemistry, and “gender,” which was claimed to be a purely “social construct.” (Think of the custom of dresses for women, and pants for men. Fair enough.) By degrees, we have seen that biological sex itself now lacks an objective basis in the progressive mind.
Chaser #1: I think NASA needs to retrieve the old Voyager satellite from the 1970s, which includes a depiction for any aliens who may come across the probe in a million years or so of “male” and “female” humans. Clearly this is Wrongthink. We wouldn’t want to give aliens the wrong idea about humans.
Chaser #2: Never mind the massive problem of replication in the sciences today. How much of it is simply faked? Again, from Nature:
Study of nearly 7,000 scientists also finds that more than half engage in ‘questionable research practices’.
An estimated 8% of scientists who participated in an anonymous survey of research practices at Dutch universities confessed to falsifying and/or fabricating data at least once between 2017 and 2020. More than 10% of medical and life-science researchers admitted to committing this type of fraud, the survey found.Results of the survey were posted 6 July on the preprint server MetaArXiv. Between October and December 2020, study authors contacted nearly 64,000 researchers at 22 universities in the Netherlands, 6,813 of whom completed the survey. Other such studies, including one from 2005 that examined rates at which scientists funded by the US National Institutes of Health falsified or ‘cooked’ data, have found lower proportions. In the NIH study, 0.3% of more than 3,000 respondents admitted to data falsification. . .
More than half (51%) of respondents to the Dutch survey also reported frequently engaging in at least one of 11 ‘questionable research practices’ (QRPs), which include using inadequate research designs or deliberately judging manuscripts or grant proposals unfairly. QRPs are considered lesser evils than outright research misconduct, which includes plagiarism and data falsification or fabrication.
PhD students, postdocs and junior faculty members were among the most likely to admit to participating in QRPs, although there was no significant link between respondents’ career stages and admitting to falsifying or fabricating data. Previous studies have found that junior researchers engage in some research misbehaviours less often than do mid-career scientists.
Please remind me again of why we should “follow the science” on matters of politics and policy? What a total clown show.
P.S. For an additional perspective (and if you have a Wall Street Journal subscription), don’t miss last Saturday’s interview feature with Matt Ridley on “How Science Lost the Public’s Trust.” Excerpts:
He asks: “If you think biological complexity can come about through unplanned emergence and not need an intelligent designer, then why would you think human society needs an ‘intelligent government’?” Science as an institution has “a naive belief that if only scientists were in charge, they would run the world well.” Perhaps that’s what politicians mean when they declare that they “believe in science.” As we’ve seen during the pandemic, science can be a source of power.” . . .
“Conformity,” Mr. Ridley says, “is the enemy of scientific progress, which depends on disagreement and challenge. Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts, as [the physicist Richard] Feynman put it.” Mr. Ridley reserves his bluntest criticism for “science as a profession,” which he says has become “rather off-puttingly arrogant and political, permeated by motivated reasoning and confirmation bias.” Increasing numbers of scientists “seem to fall prey to groupthink, and the process of peer-reviewing and publishing allows dogmatic gate-keeping to get in the way of new ideas and open-minded challenge.”