Monday, November 28, 2016

An in-depth look at the war on science

City Journal has a long and very interesting article titled 'The Real War on Science'.  It takes a bit of time and effort to wade through it, but if you're interested in how partisan political views have tainted science, and warped and twisted its perspective on reality, it's a very useful read indeed.

Here's a fairly lengthy excerpt, cherry-picking a few of the many points covered.

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.

But two huge threats to science are peculiar to the Left—and they’re getting worse.

The first threat is confirmation bias, the well-documented tendency of people to seek out and accept information that confirms their beliefs and prejudices. In a classic study of peer review, 75 psychologists were asked to referee a paper about the mental health of left-wing student activists. Some referees saw a version of the paper showing that the student activists’ mental health was above normal; others saw different data, showing it to be below normal. Sure enough, the more liberal referees were more likely to recommend publishing the paper favorable to the left-wing activists. When the conclusion went the other way, they quickly found problems with its methodology.

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.

. . .

The combination of all these pressures from the Left has repeatedly skewed science over the past half-century. In 1965, when Daniel Patrick Moynihan published a paper presciently warning of the dangers for black children growing up in single-parent homes, it was greeted with such hostility—he was blaming the victim, critics said—that the topic became off-limits among liberals, stymying public discussion and research for decades into one of the most pressing problems facing minority children. Similarly, liberal advocates have worked to suppress reporting on the problems of children raised by gay parents or on any drawbacks of putting young children in day care. In 1991, a leading family psychologist, Louise Silverstein, published an article in the American Psychologist urging her colleagues to “refuse to undertake any more research that looks for the negative consequences of other-than-mother-care.”

The Left’s most rigid taboos involve the biology of race and gender, as the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker chronicles in The Blank Slate. The book takes its title from Pinker’s term for the dogma that “any differences we see among races, ethnic groups, sexes, and individuals come not from differences in their innate constitution but from differences in their experiences.” The dogma constricts researchers’ perspective—“No biology, please, we’re social scientists”—and discourages debate, in and out of academia. Early researchers in sociobiology faced vitriolic attacks from prominent scientists like Stephen Jay Gould, who accused them of racism and sexism for studying genetic influences on behavior.

Studying IQ has been a risky career move since the 1970s, when researchers like Arthur Jensen and Richard Herrnstein had to cancel lectures (and sometimes hire bodyguards) because of angry protesters accusing them of racism. Government funding dried up, forcing researchers in IQ and behavioral genetics to rely on private donors, who in the 1980s financed the renowned Minnesota study of twins reared apart. Leftists tried to cut off that funding in the 1990s, when the University of Delaware halted the IQ research of Linda Gottfredson and Jan Blits for two years by refusing to let them accept a foundation’s grant; the research proceeded only after an arbitrator ruled that their academic freedom had been violated.

. . .

And that brings us to the second great threat from the Left: its long tradition of mixing science and politics. To conservatives, the fundamental problem with the Left is what Friedrich Hayek called the fatal conceit: the delusion that experts are wise enough to redesign society. Conservatives distrust central planners, preferring to rely on traditional institutions that protect individuals’ “natural rights” against the power of the state. Leftists have much more confidence in experts and the state. Engels argued for “scientific socialism,” a redesign of society supposedly based on the scientific method. Communist intellectuals planned to mold the New Soviet Man. Progressives yearned for a society guided by impartial agencies unconstrained by old-fashioned politics and religion. Herbert Croly, founder of the New Republic and a leading light of progressivism, predicted that a “better future would derive from the beneficent activities of expert social engineers who would bring to the service of social ideals all the technical resources which research could discover.”

This was all very flattering to scientists, one reason that so many of them leaned left. The Right cited scientific work when useful, but it didn’t enlist science to remake society—it still preferred guidance from traditional moralists and clerics. The Left saw scientists as the new high priests, offering them prestige, money, and power. The power too often corrupted. Over and over, scientists yielded to the temptation to exaggerate their expertise and moral authority, sometimes for horrendous purposes.

. . .

President Obama promotes his green agenda by announcing that “the debate is settled,” and he denounces “climate deniers” by claiming that 97 percent of scientists believe that global warming is dangerous. His statements are false. While the greenhouse effect is undeniably real, and while most scientists agree that there has been a rise in global temperatures caused in some part by human emissions of carbon dioxide, no one knows how much more warming will occur this century or whether it will be dangerous. How could the science be settled when there have been dozens of computer models of how carbon dioxide affects the climate? And when most of the models overestimated how much warming should have occurred by now? These failed predictions, as well as recent research into the effects of water vapor on temperatures, have caused many scientists to lower their projections of future warming. Some “luke-warmists” suggest that future temperature increases will be relatively modest and prove to be a net benefit, at least in the short term.

The long-term risks are certainly worth studying, but no matter whose predictions you trust, climate science provides no justification for Obama’s green agenda—or anyone else’s agenda. Even if it were somehow proved that high-end estimates for future global warming are accurate, that wouldn’t imply that Greens have the right practical solution for reducing carbon emissions—or that we even need to reduce those emissions. Policies for dealing with global warming vary according to political beliefs, economic assumptions, social priorities, and moral principles. Would regulating carbon dioxide stifle economic growth and give too much power to the state? Is it moral to impose sacrifices on poor people to keep temperatures a little cooler for their descendants, who will presumably be many times richer? Are there more important problems to address first? These aren’t questions with scientifically correct answers.

Yet many climate researchers are passing off their political opinions as science, just as Obama does, and they’re even using that absurdly unscientific term “denier” as if they were priests guarding some eternal truth.

There's much more at the link.  Very highly recommended reading.



DaddyBear said...

Hits it on the head. I want scientists to explain what's going on, not tell me what I have to do to make things work the way they want it to. Every trend in climate for the past 40 years has been explained as man's fault and been accompanied by a platform of drastic changes that seemed to be drafted by the Trotskyite wing of the Communist Party. That this seems to be creeping into things like computer science and medicine is very troubling.

Will said...

None of these climate idiots can write programs that explain how things got the way they are now, even with as much historical data as they have. It's all a scam from the word go. Those idiots are scare-mongering about a temperature increase that provided huge benefits for humans within written history, and earlier. On top of which, we probably won't get that increase they are so scared of, as it appears it stopped over 15 years ago.
About every 1/4 century these scare-mongers have reversed the projected temperature change direction, and predicted disaster. Time or Newsweek cover story back around '75-'76 was the last switch period, and it showed NYC covered by a glacier, IIRC.
Previous times were about 1940, and 1899, I think.

drjim said...

"Social" and "Science" just don't go together!

sdharms said...

one word for climate scientists: Lysenko