Conservatives and Science

While there are plenty of areas where I disagree with my side of the aisle, nothing stands out as much as the troubled relationship that conservatives have with science. This includes a refusal to even entertain the possibility of climate change and a casual endorsement of intelligent design that I find reprehensible. But this post isn’t about those two items. This post is about science in the broader context. Why does this dysfunctional relationship exist?

According to a recent article in USA Today:

A recent survey by economics professor Daniel Klein revealed that Democrats outnumbered Republicans by a whopping 30-to-1 ratio in anthropology; 28-to-1 in sociology; nearly 10-to-1 in history; and nearly 7-to-1 in political science.

I was curious to investigate if this had always been the case. My searching took me to a study by Gordon Gauchat in the American Sociological Review titled, “Politicization of Science in the Public Sphere: A Study of Public Trust in the United States, 1974 to 2010”.  Gauchat found that in 1974 conservatives had the highest trust in science of any group, including liberals and moderates, and by 2010 they had the lowest amount of trust of any group. That represents a huge shift. The obvious question asks what drove this change. It appears the pressure came both from within conservative circles and from outside.

The New Right, which coalesced in the years after Goldwater’s defeat, pushed conservatism in a new direction. Social issues and nationalism were the two main planks of their platform and this culminated with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Religious conservatives and big business gained power with Reagan taking office and science represented a direct threat to their interests. From Gauchat:

Mooney also stresses two key constituencies of the NR, the religious right and transnational corporations, that each have vested interests in scientific outcomes.

At the same time science was undergoing a change of its own.

Chief among these is the growth of regulatory science, which has been a central theme in STS for the past few decades. In Jasanoff’s (1990) research, regulatory science refers to the institutionalization of science’s legitimization role through the formation of a science advisory community. Her main examples of regulatory science are the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), organizations that are considered adversarial to corporate interests. Regulatory science directly connects to policy- management and, therefore, has become entangled in policy debates that are unavoidably ideological.

So we have a scenario where science is allowing itself to be politicized and at the same time we have the rise of political interests that feel threatened by science. This produces a perfect storm of mistrust. To complicate matters further, Gauchat’s research indicates that distrust of science was most profound among two groups. The first was the religious right which isn’t surprising. The second group was less obvious. According to Gauchat, educated conservatives were the most likely to distrust science. He explains:

This implies that educated or high-information conservatives will hold hyper-opinions about science, because they have a more sophisticated grasp about what types of knowledge will conform with or contradict their ideological positions, and they will prefer to believe what supports their ideology.

On the surface this strikes me as a self-damaging process, but that assumes the science was always correct. I am not prepared to go that far, even with my deep respect for the scientific community as a whole. My hesitation comes at least in part from my own experiences with science and academia.  One of the challenges I found as an archaeologist was engaging in the speculative part of academia. I always believed in applying Occam’s Razor to my analysis but the criticsm I heard most often was that my conclusions were too simple and that I was thinking too small. Having spoken to some of the admittedly few conservatives in the field of anthropology this is a common complaint. It reminds me of a quote I once heard that some people have a tendency to pass up a good solution in search of a brilliant one.

It is important at this point to differentiate between science as an experimental pursuit grounded in the scientific method and science as an academic pursuit that engages in educated analysis and a certain amount of speculation. It is the latter that often draws the condemnation of some on the Right.  What is not in dispute among intelligent conservatives is the reliability of the scientific method.  The dispute comes from the interprative part of science and for good reason. It is that part that is most vulnerable to politicization. In recent years there has been some tension within the scientitifc community itself as members of the hard sciences fight with social scientists over the definition of science.  According to the same USA Today piece quoted above:

Columnist Charles Lane argues that the foundation shouldn’t fund any social science at all. Why? Because even “though quantitative methods may rule economics, political science and psychology, these disciplines can never achieve the objectivity of the natural sciences. Society is not a laboratory.”

He is largely correct. Though the social sciences are important, informative and interesting, they often fail to meet the five characteristics of rigorous science: clearly defined terminology, quantifiability, highly controlled experimental conditions, reproducibility and predictability/testability. These characteristics are linked by a unifying theme — a true theory, in the scientific sense.

For biology, that is evolution; for chemistry, atomic theory; for physics, the laws of motion.

Scientifically rigorous?

Not all studies within the hard sciences measure up. The majority of studies do, though. However, while there are notable exceptions, a substantial proportion of studies in the social sciences are not considered scientifically rigorous because the human experience is highly subjective and changeable across culture and time. 

I hold degrees in two social science disciplines so believe me when I say that I want to dispute what they are saying here, but I can’t. During the three years I spent as a historical archaeologist, the work we did during that time was mostly anthropology, some history and a little bit of sociology. In short, we were working as social scientists. While there are certain aspects of these fields that are scientifically rigourous, for example the methodology used to excavate an archaeological site and capture contexual details, it is nearly impossible to draw conclusions from those findings that are as indispute as the theories arrived at by the hard sciences. That is not to say that the hard sciences aren’t willing to draw speculative conclusions , but ultimately they seek to arrive at answers that are based on provable data.

There is one last part of the equation concerning the relationship of conservatives and science. That is the hostility conservatives face within academia. The under-representation of conservatives in among science academics is statistically incompatible with the political leanings of our general population. This becomes a chick or egg scenario as it is hard to determine if conservatives left because they felt unwanted or if conservatives stay away because they perceive a lack of acceptance. My own experience in college was that our history department was more conservative (we had one ancient professor that still referred to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression) and the anthropology department was extremely liberal. While my politics were well-known, I found it much smarter to keep my opinions to myself among my anthropology friends. I don’t know if a professor would have felt comfortable doing that.

The conclusion I draw from all of this is that the problems with conservatives and science are complex and both sides are to blame, however the lion’s share rests with certain conservatives. Their open hostility does more harm than good and it only deepends the mistrust on both sides. Can this relationship be repaired? Gauchat’s study suggests no. Because I have relied on him so heavily for this post, I will leave him with the final word:

Accordingly, the analysis provides negligible evidence for the cultural ascendency thesis, which suggests that trust in science will increase over time. Nor do results support the alienation thesis that predicts a uniform decline in public trust in science. In general, results are consistent with claims of the politicization thesis and show that conservatives experienced long-term group-specific declines rather than an abrupt cultural break.

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197 thoughts on “Conservatives and Science

  1. Mike,

    This is a really nice post. Thanks. On this:

    “I found it much smarter to keep my opinions to myself among my anthropology friends.”

    I’ll have to go back and re-read, but IIRC, somewhere in the Gawker piece about Brutsch, Brutech said something about feeling relieved to have a place he could discus his (barely legal) interests in (perceived) safety. That’s an important part of the “same soil” comment I made to Alan Jacobs, who, as it happens, I think would have similar things to say about being “out” as a conservative in most academic settings.

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  2. Interestingly, conservatives are not just underrepresented in the social sciences, but also the physical sciences where ideology matters less. It’s a bit old, but there’s a Pew study from a few years ago that shows scientists identify 55% as liberal and only 9% as conservative compared to 20% liberal and 37% conservative among the general public in 2009. Unfortunately, I don’t what this data looks like in the past like your “trust in science” study. It’d be interesting to see if before the rise of the modern conservative movement, there were a lot more physical scientists that identified as “conservative” before teaching evolution, stem-cell research, or climate change because politically charged social/economic issues.

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    • Anecdotal evidence, but a LOT of it, shows that before the real rise of the Religious Right, many many most hard science folks were conservatives.

      The NUCLEEAR Is SCary folks did a lot to drive hard scientists away from the crazy libs. There’s always been an element of “progress is bad” Romanticism on the left, from the left’s reactionaries.

      The scientists are taking over the Democratic party, bit by bit. They’ve got a decent amount of pull, and are just plain more competent than a lot of the foozle “people folks.”

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  3. In terms of academia, I’ll say what I’ve said before: the role of conservatives telling young conservatives scary stories about academia around the campfire can’t be helping matters. It would be better to set up a lot of scholarships and storm the gates en masse.

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    • So long as there’s a safer and more lucrative alternative in the right-wing think tank, why would a young conservative social scientist bother with the long, risky, and ill-rewarded path to the tenure track?

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  4. Psychology is getting damn near scientific, if you ask me. EEG, EMG, MRI, eyetracking. These are quantitative devices, and they’re able to replicate a lot of testing from culture to culture.

    When I start talking psychology, i start from difference of gaussians. We understand, pretty damn well, how the visual cortex works. And we’ve got a good feel for how people identify faces (lowpass filtering, interestingly enough).

    What do you think about the current Econ nobelprizewinner’s “experimental economics”?

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      • Pish. The sexiest thing I did in Psych was mapping the eyetracking of a person playing a video game onto the video game (with the circle increasing or decreasing in size based on pupil dilation). Sure, we had the brain there, and the continuous rating of affect and objects… but the eyetracking was the sexy part.
        I think it’s partly because MRI is slooooow.

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        • Eye tracking is an incredibly powerful, and until recently, under-utilized tool. I love it and am happy to use it whenever it’s appropriate. I’m not sure it makes psychology any more or less “scientific,” though. I’m not quite sure what that would mean, even.

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          • Psychophys geeks in general have a LOT of problems with self-report. It’s messy, it changes from day to day, and some of the time isn’t even honest.

            Part of the theory is removing intermediate variables (something that EEG and MRI are good at, I believe).

            MRI has told us a lot about how the human brain compensates as it ages, how mental processes that a 20 year old would do in their frontal cortex, in a 60 year old get done with a lot of recruitment of other “mental muscles”.

            I suppose I was playing into the frame given, which was “predictable, measurable, quantifiable and consistent.”

            (and not to get all down on self-report, it’s a valuable and useful tool — when you want to measure what people think they’re thinking about.)

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      • You might find it interesting to know that one of the more powerful filters for face detection and recognition is the Gabor wavelet It has a low pass filtering component (a Gaussian in the frequency domain) and also happens to closely model the response of the human visual system.

        Good guess on your part.

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  5. I also get the impression that part of that flip came on the other side getting more comfortable with science. There’s quite a bit of leftist writing from the 70s bashing the “scientific establishment” in much the same terms, particularly from feminists. I sometimes wonder, when reading conservatives writing about the discourse on global warming, if they wonder how much they sound like Foucault!

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    • *snort* the scientific “establishment” got a hell of a lot more FEMALE since then. Hell, look at your stable of science fiction writers. Even analog’s got tons of women around these days. And yeah, they do more psychology (at least some of them) than hard math, but it’s still hard sci fi.

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    • Perhaps because I’m more of an old-school leftist who digs Foucault, I actually have no problem with conservative criticisms of science so long as they don’t ultimately stem from previously arrived-at ideological conclusions about what science should say. So, if your critique is, the conclusions of science are influenced, even determined, by the way it currently thinks and talks about its objects, and these things are subject to precisely the sorts of institutional relationships that all human institutions are subject to, then I’m down with that. Science is always wrong, and it is always scientists’ fault (putting aside metaphysical questions). However, if your critique is, “Science is wrong because it’s a bunch of lefties, otherwise it would show that global warming is a myth,” then we have a problem. Even worse, “Science is wrong except when it agrees with my political ideology, in which case it is always right,” which I tend to see more from intelligent conservatives (and some liberals) who like to poopoo science except when they like what it’s found.

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        • Patrick, I don’t disagree. I even threw a “and some liberals” in there parenthetically. The difference, I think, is that the opposition to science isn’t as reflexive, because it hasn’t become a central component of American liberalism.

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          • I hate monstersanto as much as the next lib (but I’ll let Blaise speak, as he knows the topic better…), but the folks who hate ALL Gmos, simply because monsanto is a dickish corporation really do deserve to be humiliated into giving up those beliefs.

            People are going blind, folks, because they’re malnourished. GMOs fix that problem. You lay off the good scientists who are just out to help some poor farmer in the middle of india!!!
            (note: a friend of mine really did get his pet anti-GMO folks to lay off the scientists)

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          • Note: this is a big deal right now in CA because of Prop 37.

            I have no problem at all with Prop 37 if it passes. If you’re going to make GMOs, there’s nothing wrong with the public demanding they be labeled as such. I’m an information-free sort of guy. If people want to know if they’re eating GMOs, it’s not a big deal to ask the sellers to label them as such.

            Especially if you’re going to ask for patent protection on those GMOs (which, to be clear, I don’t think you should get).

            But the “argh! GMOs!” crowd relies on the dodgiest of tactics to leverage distrust of GMOs.

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            • I think it should function the other way. If you are GMO-free, you are entitled to advertise it as such. If you advertise yourself as such and you are not actually GMO-free, than you have trouble on your hands.

              Should non-organic foods be forced to be labeled as such?

              Generally speaking, I find mandated speech abhorrent. It seems just as much an infringement on freedom of speech as censorship.

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              • Generally speaking, I find mandated speech abhorrent. It seems just as much an infringement on freedom of speech as censorship.

                I find mandated speech outside of commerce abhorrent.

                Mandate speech for the purposes of reducing asymmetry of information in the marketplace doesn’t really bother me much. I don’t think it really does what it’s proponents think it does, and I don’t really think it has the negative effects its detractors say it does.

                I think it’s important, however, from a public policy standpoint, for people to understand where their food comes from, so in that respect I think it’s important for people to understand the role GMOs play in the food supply. In order for them to understand that role, they first kind of need to know that they’re there.

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              • “Generally speaking, I find mandated speech abhorrent. It seems just as much an infringement on freedom of speech as censorship.”

                Not sure where abhorence comes in to play… are you currently appalled that every food product has a nutritional guide and list of ingredients?

                Now, if that list of ingredients had a * next to Corn, High Fructose Corn Syrup, and/or Soy (or Soy products) denoting that they are derived from GMO’s… does that really rise to the level of categorical abhorence? Or is that just informed consent?

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            • The issue with Prop 37 is not labeling GMOs. The issue is lawsuits over stuff that doesn’t have GMOs but also doesn’t have documentation showing that tests to prove it doesn’t have GMOs were conducted.

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              • Huh?

                If I understand you correctly, you’re saying that groups want to label their foods as GMO free but can’t sufficiently document them as such? Me… I say tough. If you can’t document that you are something, then you don’t get to call yourself that. Not if you are selling a product. Shifting the onus to other companies that would prefer not to label the genetic nature of their products seemed wrongheaded, in the least.

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                • It’s stuff like this that gets Peruvian “burning down rainforest” coffee labeled organic, while Ethiopian coffee isn’t labeled organic (due to lack of regulating body).
                  for what it’s worth.

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                • “If you can’t document that you are something, then you don’t get to call yourself that. ”

                  Meaning that every food currently in existence must be labeled as “may contain GMO”. (Much like every enclosed space in California now carries a Prop 65 warning.) And anyone who sells food that doesn’t have either such a label or a sizeable stack of documentation showing that their food doesn’t contain GMO can be subject to a lawsuit over every food item they sell. Not every item type–every item.

                  Don’t forget that if you use animal feed which isn’t certified GMO-free then you’re required to label the resulting animal products “may contain GMO”.

                  What’s the exact benefit of all this, again?

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  6. Great piece, Mike.

    “So we have a scenario where science is allowing itself to be politicized…”

    “Her main examples of regulatory science are the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)…”

    Maybe I misread it, but it seems that the latter statement is used to support the former, but I’m not seeing it. If scientific findings support particular political policies, that does not mean that science is allowing itself to be politicized; it means that science is doing its job. Should scientists have stepped back and say, “We won’t participate in the EPA because the policies they create might favor certain interests over others”?

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    • I think Mike’s problem is not that “Science is invading government!” (See NWS, Geological Surveys, Army Corps of Engineers, FDA) so much as “Science is invading Corporate Bottom Lines!”

      I, on the other hand, think that’s actually a good thing. Putting a pillar right behind the movie theater doors cuts the risk to people’s lives by a LOT. So you do it, even if it costs a bit more right now.

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    • Kazzy – my reading of the point is this: Science should be done for the sake of science. If someone wants to study the effects of mercury on local fish populations, get he funding and engage in the research. Then the government can do what they wish with the results. With ‘regulatory science’ the agencies are requesting the research which means the tail wags the dog in a sense.

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      • Someone has to fund everything. that research gets funded based on the premise that “there might be a problem here…” (just like that arsenic study on rice…).

        I know for a darned fact that the EPA doesn’t fund HALF the research on human health effects of poisons/pseudoestrogens/ you name it, that goes on in this city. That’s mostly NIH funding. Maybe afterward, the EPA gets involved.

        Is it a problem if the Game Commission runs a study on “how best to eliminate deer in urban areas”?? (or, in my case, on airport runways)

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      • If government doesn’t request studies about the levels and effects of mercury in the water supply, who will? Certainly not the companies emitting the mercury. These agencies have been charged, by public law, with identifying and reducing environmental threats to human health and safety; I don’t see a problem with them studying to get the information they need, particularly given the lack of plausible alternatives.

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        • Dan,

          Hopefully my friend Phillip will chime in her soon. He’s a sometimes commentator here and a real expert on the subject of government science-based agencies.

          I didn’t mean to suggest that the science is politicized. What I mean is that when the government pays for the science it’s easy for conservatives to suggest the science was biased.

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          • I think that’s true, but things like the EPA and the reality of climate change are an area where the conservatives are clearly in the wrong (which isn’t the case on, say, accusations of bias in social science fields like anthropology). The question of “how much action should we take to remedy environmental harms” is a political question without a single “scientific answer”; but the conservative movement has decided to attack the messenger (see here and here for a quick sample.

            The problem on these issues, to my mind, is that conservatives-actually-in-power (e.g. the Bush administration, or various state legislatures, etc) are essentially unable to resist corporate influence. Anyone disagreeing with Exxon is seen as a traitor to the cause, and you end up with lobbyists writing mercury regs.

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            • “Anyone disagreeing with Exxon is seen as a traitor to the cause, and you end up with lobbyists writing mercury regs.”

              As opposed to having some other group of lobbyists writing the mercury regs? It’s not like this stuff is done by people who don’t have a specific outcome in mind.

              See, that’s the thing. Regulatory bodies need to justify their existence. Their existence is justified by necessity. If they don’t find problems then they aren’t needed because everything’s working fine. Therefore, they have a vested interest in increased regulation severity, because if you’re always turning the wrench tighter then there will always be more violations to find.

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              • And tomorrow you’ll tell us that regulations are useless because of capture.

                But your point does apply to law-and-order types — no one ever got elected saying “20 years for petty theft? That’s crazy!”

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              • You don’t need to turn the screw tighter to still need regulators. Even the smallest child will tell you how fun it is to dance just beside the yellow line of “no”, and sometimes tiptoe a little over, just to see how far you can get.

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              • The question is, which influence do you think is more pernicious, and which will sway policy further from the actual ideal point? I’ve never grokked the idea that the EPA is somehow more powerful and nefarious than a huge oil company whose continued profits rest on denying the reality that their product has negative externalities.

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          • That makes more sense.

            Do you think that is because those initiatives were spearheaded by Democrat-led governments (if they indeed were)? Or do you think it is because of a broader skepticism about government and regulation?

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      • I used to make this point a lot with the “science is great and wonderful and perfect” crowd (mostly New Atheists), and every time I’d catch a lot of heat. To me, science is like religion (sacrilege, I know!) in that it works best when it retains a firm two-way separation between itself and the state. The form this takes is a little different from that of religion, of course, but as soon as the scientists start thinking they can dictate policy, the state will start dictating who the scientists are (and what the science says). Scientists are experts in science, and so they should do science. Policy people are, hopefully, experts in policy, and they should do policy.

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        • Chris — a couple of questions. Can you point to some time when scientists “start thinking they can dictate policy”? Maybe our definitions/scenarios are different. A scientist addressing a senate committee or sitting in a meeting with the president and saying, “If we don’t enact this policy, we will all die in flames by Thursday” (or whatever), isn’t dictating policy. She is hoping to influence policy, I would think. To me, then, no problem.

          Also: the “science is great and wonderful and perfect” crowd? Who the heck says that? Never heard it. Got a quote or link?

          “Scientists are experts in science, and so they should do science. Policy people are, hopefully, experts in policy, and they should do policy.” And smart policy people will listen very closely to scientists — we don’t need a separation of science and state. We need policy people smart enough to listen to well-researched and proven facts.

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          • rexknobus, first question: I can’t think of any examples of actual scientists who do actual work on a problem thinking that their science should dictate policy, though I’m sure there are examples. For the most part, scientists in the trenches tend to be pretty good about this, though. It’s the “science is great and wonderful and perfect” crowd that thinks science should dictate policy, and if you want some examples, just visit Pharyngula and read the comments, particularly on any thread about religion.

            I think we should listen closely to scientists, because the problems that science addresses, it addresses very well. And those problems have a baring on policy choices, because some of those problems are related to our policy goals. So we should listen.

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            • Chris — thanks for the pointer to Pharyngula. I didn’t spend much time there (it got pretty irritating pretty fast), but you answered my question above. I’ll stick with “science is great and wonderful,” but I’ve worked most of my life with scientists of one ilk or another and “perfect” isn’t a word I would use in this context.

              You know, just in the act of typing that, a thought occurred to me: the “great and wonderful” refers (at least to me) to the process and results of science itself, whereas the “perfect” brings it down to the individual human. No wonder the whole string of adjectives rang false to me — they are meant to describe different things. Thanks again.

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    • Huh, I read it that government began relying on science to promote policy — that is if science showed X was bad for the environment, the EPA went ahead and banned/limited/restricted X.

      Which I suppose is ‘politicization’ of science, but only in the sense that government trusteed scientific results.

      Then again, on my second reading, really not sure that’s what he meant.

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  7. You’re missing another big, key piece: the loss of Corporate engineers and scientists. When you start promoting lib-arts folks to the top, and keeping them there — they start hiring advertising folks, rather than designing better cars.

    A corporation that feels like science isn’t helping them is a corporation willing to go on the offensive (see exxonsecrets).

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  8. Yes, this is a fruitful line of inquiry… what is the current status (relevance?) of the History and Philosophy of Science? I’ve long since been out of academia, but in the late 80’s I had opportunity to work with scholars in this area… their research was fascinating and while not subversive of science itself, did help shed light on the capture of science for many reasons not purely scientific.

    It is not completely true that the right is not scientific; the right uses science mercilessly in Agriculture. In fact, most of my practical day-to-day issues come from the right/corporate capture of science with regards Agricultural and Food science.

    Which is just to say that our notions of science as a methodology are not what folks commonly object to when folks rail against science. The funding of studies and what gets framed as the question that needs answering was a big part of HPS (above) research… and the results were/are (to my observation) fairly persuasive that “science” (vs. the theory of science) is simultaneously constrained and driven by cultural [and here I struggle for the right word] norms? goals? disputes?

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  9. It is very, very hard to be unwilling to say anything at all about the past; refusing to engage in “social sciences” tends to favor glib layman theorizing instead.

    I mean, economics has fundamental philosophical issues, but the usual favored alternative is not a confessed ignorance but overtly bad economics.

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  10. Pretty good post, Mike. I have some quibbles. Note: they’re just quibbles, although they might sound like larger complaints, here.

    So we have a scenario where science is allowing itself to be politicized and at the same time we have the rise of political interests that feel threatened by science. This produces a perfect storm of mistrust.

    I don’t know that “science allowing itself to be politicized” is the right way to put this.

    I understand the conflict that Gauchat is trying to illustrate, here, but if anything since the advent of WWII the vast majority of this has been politics demanding that scientists get involved in specific outcomes. Which is all well and good, but once you ask someone to do X, they’re going to go along with that for just so long… before they want to start talking about what it means to do X.

    It started with science getting involved in practical outcomes tied to industrialized war: give us a way to produce bigger bombs, faster planes, heavier tanks, and finally the mother of all engineering projects, give us The Bomb. Then, of course, came the backlash to that… guys like Oppenheimer deciding that they couldn’t be involved at the level of creation without also seeking to be involved at the level of influencing how their creations actually got used. Thing have gotten way more involved now that most of what the government does requires applications of science.

    This is less about the politicization of science and more about the ivory tower crumbling and the guys and gals who used to spend all their time there cross-pollinating with industry and commerce, and thus politics.

    In addition, you have the issue that lots of the low-hanging fruit is gone, now. To do Big Science requires metric shitloads of money, the sort that isn’t available to private industry. The Large Hadron Collider (27km) is a lot smaller than the Superconducting Super Collider (87km) would have been. If they hadn’t given up on building the thing in 1993, Texas would be the center of the physics universe right now, not Switzerland. In fact, Texas would have been the center of the physics universe for quite some time now, with all of the attendant brain importation that comes with that. But there’s no way that this can’t be a political issue. The space program is another example; you’re talking about a relatively small portion of the federal budget but an astronomically large sum for any entity that isn’t a government to conjure.

    If you’re studying environmental engineering, you’re going to start by measuring outputs from smokestacks, but there comes a point when the data you’ve been studying for years is very likely going to point you at a conclusion that less crap needs to come out of those smokestacks. Once you come to that conclusion, sure… you’re making a value judgement on the benefits of having less crap come out of smokestacks vs whatever is coming out the shipping and receiving door of that building with the smokestack.

    There is one last part of the equation concerning the relationship of conservatives and science. That is the hostility conservatives face within academia. The under-representation of conservatives in among science academics is statistically incompatible with the political leanings of our general population. This becomes a chick or egg scenario as it is hard to determine if conservatives left because they felt unwanted or if conservatives stay away because they perceive a lack of acceptance.

    Okay, this is one instance where I’m utterly lacking in sympathy in the grand sense (although I might have towering amounts of sympathy in the individual case). The general philosophy of conservatism relies heavily on the concept of individual responsibility. That’s all well and good, I’m a fan. But the outcome there is when you see an institutional problem like this, the general philosophy already tells you what the solution ought to be, from the perspective of people who claim to follow the general philosophy. Conservatives moaning about hostility in academia generally strike me too hard in the irony meter when they’re also moaning about how affirmative action is unfair because minorities should rely on their individual responsibility.

    (note: not all conservatives have this cognitive dissonance, but it’s one that particularly irks me)

    Finally, a criticism of Gauchat’s:

    Not all studies within the hard sciences measure up. The majority of studies do, though. However, while there are notable exceptions, a substantial proportion of studies in the social sciences are not considered scientifically rigorous because the human experience is highly subjective and changeable across culture and time.

    This paragraph depends upon a very specific definition of “scientifically rigorous” that I think is odd and certainly indicates a bias towards positivism.

    Now, I’ll be the first to grant that there are bad social scientists out there, who write papers who take a small statistical note and try to blow it up into meaning more than it does (although generally I see this a lot more in grant applications than in final peer-reviewed papers). But much, much more often I see reporting of a study where the study’s claims are quite modest, and the reporting is off-the-scales sensational and stupid (see also: medical research).

    This is a case of people outside a domain of experience communicating badly to people who are also (farther!) outside that domain of experience… what’s going on inside that domain. That’s actually a case where the vast majority of the blame goes to the communicators: the politicians, activists, pundits, reporters, etc., who take a study with a specific small claim and blow it out of all proportion to try and sell some snake oil.

    Good social science papers are just as rigorous as hard science papers, but their conclusions are less generalizable and much more probabilistic… instead of more generalizable and more atomic. Rigor means “following the process”, not “the results are deterministic”.

    The solution to *that* problem is actually to get the problem domain practitioners to be good communicators in their own right, and to fire the freakin’ communicators that we use now.

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    • ” Conservatives moaning about hostility in academia generally strike me too hard in the irony meter when they’re also moaning about how affirmative action is unfair because minorities should rely on their individual responsibility.”

      Liberals moaning about hostile workplace environments generally strike me too hard in the irony meter when they’re also moaning about how conservatives in academia need to suck it up. (see what I did there?)

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      • Yep.

        I agree with you on that score, too.

        Seems like the whole “individual action” vs. “communal action” spectrum probably shouldn’t be a wild bipolar separation, right? We agree? Awesome.

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      • Yes, I did — it’s called False Equivalence. To suggest that harassment and bullying is the same as having your tender little feelings hurt because no one is hailing you as the Super-Genius you know you are — that’s pretty daft.

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  11. “Okay, this is one instance where I’m utterly lacking in sympathy in the grand sense (although I might have towering amounts of sympathy in the individual case). The general philosophy of conservatism relies heavily on the concept of individual responsibility. That’s all well and good, I’m a fan. But the outcome there is when you see an institutional problem like this, the general philosophy already tells you what the solution ought to be, from the perspective of people who claim to follow the general philosophy.”

    Maybe it’s because I don’t share that philosophy, but I disagree with you on this. Something like sociology will always rely more on the interpretations of the people doing it, and people with differing ideologies and moral intuitions could easily look at the same phenomenon and see different things. That could easily lead to a systematic underrepresentation of some viewpoints, which would be self-reinforcing , and you end up with a practical monoculture. Faced with a landscape like that, it’s neither fair nor realistic to say “suck it up and become a sociologist anyway”. Hard quotas aren’t necessarily the answer, but a little self-consciousness on the part of sociology would go a long way.

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    • That’s fine. What bothers me about anthropology, specifically, is that Conservatives seem dead set to crusade against it. The whole idea of “no relative morality” seems bonzo to me.
      I mean, really, we do it all the time to ourselves. What a man can get away with, a woman can’t. However much I may like/dislike/crusade against that, it’s still true.
      And the conservatives want it to be so, and then insist there is no relative morality.

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      • “What bothers me about anthropology, specifically, is that Conservatives seem dead set to crusade against it.”

        Part of this is just a topic bias. Our co-department chair in my degree program spent a year living with llama ranchers in Peru for her master’s thesis. Perhaps conservatives are less academically open-minded and mature but the few of us in the department enjoyed endless laughs when we heard about this. It just seemed ridiculous to us as an area of study. But of course, we were shovel bums and in general archaeologists and cultural anthropologists don’t agree on much.

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    • Maybe it’s because I don’t share that philosophy, but I disagree with you on this. Something like sociology will always rely more on the interpretations of the people doing it, and people with differing ideologies and moral intuitions could easily look at the same phenomenon and see different things. That could easily lead to a systematic underrepresentation of some viewpoints, which would be self-reinforcing , and you end up with a practical monoculture. Faced with a landscape like that, it’s neither fair nor realistic to say “suck it up and become a sociologist anyway”.

      That’s actually not what I’m saying (although re-reading my comment, it comes across this way).

      It’s more along the lines of, “Saying suck it up and becoming a sociologist anyway sounds like a bad strategy, and yet the reasons why it is a bad strategy are the same reasons why saying ‘we don’t need affirmative action’ is is a bad strategy”

      Individual responsibility is great, and important, and I’m glad that people bring it up. I just wish that times like these would turn on a lightbulb in the collective conservative headspace about how collective actions and individual actions aren’t two poles at either ends of the universe.

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  12. I think this is happening for a few reasons:

    1. The rise and continuing insularity of the religious right. There has always been a religious right in the United States that has opposed Evolution, Darwinism, and anything that contradicts their biblical worldview. However, I think they spent most of the 20th century being rather silent. Largely because they were mocked to death by H.L. Mencken during the Scopes Trial. However in the 1970s, they are trying to seriously assert themselves on the national scene and erase/challenge all science that drives them bonkers. Now they are very well-funded and can build “museums” that show Cavemen riding Dinosaurs.

    2. The modern conservative movement seems to have a love/hate relationship with the elite academic institutions of the United States. This has been true since William Buckley published God and Man at Yale and made his famous quip about preferring to be governed by the first 2000 names in the Boston phone book over the Harvard Faculty*. Conservatives love to decry the elite U.S. colleges and universities but most of their stars have also attended the same universities. Rehinquist went to Harvard and Stanford. Scalia is Harvard/Harvard (and won’t take any clerk who was not from a Top 5 law school). The list goes on. There is a small shadow universe of Liberty, Oral Roberts, and Patrick Henry but these people are not making it the Supreme Court anytime soon,

    3. Universities are a mixed bag. All large universities are going to have a decently sized presence of Young/College Republicans. A small liberal arts college like Oberlin or Reed probably will not. I’m sure universities in the South probably swing more conservative than liberal in terms of student body politics but the behavior of college students is largely the same. College students like to party generally whether liberal or conservative. Stanford has the conservative Hoover Institution, The Claremont Review of Books is conservative. The Mecauter Center at George Mason is libertarian/free market.

    However, conservative student publications at a lot of institutions seem very juvenile. They are more aimed at provocation/trolling than making any serious argument for conservatism. They seem to honestly morn the opening of universities to women and minorities during the 1960s.

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    • Forgot my asterisk:

      *I realize this goes against the spirit of the quip but whenever I hear a conservative use this Buckley quip, two thoughts come into my mind.

      1. A lot of those names are probably Democratic Party voters

      2. How many of those names are Harvard faculty members?

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    • ND,
      I agree. It may make political sense for a political party to open its net as widely as possible, but when they catch people that deny evolution, geology or the effects of CO2 then maybe their net is a little too broad. Idiots are free to vote however they like, but they should not be given a voice in a political platform.

      And yes, the left has a similar but different set of idiots. The right caters to those that deny science, the left more so to those that deny economics.

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        • Roger, there is a fundamental difference between the so-called ‘left*’ and conservatives that makes your argument completely misleading and, mostly wrong. First off, the ‘left’ may argue with some particular economic theory(ies) – an area of study that is far from based on solid scientific ‘fact’ in any manner – only in practice (i.e. only its methodology approaches a scientific discipline.) But that is a far cry from conservatives arguing against a physical, fully testable, scientific fact like AGW.

          Also, the ‘left’ that you are referring too are a few individuals not the majority of the so-called left, least of all, every democrats. More top the point, I can find numerous economic theories that many conservatives are against – does that make them all dishonest? What bs. Besides the theory could be valid, does not make anyone ‘dishonest’ because they disagree with its application or bases. A valid economic theory can be, in time, shown to be fully wrong even if it is correct many other times. That is not science so people who disagree with economic theories are rarely ‘dishonest’ just because of that view – please.

          The republicans party, as a near majority, fully denounce AGW; that is, these people are arguing against fully proven scientific facts. World of a difference and your false equivalence is nonsense.

          You are creating straw them just to jusify a false point.

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          • Kim and DBrown,

            I tried to choose my words carefully. When you remove what I said in criticism of the right, I basically wrote that the left caters more so to those that deny economics.

            The reason I wrote the words “more so” ( which were an edit before I submitted) was because I am well aware that both parties tell fairie tales when it comes to economics. The left just more so. Economic fallacies seem to be wired into the DNA of the left “more so” than the right.

            Yes, those on the right sometimes believe:
            Import restrictions are good.
            Minimum wages usually help the less skilled
            It’s more about jobs than productivity
            Sweatshops are bad overall for employees
            Wages or prices are set by power differential more so than supply and demand
            Unions raise the living standards of unskilled workers
            When gas prices rise it is due to greed
            Economics is a zero sum game
            We should mico manage markets more to make them more rational and efficient
            And so on…

            But the left believes these even more so, and builds them into the core of what it means to be a good leftie.

            My experience of the left is that it is common to take the economics fairie tales and combine them with a good and bad or strong and weak dichotomy, where there are good/weak folks who need protection via benevolent government programs and bad/strong folks who need taking out to the wood shed.

            The one percent is bad, the poor are good
            Corporations bad, shoppers and workers good
            Executives bad, employees good
            Investors bad, unions good
            White males bad, female handicapped minorities (other than Asians) good.

            The left then gets this division and attempts to put their thumbs on the scale to right the imbalance. Just to clarify, I understand that those on the “bad” side of the list sometimes actually are bad. I would just add that sometimes those on the other side act bad too. What matters is their behavior, not which list they are on.

            Does this clarify?

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  13. Though I would say that there is a big tension between science and being a liberal democracy.

    Namely does being a liberal democracy give people the right to ignore scientific consensus on what the best policy is?

    Christopher Hitchens used to quip that Democrats believe in whatever “3 out 5 experts say” This is not completely true but there is a ring to it. Too many times, liberal writers just like talking about white papers. Even if the best policy is not good politics.

    In short, what if there was near universal scientific consensus on how to fight climate change. Does an electorate in a liberal democracy have a moral obligation to follow this consensus or are they free to reject it for whatever reason they want?

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    • In short, what if there was near universal scientific consensus on how to fight climate change. Does an electorate in a liberal democracy have a moral obligation to follow this consensus or are they free to reject it for whatever reason they want?

      This is a question that doesn’t make sense to me. “The best policy” is always determined by our goals. If our only goal is to fight climate science, then sure, if science says “This policy will slow or eliminate the increase in global average temperature,” or “This policy will reduce the effect of climate change on the environment better than any other option that we are currently considering,” then it would make no sense, practically or ethically, for us to vote for a different policy. If we have other goals, or multifaceted goals, then other factors besides what science says will be the most effective solution to one particular problem associated with one particular goal, will be at play in our decision-making process, and those factors may ultimately steer us in a different policy direction.

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  14. Nice piece. I’ve been trying to write something on the subject myself, only looking at STEM more broadly. Across that larger space, movement conservatives seem to be opposed to a relatively small number of things. Most of the things that they are opposed to fall into a small number of categories: climate change (which threatens the carbon-fuel industries and dependents); damage to fetuses or things that might be fetuses (which threatens some religious groups); Big Science (which, at least IMO, they simply don’t want to pay for). My take on their attitude towards the social sciences is that it’s more of a “don’t care” than outright opposition, so long as you don’t ask them to pay for it.

    IIRC, various studies have suggested that engineering faculty are significantly more conservative than other areas of academia. And both sides seem to just ignore math (my own field, originally).

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    • And they’re against syphilis research, and against free teen birth control (which reduces abortions and pregnancies, according to the latest research).
      And they’re against trains, and state parks, and improving our power grid.
      And giving high speed internet to rural schools.

      Oh, boy… ya done got me started.
      Maybe not all of these are high priorities…

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      • Other than the things in the first sentence, these aren’t opposition to STEM per se; they’re opposition to government spending for the distribution of said items. For example, I can’t think of a single instance of conservatives opposing a UP or BNSF developing and deploying high-speed passenger rail; they oppose government funding of high-speed rail, and government-funded passenger rail more generally. Syphilis research (although I’d need to see the details) and pretty much anything having to do with birth control fall into the narrow category of things that they oppose in order to satisfy an important constituency.

        Maybe I’m drawing too fine a distinction, but for me, opposition to a STEM topic means opposing the work of the scientists and engineers who develop the knowledge, and is different than opposing the deployment or application of the tech. The bit about who is footing the bill is also important. They oppose fetal stem cell work independent of who’s paying for the research. OTOH, so far as I know, they don’t oppose work done using the large hadron collider, just government funding of it.

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        • While these are good points, I want my generation to leave behind something more worthwhile than that pyramid in vegas.
          The Hoover Dam was built by a Republican, with all our tax dollars.
          So was the interstate highway system.

          Americans ought to come together to do grand things. And when I mention opposition to STEM, I mean engineering as well.

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      • But the author you link isn’t much better (nor is the Ivy League professor she quotes.) As Bertrand Russell demonstrated, predicates and sets are very different things.

        Too bad the Christian Right isn’t a bit better educated. OK, in lots of ways, but in particular, in set theory. They could simply say that yeah, there’s lots of Cantorian infinities from which you can construct bigger infinities, but God is the cardinality of the set of all sets that, without faith, seem paradoxical.

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      • So the problem here appears to be infinite sets. Apparently this is not a universal position within the Christian Right, or the issue is actually when this should be taught. The Bob Jones University course catalog includes “Ma 615: Set Theory and Logic”. I suppose you could teach something with that title with just finite sets. But their calculus sequence description includes Maclaurin and Taylor series, which require infinite sequences. At least for BJU, it seems a moot point: they’ve applied for real regional accreditation and they have a math major, so somewhere in there they’re teaching at least basic measure theory and infinities of various sizes.

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        • Or, if you want to believe in conspiracies, maybe the people who graduate with a BJU math major are monitored carefully after graduation because they have dangerous (and potentially heretical) knowledge. I’ve always been fond of the Department of Applied Miracles at West Point in Heinlein’s If This Goes On–. Once upon a time I built a real-time software widget that solved the critical problem in a project. I overheard a junior engineer ask “But how does it work?” I was pleased entirely out of proportion to the accomplishment when his supervisor told him, “No one but Mike knows. Just think of it as an applied miracle.”

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        • But their calculus sequence description includes Maclaurin and Taylor series, which require infinite sequences.

          Infinite series can be considered infinite in posse; you can use a finite number of terms to approximate a value, but you’d (obviously) never perform an actual calculation by doing an infinite sum. Even proving that an infinite series converges to a value requires only discussing the difference between the value and the sum up to index N. They don’t imply an actual infinity any more than the fact that the sequence 1, 2, 3 … never ends does. Set theory, on the other hand, not only provides infinite sets in esse, but an unbounded hierarchy of infinities. So many infinities that no infinity is large enough to number them. Much eviller :-)

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          • Sorry, but I think you are mistaken. All basic set theory that uses infinities is developed from the countable integer set (1,2,3 … ). So, if the countable integers aren’t a true infinite (this is always assumed for such proofs), than all proofs related to countable infinities are equally wrong (are then finite.) All set theory depends on those theories, otherwise, they too are false including most of your examples.

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            • So, if the countable integers aren’t a true infinite (this is always assumed for such proofs), than all proofs related to countable infinities are equally wrong (are then finite.)

              If you throw out the axiom of infinity, you’re going to have a hard time constructing the natural numbers.

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            • It’s a question of ontology. Apply Quine’s doctrine that “To be is to be the value of a boud variable.” You can do all the arithmetic, algebra, and calculus you like with your bound variables restricted to real numbers. [1] That doesn’t require that there’s a set of all real number as a concrete entity. (Consider: you can define a bound variable as being an arbitrary set, even though there is no set of all sets.) In set theory, though, the whole unbounded suite of cardinal and ordinal numbers are treated as existing as real (as opposed to potential) infinities.

              1. Admittedly, you have to hand-wave a bit about the Axiom of Completion for real numbers, since that refers to sets of real numbers (and how they have least upper bounds.)

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  15. Amazing, I never knew that I believed in intelligent design and refused to even entertain the possibility of climate change. But hey, what do I know, I’m a conservative, therefore I hate science and probably smell bad too.

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      • Oh, so when you say “conservatives” you mean “people who I don’t actually know but I can assume things about them anyway and then draw conclusions about them based on those assumptions”.

        Right, that’s so much better.

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        • DD – This may shock you but you aren’t the only conservative I know.

          I was thinking more along the lines of the dozens of conservatives I know personally that believe global warming is a conspiracy theory and the unfortunate handful I know that are okay with teaching ID in public schools (my brother is in this group). And that’s not counting pundits, public officials, etc who are all on record as saying the same thing. Not to mention that last Republican president who favored teaching ID.

          Or should I base my entire assesment of conservatism on you?

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  16. This is a really great post.

    As others here have said, I’m not sure that I buy into their being a difference in how scientifically inclined either side of the aisle is. For example, here in PDX we have a battle to keep fluoride out of our drinking water. The opponents are mainly liberals, and their concerns are all wacky government conspiracy theories about what fluoride really does. (The fact that scientists don’t acknowledge their beliefs is proof that they’re on to something!) The same thing can be said for the anit-vac crowd, or the power lines cause cancer folks, or the magnet therapy people. Those are all pretty liberal domains. (I think it was Pat who also mentioned gen modified plants above.)

    So there’s enough fuzzy thinking to go around.

    I think the main difference is a public relations one, in as much as one side has leaned heavily on populism over the past several decades, and that populism has been dependent upon telling people that their common sense is a better tool than those so-called labs academic elitists use.

    I don’t think Rs are less scientific; I think they’re just more willing to happily wear the anti-science label.

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  17. Good article and comments. My comments, not entirely on point…

    Problems I have with “science”:

    Published research in the popular media and before others in your field have had time to reproduce your results.

    Sloppy reporters who fail to understand the study and what it might mean, and then inflate the results into some crisis when none of the results have been confirmed. While this is really part of the general crappy skills of reporters, it’s my contention that, as the scientist, it’s your job to make the public understand what your work actually means, so they bear some of the blame.

    Scientists using their work for their own political / status advancement. It’s supposed to be about the science.

    Scientists unwilling to provide their research to others so the study results can be duplicated and confirmed.

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    • A shockingly high number of published scientific results can’t be replicated even by the original authors, mostly in psychology, medicine, and social sciences. Other scientists are studying the problem.

      Part of it is pattern-recognition (we can pull patterns out of randomness), and part is a failure to count all the experiments with negative results toward the statistical likelihood of a false positive. The latter boils down to the likelihood that your result was a statistical fluke if it resulted from one experiment, versus whether you ran 50 or 100 experiments and one of them showed a positive. More simply, “In this experiment I twice rolled two dice, and in both cases they came up snake eyes, thus…” while considering the 50 previous rolls of the dice to be seperate experiments that didn’t show any consistent result.

      In application, when you record lots of data about people there will be lots of coincidental correlations that will pass all statistical tests of validity when examined in isolation, but that can’t be repeated because they are actually random noise. Such bogus results are more likely to be noticed if they confirm the biases of the observer, and since they scientifically confirm the bias, tend to get written up and published.

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  18. Mike,

    I haven’t read through this thread, and I don’t have time right now; but I think your take on things might be a bit over-simplified.
    And I believe the article was written by a leftist.

    I, personally, believe that climate change is very probably to a large degree man-made, and I do entertain some notion of intelligent design.
    That said, much like Tod’s post above, regarding women making 72 cents on the dollar for that of every man, it’s not directly comparable.
    For the question that Tod brought up:
    We need to illegalize stay-at-home moms!
    That ought to take care of it.
    Plain and simple.
    What about legislating that every woman needs to spend five months out of the year in a hotel room away from home to work in some industrial facility?
    I know a few that do.
    And they make close to the same wage as I do.
    I have a few certifications that are in demand.
    I whittled down my choices, and then I looked to see where the money was.
    Plain and simple.

    But the bigger issue is that competency is no longer a job qualification.

    Is a woman just as likely as a man to put a 150 lb. gasket in a 300 lb. flange in a steam blowdown line with pressure in excess of 500 psi?
    Probably not.
    But until more of them assume the risk of going out there to do it, they will never be paid for it.

    Intelligent design:
    To say that a thing is not known does not imply that it is unknowable.
    If a thing remains undiscovered, that is no indication that it is undiscoverable.
    We still don’t know the way that steel is formed.
    We can predict, with some degree of accuracy, a percentage range of which crystalline structures will form under certain conditions.
    We know that each crystalline structure affects the structure of those nearby.
    But the process has limited predictability.
    And yet steel is made.

    And new steels are developed.
    New processes are discovered.
    The oxygenated water treatment system is still relatively new.
    It was developed because of the carbon-eating anaerobic bacteria.

    Even in computer-generated randomizations, some randomizers are more random than other randomizers.
    If we conclude a thing is “random,” how sure can we be of that metric which defines such a thing?
    “We can’t be sure” is markedly different than “There is none.”
    In my view, the one statement is more truthful, and the other filled with conceit.
    We are an incredibly primitive people.
    We should accordingly view skeptically any statements that we know all there is to be known about a thing.
    We still don’t know everything there is to be known about the ocean, for crying out loud, and men have been sailing those waters for thousands and thousands of years.
    When we step back to say “All of the variables are unknown” or “Our data set is incomplete,” this reaffirms the underlying science.

    Consider this:
    Were all the mechanisms of penis growth to be known, every man would have a 10″ cock.
    Plain and simple.
    We don’t know.
    And penis growth has been with us for thousands and thousands of years.
    There’s even a science behind it.
    A host of specialists with scholarly papers and such.
    Doesn’t change the facts on the ground.
    (Or wherever you happen to be doing it.)

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    • Whose doing research on penises?
      I know Japanese porn companies do research on breast growth…

      You seen the SG-2? That stuff is AMAZING! I think we’re pretty damn close to understanding steel…

      That gasket stuff, is it a weight issue? I don’t think I heard anything about men being better coordinated with gross motor skills.

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      • Deleting junk from email, and it looked like a better target than lasik.

        No, the gasket issue came from a real-life discussion of an earlier event.
        Women (at least in my industry) tend to be a bit more attentive to such things, less likely to try to make due with the wrong parts if the wrong part is handed to them.
        I guess you can say it’s a stupidity issue; and in this case, one of by-passing a safety device to endanger other workers unaware of the hazard.

        What I was trying to say, really, is that science is valid within its boundaries; and there are a lot of boundaries.
        Also, that the unknowable is distinct from the unknown.

        I’m working in a plant now where there are asbestos warning signs all over the place.
        Remember when asbestos was perfectly safe?
        Scientifically proven.
        Makes me wonder if the calcium silicate is ok.

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  19. “What is not in dispute among intelligent conservatives is the reliability of the scientific method. The dispute comes from the interprative part of science and for good reason.”

    This is absolute BS. The primary manifestation of right-wing rejection of science is the absolute rejection of the scientific method. They can’t test their competing hypothesis (or even suggest a test).

    For example, show me a single ID proponent who has ever tested an ID hypothesis (evolutionary hypothesis, real or more often phony, don’t count). They don’t exist, because quite ironically, they lack sufficient faith in their position to put it to an empirical test.

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    • John,

      You will notice that I said ‘intelligent conservatives’. I don’t consider anyone who thinks ID is a scientific theory to be all that bright. There are unfortunately ID supporters on both sides of the aisle, but GOP leaders are the only one being vocal about it so they get more mud on them. But there are also conservatives, like myself, who know better.

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      • Mike,

        I noticed that you qualified it with “intelligent,” but there are plenty of intelligent right-wingers who tout ID as a scientific theory. Are they lying?

        You, OTOH, seem not to notice that I wrote “For example,” because the rejection (and subsequent misrepresentation) of the scientific method is front-and-center among every flavor of denialism.

        There aren’t really ID supporters on both sides of the aisle. With rare exceptions they are on your side of the aisle. The only thing on my side in that league is the tiny animal-rights movement, and they aren’t representative of my side like the rejection of evolutionary theory is of yours.

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        • They trust the scientific method. What they are discarding is the analysis. I think it’s short-sighted but it’s also partially a result of the politicization of science I noted above.

          Also, regarding who supports ID, I think you’re just wrong on that. I am having trouble finding a more recent survey but as of 2004 support was pretty mixed:

          “In the same December 2004 Newsweek poll, respondents were asked, “In general do you favor or oppose teaching creation science in addition to evolution in public schools?” Sixty percent favored the idea, 28 percent opposed it, and 12 percent were undecided. The November 2004 CBS News poll found a similar result, with 65 percent favoring, 29 percent opposed, and 6 percent undecided. Going back to 1981, the available polling record indicates that across question wording, a majority or near majority of the public favors teaching creationism in addition to evolutionary theory in public schools.”

          http://www.geotimes.org/sept05/feature_evolutionpolls.html

          If the graph on this link is accurate polling indicated over 50% of Democrats supported teaching ID as an alternative in 2004. I can’t imagine this has changed terribly. There are plenty of conservative Democrats and also religious Democrats.

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          • Mike,

            You’re rejecting the scientific method in your comment!

            The dodge used by denialists (apparently including you, based on your comment) is, ‘We’re all looking at the same data, just analyzing it differently.’

            The former part of this is always a bald-faced lie, while as a whole, it rejects the scientific method, which is about doing the analysis before knowing the data. This works even when the data come from events that occurred in the past, such as fossils or ancient temperatures. Truly scientific controversies are resolved by new data, not debate.

            The survey doesn’t come close to measuring what you’re trying to claim it does.

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            • John,

              Experiments can be flawed. Data can be manipulated. Also, when it comes to things like climate science, a big part of the findings come from modeling, whch we all know is a flawed process, especially when it comes to climate (read: how often does your local weatherman get it right?)

              I am the farthest thing you can get from a science denialists. I deeply care about the scientific process and science in general. But I am also a realist and I think that science can be manipulated for political purposes and I also think even the findings of good science can be used in a bad way by shady politicians.

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              • “Experiments can be flawed. Data can be manipulated.”

                So it’s better to not do any, and instead sell the fiction that it’s not about hypothesis testing and producing new data?

                “Also, when it comes to things like climate science, a big part of the findings come from modeling,…”

                Mike, you appear to be scientifically illiterate. NONE of the findings ever come from modeling. The findings are the data that denialists lack the faith to produce, like temperatures and ice-core readings. The models are the hypotheses that predict future observations (even when some are observations of past events). Do any of the climate-change denialists have models that make testable predictions?

                “… whch we all know is a flawed process, especially when it comes to climate (read: how often does your local weatherman get it right?)”

                Amazing. You don’t know the difference between climate and weather?

                “I am the farthest thing you can get from a science denialists.”

                You’re quacking like one when you pretend that models are the findings instead of the data.

                “…I think that science can be manipulated for political purposes and I also think even the findings of good science can be used in a bad way by shady politicians.”

                I agree, but that does nothing to rebut my point that denialists lack the faith to test their own hypotheses. You appear to be trying to defend that form of intellectual cowardice.

                Remember, there was one climate-change skeptic, Richard Muller, who finally did some measurements and flipped to the side supported by the data. How many “intelligent conservatives” flipped with him?

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                • John,

                  “So it’s better to not do any, and instead sell the fiction that it’s not about hypothesis testing and producing new data?”

                  I think you need to circle back and remember the theme of the post. Mistrust in science. I didn’t say that those flaws mean science shouldn’t be done. I said they are example of why some people don’t trust it. If you are going to call other people illiterate, you at least have to demonstrate some reliable reading comprehension on your own end.

                  And perhaps I misspoke when I said ‘findings’ instead of ‘predictions’ regarding climate change. But the predicitons are what we base policy on and those DO rely on modeling.

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                  • I don’t mistrust science–I mistrust scientists. People are people.

                    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/02/science/study-finds-fraud-is-widespread-in-retracted-scientific-papers.html

                    And the scientist whose work falls outside the boundaries of political correctness takes his career in his hands by publishing it. It was that way for Galileo, it’s that way now–people are people.

                    And FTR, I don’t find the above discussion of “Intelligent Design” to be consistent with my understanding of what it is. [Perhaps I’m wrong–I’m not an ID proponent.]

                    ID’s key tenet is that God actively interfered at times in evolution, that structures of “irreducible complexity” were created by His hand, ones that could not have “happened” naturally—the flagellum of the bacterium, the eyeball.

                    Now, I think it’s silly [and unnecessary for the classical theistic “argument from design,” that order must spring from order, God being the ultimate “order’], but I don’t see how it’s testable/falsifiable. You can’t throw stuff in a vat and see if it grows legs or eyeballs.

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                    • It wasn’t that way for Galileo, actually. That’s a myth. Galileo was actually smacked for, well, a combination of intellectual theft and what could only be termed “dickery”.

                      Galileo as the brave truth teller against the forces of intellectual darkness has about as much in common with reality as American mythology about the perfect wisdom of our Founding Fathers.

                      As for ID: Both things you mentioned (eyeballs and bacterial flagellums) have very common evolutionary paths. The eyeball, in fact, didn’t evolve once — but at least 40 times, completely seperately. (Obviously not on the same clade).

                      As for falsifying it — if you claim something is ‘irreducibly complex’ and someone can point to ANY evolutionary path for it, it is obviously not irreducibly complex. The blood clotting cascade is a good example. The ID movement really hung their hat on it, and well…it turns out to not be that way.

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                    • Wow, at this point anyone who uses bacterial flagellum or eyes as examples of irreducible complexity is only announcing that they’re years out of date on the science. The track record of irreducible complexity is no wins, many losses.

                      Aquinas, iirc, had something wise to say about this kind of thing.

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                    • “I don’t mistrust science–I mistrust scientists. People are people.”

                      We don’t trust ourselves. That’s why we use the scientific method of actively trying to demolish (not support, Mike!) our own hypotheses.

                      What’s better than the scientific method, Tom?

                      “And the scientist whose work falls outside the boundaries of political correctness takes his career in his hands by publishing it.”

                      How many Nobel laurates followed that path?

                      “ID’s key tenet is that God actively interfered at times in evolution…”

                      ID has no key tenets other than “evolutionary theory is wrong because we say so.”

                      “…but I don’t see how it’s testable/falsifiable.”

                      That’s because your eyes are closed.

                      For example, the assumption, dishonestly presented as a fact, underlying Behe’s hypothesis from his second book is easily testable. If his “new protein-protein binding sites” are an obstacle to evolution, it’s extremely important to find out how many different ones there are between, say, a whale and a cow.

                      But Behe, a well-trained scientist who used to do experiments, is never going to go looking for those differences because he has no faith that he will find them. Selling his lies to “intelligent conservatives” is an easier and more lucrative gig than doing science.

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                    • John, you’re clearly a busy man, but you’re disagreeing with my agreements with you. This isn’t working for either of us.

                      I think we need to break up, and in fact I must confess I’ve already found a new Canadian lover, that manly sexy brilliant CanadaFreeper Jeffrey Haire

                      http://www.canadafreepress.com/index.php/print-friendly/50262

                      Best of luck, John. Although you’ve broken my heart, I hope you find what you’re looking for elsewhere.

                      And cod, of course. In the end it’s all about the cod with you Canadians, isn’t it? Cod sluts, all of you.

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                  • “Mistrust in science.”

                    No, the mistrust is only there when the science doesn’t conform to what they wish was true.

                    “And perhaps I misspoke when I said ‘findings’ instead of ‘predictions’ regarding climate change.”

                    If you’re literate, “perhaps” ain’t even close.

                    “But the predicitons are what we base policy on and those DO rely on modeling.”

                    We base medical treatment on such models too. What remains is that you are consistently misrepresenting the scientific method.

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      • So romney’s not intelligent because he won’t say he believes in evolution?
        And you’re considering voting for him? You’re not openly advocating for
        “let’s go with the smart one?”

        Good Lord! If Kucinich was running against Huntsman, I’d pick huntsman,
        any day of the week. Kucinich doesn’t have much sense in his body, ya see.

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  20. The article mixes conservative/liberal with Democratic Party and Republican Party voting patterns. Such polling and studies are usually designed to put heavily Democratic Party groups such as blacks and Hispanics into the conservative category based upon things such as church attendance while taking some of the moderate Republicans and putting them into the liberal category.

    Maybe someone should look up how blacks and Hispanics view evolution/global warming/generically modified foods/vaccines and them compare that to voting patterns. The idea that all Democrats understand and support evolution and believe that God had nothing to do with it is laughable but the idea does make academics feel better about themselves.

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    • Honestly? If the blacks and hispanics don’t want to put their stupidity into LAWS, I don’t care if they think that Jesus made everything with unicorn farts and pixie dust.

      And if we’re going to go on about what blacks believe, you’d get more traction by looking at the whole “US government caused/spread AIDS” thing. Those stats be alarming.

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    • Superdestroyer,

      The study I cited looked at a lot of different groups. It broke the findings down along gender lines, racial lines, religion, political affiliation, etc. The only group that moved significantly was self-identified conservatives.

      One thing I will also note, when you look at people that identify as ‘Republicans’, you don’t see the swing. It’s only when you change to the ideological label of ‘conservative’ that trust in science drops off.

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          • The GOP is called anti-science because the crazies who run its primaries won’t vote for folks who are pro-science. And therefore it’s entire stable of eligible presidential candidates have to mouth stupidity.
            Huntsman didn’t even WANT to win…

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      • The study you cite combined all non-whites and that group have a very high level of mistrust of science. Considering that all non-whites are overwhelmingly Democratic Party voters, it should obvious that the idea that conservatives are anti-science is laughable.

        The study made comparisons that would prove its point and avoid any comparisons that would not make its points. If evolution was really important to Democrats, they would take all of the members of the CBC and CHC to task for their anti-science stance.

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        • Superdestroyer – I don’t know what to tell you. They based the findings on the way people self-identified. Self-identifying conservatives apparently mistrusted science more than self-identified minorities. That seems fairly straightforward to me.

          But keep in mind that those are overlapping groups. A lot of minorities may have also self-identified as conservatives.

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  21. I think a parallel world Mke Dwyer, one who became a fisheries biologist, would view all this very differently. I don’t think he’s view the loss of North Atlantic cod as a “political” issue. I mean, politics are a real of the mind. They are philosophy. A fishery that is gone for good is gone for good.

    (For those who don’t track fish news, the North Atlantic has sadly entered a stable state without the return of cod.)

    Also for what it’s worth, I think “young earth evangelicals” were the wedge that split conservatism from science. I got a chem degree in the 70’s myself, and at the time that was compatible with Republicanism. Now, not so much.

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    • Visited my ancestral homeland of Newfoundland–Cod is God. Better frozen cod than the freshest fish. Fried cod, broiled cod, boiled cod, cod tongues, cod au gratin, salt cod and dog biscuits*.

      As for creationism, folks don’t get that on the whole, creationists tend to not let their myth interfere with real life. Let them measure solar magnetism or the red shift or PH or what’s growing in the Petri Dish, they come up with the same results you do.

      *Really. Yum.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fish_and_brewis

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      • “Let them measure solar magnetism or the red shift or PH or what’s growing in the Petri Dish, they come up with the same results you do.”

        Precisely. That’s why they avoid doing measurements and pretend that science is about competing analyses instead of testing hypotheses–right, Mike?

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          • “Well, actually, no. There are a number of creationists with fully accredited PhDs. You could be surprised.”

            Well, actually, you’re wrong, because it doesn’t surprise me a bit and you’re missing my point. The way you spot the frauds, PhDs or not, is whether they are testing their hypotheses and producing new data. That’s how we scientists seek the closest approximation of the truth.

            “But I really wanted to talk some cod.”

            Have you heard the one about the Newfie, Quebecer, and Albertan who found the magic lamp? It includes cod.

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            • “We,” Mr. Science? Well, then: The universe behaves the same way for a creationist as it does for an evolutionist. The explanation of how we got here affects surprisingly little in the present, but for some reason creationism opponents’ own animus toward the topic is as vociferous as what they condemn.

              To illustrate, a Muslim might believe the paper burns because Allah wills it to burn, but burn it does, a measurable 451 degrees F. A creationist cures his clap with the contents of Dr. Fleming’s Petri dish the same as Richard Dawkins does. You “scientists” need to chill on this. Let them ride their dinosaurs.

              As for your joke, John, I fail to see the reason for the inclusion of the Newfie atall except to unimaginatively deploy three people according to formula, and to feed crude Canadian stereotypes about my ancestors*.

              http://www.jokelibrary.net/nationalities/Canadian.html#newfie_quebecer_and_albertan_find_genie

              *Newfoundland wasn’t part of Canada until 1949, and joining that miscegenation of the resident Froggish and Tory cowards fleeing the American Revolution is a mistake we** shall someday correct.

              http://www.canadafreepress.com/2005/higgins063005.htm

              **Since Grandpa left in 1917, my ancestry is Newfoundlanderish but not Canadian, which pleases me to no end. Except for training Frenchmen to do something useful [play hockey], Canada’s record of achievement remains close to nil.

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  22. Very interesting article and tackling a real elephant in the room (pun sort of intended). The New Right’s views on science is what keeps me from voting for them in almost every single election. I skew more conservative than liberal in personal philosophy as well as in commercial concerns but I can’t, _CAN NOT_ vote for any one who will look at scientific data that shows a clear trend and says, “It’s not true because I say it isn’t”. That’s just crazy talk. I actually got into it with someone (always a bad idea) on the subject of evolution whose debate ending argument culminated in the statement, “Just because it’s a fact, doesn’t make it true.” I was stunned. It was like debating with a person from the 14th century.
    If we loose the ability to study our world objectively and embrace discoveries that run counter to our own expectations and wishes, regardless of how they effect our view of our selves and our plans, then we are doomed. When a self described conservative welcomes a person into their political tent who lives in a fantasy world of their own creation in deference to what is being discovered around them, they damage their position as a valid source of reliable and well vetted information.
    A quick side note: My children and I watched the Disney special, Man and the Moon, last night.It was first broadcast in 1955. What shocked me was how PROGRESSIVE the science was. They spoke of evolution taking millions of years, of planets forming over billions. They talked of green house effects on Venus. It was both refreshing to hear it being discussed and depressing to realize how far we’ve slipped since the days that most right wing individuals hold up as the halcyon days of the United States.
    Well, that was depressing. :(

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  23. >However, while there are notable exceptions, a substantial proportion of studies in the social sciences are not considered scientifically rigorous because the human experience is highly subjective and changeable across culture and time.

    This is fundamentally the same argument as is made by “intelligent design” people: that people are just so complicated, they’re impossible to explain without the involvement of undetectable beings of infinite power. The degree to which humans are difficult to understand is simply farther along a continuum that includes all kinds of reality. Why is there suddenly a magically large and unbridgeable gap between humans and the next-most complicated or complex phenomena, such as big apes or local ecosystems?

    Just because we have not so far done a good job of understanding some things or because our methods have not been sufficient. What if early physicists has surveyed the work of atomists and just shrugged and said, well, this theory is insufficient and the existing methods and instrumentation just don’t allow us to examine something that small. It just be that whatever comprises matter is too small to be understood. That is of course ridiculous.

    So why would you hold this opinion? The reason has nothing to do with any fundamental characteristics of studying humans but everything to do with the fact that the process entails questions about the facts of human relationships and personality, that you, as a conservative–even an ostensibly reality-dwelling one like you–are uncomfortable with people discussing.

    You would rather say, look, we can investigate over here, but over there, well, there be dragons. You can look there, but no one should credit anything you say. Because it’s fundamentally mysterious over there! Because it … just is.

    Such an assertion is contrary to the spirit of science.

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    • Eric,

      I could give you dozens of examples from the social sciences but let me try one: Trade beads are commonly found at a variety of historical sites throughout the United States. Archaeologists have noted that blue is a more common color than others at sites related to slavery (plantations, for example). Blue is also a common color in spiritual art in Africa. For years there has been an attempt to link blue beads to African spiritual practices brought over with slaves and passed down through generations. This is a solid theory. Or it could be that blue was simply a popular color among slaves in a similar way that gray is a popular color these days in house paint.

      The trouble is that while the data-collection part of the scientific method can show the higher % of blue beads at a variety of sites, it can’t make the leap to just why they were more popular without engaging in speculation. And that is the ultimate flaw of the social sciences with regards to ‘hard science’. We are limited by the variability of human behavior and experience and the lack of indisputable data to confirm our hypothesis.

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      • ehh… I think we’ve got enough humans on earth that we could come up with some pretty statistical things on them.
        When you start narrowing down (expanding?) to cultures, you get into more hairy spaces, with less statistical significance.

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      • “For years there has been an attempt to link blue beads to African spiritual practices brought over with slaves and passed down through generations. This is a solid theory.”

        You’re contradicting yourself. It’s a hypothesis that is nowhere near being a theory, much less a solid one.

        “The trouble is that while the data-collection part of the scientific method can show the higher % of blue beads at a variety of sites, it can’t make the leap to just why they were more popular without engaging in speculation.”

        This is more misrepresentation of science as mere data collection instead of hypothesis testing. It’s easy to advance a real test of the hypothesis: measure the frequencies of blue beads in areas with an abundance of blue raw material vs. areas with a dearth of blue raw material.

        “And that is the ultimate flaw of the social sciences with regards to ‘hard science’.”

        Baloney. Here’s an experimental study relevant to the discussion:papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1549444

        “We are limited by the variability of human behavior and experience and the lack of indisputable data to confirm our hypothesis.”

        You again misrepresent the scientific method, Mike. Real scientists design tests that will falsify their hypotheses, not confirm them. That directs data production, not willy-nilly “data gathering.”

        This is an essential distinction that escapes you.

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        • John,

          I’m not sure what your background is but it’s clear you’re passionate about the subject. I have zero problem being challenged on anything I say here, however since I am a pro-science conservative one would think you would be interested in polite conversation about a field we both obviously care about. The problem is, you don’t seem to be able to challenge people’s opinions without sounding like an asshole. And I just have waaaay better things to do with my time. So… I’m going to follow Tom’s lead and bid you farewell.

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          • I guess there’s nothing more assholish than pointing someone who is claiming that experiments can’t be done in social science to a paper describing well-controlled experiments in social science. Even more assholish, the experiments are highly relevant to the discussion.

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            • John,

              The problem is not the references etc you cite. It’s your tone. It’s calling people illiterate and just a general snarkiness that comes across in all of your comments. That is not how you speak to someone that you want to have a polite and productive dialogue with.

              If your goal is to simply demonstrate that you think I am wrong then I guess you have accomplished that, but if your goal is to actually change my mind this approach has a zero percent chance of working. So what is your goal John?

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              • Given your stubborn need to construct justification for irrational behavior, what makes you think that you are so important that I should be trying to change your mind, Mike? You clearly want to put the blame on scientists instead of where it belongs.

                Here’s the meat of your post that has no basis in reality:
                “It is important at this point to differentiate between science as an experimental pursuit grounded in the scientific method and science as an academic pursuit that engages in educated analysis and a certain amount of speculation.”

                This is a false distinction. You are misrepresenting the scientific method itself. As I demonstrated, one can easily do rigorous, experimental hypothesis testing in a field you claimed fit the latter.

                “It is the latter that often draws the condemnation of some on the Right.”

                This is objectively false, as the Right is full of people who object to the results from the former: massive amounts of hypothesis-driven, experimental, hard science. One example is the fulfillment of detailed mathematical predictions made by evolutionary theory for future DNA sequencing. Is there a single “intelligent conservative” claiming that the theoretical basis for paternity testing isn’t valid, Mike? It’s the same thing on a different scale.

                “What is not in dispute among intelligent conservatives is the reliability of the scientific method.”

                It is indeed. They reject it when convenient. They consistently misrepresent it as post hoc analysis instead of hypothesis testing, which is precisely what you have done repeatedly here.

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                • John,

                  “Given your stubborn need to construct justification for irrational behavior, what makes you think that you are so important that I should be trying to change your mind, Mike?”

                  Ok. Glad we’re clear on this. It’s just an ‘I told you so’ exercise. That only requires one participant. Thanks.

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  24. No one mentioned the seismic shift in demographics after the Nixon, Humphrey, Wallace race of 1968. The demographics of the right changed over the next 10ish years to include a large number of uneducated whites fleeing the democratic party. Uneducated whites, especially males, are the bread and butter of the NR.

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    • High school drop outs, even the white ones, are very loyal Democratic Party voters.
      Since college graduates earn more and earning more up to s certain limit tends to make one more conservative, I doubt if there is much connection between education and the fear of science. Do you really think that all of the anti-vaccine, anti-GMF, anti-nukes in Hollywood are the educated ones?

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  25. “what drove this change.”

    I’d venture that it was simply the salient scientific issues shifting from those that antagonise liberal values (e.g. nuclear power) to those that antagonise conservative ones (e.g. global warming). I don’t believe that there’s any difference between liberals and conservatives when it comes to ability to understand or tendency to agree with ‘science’. Have a poke around on this website for the research that supports this assertion: http://www.culturalcognition.net.

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  26. Pingback: Conservatives and Science | Happolati's Miscellany

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