People are starting to notice that not all is well in Science. This is happening not only among scientists themselves, not only among Realists like the readers of this blog, and not only among neo-cons like those at the Weekly Standard (see below), but also among stalwart progressives such as Chris Mooney at the Washington Post.
I was shocked to see the article “Liberals deny science, too” by Mooney. Of course, he’s very forgiving and doesn’t really throw himself into his subject. He writes only about a narrow new study:
The study is far from the authoritative word on the subject of left wing science denial. Rather, it is a provocative, narrow look at the question. In particular, the study examined a group of left wing people — academic sociologists — and evaluated their views on a fairly esoteric scientific topic. The specific issue was whether the evolutionary history of human beings has an important influence on our present day behavior. In other words, whether or not we are “blank slates,” wholly shaped by the culture around us.
Lot of blank slaters prefer to believe in the ultimate perfectibility of man. The new study wasn’t really: it was only yet another in a long line of questionnaires passed off as research.
The new study, by University of Texas-Brownville sociologist Mark Horowitz and two colleagues, surveyed 155 academic sociologists. 56.7 percent of the sample was liberal, another 28.6 percent was identified as radical, and only 4.8 percent were conservative. Horowitz, who describes himself as a politically radical, social-justice oriented researcher, said he wanted to probe their views of the possible evolutionary underpinnings of various human behaviors.
And there it is: social-justice oriented researcher. Nothing pro-science about that. Activists at universities are nothing new, but they are growing in strength and number. One article notes “It is not uncommon for social psychologists to list ‘the promotion of social justice’ as a research topic on their CVs, or on their university homepages.”
Science is not the goal of an activist, who decides his findings in advance and only collects what he thinks is confirmatory evidence which he can share with the world. Regular readers already know about the routine asinine uses of statistics (I really have to update this list).
Andrew Ferguson has a relevant piece “The New Phrenology: How liberal psychopundits understand the conservative brain.” We’ve long noted electronic phrenology devices are ubiquitous among researchers (see this, this, this, this, and many more).
Ferguson (where have you heard this before?):
The studies rely on the principle that has informed the social sciences for more than a generation: If a researcher with a Ph.D. can corral enough undergraduates into a campus classroom and, by giving them a little bit of money or a class credit, get them to do something—fill out a questionnaire, let’s say, or pretend they’re in a specific real-world situation that the researcher has thought up—the young scholars will (unconsciously!) yield general truths about the human animal; scientific truths. The scientific truths revealed in Edsall’s “academic critique of the right” demonstrate that “the rich and powerful” lack compassion, underestimate the suffering of others, have little sympathy for the disadvantaged, and are far more willing to act unethically than the less rich and not so powerful.
Here’s the kicker, which regular readers will also recognize:
After many regression analyses and much hierarchical linear modeling, the professors discovered that their conclusion matched their hypothesis…
Science is now, in many areas, just another branch of politics. We’re coming back to this topic later, of course.
Oh, and don’t forget the biggest science denial: global warming. The theory of CO2-enhanced positive feedback which motivates most climatologists has been incorporated into all major climate models. These models have been making lousy predictions (of the future) for twenty to thirty years now: the models have ran hot and are running hotter. This implies the theories which underlie these models is in error. Scientifically, therefore, it is best to doubt the veracity of both the models and the theories. Anybody denying this, in ignorance of the physics driving the climate, is anti-science. Most anti-global-warming-science folks are progressives. This is because they believe in the solution to global warming and are largely ignorant of physics.
Update When Charles Murray was asked about the 20th anniversary of The Bell Curve, this is what he said.
I’m not going to try to give you a balanced answer to that question, but take it in the spirit you asked it–the thing that stands out in my own mind, even though it may not be the most important. I first expressed it in the Afterword I wrote for the softcover edition of “The Bell Curve.” It is this: The reaction to “The Bell Curve” exposed a profound corruption of the social sciences that has prevailed since the 1960s. “The Bell Curve” is a relentlessly moderate book — both in its use of evidence and in its tone — and yet it was excoriated in remarkably personal and vicious ways, sometimes by eminent academicians who knew very well they were lying. Why? Because the social sciences have been in the grip of a political orthodoxy that has had only the most tenuous connection with empirical reality, and too many social scientists think that threats to the orthodoxy should be suppressed by any means necessary. Corruption is the only word for it.
Now that I’ve said that, I’m also thinking of all the other social scientists who have come up to me over the years and told me what a wonderful book “The Bell Curve” is. But they never said it publicly. So corruption is one thing that ails the social sciences. Cowardice is another.
Update Here we go: The American Sociological Association sets up a “task force” on global warming. Not a physicist among them. On the other hand, maybe they can do “studies” like this one: “Science or Science Fiction? Professionals’ Discursive Construction of Climate Change”. Turns out “the” Consensus, even after the standard political throat clearing, isn’t as strong as advertised. Who knew?
Update Why Some of the Worst Attacks on Social Science Have Come From Liberals. Author is part of the problem. Why? She doesn’t realize the problem is in these two sentences:
When Dreger criticizes liberal politicization of science, she isn’t doing so from the seat of a trolling conservative. Well before she dove into some of the biggest controversies in science and activism, she earned her progressive bona fides.