Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Daniel Sarewitz Obviously Hasn't Been Reading Fear And Loathing In Georgetown

Writing in Slate:
A Pew Research Center Poll from July 2009 showed that only around 6 percent of U.S. scientists are Republicans; 55 percent are Democrats, 32 percent are independent, and the rest "don't know" their affiliation.

They could've saved the cost of the study if they'd just been reading this blog. Of course, scientists are Democrats -- they're empiricists.

Sarewitz asks whether it matters because scientific facts are facts, and then writes:
Think about it: The results of climate science, delivered by scientists who are overwhelmingly Democratic, are used over a period of decades to advance a political agenda that happens to align precisely with the ideological preferences of Democrats. Coincidence—or causation? Now this would be a good case for Mythbusters.

Look, if you'd been reading FLG, then you'd know this is an effect, not a cause. Scientists are staunch empiricists, which will forever put them on the Left, all other things being equal.

You can measure things in the material world, let's say the speed of light, and since it doesn't change after you've measured it several times you can assume its still the same. So, in regards to phenomena in the material world, scientists don't appear to be short-term focused because they can project forward and backward millions of years. But that's only because of their assumption that the laws of physics haven't changed.

Human interaction is different. There isn't some mechanical process. They react to new information, and don't act according to some deterministic algorithm. Here, in the world of human interaction, the scientist's empirical focus makes them inherently short-term focused, and consequently Democrats.

A not so brief aside on the climate change issue, most of which you've already heard a million times from FLG:
Whether the world has warmed or not is a question of fact. Whether the world will warm in the future is a question of prediction based upon assumptions about natural mechanisms and processes and human activities. However, even if we knew irrefutably that the world was, is, and will continue to warm, science qua science (FLG hates himself for doing that) does not tell us anything at all about what to do. To recommend a course of action is to apply non-scientific values to facts. For example, if you say you are going swimming and FLG says you are going to get wet, so you ought to bring a towel, then FLG is stating a fact (you will get wet) and applying a value (being dry is better than being wet) to make a recommendation.

Science and consequently the authority of scientists as experts in science stops at the description of the natural world -- the Earth is either warming or not, and we project to the best of our ability that it will continue to warm. This will have these natural effects, which we believe will effect human beings and the environment in these ways.

It is then left to the political process to determine a course of action based upon values. From whence do these values come? FLG thinks it is from what is meaningful to people. People define meaning in different ways. Some find polar bears and the natural enviroment meaningful. Most people find their food, clothing, and shelter a meaningful concern.

So, just to wrap up this digression, science ought to make positive claims, not normative. Likewise, scientists ought to recognize that once they go from descriptive to prescriptive, they are moving into applying values. Now, FLG is well-aware that the entire scientific project was conceived out of the normative goal of "the relief of man's estate," but scientists really ought to be circumspect when make recommendations. Once you do that, then politics is going to enter into the equation because you are applying values. End of aside.

Sarewitz concludes:
Yet there is clearly something going on that is as yet barely acknowledged, let alone understood. As a first step, leaders of the scientific community should be willing to investigate and discuss the issue. They will, of course, be loath to do so because it threatens their most cherished myths of a pure science insulated from dirty partisanship. In lieu of any real effort to understand and grapple with the politics of science, we can expect calls for more "science literacy" as public confidence begins to wane. But the issue here is legitimacy, not literacy. A democratic society needs Republican scientists.

No, a democratic society doesn't necessarily need Republican scientists; it simply needs to understand the limits of science and even more importantly that in its relationship with policy making there is an inevitable application of values. If you assume that scientists, as empiricists, weigh the present situation in terms material conditions and what can be measured and quantified over what cannot be, then you are well on your way.


Anonymous said...


"and the rest "don't know" their affiliation."

What a wonderful name for a political party (comprised of eggheads) - The Don't Knows.

Mrs. P

George Pal said...

Dependent upon government money for the most part, it’s not surprising scientists identify with the ‘make it rain’ Democrats. Neither is it a surprise the totalitarian instinct empirically evident in BIG government’s social totalitarianism should attract technocratic totalitarians – birds of a feather and all that.

Withywindle said...

When you say "assume the laws of physics haven't changed," I imagine the astronomers would say "the observed evidence is highly consistent with the laws of physics not having changed for all observed evidence dating back several billion years." I think you can remove that sentence and still preserve the rest of your argument.

Anonymous said...

Both the Reeps and the Demmies try and fend off science which does not comport with their preferences. The Gould/Montagu/Lewontin war against Jensen/Murray/Herrnstein, and Lewontin/Gould versus Wilson et al was a big attempt to suppress and ignore findings the Demmies didn't like. Lysenko had his opponents killed, for coming up with the wrong results.
One frame which is useful to me is 'people who need to believe in free will' and 'people who want to conserve the social order, and who think it emerges from inborn tendencies in people'.


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