Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Daniel Sarewitz of Slate grapples with the fact that most scientists are Democrats and, to his credit, finds that fact a "problem." Unfortunately, his analysis is limited by aspects of the very vicious circle he is, in fact, unwittingly observing and commenting on. Discussing an upcoming appearance by Barack Obama on Mythbusters, where he hopes to "reinforce the idea that Democrats are the party of science and rationality," Sarewitz considers the correlation between sides of the global warming debate and political affiliation. You are getting warm, Mr. Sarewitz, and it's not due to an increase in greenhouse gas concentrations.
Sarewitz correctly notes that, "evidence about global warming has been directly and explicitly linked to a set of policy responses demanding international governance regimes, large-scale social engineering, and the redistribution of wealth," and that these anti-capitalist policies have caused many conservatives to become "suspicious of the science."
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.Thank you, Mr. Sarewitz. Also, you are getting red hot.
Sarewitz also gets points for acknowledging the fact that the monolithic political culture of modern science endangers its credibility with the public, but he gets no cigar. His stab at a solution is something of a Band-Aid, and an attempt to reverse cause and effect. Simply (somehow) having more Republican scientists might indeed lend more surface credibility to science, but having more would likely require fixing the "something" that is "going on that is as yet barely acknowledged, let alone understood."
I agree that there is something going on that is barely acknowledged (at least as a problem), and which is encouraging Democrats to become scientists, rewarding scientists who favor leftist policy reactions to scientific findings, and causing certain areas likely to cause enormous expansion of state power to become "hot" prospects for funding. But that something is actually well understood: It is state sponsorship of scientific research.
One need only revisit one of the darkest examples of state "encouragement" of science and use a little imagination to understand what is going on.
Under Lysenko's guidance, science was guided not by the most likely theories, backed by appropriately controlled experiments, but by the desired ideology. Science was practiced in the service of the State, or more precisely, in the service of ideology. The results were predictable: the steady deterioration of Soviet biology. Lysenko's methods were not condemned by the Soviet scientific community until 1965, more than a decade after Stalin's death. [bold added]This example is less crude and is closer to home than one might think. Leftist ideology favors redistribution of wealth -- and already practices it in terms of deciding which topics and which scientists receive funding expropriated from private citizens via taxation and inflation. Grant proposals come by nature from ideas deemed likely to generate new data in support of a given theory. Many scientists have pet theories to which they have devoted entire careers -- and some of them are in charge of reviewing grant proposals.
If the government starts becoming concerned that global warming is a problem (i.e., is already predisposed to believe positive results), starts funding research to determine the extent of the problem, and has "experts" committed to the theory of anthropogenic global warming reviewing the grant proposals, which scientists are going to become encouraged, and which discouraged? And what of those dissenters who go to private funding sources instead, but practically have to label their articles as advertisements since only the government is supposedly free from bias. (As if the self-interest of a private donor or even a corporation completely divorces someone from wanting to know the truth. And as if the government can't possibly become a less-than-objective arbiter of which ideas deserve research funds.)
The fact that the government might make drastic policy decisions in reaction to a scientific verdict that there is man-made global warming is bad enough -- and confuses the debate among laymen. Whether there is man-made global warming and what to do about it are two separate questions from two separate spheres (science and political philosophy). But setting aside the attraction that some "fringe" (or incompetent or not-really) scientists might hold on some conservatives, state interference in science can -- without full-blown Stalinist repression -- compromise and politicize the scientific process.
I think that the fact that so many scientists are Democrats is primarily a cultural phenomenon stemming from the kinds of philosophical ideas that predominate our culture (and particularly the universities that educate our scientists), but state funding of science reinforces that tendency and entrenches the worst offenders, as I have indicated above. By the time we see a meaningful number of prominent non-leftists in science again, other cultural changes will have had to occur. And that -- helping such changes along -- is where the most fruitful efforts will take place.