Tierney on Left vs. Science

Monday, November 28, 2016

John Tierney of City Journal has published a lengthy piece titled, "The Real War on Science" (HT: Snedcat). Although I think there is some room for debate about the conclusion stated in his subtitle -- "The Left has done far more than the Right to set back progress." -- the entire piece is worth reading both for specific examples and for the bigger picture of just how inimical the left is to science, despite its scientific pretensions.

Because I had seen this a few times (and not just from leftists) and had always wondered where it came from, I'll quote Tierney on a view of evolution that he rightly likens to Creationism. This view ultimately originates from social "scientists" who hold that, "any differences we see among races, ethnic groups, sexes, and individuals come not from differences in their innate constitution but from differences in their experiences:"

The Blank Slate dogma has perpetuated a liberal version of creationism: the belief that there has been no evolution in modern humans since they left their ancestral homeland in Africa some 50,000 years ago. Except for a few genetic changes in skin color and other superficial qualities, humans everywhere are supposedly alike because there hasn't been enough time for significant differences to evolve in their brains and innate behavior. This belief was plausible when biologists assumed that evolution was a slow process, but the decoding of the human genome has disproved it, as Nicholas Wade (a former colleague of mine at the New York Times) reported in his 2015 book, A Troublesome Inheritance.

"Human evolution has been recent, copious and regional," writes Wade, noting that at least 8 percent of the human genome has changed since the departure from Africa. The new analysis has revealed five distinguishable races that evolved in response to regional conditions: Africans, East Asians, Caucasians, the natives of the Americas, and the peoples of Australia and Papua New Guinea. Yet social scientists go on denying the very existence of races. The American Anthropological Association declares race to be "a human invention" that is "about culture, not biology." The American Sociological Association calls race a "social construct." Even biologists and geneticists are afraid of the R-word. More than 100 of them sent a letter to the New York Times denouncing Wade's book as inaccurate, yet they refused to provide any examples of his mistakes. They apparently hadn't bothered to read the book because they accused Wade of linking racial variations to IQ scores -- a link that his book specifically rejected.

Some genetic differences are politically acceptable on the left, such as the biological basis for homosexuality, which was deemed plausible by 70 percent of sociologists in a recent survey. But that same survey found that only 43 percent accepted a biological explanation for male-female differences in spatial skills and communication. How could the rest of the sociologists deny the role of biology? It was no coincidence that these doubters espoused the most extreme left-wing political views and the strongest commitment to a feminist perspective. To dedicated leftists and feminists, it doesn't matter how much evidence of sexual differences is produced by developmental psychologists, primatologists, neuroscientists, and other researchers. Any disparity between the sexes -- or, at least, any disparity unfavorable to women -- must be blamed on discrimination and other cultural factors. [links in original]
This quote hints at the bigger picture Tierney paints of how a subordination of results to preconceived dogmas among members of an ideologically homogeneous profession has, through positive feedback, led to an ever-widening gap between what the left touts as "science" and reality.

-- CAV

P.S. Fidel Castro has finally dropped dead. Morally, Castro's passing deserves less notice than one might give to a cockroach one has stepped on, and wiped off in the grass.

But, out of respect for his many victims and for our own sakes, we should never forget this brutal dictator, or the object lesson he provided us by putting into practice the evil ideas he professed. It is telling that, arguably, even Nikita Khrushchev was not as consistent an altruist as Castro, who even tried to invite a nuclear holocaust on his own people. The following comes from a letter by Khrushchev to Castro after the Cuban Missile Crisis:
It is even difficult to say how things would have ended for the Cuban people. First of all, Cuba would have burned in the fires of war. Without a doubt the Cuban people would have fought courageously but, also without a doubt, the Cuban people would have perished heroically.

We struggle against imperialism, not in order to die, but to draw on all of our potential, to lose as little as possible, and later to win more, so as to be a victor and make communism triumph.
Just to avoid confusion, since there are so many, including our current President, who think Castro's ideals are noble, but that he somehow botched them or failed to live up to them -- or that some passer-by leaves here under the impression that I imagine that Communism has even a shred of decency or practicality: What might have happened to Cuba would have been far from heroic, but needless and obscene. Communism is not noble in theory, but bloody in practice. It is bloody in practice because it is wrong in theory, morally and practically.

P.P.S. Please read the first two comments to this post. I do not wish to appear to agree with the idea of evolutionary psychology.


Today: Added a P.P.S. 


Steve D said...


We've discussed Wade's book on more than one occasion. It was one of the few books I've read in my life that I couldn't finish, so steeped it was in evolutionary psychology and the ignorance of a role for free will. I got fed up with it about half way through.

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks for reminding me of that, and, by extension, of the fact that I should have at least couched my favorable quote in disagreement with the premise of evolutionary psychology, which I have written against in the past.


Dinwar said...

Tricky stuff....On the one hand, I'm sympathetic to the idea that the brain, as an organ, undergoes evolution. In fact, we know it does--we can trace the evolution of Chordate brains pretty far back, determine the visual and nasal acuity of dinosaurs, and the like. The question is, to what degree is the evolution of the brain responsible for how humans process information about the world around them? I consider this a legitimate scientific question; the question of how ANY organ evolved is well within the field of evolutionary biology, including the brain.

This doesn't require magical thinking, either. We know that the brain has a given nature, and that that nature has evolved over time; the first is axiomatic, and the second proven by the fossil record. The question of what causes these changes and what the results are is an open one. For my part, I'd say that a proper study of the evolution of the brain would be limited to how the brain processes sensory data and allows for the function of the body. This doesn't affect free will, not any more than not being able to see out of our ears does anyway, and would properly limit this field to those aspects of our nature that are amenable to evolution.

On the other hand this is all fairly irrelevant. Behavior doesn't fossilize. In other words, we have only a very limited understanding of the behaviors of prehistoric peoples (and for historic peoples it's vague and subject to well-established biases), because the overwhelming majority of behaviors simply leave no record. This means that the hypotheses of evolutionary psychology cannot be verified; we can't determine if what the evo-psych folks claim happened actually DID happen. Without that, evo-psych remains firmly outside the realm of science. It lacks one of the most fundamental requirements of any historical science.

There are other issues as well, I don't deny that. I'm simply saying that until this issue is overcome I cannot, as a historical science, accept the validity of this field. This one issue is sufficient to dismiss everything studied to date, bar none. The phrase "Just So Story" is the name of a specific fallacy in historical sciences, and this field AS SUCH is currently guilty of it.

What depresses me is that alleged scientists ignore this simple fact. If I, as a paleontologist, tried to make such an argument, it would be dismissed out of hand. Why psychology gets a free pass to engage in fallacies that would destroy any argument regarding physiology that attempted them is beyond me.

Further (and to the point of the article), even if evolutionary psychology demonstrate that no changes had occurred in the brain in the past few tens of thousands of years, this in no way demonstrates that other changes didn't occur. The brain is just one organ--skin color, digestive enzymes, disease resistance, and the like are well-known to have evolved since humans left Africa. I've personally seen biologists (geneticists, mostly) accuse anyone who accepts that of being racist--which means, rejecting data in favor of an ideological stance--which means, abandoning any attempt at actually engaging in science. Got into a debate about that recently, in fact, and it very quickly became clear that the "scientist" involved was engaging in the type of equivocation that they would have failed any student for engaging in!

So while I'm not convinced evo-psych is inherently unscientific, I certainly agree that it is as currently conducted, it probably can't be made to be scientific anyway, and I definitely agree that the Left has corrupted at least this aspect of science to the point where even alleged scientists are willing to abandon reason in favor of dogmatism.

Anonymous said...

Hi Gus,

On the question of genetic isolation and the evolution of specific traits, I am presently reading an interesting book by William H. Calvin; The Ascent of Mind: Ice Age Climates and the Evolution of Intelligence.

He argues that the test for survival fitness hinged around the capacity to adapt behaviorally (rather than biologically) to rapid climate, flora, and fauna alterations around glacial margins, and that this is what fostered the four-fold increase in hominid brain capacity in an evolutionary blink of the eye.

Unfortunately, you do have to read the book at something of a 'meta' level; he has accepted the dogma of catastrophic global warming and some of his conclusions in light of that are not as cogent as they might otherwise be.

Despite that caveat, I find the book to be well worth my time. It's my breakfast book; I read it while cooking breakfast and waiting on the process.

c andrew

Dinwar said...

How does Calvin address the fact that humans evolved in parts of Africa which weren't subject to glaciation? Africa is weird because of the lack of modification to the ecosystem--my colleagues and I often joke that Africa is still in the Pleistocene (well, half-joke; being in an ecological transitional period is quite exciting for my field!). I haven't read the book, but if Calvin's hypothesis is correct I would expect to see far more adaptation outside of Africa than within Africa within hominins, and nothing I've seen suggests that is the case.

This isn't a criticism, by any means; I'm genuinely curious as to how he addresses this issue!

Anonymous said...

As an intro, he points out that Neandertal remains have been found in the Middle East, far outside of their 'homeland'. He posits that while hominids may have originated in Africa, that emigrants from the glacial margins would have spread out from those (glacial) origins under the population pressures subsequent to a glacial advance, and, having behavioral flexibility, would have out-competed the 'natives' that had remained behind.

So just as hominids moved out of Africa, enhanced hominids would have migrated from glacial margins into other areas in Asia and Africa. The time frame he is working with is from the advent of homo erectus through the last ice age, terminating about 10K years ago. The device he proposes is the fluctuation of glacial margins throughout the ice ages; withdrawals opening up a land, flora, and fauna surplus resulting in a population boom and reduced selection, followed by a glacial advance that cuts the middle out of the bell curve distribution and giving rise to further behavioral adaptation at the margins in the face of a new climatic challenge.

IIRC the author is a neuroscientist. I got the book from Amazon's print on demand service. There is a certain amount of irony in the copy I have; page 282 in the Table Of Contents is listed as; "About the Author". Unfortunately, Amazon's printer must've burped because there is a blank page, without pagination, where 282 should be. (A blank slate, perhaps?)

But this is a hypothetical exercise bolstered by some particular points of fact, anatomical as well as paleontological. With your background, you would probably have a better grasp if his hypothesizing is warranted on that basis. I found it an interesting read and aside from the CAGW, found nothing that twigged my antennae as being completely out of bounds.

c andrew