Evillusion in a Nutshell pt 2
Let us tackle the old wives’ tale that conservatives, the Right, or Republicans are anti-science and only want to discredit anything that does not conform to the creationist point of view.
A healthy democracy depends on science. The pursuit of truth, having an informed citizenry and the free and open exchange of ideas are all cornerstones of our democracy. That’s one thing that always made America truly great—the fact that, when all is said and done, evidence and the truth would always win the day in America. Without that, we join the league of ordinary nations.
This is not a partisan thing. Scientists are not—and shouldn’t be!—worried about which political party is in power. It rarely matters: There has always been a long tradition of bipartisan support for science and a fact-based world view. In fact, the Union of Concerned Scientists has ranked both Republican and Democratic presidents as being exceptional supporters of science.
Instead, let us first acknowledge that leftists have been guilty of “science abuse.” We have three main areas: 1) opposition to genetically modified foods, which has stifled research; 2) the campaign by animal-rights activists against medical researchers, whose work has already been hampered and; 3) the resistance in academia to studying the genetic underpinnings of human behavior refusing to account for recent research in genetics and neuroscience.
Each of these abuses is far more significant than anything done by conservatives, and there are plenty of others that can be talked about. The only successful war on science is the one being waged by the Left.
The danger from the Left does not arise from stupidity or dishonesty; some surveys show that Republicans, particularly libertarians, are more scientifically literate than Democrats are, but there is plenty of ignorance all around. Both sides cherry-pick research and misrepresent evidence to support their agendas. Scientists of all ideologies exaggerate the importance of their own research and seek results that will bring them more attention and funding.
The narrative that Republicans are anti-science has been fed by well-publicized studies reporting that conservatives are more close-minded and dogmatic than liberals are. However, these conclusions have been based on questions asking people how strongly they cling to traditional morality and religion—dogmas that matter a lot more to conservatives than to liberals. A few other studies—not well-publicized—have shown that liberals can be just as close-minded when their own beliefs are challenged
Social psychologists have often reported that conservatives are more prejudiced against other social groups than liberals are. However, Jarret Crawford of the College of New Jersey recently noted a glaring problem with these studies: they typically involve attitudes toward groups that lean left. When Crawford (who is a liberal) did his own study involving a wider range of groups, he found that prejudice is bipartisan. Liberals display strong prejudice against religious Christians and other groups they perceive as right of center.
Conservatives have been variously pathologized as unethical, antisocial, and irrational simply because they do not share beliefs that seem self-evident to liberals. For instance, one study explored ethical decision making by asking people whether they would formally support a female colleague’s complaint of sexual harassment. There was no way to know if the complaint was justified, but anyone who did not automatically side with the woman, was put in the unethical category. Another study asked people whether they believed that “in the long run, hard work usually brings a better life”—and then classified a yes answer as a “rationalization of inequality.” Another study asked people if they agreed, “the Earth has plenty of natural resources if we just learn how to develop them”—a view held by many experts in resource economics, but the psychologists pathologized it as a “denial of environmental realities.”
Scientists try to avoid confirmation bias by exposing their work to peer review by critics with different views, but it is increasingly difficult for liberals to find such critics. Academics have traditionally leaned left politically, and many fields have essentially become monocultures, especially in the social sciences, where Democrats now outnumber Republicans by at least 8 to 1. The lopsided ratio led to another well-documented phenomenon: people’s beliefs become more extreme when they’re surrounded by like-minded colleagues. They come to assume that their opinions are not only the norm but also the truth.
How to promote ideological diversity among scholars is a major problem. Even if a science department added a few conservatives, they would still be immersed in progressive academic communities becoming less tolerant of debate because of pressure from campus activists and federal bureaucrats enforcing an ever-expanding interpretation of Title IX. In addition, their work would still be filtered to the public by reporters who lean left, too—that is why the press has promoted the Republican-war-on-science myth. For instance, when Obama diplomatically ducked a question on the campaign trail about the age of the Earth (“I don’t presume to know”), the press paid no attention. When Marco Rubio later did the same thing (“I’m not a scientist”), he was lambasted as a typical Republican ignoramus determined to bring back the Dark Ages.
The Lefts most rigid taboos involve the biology of race and gender. The Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker chronicles in his book The Blank Slate what has become dogmatic 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.” This dogma constricts researchers’ perspective—“No biology, please, we’re social scientists”—and discourages debate, in and out of academia. Early researchers in sociobiology faced vitriolic attacks from prominent scientists like Stephen Jay Gould, who accused them of racism and sexism for studying genetic influences on behavior.
The Leftist 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 has not 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 dramatically.
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 (which could have a Biblical connotation also). 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.
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.
American women are doing much better than men academically—they receive the majority of undergraduate and graduate degrees—yet education researchers and federal funders have focused for decades on the few fields in science where men predominate. It was bad enough that the National Science Foundation’s grants paid for workshops featuring a game called Gender Bias Bingo and skits in which arrogant male scientists mistreat smarter female colleagues. Then, these workshops nearly became mandatory when Democrats controlled Congress in 2010. In response to feminist lobbying, the House passed a bill requiring federal science agencies to hold “gender equity” workshops for the recipients of research grants.
It might seem odd that the “party of science” would be dragging researchers out of the lab to be re-educated in games of Gender Bias Bingo. Nevertheless, politicians will always care more about pleasing constituencies than advancing science.
Moreover, that brings us to the second great threat from the Left: its long tradition of mixing science and politics. Stay tuned for the next segment.