Science & liberalism

By Razib Khan | March 28, 2009 2:38 pm

Faith in science and social conservatism:

Except for crime and gun control, faith in science is associated with socially liberal positions. For guns and crime, the direction of the relationship is liberal, but the relationships are not statistically significant.

I’ve dug through the GSS on this and this seems about right. Even on topics where many would assume that conservatives trump liberals, there isn’t a strong difference. For example, Genetically Modified Foods:

The main exception seems nuclear energy. But the key is social liberalism; there’s a lot of sympathy for economic neoliberalism among the technocracy. Or there was….

  • bioIgnoramus

    “faith in science”: hm.

  • David Ross

    bioIgnoramus made a suspicious-sounding grunt. Allow me to attempt to articulate my own suspicions:
    When a “social liberal” declares “faith in science”, I must assume it’s a faith without understanding. Even granted that social liberals’ mean IQ is 115 (and I doubt that), that’s still too low on the bell curve to understand science. To understand science, I think, demands a thorough familiarity with calculus, differential equations, and statistics; and, most of all, an internalisation of the naturalistic ethic – IQ 135, at least. Most social liberals don’t, and can’t, “get” science any more than most Southern Baptists do or can.
    So when a moderately-intelligent person claims a “faith in science”, what s/he is really doing is declaring faith in progress and, incidentally, faith in an elite. This can easily mutate into a political religion, most likely hierarchal; and right now Progressivism is the safest route.

  • bioIgnoramus

    “To understand science, I think, demands a thorough familiarity with calculus, differential equations, and statistics…. – IQ 135, at least”: I suspect that the facts are against you. I certainly hope that they are.
    “what [she] is really doing is declaring faith in progress and, incidentally, faith in an elite”; there, I suspect, you are spot on.
    Anyway, I hope that my attitude towards science is based more on empirical evidence, and the reasoning that links disparate pieces of evidence, than “faith”. Mind you, (i)I’m rather choosy about what I classify as science, and (ii) having found that it all “came easy” when I was young, perhaps I’m patting myself on the back improperly.

  • Joshua Zelinsky

    David, speaking as someone who is a math grad student currently TAing calculus, none of the areas of math you mention require that much brainpower to get. Moreover, IQ is not that well correlated with being able to do math well.
    Finally, although I frequently tell students that they will need calculus for many different subjects that bottom line is that someone can understand much of the basics of many areas of science without it. Even stronger remarks apply to differential equations. Indeed, most science people don’t even seem to understand how differential equations work, they either use tables to get solutions or use software to get approximate solutions. There’s very little need for understanding them to even do science, much less to understand science that has been done.

  • nonuthin

    Both of your comments are very intelligent and quite interesting. I am fascinated by this subject and would like to learn more. I’m particularly interested in the subject of “naturalistic ethic.” What is it? And can either of you direct me to some reading material on the subject?

  • outeast

    Re. David Ross’ assertions… I can has No True Scotsman? Sorry, but absent a hell of a lot more evidence (any at all would be nice, really) that just sounds exactly like the kind of absurd generalization from prejudice that ‘conservatives’ often (rightly) object to from ‘liberal’ commenters.

  • Joseph Hertzlinger

    The main exception appears to be in an area where opposition to science can do the most damage.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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