The Erasmus path in science

By Razib Khan | June 21, 2012 1:44 am

I just received a copy of Science Left Behind: Feel-Good Fallacies and the Rise of the Anti-Scientific Left. As I now have some marginal time I’ll probably be reviewing it in concert with the The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science–and Reality, in the near future. Of all the intellectual activities in my life my striving toward a better appreciation of the shape of reality which science outlines for us has always been of the first rank. I had a “STEM” orientation before I even knew what that stood for. But I part from the culture of science as it is in that my politics are not with sympathy with the Left. In most cases this is not relevant, but it does loom relatively large in the number of instances where normative considerations conflict with scientific possibilities. I have expressed my frustration with this in the past. In general I believe that most scientists are less open to genetic dispositions in behavior than they would otherwise be because genetic dispositions seem rather unsavory on normative grounds (that is, the Zeitgeist of Left-liberalism in the West holds genetic dispositions in bad odor). A smaller set within science take their normative frameworks to such heart that they transform science into a political agenda (see The Dialectical Biologist).

As I have argued before to me a boundary condition in regards to this issue is the domain of sex differences. Though I think details are still to be worked out, the extreme negative reaction of some to any possibility of sex differences rooted in biological differences is clearly normative in its basis. I can understand having a discussion as to whether male or female aptitudes in mathematics at the tail of the distribution may differ, but I have a hard time taking seriously anyone who expresses extreme skepticism at the possibility of greater innate male aggressiveness expressed in physical conflict. My own personal sentiment is probably to class those who are very skeptical of greater innate male aggressiveness as no different from what is fashionably termed “denialism” (and the reality is of course that there is a school of “difference feminism” which accepts these biological differences wholeheartedly, though generally for the purpose of casting males in a negative light).

But this post isn’t about that particular issue. Rather, it’s about conservative distrust of science. At the Moving Secularism Forward conference Ron Bailey repeatedly had to remind the audience that it is problematic when one elides the distinction between the normative and the positive. Because scientists are overwhelmingly Left-liberal, this dichotomy can subconsciously melt away. This engenders some natural hostility and anger from conservatives. The priests and practitioners of science are working for the “other team.” Sometimes this takes the form of the rejection of science itself on the Right. The doyen of modern neo-Creationists, Phillip E. Johnson, has made recourse to “critical theory” in his attack on the pretense toward objectivity of modern science. More crassly some have accused science of being a fundamentally corrupt enterprise, as the scientific community sells ideologically informed opinion as fact. As I have indicated above I think in some of these areas such criticisms are warranted. Especially when it comes to a science with impacts upon humanity the ideological pressures can be strong. The back-story for the 1951 UNESCO statement on the “Race Question” is as much cultural as it scientific. Like the economist’s H. economicus moderns, with Left-liberals almost universally, accede to the proposition that all human populations are not just equal in moral worth and in legal terms, but that they are equal in all their fundamental psychological characteristics. I do not think that the latter is a proved assertion. Rather, it is a strong commitment, and a reflection of underlying sentiments.

Science is a human enterprise. The relativists are right on that. But the difference between science and literary criticism is that science studies what is out there, not just what is within. The mind may play tricks, but the real world does not. About three hundred years ago the basic fundamentals of what become science coalesced, and produced a cultural system of knowledge production which has been without historical parallel. But the system itself is made of humans, and so exhibits many of the faults of humans. A great deal of science has been wrong in the past. A great deal of science will be wrong in the future. And a great deal of science which we accept as orthodoxy will be found to be wrong in the future. There are very strong grounds by which skeptics of the power of science can launch their broadsides. Because of the weaknesses of science past and present these denialists operationally or explicitly would like to take down the enterprise of science in a form we’d recognize it. Intelligent Design advocates want to ditch methodological naturalism. There have been efforts at Marxist science, whatever that is (I thought Marxism was science?). And some identity politics types have attempted to reconstruct science on their own lines or preferences (some Muslims do this also).

Where all the critics go wrong is that you can’t judge science in a vacuum. It may be an imperfect system, but it’s far more perfect than any of the alternatives. The reality of science is not that it is telling us the truth, but that it is telling us more truth than we would otherwise know. The noisy and messy production of “random walking” toward truth isn’t pretty, obviously. Not only is there the fact that science is hard, and nature uncooperative, but the world of science is riddled with time-servers and incompetents. The last is true of any human enterprise.

In the past I have made an analogy between science and the Roman Catholic Church, despite the discomfort of some readers. I go back to that now. The Catholic Church of the years during which Erasmus flourished was quite corrupt. It is upon this fertile ground that the printing press added some combustible fuel. But despite his influence upon them Erasmus could never be convinced by the Reformers to leave the Church. Why? Erasmus was a critic of the Church, but he also perceived in it a superior product to what Protestantism had on offer. At any given moment science is rather like the Catholic Church, riddled with falsehood. But it is the best we have, and we should attempt to work within its institutional framework, rather tearing it apart limb from limb. That was Erasmus’ position. He may have been a critic, but ultimately he thought the institution could be genuinely reformed. The struggle never ends, but we can’t see any returns if we give up immediately.

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  • Ivan

    One might be tempted to draw distinctions between observations, predictions, facts … and truth. Science is good for observations, predictions and facts – but truth? — perhaps not so much.

  • Charles Nydorf

    A couple of points
    !. The correlation between politics and genetic determinism is not rigid. French leftists tend to favor innatist positions as in the case of anthropologist Levi-Strauss. In America, Chomsky is a leftist innatist.
    2. There is no question that the horror of Nazi genocide inspired Unesco but Unesco issued two Statements on Race, one by social scientists and one by biologists. The social scientists basically wanted to cut off the thread and ban discussions of group differences. The biologists argued that humans are a part of nature which implies variation between populations.

  • http://www.jimspofford.com Jim Spofford

    Rizab – Your first link is pointing to the wrong book, “Why Some Like It Hot”
    Here is a link to the book you mentioned:
    http://www.amazon.com/Science-Left-Behind-Feel-Good-Anti-Scientific/dp/1610391640/
    Excellent post, by the way, with many very good points. Thanks.

  • http://www.textonthebeach.com Seth

    This is one of the posts that will be bookmarked so that I can reference it whenever I’m drawn into an argument about the “socially constructed nature” of science. Interestingly, many younger leftists at my university are moving back toward an appreciation of science (having realized that their lit crit professors sound just like creationists half the time), but they still pick and choose. They will say, “Just because science is socially constructed does not mean it’s false,” which is exactly right, but now they seem to be adding, “but it does mean that I can take what I like and leave what I don’t like about it.” Science becomes a giant cafeteria for them. So, they believe that biology affects sexual preference (it’s not a choice, I was born this way!) but not intelligence. They acknowledge that animals have always struggled for resources, and that humans are animals, but that (here’s the leap) humanity’s struggles for resources are generally unjust and unnatural.

    Anyway, apropos the post, I think that the best rebuttal against the denigration of science is, indeed, to say, “Yes, but it’s as good as it gets, the best we’ve got.” To which, I would add, “As soon as you develop an alternative method for discovering replicable and reliable truths, I’ll consider joining your side.”

  • marcel

    2 points:

    1) Like the economist’s H. economicus moderns, with Left-liberals almost universally, accede to the proposition that all human populations are not just equal in moral worth and in legal terms, but that they are equal in all their fundamental psychological characteristics. I do not think that the latter is a proved assertion. Rather, it is a strong commitment, and a reflection of underlying sentiments.

    How would or could you possibly prove this? If you think of proving it logically, you have to begin from some axioms or assumptions. These are bound to be value based, and on that ground alone, unlikely to command (near) universal support. That is, you can prove it logically, but it will necessarily reflect underlying sentiments. If you think of proving it empirically, that is based on some reality that we can examine, I am not sure what that would mean, for a variety of reasons. What would it mean to “prove” , in an empirical manner, something about moral value? The closest I can think of is something along the lines of, “All examples that we have seen of individuals who act consistently with this moral value get result A (or, of societies organized consistently with this moral value get result A)”. One counter-example and your proof goes poof.

    2) Which gets me to my 2nd point, related to the paragraph that begins with “Science is a human enterprise.” Science consists of a collection of methods for (a) identifying erroneous conclusions , (b) organizing our knowledge and (c) identifying fruitful directions for further exploration. Experiment, when that is possible, but often careful observation plays a very large role in (a), and theory plays a role in all 3 parts. The knowledge or information that science generates is important, is perhaps why science has developed, but is no more science than an apple is the apple tree.

    Addendum: It is common to assert that correct prediction is what justifies our reliance, our faith in science, in this set of methods, but I think that the successful working of scientifically based technology plays a more important role. If Trinity had not exploded, much of (then) modern physics would have gone up in smoke. When the theory of evolution becomes important in important technologies AND knowledge of this become widespread, i.e., when it becomes widely known that important technologies would not be possible if evolution were incorrect, then I suspect that expressed skepticism in the theory will fade.

    IIRC, correct prediction of eclipses was possible and performed long before any understanding of what was involved, based on millenia of careful observation; this was not yet science, since there was no understanding of the underlying phenomena, of planetary and lunar orbits, just an extrapolation of well documented patterns. Similarly, a variety of technologies existed long before the development of science. However (and here I am projecting) scientifically based technologies strike most of us as much more amazing, much more magical, because without some background based in science, the principles underlying them are incomprehensible. Thus my phrase, “scientifically based technology”.

  • Chad

    The Right is not inherently anti-science. Yes there are some morons out there who glorify in their ignorance, but lets recognize them for who they are, extremist idiots. This does not describe the majority of those on the Right. It doesn’t even describe the majority of creationists who are for the most part more concerned with work and children to be bothered to think about the origins of life in an average week. One can also point to similar kooks on the Left. Not just the genetic denialism described here, but also rejection of animal research, genetic engineering, organic farming, anti-vaccinations, etc.

    But I’ll stick to what I know, which is the Conservative Right and Christians. I am a Geneticist, I am also politically Conservative and a Christian. Khan rightly identifies that a significant part of the problem is the perception of left-bias in Scientists: “Because scientists are overwhelmingly Left-liberal, this dichotomy can subconsciously melt away. This engenders some natural hostility and anger from conservatives. The priests and practitioners of science are working for the “other team.” Sometimes this takes the form of the rejection of science itself on the Right.”

    Generally the “anti-science” of the Right comes down to 3 issues. Evolution, Global Warming, and Embryonic Stem Cell Research. On these three, I know Evolution to be fact. I believe man is driving climate change, but disagree with most of the prescribed solutions. I also support a middle ground on Embryonic Stem Cell Research that utilizes left over embryos from In Vitro fertilization.

    The last actually has little to do with science and its opponents do not question it on scientific grounds. They also are strong supporters of adult stem cell and induced pluripotent stem cell research. Rather it is entirely an ethics debate and those on the left who caricature their opponents as anti-science on this issue are being dishonest.

    Climate Change is a mixed bag. I’ve been politically conservative my entire life, largely because I grew up surrounded by the self-employed. I see government largely in terms of the economic impact of its policies on small businesses. Here’s a basic fact about Conservatives, they want economic freedom, they want to be allowed to succeed without someone trying to run their business in the ground. This is important to understanding the source of the Right’s opposition to Climate Change, its primarily opposed to the Left’s solutions, not the science itself. Yes, they attack the science of it, but is that all that surprising given that you have Liberals telling them that they have to pay a carbon tax because that is the “scientific solution?” Their response is that if taxes are the scientific solution, then the science must be wrong. And a lot of the skeptics don’t even actually deny that the climate is changing, rather they challenge it on the grounds that it is caused mostly or entirely by humans and its simple to understand why. Because the belief is that if humans caused it, then humans can fix it and because most of these skeptics only here about solutions that seem to set back progress. Or they see the hypocrisy of blowhards like Al Gore, who has a bigger carbon footprint than anyone of them and who has invested in such a way that he will profit immensely from liberal global warming policies. Furthermore, climate scientists I think really damaged their reputation with the global cooling claims in the 70s. Yeah it was 40 years ago, but a lot of people remember it and makes them skeptical. It was struck an even bigger blow with the Climategate emails.

    So yes, climate change skepticism involves deny some science, but its not driven by inherent anti-science attitudes, but rather perceptions that climate change is really a front to implement Liberal policies.

    That then brings us to Creationism. I don’t want to engage in a debate about Religion, Christianity, or the existence of God. Those are deeper issues that are irrelevant to a discussion of perceptions and anti-science. The Reply section also has really limited quote ability and makes it difficult to carry on conversations. I’ll be the first to say that there are some ignorant idiots out there who truly are anti-science. And there is nothing we can do about it. You’re not going to convince them. I have tried and I have the benefit of being a Christian. But because I am a Christian, I know and interact with a lot of them everyday and this is something I have dealt with on a constant basis for a decade now when I first started on my scientific training. There is a lot of ignorance out there, but ignorance should not be confused with anti-science. Most creationists are not anti-science. They are average people, with little education in science, and who really never think about the origins of life. Yeah, they do not believe in evolution, but knowing that I am a Christian, they actually listen to what I say on the matter. When I discuss these things, I start with basics and I never speak in a demeaning attitude or way that implies that they are stupid. Lo and behold, if you actually treat people with some respect, typically they will listen and respect your views. Having had a lot of these discussions, I find that a lot of it comes down to dispelling the myth that Evolution = Atheism. This perception has been told to them by the real anti-science creationist and by atheists as well. In fact this is one of the biggest reasons I cannot stand Richard Dawkins. He takes an entirely confrontational attitude and so intricately weaves the science of Evolution with his Atheism and philosophical arguments that a lot of people cannot separate the two and they dont. They see a guy with a PhD handing them a False Dilemma. Either Evolution, Science, Atheism, or God. They choose God and so simultaneously reject the rest with the atheism. You contrast this attitude with that of Francis Collins who patiently explains the details of Evolution, while himself believing in God and in one book has done more to fight Creationism amongst Christians than Dawkins has done in a entire career.

    What I am pointing out here is not that anti-science attitudes on the Right don’t exist. Rather that it is not an inherent feature, that it is limited to a very narrow range of issues (this is equally true of the Left and its particular breeds of anti-science) and that underlying reasons for opposition on the Right has little to do with the science and more to do with perceptions of the political, social, and philosophical implications, regardless of whether or not those implications are true or false.

  • toto

    To paraphrase David DeGusta: Biased scientists are inevitable. Biased science isn’t.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    I remember when I was studying abroad at the University of Warwick, I took a course on Human Nature in political theory. The latter half of the course essentially was on the nature/nurture debate. Our professor was, I think, a right-winger (he was charming in a rakish asshole sort of way, and he went out of his way to belittle the fundamentalist Christian in the class), and leaned toward nature, whereas most of the class leaned the other way.

    I presented a class report on what was known from twin studies at the time. I was already a committed naturist, having read books by Matt Ridley and others. However, back then I did have a caveat for gender, as most left-leaning social scientists do.

    My reasoning was that in most species, behavior outside of courtship and mating does not vary dramatically between genders. In addition, although I recognized there were distinct distributions along bell curves for certain behaviors between men and women, I thought it was oppressive towards the minority which fell on the tail end to make a generalization that “women do this” and “men do that.”

    On the other hand, for a woman’s studies report, I ridiculed an essay which claimed that a culture where women give away their newborns proves there is no maternal instinct. I’ve noticed that many within the social sciences seem to mistake what an instinct is (one friend that year likened it to having Tourettes – something you literally cannot stop from doing).

    Now that I’m older, and out of the academy, I realize words in the modern western world don’t oppress people anywhere near as much as governments, employers, or any number of traditional cultures. Basically, worrying about the damage a word can do is a “white people problem.” I seriously doubt an embracing that some differences exist between the sexes (mainly dealing with mating practices and inter-rival aggression), will seriously cause the male-female pay gap to widen further, or the re-institution of any sexist laws, or anything else which would really hurt women’s lives.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    6 -

    Honestly, a carbon tax is an attempt to deal with global warming in a market-driven way.

    The problem with CO2 emissions is they are an “externality” – there is a cost on the wider community (albeit one not easily quantified), which everyone else needs to pay for the actions of the emitter. By putting a price tag on emissions, and charging the emitter for it, you’re causing them to pay for the full cost of their actions, which as a rational self-interested actor, should cause changes in behavior – more effective changes than simple regulation would allow, because they would be controlled by the market, rather than government fiat.

    I do think Al Gore has done tremendous damage to the movement to stop global warming in the U.S. however, as his redevelopment as a national figure on climate change corresponded with the right wing going from moderate belief in global warming to disbelief.

  • IMEarlGrey

    @Chad:

    I think the issue, especially with those who don’t get heavily invested in politics and rely more on friends/family/communities to signal what they should support, is that many people are all-or-nothing on their beliefs. Either both climate change and the proposed solutions are correct, or they are both wrong. Accepting the science behind climate change and rejecting the proposed solutions is a position that’s a bit too complicated to be well articulated for people who probably haven’t studied the issue extensively. It’s why I hate the binary nature of politics – I support some things Presidents have done (both the current and his predecessor) but oppose others, but how am I supposed to boil those pluses and negatives into making a larger claim of whether I support him? The world is far too complicated to express such things so simply.

    The aggressive nature of the typical political dialogue doesn’t help either. Those on the Left or Right convince each other that those who disagree with them must be evil, malicious, or stupid, and you simply can not engage in good dialogue with someone without some level of respect. It’s why I hate having to claim a side on the left-right dynamic (though I will admit my opinions are probably more on the liberal side), because I think it’s far more important that we engage in intelligent discourse to reach grater understanding, as opposed to laying too heavy a stake on which side we think is “correct.”

  • Matt

    As you’ve noted, people basically have an incentive to keep science coherent within their own ideologies. It’s a lot less taxing to keep one’s ideological framework in place, than to have to change it if the science might be saying something otherwise. Most people don’t gain anything by adhering to the best informed science, at least compared to what they do gain by holding to their own ideologies which their friends and family are likely also to share. This goes for Christians, Muslims, atheists, conservatives, liberals, libertarians. I like this blog because as opposed to most people, who form an ideology and then try to fit science into it, you have a science based ideology – not infallible, but it’s at least evidence based.

    As a Christian that’s always had a more conservative nature, it’s always a slow process for me to accept something that goes against what I’ve previously believed – that goes for all people but I would argue especially for me. What proved to be the difference in accepting evolution, was having a professor a lot like me – similar personality, Christian, conservative – making the argument that evolution is true. It didn’t have to be this way exactly. I may have come to believe it anyway, but the process would have been more challenging and time consuming. It surely happened a lot more quickly than it would have if PZ Myers had been my professor.

    Truth matters, but people are much more likely to accept what someone has to say if common ground is first established. The average guy off the street isn’t going to respond well to some self proclaimed elites saying trust science it always comes up with the right answer. It would be much preferable if people taught the distinction between science and scientists. One is a process that through observation and over time will often lead to compelling evidence. The latter are fallible human beings, smarter perhaps but not qualitatively different from the average Joe. Without that knowledge, when people see the pop science that shows up on Google news daily and how the stories often conflict with each, they learn the false lesson that science doesn’t discover truth (if you were biased to that position in the first place) or quickly always discovers truth (likewise about biases). Sensationalist media looking for readers aren’t concerned with measured proclamations which biases them towards painting findings as totally true or completely overturning former orthodoxy, rather than being another a step in a process that may take months, years or decades to come to an informed conclusion. Science isn’t magic, just a great process for finding truth, performed by regular human beings. That makes sense to people, makes science and scientists more relatable and when they grasp that, I think science will become less polarizing.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    One can also point to similar kooks on the Left. Not just the genetic denialism described here, but also rejection of animal research, genetic engineering, organic farming, anti-vaccinations, etc.

    to be fair, i have looked at the stuff in the general social survey on this. the biggest difference on these issues tends to be that stupid people are anti-science, not a left-right one (though if you control for background variables that may come out). and the reality is that skepticism of evolution is the majority position among american conservatives, though not elite/intelligent ones. so i don’t think there’s quantitative equivalence here, if you consider the whole population. when it comes to matters of science the fact that scientists are on the Left team means that ‘average joe’ Leftists defer to it more than you might think because of deference to elites (or, it might be that liberals are more prone to scientific reasoning as c. mooney asserts, though that seems a high intelligence feature).

  • Isabel

    “As I have argued before to me a boundary condition in regards to this issue is the domain of sex differences. Though I think details are still to be worked out, the extreme negative reaction of some to any possibility of sex differences rooted in biological differences is clearly normative in its basis. I can understand having a discussion as to whether male or female aptitudes in mathematics at the tail of the distribution may differ, but I have a hard time taking seriously anyone who expresses extreme skepticism at the possibility of greater innate male aggressiveness expressed in physical conflict.”

    Don’t you mean “on average”? That’s part of the problem, those two words are time and time again quickly dropped from discussion. Second, you are the one who is having ” extreme negative reaction” to those who do not want to accept your premise that this is really important to study and talk about. Insulting me, a long time commenter, and closing down comments because I point out an example of harm from this attitude?? Why? Ignoring the huge overlap absolutely marginalizes many, including the young women I was referring to in my last comment. For what purpose? And look at the comments at blogs where the subjects are openly discussed. Exactly where do you want to go with this?

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    Don’t you mean “on average”?

    that’s a retard point. do you think i don’t understand averages??? i’ve had the discussion about distributions thousands of times with you people over 10 years. never helps. you have your minds made up, and are looking for any angle to object. and when it comes to physical aggressiveness, the overlap is probably less than that on height. it exists, but the between-different is large (granted, this may be gene-environment correlation/interaction effect).

    that this is really important to study and talk about.

    stop making stuff up. i didn’t say any of that. i don’t talk about sex differences much because it’s boring. it’s only highly interesting to people who entertain the purely social constructivist position as a plausible outcome.

    and if you read me long enough you know i don’t give a shit who gets marginalized. i’m interested in stuff. that’s it. if i wanted to work for an NGO i’d go work at an NGO.

  • Isabel

    “that’s a retard point. do you think i don’t understand averages??? ”

    “you people”? retard? what the hell Razib. Obviously I know you understand averages. But you didn’t say it that time and other times (including on the previous thread), and sure it gets tiring to keep repeating the phrase “on average”, which is my point. It leads to essentialism in the wider world. It shouldn’t but it does. I personally don’t care if there is a difference on average and I might find the data mildly interesting but I don’t see it as the unbiased science you seem to, any time we are looking at ourselves.

    But i am not totally denying anything, and I don’t think most people are either. Like you they find the subject boring and people who obsess about race and sex differences scary. So you may be meeting up with some automatic resistance to someone who enthuses about the subject, a sort of learned avoidance, that you are making too much of when you say it is a denial of science.

    “and if you read me long enough you know i don’t give a shit who gets marginalized”
    Well, that’s just nice, I guess….I do care who gets marginalized, and not sure I am up for more insults so enjoy your “stuff”:)

  • http://dispatchesfromturtleisland.blogspot.com ohwilleke

    I think it is important to recognize that in huge swaths of science, consensus greatly outweighs disagreement and that many of the divisions in areas where there are disagreements are in no way partisan and can be placed on liberal-conservative scales only by imaginative stretches of fancy. One of the deeper divides in physics, for example, is more between an Aristotelean orientation and a Platonic one, than it is between liberals and conservatives.

    The debate within physics over the extent to which supersymmetry is likely given the current experimental evidence, for example, is lively and pointed, but doesn’t really implicate the liberal-conservative divide. There are heated debates within the medical community over the most appropriate form of cancer treatment and screening under particular circumstances, but these debates similarly don’t have much of a partisan component.

    I am also not at all convinced that “science” or “STEM” professionals, in general, have a “liberal” cultural tendency. Science is conducted in a cultural context, but to the extent that there are political leanings associated with scientific disciplines, they are far more fine grained. Neuroscientists, psychiatrists, and psychologists have different political biases. The political biases of electrical engineers are not the political biases of archaeologists are not the political biases of psychologists are not the political biases of botanists or chemists or physicists. Science may have an overall bias that is secular, that is metaphysically naturalist, that is more trusting of expertise, and that has less respect for authority in the absence of evidence. But, those biases don’t necessarily translate very directly or consistently into biases on social and economic political issues. Some of the liberal bias in science is a product of a matching conservative bias in engineering. STEM students sometimes choose subspecialties in a manner colored by the politics.

    And, even “scientific” biases differ in different disciplines. There are essentially no creationist biologists, but there are creationist chemists. Euler was well known for his fundamentalist Christian religious views, while Newton devoted a great deal of effort to unitarian theology.

    It is also pretty important to distinguish between academic disciplines that are sometimes described as sciences (e.g. economics and politics), from the physical sciences. The more one’s discipline deals with human beings and the actions, the more one is sucked into questions that can be colored by political opinion. The proportion of relatively “hard” sciences that deal with issues like the race and gender politics issues referenced in the original post in any way is pretty small.

    It is also pretty important to distinguish between the biases of scientists that is manifest in their work product, and the biases of scientists that is related to non-work product issues as a result of their socio-economic circumstances. Tenured academic scientists are not surprisingly (on average) strongly in favor of strong tenure protections and high levels of higher education and basic research funding. But, these kinds of political biases shouldn’t be conflated with biases that are manifest in their work – which exist, but are far less partisan and are not closely coupled with their other biases in daily life.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    academic scientists are liberal:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2007/07/is-the-academy-liberal/

    engineers are not liberal, but i don’t consider them scientists unless they’re doing original research (most aren’t). and for every derek lowe, who is a center-right pharm chemist, there are 5 pz myers. for ever 1 of me there are 50 pz myers. all the typing in the world doesn’t change that john.

    Euler was well known for his fundamentalist Christian religious views, while Newton devoted a great deal of effort to unitarian theology.

    please make your points relevant. this is a stupid point. newton believed in astrology too. that’s not relevant to this post.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    Well, that’s just nice, I guess….I do care who gets marginalized, and not sure I am up for more insults so enjoy your “stuff”:)

    i’m not someone who begs for readers, so that’s your prerogative. if you are who i think you are (i assume you changed you handle) i recall you’ve left the blog several times due to ideological discomfort. i don’t read many blogs personally so i respect that choice.

    second, people get marginalized constantly, just other people. why should i care about your sensitivities particularly? the overwhelming readership of this weblog is non-religious, and some of the things i say are pretty hurtful to the religious. so? i don’t care. if they find the material interesting, that’s their choice to read. if it is too offensive for them, they don’t need to read it. people like you who talk about marginalization can be quite particular about who does, and doesn’t, get marginalized. so the question isn’t marginalization in general, you’re no doubt happy i marginalize the net-nazis and creationists by banning them. probably not too concerned that i marginalize the religious by assuming a godless world as a prior assumption in my posts, and may make the insensitive remark now and then (in the case of muslims, pretty blasphemous remarks for offense).

    as for essentialism, that’s as stupid a position as platonism. i’m skeptical that stuff i say on this weblog has that much wider influence, and frankly i go to great lengths to talk in terms of distributions and confidences in relation to most people. are the other blogs you read which are more congenial to your own views very punctilious on these issues? e.g., when a blogger talks about “conservative christians” are they careful not to essentialize? how about white males?

    my main criteria for who should make comments on this weblog are two-fold

    1) don’t be ignorant
    2) don’t be stupid

    if you’re stupid, but happen to be well informed through hard work that is useful. if you are smart, you can be educated and reoriented quickly, even if you are ignorant. religion, race, sex, ideology, income, nationality, aren’t of much concern to me (this is a major confusion of some ‘multiculturalist’ oriented readers, as well as the net-nazis, who assume i have to, as a matter of course, have some person-of-color agenda).

  • April Brown

    The beginning of this post makes me want to put a virulently left wing anti-vaxxer and a virulently right wing climate change skeptic in Thunderdome and see who wins.

  • Isabel

    “i’m not someone who begs for readers, so that’s your prerogative. if you are who i think you are (i assume you changed you handle) i recall you’ve left the blog several times due to ideological discomfort. i don’t read many blogs personally so i respect that choice. ”

    I am definitely not that person and I am not storming off- really so much drama here! I just won’t comment on that topic. I will probably keep on reading.

    “like you who talk about marginalization can be quite particular about who does, and doesn’t, get marginalized.”

    Again, I am not religious and I was referring to very basic, general sexism and racism. Which I will no longer mention on this blog. I was not talking about you directly marginalizing anyone with your blog posts either.

    “congenial to your own views very punctilious on these issues? e.g., when a blogger talks about “conservative christians” are they careful not to essentialize? how about white males?”

    I find those generalizations equally uninformative. And often offensive enough to argue over. Hey Razib, I am a regular reader here, remember?

  • Matt

    Razib has probably already seen this, but John Hawk cites a Slate article that questions the importance of science to the average citizen. The article argues, and I agree, that it’s just not that important. Barring the physicists from answering, have you used F = MA in the near past? Ever?

    I think this fits in with Razib’s point about people either having too little (or in some cases too much) trust in science. Since understanding science is not applicable to a person’s everyday life, it’s much easier for it’s main utility to be as a political sledgehammer. The average Republican has no intention of looking through data to make an informed decision on global warming. But it can be used as a rallying point to dismiss big government democrats and their regulations as nanny statists and out of touch elitists. Most democrats have no intention of doing a cost benefit analysis on new gas pipelines, but they can conjure up images of greedy Republican capitalists ignoring environmental consequences for the almighty dollar. I would actually guess that most articles on science are about scoring political points. I’m not sure that science education, at least up to the undergraduate level, really solves this situation either. I fear that’ll just mean that students will just have more effective knowledge by which to score political points.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #20, i checked your old comments. i didn’t read the comment that you think i was alluding to in the post. rather, i was talking about another commenter. i had assumed you were her, and just switched handle, since you seem to think that i was responding to you in some way

  • BDoyle

    (Calling from Texas) I would have called myself politically conservative until maybe 10 years ago or so. Around then, I realized that I was the only person at the precinct convention who understood that the Earth was more than 10,000 years old. This was becoming a point of political ideology, along with ejecting immigrants, sending abortionists to Hell, and getting people to pray in school. I dug in my heels and just said to myself “I can’t do this any more.” So now, I do not have a political party.

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Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

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 http://www.razib.com

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