Free Markets, Free People

Why "science" has a problem

It’s a fairly obvious reason that Kenneth P. Green and Hiwa Alaghebandian, writing in the Journal of the American Enterprise Institute, point to as the problem – in some areas, science and scientists have gone from being neutral observers of facts and purveyors of information developed through the scientific method to attempting to assume an authoritarian and activist role in our lives. Not all of science, obviously, but certainly a visible and loud minority. And that causes problems for all of science:

In the past, scientists were generally neutral on questions of what to do. Instead, they just told people what they found, such as “we have discovered that smoking vastly increases your risk of lung cancer” or “we have discovered that some people will have adverse health effects from consuming high levels of salt.” Or “we have found that obesity increases your risk of coronary heart disease.” Those were simply neutral observations that people could find empowering, useful, interesting, etc., but did not place demands on them. In fact, this kind of objectivity was the entire basis for trusting scientific claims.

But along the way, an assortment of publicity-seeking, and often socially activist, scientists stopped saying, “Here are our findings. Read it and believe.” Instead, activist scientists such as NASA’s James Hansen, heads of quasi-scientific governmental organizations such as the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, editors of major scientific journals, and heads of the various national scientific academies are more inclined to say, “Here are our findings, and those findings say that you must change your life in this way, that way, or the other way.”

The two authors took a look at phrases scientists have been quoted as using over the years in statements they’ve released or how the media has interpreted them.  And make no mistake – in many cases the media aided and abetted these activist scientists.

So here’s what they found:

[A]round the end of the 1980s, science (at least science reporting) took on a distinctly authoritarian tone. Whether because of funding availability or a desire by some senior academics for greater relevance, or just the spread of activism through the university, scientists stopped speaking objectively and started telling people what to do. And people don’t take well to that, particularly when they’re unable to evaluate the information that supposedly requires them to give up their SUV, their celebratory cigar, or their chicken nuggets.

In essence we had the confluence of “save the world” journalism meeting activist “save the world” scientists and the result was more agenda driven partisanship (and partnership) than objectivity.  Some scientists felt compelled to save us from ourselves and many journalists shared that desire.  The most obvious result of that has been the sham science of “global warming”.

The authors conclude by pointing out how science has, in some cases, become the “regulatory state’s” lap dog and what it has to do to redeem itself:

If science wants to redeem itself and regain its place with the public’s affection, scientists need to come out every time some politician says, “The science says we must…” and reply, “Science only tells us what is. It does not, and can never tell us what we should or must do.” If they say that often enough, and loudly enough, they might be able to reclaim the mantle of objectivity that they’ve given up over the last 40 years by letting themselves become the regulatory state’s ultimate appeal to authority.

They’re absolutely right – and, every time we see an activist scientist getting into the “what we must or should do” nonsense, we need to call him or her on it.  And we need to continue to be highly skeptical of the state’s appeal to science as the final authority when doing so is decidedly in the state’s favor.

~McQ

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28 Responses to Why "science" has a problem

  • But the meme of the Collective is rule by the technocrates…or the Brights, as I think some “conservative” who writes for the NYT called them.
    Some decades ago, I realized you can agendize anything from listening to a PBS feature that had a Collectivist engineer telling us about invention and innovation.
    Most people in science are mere technicians…not true scientists as we used to think of them.  Many of them are the typical arrogant Collectivist bastards who think they have some right to rule others, and the brains to do it.  Neither is true.

  • Scientist, especially at Universities live and die by securing grants.  Governments give grants according to Politics and pay for what they like to hear. 

    Its no coincidence the change occurred by the late 80′s.  It was Margaret Thatcher who birthed Global Warming to give her leverage against the Coal Miner’s union in the UK.  The socialist in environmentalist’s clothing of course realized how much leverage over everything this could give them. 

    • Margaret Thatcher begot Global Warming to give her leverage against the Coal Miner’s union in the UK, which begot “Billy Elliot.”

    • I was not aware of the Thatcher nexus. I somehow suspect we would be facing AGW fanatics Thatcher or no Thatcher, but I would like to know more about this.

      • Apparently, this came from “The Great Global Warming Swindle” (original working title was “Apocalypse my arse”) from British Channel 4.

      • —Engineering and scientific advance have given us transport by land and air, the capacity and need to exploit fossil fuels which had lain unused for millions of years. One result is a vast increase in carbon dioxide. And this has happened just when great tracts of forests which help to absorb it have been cut down.
        For generations, we have assumed that the efforts of mankind would leave the fundamental equilibrium of the world’s systems and atmosphere stable. But it is possible that with all these enormous changes (population, agricultural, use of fossil fuels) concentrated into such a short period of time, we have unwittingly begun a massive experiment with the system of this planet itself.
        Recently three changes in atmospheric chemistry have become familiar subjects of concern. The first is the increase in the greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide, methane, and chlorofluorocarbons—which has led some[fo 4] to fear that we are creating a global heat trap which could lead to climatic instability. We are told that a warming effect of 1°C per decade would greatly exceed the capacity of our natural habitat to cope. Such warming could cause accelerated melting of glacial ice and a consequent increase in the sea level of several feet over the next century. This was brought home to me at the Commonwealth Conference in Vancouver last year when the President of the Maldive Islands reminded us that the highest part of the Maldives is only six feet above sea level. The population is 177,000. It is noteworthy that the five warmest years in a century of records have all been in the 1980s—though we may not have seen much evidence in Britain!
        1988 Sep 27 Tu, Speech to the Royal Society

  • Science is yet another example of the problems that arise when government funds an area.  As the federal government’s tentacles reach into more and more areas of our lives, be it health care or energy or education, we can expect to see more and more loss of objectivity and greater politicization.   Unfortunately in public discourse the ruling class has planted the meme that they are science-based, and their control of much of science through government funding and through their heavy influence on education facilitates the creation of science which appears to support whatever position it is that the ruoing class desires.  Global warming becomes “scientific truth”, while HBD becomes anathema. 

  • Okay, so, this is one scientific study that will be ignored, right?

  • In essence we had the confluence of “save the world” journalism meeting activist “save the world” scientists and the result was more agenda driven partisanship (and partnership) than objectivity. 

    Saving the world…saving the world, this is truly the domain of religion. It has been my experience that the zealous scientists I know freely admit that science is their religion. They make no bones about it. The zealous non-scientist, evolutionists and environmentalists are the same but don’t won’t to succumb to the realization that they are in the congregation and believers of the doctrine of the religious scientists. If the Socialists/Communists could be forced to honestly relate their obvious commitment to their Marxist religion and acknowledge their propensity in making sure their blessings continue to flow to their scientists, media, and their educational system. It might instill a greater sense of urgency, in those of us whose primary concerns are that of Liberty, to put a stop on those who would enslave us; because enslaving or doing away with those who love freedom is a necessary, inconvenient truth, to fulfilling their plan of salvation as they pursue their divine mission of saving the world.

    • Brown:
      July 28, 2010 at 07:52
      “It has been my experience that the zealous scientists I know freely admit that science is their religion”
      What is your profession that you know these “zealous scientists”?  Or are you simply trying out for the new Ace Ventura movie by talking out of your a s s?
      “The zealous non-scientist, evolutionists and environmentalists are the same”
      So people that believe in evolution as opposed to creation are all rabid environmentalists who gather in a building on a specified day of the week to pray to the invisible Earth Mother?  And they are all communists and marxists who want to steal our liberty and enslave us???!!!
      Does that mean if’n I find Jesus I can be a real patriot like you?
       
      Brian

      • “So people that believe in evolution as opposed to creation are all rabid environmentalists who gather in a building on a specified day of the week to pray to the invisible Earth Mother?  And they are all communists and marxists who want to steal our liberty and enslave us”

        No Brian, just the zealous ones.

        “Does that mean if’n I find Jesus I can be a real patriot like you?”

        Can’t help you there pal, that would be between you and Jesus.

        Read much?

        • Brown:
          July 28, 2010 at 18:39
          “No Brian, just the zealous ones.”   – I guess that would depend on your interpretation of zealous.

          “Read much?”  – Quite a bit thank you.

          • “No Brian, just the zealous ones.”   – I guess that would depend on your interpretation of zealous.”

            My interpretation would be anyone who wants to advance their beliefs through the arm of government as a means to deny my Liberty. In other words, enslavement.

            Btw Brian, you said this:

             ” So people that believe in evolution as opposed to creation are all rabid environmentalists who gather in a building on a specified day of the week to pray to the invisible Earth Mother?  And they are all communists and marxists who want to steal our liberty and enslave us”

            I didn’t say any of that, Brian, does that make you a liar? I had just written it off as missed comprehension by someone who doesn’t read much, guess I was wrong.

      • Ah, got a problem with religion do you?  Skip that.  Already answered anyway.
         
        Let’s move on to the next obvious question -
        If we go on the premise that everyone we meet here is a liar, why should we bother with YOUR post?
         
        Just askin.  I was issued one of those irreligious scientific inquiring kinds of minds.

        • looker:
          July 29, 2010 at 08:48
          “Let’s move on to the next obvious question -
          If we go on the premise that everyone we meet here is a liar, why should we bother with YOUR post?”  – If this was directed towards me, please point me in the direction to my post presupposing everyone here is a liar.  Thought not. 

          “Just askin.  I was issued one of those irreligious scientific inquiring kinds of minds.” – No.  You were just being a presumptive ass.

          Brian

  • Two key areas of scientific malpractice are the environment and diet.

    The environmental malpractice is evidence in things like fake endangered species/deforistation claims, global warming, etc.

    Bad diet advice also has a long history. The cancer scares, the anti-fat crusades, the anti salt crusade, the anti egg crusade, etc. Medical researches are often weak on science and statistics, confuse correlation and causation, and think they know best even when they are wrong. One almost understandable example is the reluctance in the medical community to acknowledge the benifits of alcohol, because they think (probably correctly in some cases) that it will become an excuse for abuse.

  • Does this apply to economics?

    • Of course it does. People like Krugman are just social scientists who have also willingly perverted and prostituted their own brand of science to try and gain more control over others.

      All of human history can be seen as a colossal struggle of the individual, family and small community on the one side, and the rulers, elites, and orthodoxy on the other side.

      Some people (actually a lot of people) think they know best how to run our lives and they are drunk with the power. Scientists are no more immune to this than lawyers, sociologists, politicians, and the modern technocratic theologists.

      • I am thinking of the free market economists who have ideas for how to run things as well…

        • A key difference is that the free market economists think we should have more freedom. They are not pushing for control.

          Further, free market economists don’t produce ideas that are useful to statists. That’s why Keynes is still the economist of choice among statists, at least those that moved on from Marx.
          There is the seperate question that goes “which economists are right”, but the dynamic is that the followers of marx and Keynes are the ones who push for government intervention, and they are the ones who produce an intellectual argument of value to statist.

  • Saving the world is a waste of time and effort. The world will do just fine on its own. It’s been around for about 4 billion years and it will continue to do so for another 5 billion years until the Sun goes red giant. Thousands of years after humans are long gone, either extinct or moved to other planets, the Earth will erase all evidence that we were here. And in geological time, one million years is nothing. So don’t make mess for humanity’s sake but don’t elevate it to the level of “saving the world”.

  • “The most obvious result of that has been the sham science of “global warming”.”

    Complete BS. 

    The solution to climate change is smaller government, decreased public debt, greater market efficiency & global free trade.   

    The solution to climate change is not statist.  The solution to climate change is anathema to world government. 

    “And we need to continue to be highly skeptical of the state’s appeal to science as the final authority when doing so is decidedly in the state’s favor.”

    But the science is not “decidedly in the state’s favor”.  The only reason it seems that way is due to a collective fumble by the right.  On this blog the solution to damn near everything has always been small government, less borrowing and free trade - except on climate change it isn’t.  On climate change the “solution” is to belittle scientists, infer grand conspiracies and behave like a bunch of troofers questioning the melting point of steel rods. 

    Try these other examples:
    - there is high unemployment and the statists propose a large run public works program fuelled by debt and higher taxes.  QandO applies the “climate” response to say there is no high unemployment and anyone who says there is is a lying greedy statist. 
    - some poeple have died after being shot by criminals and the statists propose a total ban on all guns.  QandO applies the “climate” response to suggest that the state had killed these people to justify its own actions.  

    In each of those examples there is a better small government response than performing cranial/anal inversion and pretending the problem away.  Climate change is no different, its existance does not justify greater state intervention. 

  • What you describe is not “science”, but rather “scientism”, which is in effect a political religion.