A collection of essays by Bill (website@ccjj.info) accompanied by feedback from his friends.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ideology and Science

Ideology and Science Don't Mix

In some Scientific American articles I've read over the years, I felt there was considerable liberal bias, but they published a particularly offensive article this month: In Defense of Wishful Thinking, where the writer admits that he lets his liberal ideological bias influence his scientific thinking, and he makes no apologies for it.

It's disgraceful that anyone saying such a thing should be allowed to publish in such a prestigious science magazine. I see any ideological bias in science as a very bad thing.

Ideological Bias in Global Warming Science

I have observed that many Libertarians are global warming skeptics, and I have heard liberals speculate about why this is. Some speculate that they have been bought off by the oil companies, and in fact I have heard my Republican brother say that he feels that most of the resistance from the American political right is due to the influence of the fossil fuels lobby.

I think the fossil fuels lobby is obviously doing its level best to oppose any action to fight global warming, but an important point is that Libertarians don't have to be bought. Their ideology, and their political faith, leads them to believe that anthropogenic global warming theory cannot be scientifically true.

Libertarian ideology holds that most of what our government does is unnecessary, that the level of taxation we suffer from is orders of magnitude more than necessary or desirable, but further, taxation and regulation are not only harmful and unnecessary, but morally wrong.

When posed with the question "What if severe taxation or government regulation really were, in some instance, necessary?", a Libertarian will answer "That is never the case.". And, when the questioner starts airing scenarios, the Libertarian will come up with explanations, in each case, how either A: "That would never happen." or B: "The situation could be dealt with without regulation.".

As I am not an extreme Libertarian, I see a lot of these explanations as rationalizations, and a lot of the Libertarian world is an industry for manufacturing such rationalizations.

But behind the rationalizations is a faith, a desire to believe certain things, a desire to reach certain conclusions. If someone gets swept up in the Libertarian movement, they eventually convince themselves that the principle that massive regulation is never a good thing is one of the central characteristics of the world, like the conservation of energy. They get an almost theistic belief that it is a fundamental quality that a creator endowed the universe with.

If global warming is really a threat, it is virtually impossible to think of a realistic solution to it that can be achieved without massive government intervention. Given the fervent faith of a hard core Libertarian, it just seems impossible to them that the creator would put us in such a situation. It's as unthinkable as agreeing we should eat our young. Given that the science is hard to follow and most of the scientists involved are liberals who tend to feel that regulation is a good thing in and of itself, it is easy for Libertarians to mistrust the scientists and reject the science.

It is a very bad thing when faith gets in the way of science.

Now, my liberal friends (which means nearly all of my friends) will think this is an illustration of why Libertarians are bad, and the moral of this story is we should not listen to Libertarians, but that is not my point. My point is that it is bad when people let their ideology blind them to the facts.

A Scenario Where Liberal Bias Could Be Harmful

Let's create a hypothetical situation where liberal faith might get in the way.

Scientists could do tests on people, like putting them in a MRI scanner and watching their brains while they see videos of suffering, and see how much they are repulsed or turned on, to determine whether they were empathetic, sadistic, or indifferent. And suppose, with such tests on people of all ages from babies to adults, scientists determined that a dominant gene, HYNC3, caused people to be severely sadistic. Only a small proportion of the American population carried it, but it was very common in the prison population.
While very few Americans carried HYNC3, a very poor country on our border, Pralaxia, had a population twice as large as that of the US where 75% of the population carried it. Pralaxia was in a shambles, a horrid, brutal society, and many people there were illegally immigrating to the US.
Conservatives would look at this state of affairs and say that we should go to great lengths to stop illegal immigration from Pralaxia. How would you expect liberals to respond?

I think liberals would deny the science, claiming that the MRI scans were not as meaningful as the scientists claimed them to be, that correlation does not establish causality, they would go on and on. Why would they manufacture all these objections? Because the whole state of affairs would violate several articles of liberal faith:
  • Genes are not a very important factor in determining human behavior.
  • Ethnic discrimination is always morally wrong. Nothing good ever comes of it. It is never justified.
  • We are a "Nation of Immigrants". It is always wrong for anyone descended from immigrants to say we should bar any other immigrant.
  • There is no such thing as a bad social / ethnic group, other than perhaps white American males.
Given that Pralaxia was much larger than the US, a failure to stop the immigration would quickly put us into a situation where 40% of our population was severely sadistic and probably reduce us to the same sorry state as Pralaxia. We are talking about the total destruction of our country. I think liberals would still deny the science, and resist measures to stem the tide every inch of the way.

Idealistic people are often likable and inspiring. But ideology should be extremely suspect among scientists.

What About a Real Situation????

A liberal might say "Well, that's just a hypothetical, fictitious situation. There are no real situations where liberal bias is causing harmful policy.".

I chose to give a hypothetical situation because I feel the liberal world, like the Libertarian world, is an industry of self-justifying rationalizations, and if I were to talk about any real liberal policy that I see as harmful, it would be ardently defended by liberals who have long ago generated rationalizations for it.


  1. Bill, nice post.

    I think you oversimplify the liberal view of racial profiling.

    While there might be some evidence of certain groups having a connection with some undesirable behaviour and by excluding members of that group might be a way to avoid that trait, the downside - of excluding a perfectly innocent person just because of the group they are in is worse.

    It's the old "better to have 100 guilty people run free than to put 1 innocent person in jail" philosophy.

  2. Hi Peter,

    I don't think "innocent until proven guilty" applies to immigration.

    Suppose someone knocks on your door, and he says he will pay you $500 a month to be able to live on your living room couch. You have no proof that he is a bad or immoral person. Are you morally compelled to take him in?

    No. It's your house. He has no right to live in it if you don't want him there. You have the right to refuse him for any reason or for no reason.

    That's how immigration is. Under international law, an would-be immigrant has no rights.

    -- Bill

  3. On Scientific Proof

    Some say that there is no scientific proof of links between global warming and specific regional effects. Not too many years ago tobacco industry officials were saying that there was no scientific proof of links between cigarettes and lung cancer or heart disease. The lead industry has claimed that there was no scientific proof that environmental lead was causing neurological damage. And, some AIDS activists and heads of some governments argued that there was no scientific proof that HIV is the cause of AIDS. They are all correct.

    Here are a few other concepts for which there is no scientific proof:  relativity and the constancy of the speed of light in vacuum, the germ "theory" of disease, evolution, Kepler’s laws of planetary motion. Indeed very little, if any, of science rests on proof. What supports science is evidence.

    Mathematics is based on proof. Given a set of assumptions (axioms) the resulting consequences must be discovered and proved. The assumptions may, or may not, be related to observation. But, once a proof is accepted and verified, there is no reason to challenge it.

    By contrast, the conclusions of science are based on observations and are usually challenged. Science is like a great set of unending trials in which new evidence is frequently introduced, examined and tested, accepted or rejected, and the verdict adjusted if necessary. Science refreshes itself as it advances.

    Though it is inappropriate to require “proof” in science, "no scientific proof" does mean something. As used today it means "don’t believe the evidence".

    This article will appear in my forthcoming book, working title: "Unexamined Belief, Tyranny of the Fanatical and other CONTRIBUTIONS to the Ocean of Confusion"