‘Science,’ the left, and hypocrisy

Leonardo da Vinci, master of science and art
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The left loves to use science as a by-word for enlightened policy—but always applies a double standard to that word and concept.

What does science mean?

Leonardo da Vinci, master of science and art

Leonardo da Vinci. Portrait: self, in red chalk

Science literally means “knowledge.” Specifically, it means finding out about how the world, and living things, and human beings, work. It also means what we know about these things, from our efforts to find them out.

Many philosophers, and those who do science for a living, insist that science is “value-free.” That is, what you find out about the world works, and how you look at it, shouldn’t depend on your “values.” The usual values that they mean are ethical, cultural, and political values.

The problem is: nothing is ever value-free. Science itself talks about values all the time. These are usually the values of measurements—like a temperature, a pressure, or the ratio of a radioactive element to whatever other element it changes into. Science should also depend on an over-arching value: truth. It should rely on a principle that even a famous atheist, Ayn Rand, upheld:

Reality is what it is, [and] we are what we are, independent of anyone’s beliefs, feelings, judgments or opinions. Existence exists. A is A.

How hypocrites distort science

Instead, science seems to depend on results. This does not limit itself to “the results that a scientist happens to get.” These are desired results—the results that, if valid, can make a political point.

Nathaniel Branden, author of the essay cited above, had the number of such “results-oriented scientists” (and politicians, too):

How low in their priorities is the issue of truth for most people when issues are involved about which they have strong feelings.

In other words, many scientists, and politicians, value their own programs, and whims, higher than the truth. So while pretending to value truth, they willfully distort it—both in scientific work and when they invoke “science” to score a point against a political opponent. Such behavior defines hypocrisy.

The prize example

David Harsanyi today talked about the prize example of such behavior. Last week, an obsessed-and-compelled woman and her nine-year-old son played political team tag with Governor Rick Perry (R-TX). During that rhetorical wrestling match, the woman urged her son,

Ask him why he doesn’t believe in science.

Yet at that same meeting, someone else asked Perry about “global warming.” In answer, he said that the science is not settled, and so spending billions of dollars as if the science were settled would create a bigger problem than it was supposed to solve.

Harsanyi’s point: the same political strategists behind both talking points (evolution and global warming) were trying to have it both ways. In short, if Perry had a faith-based position on a scientific controversy, then so do they. And more:

The progressives’ faith-based devotion to government is far more consequential than Perry’s faith-based position on evolution.

And why? Simple. Creation scientists never ask for government funding for their laboratories. They don’t even make policy recommendations. But global-warming alarmists would have the country “pour billions of dollars” into a policy that would probably not solve the problem—if the problem is real.

A broader problem

All this illustrates a much broader problem with science, one possibly as old as the discipline. Anyone who practices any discipline always follows the values of his patrons. And even a self-financing scientist will serve his own values.

And sometimes even scientists value their own political wishes and desires more than the truth. Those wishes include rebellion against God, control over their fellow-men’s lives, or both. And here is the point that even Harsanyi missed: evolution advocates have faith-based values, too. (Or maybe “anti-faith-based values” would be a more apt phrase.) They have faith that life somehow sprang up by accident, though the odds against that demand that they recognize that it was no accident. (In statistics, the command is: reject the null hypothesis when the odds against it are too long.) But they also have faith that this earth, which they think has maintained itself for four and a half billion years, will turn into a universal desert if they allow their fellow men to run loose.

As usual, the left tries to have it both ways. Real science would decide between one and the other. That will happen only when science breaks away from politics completely. That means no government laboratories, no government schools, and no government research grants.

Related:

Rick Perry evolution question