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Thursday, April 05, 2012

Institutions of Science

The war on conservatives by (many) scientists continues. Both Instapundit and Roger Pielke Jr. pointed to a study by the American Sociological Review (study behind a paywall so I shan't even link to it) that concludes "that conservatives in the United States have become increasingly distrustful of science" and that "[c]onservatives distrust is attributable to [their] political philosophy and intellectual culture."

Since the paper itself is behind a paywall, I haven't read it. But from Pielke's characterization, it seems to me that the paper is using three things interchangeably that are, in my mind, radically different with minimal overlap: "Institutions of Science"; scientists; and science.

"Institutions of Science" which act as institutions at all seem to be mostly congregations of leftish democrats pursuing policy objectives who, oh-by-the-way, just happen to be scientists. Obviously, a conservative would have no reason to "trust" such an entity, while of course a democrat would.

Scientists are just humans. Some of them trustworthy, some not so much, but as far as I can tell they're no more (or less) trustworthy than anybody else. Per Sowell's "Conflict of Visions", conservatives are less trusting than average (rightfully so!) so of course they will less trust the average human, including the average scientist.

Lastly, there's "science", and that term means a lot of different things to a lot of people. As far as the body of theories, hypothesis, conjectures, methods, models, etc. and the associated evidence supporting them (or not), trust isn't the right concept. Interpretation as to relevance in the real world is required and two people, with different subjective viewpoints can rationally come up with radically different conclusions about what that knowledge means when applied to real-life circumstances.

On the other hand, using science as a basis for an already large government to continue expanding without discernible bounds in order to pursue policies that are supposedly good for us, especially when the basis is one of the "almost" sciences like sociology or economics, is obviously not going to be "trusted" by those whose subjective preference is for limited government.

So without having a precise definition of what the paper means by "science", I can't really know whether the conclusions contain any useful information.

I suspect not.


jeff shattuck said...

I think the questions you raise are valid, but I would just set science aside and say that the conservatives are promoting religion and that bums me out. I'm a registered Republican, but listening to Santorum and the rest all try to out Jesus each other nauseates -- and bores -- me. Of course, the Democrats aren't fly-free, either. They, too, kowtow to God (whatever God means). It's sad. Here we are, a country founded in opposition of religious oppression trying to bring it back. By the way, for what it's worth, science is merely a method, nothing more ( I know you know this! ).

Anonymous said...

So just talking about religious beliefs is "religious oppression"? I am shocked that you think the secular case is so weak, its proponents so timid, that such a thing seems like oppression to them. A sad day indeed, sir.

Anonymous said...

By the way, Bret, I have seen other reports on this and the trust was of scientific institutions not science per se. I think it is quite rational for conservatives to have lost a lost of trust in the institutions of science over the last few decades. It's just another of the proglodytes eating our social capital to advance their policies, leaving a corrupted wasteland behind them.

Bret said...


Your comment reminded me of something I forgot to put in the post.

Science in its pure form "is merely a method" as you say, but in the real world it's often the basis for religious-like organization and behavior. For example, climate science and the associated concept of catastrophic global warming has all the trappings of a religion. The god is “Gaia”, the pope is Al Gore, the priests are (most) climate scientists, they know the Truth (with a capital “T”) with certainty, only the priests can know this revealed Truth directly, the masses must know the Truth through these priests and only these priests, the message is essentially “Repent or the end is nigh!”, Creationism is alive and well since “Gaia” is apparently supposed to have a specific CO2 level and associated climate, and skeptics and heretics are dealt with nastily.

While there's some chance that the Truth revealed by the church of global warming is correct to some degree, the general organization and attitudes are overly religious in nature for my taste, especially since this church dons the mantle of "science".

By the way, opposition of religious oppression is completely different than opposition to religion, but I'm sure you know that. I'm not sure Santorum (or anybody else) is trying to bring back religious oppression, but Santorum rubs me the wrong way too.

Bret said...


From what I've seen of Santorum (the vast majority of which has admittedly come through the distorting filter of the Main Stream Media), is that most or all of his behaviors, actions, and even thoughts are informed by religion and that's how it ought to be, not just for him, but for everybody else as well. So it's not just "talking about religious beliefs". Do I have this wrong? If not, how does Santorum's "narrative" help this country move forward given the wide range of attitudes in this country toward the role of religion?

Anonymous said...

"not just for him, but for everybody else as well"

That is what I don't see in Santorum.

He clearly wants to push policies based on his religion which everyone would have to obey, but that's the essence of the federal government and applies to anyone who wants to implement policies/laws at the federal level, even libertarians.

What I don't see is that being the least bit different from the Warmenists that Bret mentions.

I don't like Santorum, I think he's a statist in religious guise, but I don't like him for the statism, not the religion. People who freak out about Santorum while supporting the current Administration creating all the tools he needs to be oppressive are the ones who rub me the wrong way.

erp said...

Things like the above is why some of us trust nothing coming from the government and why IMO the religion of the left is far worse than any of the others I know about.

Hey Skipper said...

From what I've seen of Santorum (the vast majority of which has admittedly come through the distorting filter of the Main Stream Media), is that most or all of his behaviors, actions, and even thoughts are informed by religion and that's how it ought to be, not just for him, but for everybody else as well.

I agree with AOG. But to add on to what he says, that is The Narrative about Santorum. That doesn't make TN wrong as far as it goes, but the failure is where it doesn't go.

True, Santorum's views are religiously inspired. However, the problems he defines, and the policies to deal with them, are material. His concerns with birth control have at least some religious basis, but the consequences he identifies are out there for everyone to see.

The Narrative's failure is to either be completely ignorant of, or utterly disregard, how "religious" their own viewpoint is.


Science is both a process and a thing. Used properly, it explains the way to establish a viewpoint-neutral body of knowledge. That knowledge exists to the extent it is possible to assign a truth value to mutually exclusive statements within that body, and to the extent that knowledge allows for deductive consequences.

Climate "Science" fails on both counts. The parade of failures in its name is what has led non-Progressives to distrust the label "science".

It is also worth noting that CAGW is tailor made to the Progressive worldview. I'm sure that is just a coincidence.

Bret said...

Hey Skipper wrote: "His concerns with birth control have at least some religious basis, but the consequences he identifies are out there for everyone to see."

Which consequences are you referring to?

Hey Skipper said...

Abortions, for one.

Track the abortion rate since the advent of cheap, easily available birth control.

Or the divorce rate, for two.

And it is also possible to make the argument that separating sex from procreation has had the result of objectifying women -- turning them into self-propelled sex toys.

While it is impossible to decide between cause and post hoc here, I think there is some merit to the argument that the pill had some unfortunate knock-on effects.

Which is what Santorum was trying to say; couching it in religious language doesn't alter the material facts.

(Clearly, I happen to agree with Santorum to some extent, but I think the benefits of female autonomy outweigh the costs.)

erp said...

Unfortunately, abortion is being used instead of birth control.

Hey Skipper said...

But that's the problem: the pill was supposed to provide women autonomy from biology AND reduce abortions.

It accomplished the former, but certainly not the latter. Santorum put that conundrum in play, but the Democrats have an aversion to heresy on this subject that borders on the religious.

Somehow, they do not note the irony.

erp said...

I find it ironic that men, even those who care about women, don't get it. The reason that so many modern women support the left is that while apparently many don't want to be burdened by a particular husband who is willing and able to take care of them and their children, they DO want to be taken care of by Uncle Sam.

The NOW gang not withstanding, men and women are different even though there are some women who are as strong physically as most men and some men who are as strong mentally as most women. Neither sex is superior, we all have our own strengths and weaknessess.

The French had it right when they said: Viva la difference!

BTW I don't think of it as autonomy when women are encouraged to abort their babies for friviolous reasons like birth control and while I don't want abortion to be illegal, I do want it to be rare and for reasons associated with the physical health of the pregnant woman, not for reasons associated with leftwing poltics and the destruction of our society.

The women's movement made a huge mistake when they advocated no-fault divorce and single motherhood as the countless examples of fatherless chidren adrift in our society have proven without a doubt.

Now the nuclear family is not only becoming rarer, but as the example of a high school girl being coerced into changing her school art project to reflect alternate "life styles" graphically illustrated, a family with a mother, father and kids all living and working together is to be considered a distasteful anomaly.

Sorry for the diatribe. :-{