Conservatives and Science

By Logan Albright

A recent study in the American Sociological Review has found that politically conservative Americans are more distrustful of the scientific community than in the past. This relatively straightforward conclusion has is not in itself insulting, and the authors deserve credit for adopting a politically neutral tone, but misinterpretation of the study is providing fuel for the ceaseless grade-school taunting so popular among the American left.

It is true that conservatives as a whole tend to be distrustful of the scientific community, and why shouldn’t they be? Science has become relentlessly partisan and politicized in recent years, and a rash of incidents such as the Climate Gate scandal has made it clear that scientific neutrality, just like journalistic neutrality before it, is on its way to becoming the exception rather than the rule.

Part of this skepticism is due the conservative recognition that people respond to incentives, and with the majority of scientific grants coming from a federal government with a distinct political viewpoint, it is not surprising to see scientists toeing the party line rather than see their funding cut. If this sounds like a cynical worldview, it is only because observation has made any other interpretation difficult to swallow.

Liberals love these sorts of stories, because they provides them with an opportunity to assert their intellectual superiority by claiming that their opponents “don’t believe in science” or “distrust the scientific method.” While the alteration in wording between these claims and the study’s actual findings may be subtle, the distinction in conclusions is drastic and cannot be allowed to go unchallenged.

Conservatives are not “anti-science.” Science is merely a systematic way of making deductions based on evidence, and a disagreement with certain conclusions does not imply opposition to the entire field. It would make as much sense to accuse someone of being “anti-psychology” for disagreeing with Freud or “anti-reading” for not liking Atlas Shrugged.

The scientific method is merely a statement of a hypothesis confirmed by empirical tests. No conservative could possibly object to this practice. Contrary to popular belief, they are not slaves to barbarous superstitions and do not wish a return the dark ages of unenlightened thought. Any criticisms of popular science are leveled against the methodologies employed and interpretation of results, not the basic principles of scientific inquiry.

When conservatives state that they do not trust the scientific community, they are expressing doubt about the current state of research methodology and the pervasive presence of political agendas in many of the most important studies. Cherry picking, data massaging and sometimes outright fraud have become sadly common among even the most respected of research institutions. Studies of questionable merit are frequently cited as fact and those who do not immediately and unquestioningly accept their conclusions are derided as cavemen incapable of rational thought.

The straw man caricatures carefully constructed by liberals to represent their ideological opponents have unfortunately permeated popular culture with the result that moderates and independents often have a distorted view as to the nature of real conservatism. Somehow, the political left have obtained a mastery of propaganda such that any assertion they make is immediately accepted and propagated by the media, regardless of substantiating evidence. This is why much of the public now assumes that the Tea Party are little more than racist rednecks, despite an absolute dearth of anything remotely resembling racist sentiment coming from their ranks.

This is the opposite of science. Logical fallacies such as the appeal to authority, appeal to the majority, argument from repetition, ad hominem attacks and of course the aforementioned straw man are the favorite tools of supposedly enlightened Democrats. The eagerness to shut down debate and declare issues closed while mischaracterizing the other side as ignorant and heretical does not resemble the great scientific minds of Socrates and Galileo so much as it does their now infamous persecutors.

The true scientific method is to allow ideas to stand on their own merits. To resort to name calling in place of reasoned debate is nothing more than the admission of a weak argument.