Over the years, I’ve been codifying bits and pieces of (mostly liberal) human behavior into what I call “Berg’s Laws”.
I’m adding a new…well, not so much “law” as corollary to a law; an observation completely supported by the law.
The Law in question is Berg’s Fourteenth:
The more strenuously a media organization identifies itself as “fact-checkers”, the more completely their “fact checking” will actually be checking statement for congruency with liberal conventional wisdom.
I’m adding the brand-new but utterly-sensible Maddow Corollary:
The same goes for science
I did it after reading this Glenn Reynolds piece in the NYPost, pointing out the facts behind the latest blitz of self-congratulatory articles by liberals lauding themselves for their greater supposed belief in science than conservatives.
These articles always trip the BS detector, naturally; they’re like the articles pointing out the”science” showing that liberals having higher IQ, or are less racist, or other such fripperies; bad science to reinforce a bad and – more importantly – meaningless conclusion.
Of course, as Reynolds points out, the whole tendency goes a solid level of illogic deeper. He starts by noting that in 1974, a University of North Carolina sociologist Gordon Gauchat noted that in 1974, conservatives had a demonstrably higher likelihood to trust science than liberals. I’m going to add some emphasis:
Gauchat points out, correctly, that you can’t lay the blame at the feet of biblical creationists and anti-evolutionists, who were no less common in 1974. Nor is sheer ignorance responsible, as the decline in trust rose with education.
So wait – the more educated a conservative, the less likely he or she is to trust science?
Why, that suggest that this lack of trust isn’t just love of snake-handling, doesn’t it?
Why yes. It does:
Instead, he suggests that it’s the increasing use of science as ammunition for big-government schemes that has led to more skepticism.
There’s probably something to that, but if you read the actual paper something else becomes clear. Despite the language in the coverage, it’s not science as a method that people are losing confidence in; it’s scientists and the institutions that purport to speak for them.
Reynolds does what everyone needs to do when they analyze polling information; looks at the original questions.
Gauchat’s paper was based on annual responses in the General Social Survey, which asks people: “I am going to name some institutions in this country. As far as the people running these institutions are concerned, would you say you have a great deal of confidence, only some confidence, or hardly any confidence at all in them?” One institution mentioned was “the scientific community.”
So when fewer people answered “a great deal” and more answered “hardly any” with regard to “the scientific community,” they were demonstrating more skepticism not toward science but toward the people running scientific institutions.
With this in mind, a rise in skepticism isn’t such a surprise.
Of course, people today have less faith in general in “institutions” than they used to. Journalism, the police, the courts, the government, all are less trusted than they used to be.
So has…not “science”, as in the “scientific method”, but the institutions that run it, and especially the ones that use it toward their political ends.
“Science” – in the form of institutions – earned that distrust. And that’s a good thing – because the root of science is skepticism.
And the push to jam down the beliefs of institutions, simply because they’re institutions, is unskeptical and, beyond that, illogical. It is in fact a logical fallacy, the “appeal to authority“, which is also unskeptical and unscientific:
We accept arguments not because they come from people in authority but because they can be proven correct — in independent experiments by independent experimenters. If you make a claim that can’t be proven false in an independent experiment, you’re not really making a scientific claim at all.
And saying, “trust us,” while denouncing skeptics as — horror of horrors — “skeptics” doesn’t count as science, either, even if it comes from someone with a doctorate and a lab coat.
After a century of destructive and false scientific fads — ranging from eugenics to Paul Ehrlich’s “population bomb” scaremongering, among many others — the American public could probably do with more skepticism, not less.
Conservatives aren’t less scientific. After a few years of “debating” liberals, it’s painfully clear we’re more logical.
We’re just less likely to trust someone with a PhD and a lab coat who’s come for our freedom, simply because he has a PhD and a lab coat.