Democrats tend to fondly think of themselves as being members of “the party of science.” As evidence that the Republicans are “anti-science” they point to Republican skepticism about man-made climate change and the efforts by some local bible-believing conservatives to have creationism taught in public school biology classes. But as I have reported, there is plenty of anti-science to go around, especially if science is seen as telling partisans something that they don’t want to believe. Unfortunately when science intersects with public policy, it is all too often confirmation bias all the way down.
Over at the City Journal, John Tierney, a contributing science columnist for the New York Times, has written a terrific article, “The Real War on Science,” which he makes the case that “the Left has done far more than the Right to set back progress.” Tierney correctly observes lots of leftwing partisans forget that science is applied skepticism and instead treat “science” as a collection of dogmas. What dogmas? “The Left’s zeal to find new reasons to regulate has led to pseudoscientific scaremongering about “Frankenfoods,” transfats, BPA in plastic, mobile phones, electronic cigarettes, power lines, fracking, and nuclear energy,” summarizes Tierney. And let’s not forget Rachel Carson’s thoroughly debunked claim that exposure to trace amounts of synthetic chemicals is a major cause of cancer or the assertion the current average consumption of salt is a major cause of cardiovascular disease. Tierney is correct when he writes:
[T]he fundamental problem with the Left is what Friedrich Hayek called the fatal conceit: the delusion that experts are wise enough to redesign society. Conservatives distrust central planners, preferring to rely on traditional institutions that protect individuals’ “natural rights” against the power of the state. Leftists have much more confidence in experts and the state. Engels argued for “scientific socialism,” a redesign of society supposedly based on the scientific method. Communist intellectuals planned to mold the New Soviet Man. Progressives yearned for a society guided by impartial agencies unconstrained by old-fashioned politics and religion. Herbert Croly, founder of the New Republicand a leading light of progressivism, predicted that a “better future would derive from the beneficent activities of expert social engineers who would bring to the service of social ideals all the technical resources which research could discover.”
This was all very flattering to scientists, one reason that so many of them leaned left. The Right cited scientific work when useful, but it didn’t enlist science to remake society—it still preferred guidance from traditional moralists and clerics. The Left saw scientists as the new high priests, offering them prestige, money, and power. The power too often corrupted. Over and over, scientists yielded to the temptation to exaggerate their expertise and moral authority, sometimes for horrendous purposes.
Among the horrendous purposes cited by Tierney was the widespread support by leftists of eugenics in the first half of the 20th century. Tierney also describes how the social sciences have evolved into a Leftwing intellectual monoculture that deleteriously and comprehensively distorts the findings of social psychology, political science, anthropology, and sociology. For example, he notes that leftwingers think that genetic causes are just fine when it comes to explaining homosexuality, but totally taboo when differences between the sexes are discussed.