Thanks to the March for Science, another scientist has come out to insist that science is political. This time it’s PZ Myers, the scientist known for his anti-religious bigotry and extreme leftist politics. On March 2, 2017, Myers wrote a blog entry entitled “Where does this weird idea come from?”
I’m curious, though, where this odd notion that scientists are or should be apolitical comes from, though, because it’s never been true. Never. Not once in the history of science. When scientists have socially relevant information in their field of expertise, they tend to speak out — even when they’re wrong.
Interesting. Yet even when they are wrong, we can bet the scientist activists were propping up their political posturing as if they were representing science. Even when they’re wrong.
How do you think eugenics became so popular? It wasn’t because geneticists at Cold Spring Harbor were reluctant to advise the public.
Yes, a nice example of scientists using science to support an effort to implement social and cultural changes is eugenics.
I’d have to say that it’s a nearly universal property of scientists that they are political because they are human.
Let that sink in.
it’s a nearly universal property of scientists that they are political
If scientists are political, and climate scientists are scientists, that would mean climate scientists are political. Once again, members of the scientific community are effectively confirming the primary criticism of climate change skeptics.
The only time it hurts their credibility is when they use their authority to promote lies.
Ah, but what about the credibility of science? Look, I doubt very few scientists go out and actually lie about data to support their political agenda. But so what? Such extreme behavior is not needed to erode credibility. All you have to do is be a True Believer in your Cause. From there, confirmation bias and group think can take over. And a good scientist can make his confirmation bias look very sciencey. But when outsiders figure out that science is being cited by scientists with an agenda guided by confirmation bias, the credibility of science will be damaged. No one ever had to consciously lie.
Way back when I was a grad student, I worked with George Streisinger, the man who put zebrafish on the map. He was also Jewish, born in Hungary, and when he was a child, his family emigrated to the US to escape Nazi persecution. Do you think he was apolitical? He organized to oppose the Vietnam war. He shut down efforts to create a unit for war research on the University of Oregon campus.
Lookie there. A politically motivated scientist shut down research. This nicely supports one of the messages of the March for Science – the science that gets done is guided by politics. This would mean that science is not showing us The Truth. It’s only showing a part of the Truth – the part that happens to serve the political biases of the researchers. Chew on that one.
One time, I was in his office to talk about some routine lab issues, and we somehow got off on a tangent about dose-response curves to toxins and radiation, and we spent an hour talking about testimony he was going to give in a court case for the Downwinders. He was passionate and fierce, and a model for me for how a scientist ought to be.
Passionate and fierce sounds like the perfect complement to confirmation bias and arrogance. For nothing stirs the intellect of a passionate and fierce advocate like the challenge of using confirmation bias to make sense of reality.
So when people beat their breasts about whether scientists are too political, I feel like I’m listening to aliens from another culture, another world, one that I have never visited. It’s very strange.
I bet. Perhaps the problem is that the average person does not come close to realizing just how deeply political PZ Myers’ culture has always been.
In the future, we should explore these new claims and flesh out their implications. In the meantime, the March for Science buzz is churning out too much data to collect and archive.