Anyone who thinks the conservatives are a greater threat to scientific progress than progressives should read this
by Ryan Streeter on November 26, 2016. Follow Ryan on Twitter.
John Tierney’s essay in City Journal is excellent. Whatever one thinks of conservatives’ views on science, he writes, one thing that’s clear is the Right hasn’t had much influence on science. How much have creationists really changed the study of evolution, or how much did a ban on stem cell research make a difference in the field? Not much.
The bigger problem, Tierney writes, lies in two failings on the Left, which does in fact control scientific debate: confirmation bias in research and mixing politics and science.
On the first point, for example:
In a classic study of peer review, 75 psychologists were asked to referee a paper about the mental health of left-wing student activists. Some referees saw a version of the paper showing that the student activists’ mental health was above normal; others saw different data, showing it to be below normal. Sure enough, the more liberal referees were more likely to recommend publishing the paper favorable to the left-wing activists. When the conclusion went the other way, they quickly found problems with its methodology.
That’s a prelude to a number of studies and examples Tierney cites in which confirmation bias has inhibited progress.
On the second, the Left saw early in the 2oth century that science could be enlisted to promote social goals that were not themselves necessarily grounded in science. This compromised good science:
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.
Political rewards do in fact affect how scientists see the world and what they are willing to conclude. Which reinforces the first problem.
Read the whole thing. It’s filled with a number of great examples of the thesis.