Streetwise Professor

November 1, 2014

When They Say Science! They Mean Politics.

Filed under: Climate Change,Politics — The Professor @ 4:46 pm

I avoid the immigration issue like the plague-or Ebola, to update the meme-because (a) I can’t say that I can bring any special knowledge to the subject, and (b) it’s one that inevitably generates more fury than thought, reaction rather than reflection. I make an exception now because of an article that speaks to the Science! debate.

Neil Munro in the Daily Caller has a long article that claims that the currently ongoing EV-D68 enterovirus epidemic was created by, or at least exacerbated by, the influx of children from Mexico and Central America this summer. The evidence is not definitive, but Munro presents enough to show at least that it’s a reasonable hypothesis. And what is science about? Testing hypotheses. And what should scientists do? Test hypotheses.

But if you read Munro’s piece, you will find a shocking lack of interest among scientists to test this particular hypothesis. Indeed, the scientists interviewed recoil in fear at the very thought. What’s more, he shows pretty convincingly that this unscientific lack of curiosity is due to the fact that this subject is politically radioactive, and if the hypothesis were not rejected, it would be very, very politically damaging to Señor Obama. So scientists, who exist in a state of abject dependency on Federal funding, would probably rather inject EV-D68 into their eyeballs with a square needle than investigate seriously such a politically explosive hypothesis.

The correlation between Science! and politics demonstrates that the invocation of Science! by politicians and the politically active is inherently untrustworthy. And of course, this is not limited to Ebola and EV-D68. Global warming or climate change or whatever the label de jour is a particularly prominent example.

I find it sickly ironic that the administration and its defenders invoke Science! as a magic incantation to ward off rational debate. The translation of Science!, when used by an administration hack or flack is “Shut up, you bloody peasant! Defer to your betters, regardless of how asinine they are. Do not question the Great and Powerful Oz.” It has come to the point that an invocation of Science! immediately discredits the sincerity of the invoker. It is especially ironic when the bearer of this message is a liberal arts or J-school grad (or both!) who probably exerted considerable effort to avoid taking a serious science class during their entire education.

Another institution corroded by the acid of politics, especially in recent years.  (Another is civilian-military relations: I will address that dreary story in a future post.)

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  1. The only thing that really matters for those playing the science card is that it seems to work well enough to suit their purposes, especially amongst the liberal arts types you described (As a product of such an education my sense is that my peers are buying into it wholesale). It is therefore likely here to stay, and we can expect to see a lot more of it with increasingly diverse application.

    Comment by JDonn — November 1, 2014 @ 5:55 pm

  2. Yes, well spotted.

    The image of the ‘square needle in the eyeball’ is impressive.

    And I am happy to see you using ‘the Australian adjective’ in the fifth paragraph. Bloody marvellous.

    Comment by Ex-regulator on lunch break — November 1, 2014 @ 8:50 pm

  3. Really professor? The Daily Caller has really poor journalistic standards. The reason medical scientists have a lack of curiosity to investigate a connection between EV-D68 infections and the influx of Central American children to the USA is because there would be no point. This virus has been in the USA for decades and there are 10 to 15 million cases in the USA every season, which peaks in September. A little curiosity on your own part regarding what real medical scientists say might save you from parroting ignorant crap by right leaning wing nuts.

    Comment by Ben — November 1, 2014 @ 8:51 pm

  4. Hi prof.
    Just an update: it seems as if some of your favorite moderate rebels just changed side….

    …as i said once in the comment sections when we discussed isis in syria: Given that the alavites and the christians stand behin assad, i doubt that the opposition can be considered ” moderate” islamist….
    Another failed us intervention?

    Comment by Viennacapitalist — November 3, 2014 @ 2:20 pm

  5. @Viennacapitalist. My favorite? You repeatedly attempt to project on me opinions that I do not have and which I have never expressed.

    I knew it was futile at this stage to support any Syrian non-jihadi opposition group. There was a window in 2011-2012 where supporting this group might have been a feasible strategy, but Obama overrode the unanimous opinion of his national security advisors (DoD and State). So that opportunity is long gone. As I recognized.

    This is a failed US non-intervention, compounded by a failed US intervention. A classic example of why you should never reinforce failure. But that’s our Obama.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — November 3, 2014 @ 10:38 pm

  6. I see. I will make it clearer:
    For starters, everybody (apart from the US administration it seems) knew it would be futile this time. That’s easy…
    I was referring exactly to your advocacy for intervention and support of parts of the Syrian oppositon in the past: how did you know back then (the “window of opportunity” period), that there ARE ANY non-jihadi opposition groups? Surely, by advocating intervention and the ouster of Assad you have to support some of them. How can you, as an outsider, tell the difference? Because they say nice words about democracy to US and UN officials? To CNN reporters? Because of “US intelligence” on the ground? C’mon…
    My argument was a deductive one (given that I am as well an outsider, empirical obervations are of somewhat limited use):
    The Alewites are the most liberal (moderate) form of Islam. That’s true in Turkey. And its true as far as I can tell here in Vienna. Assad is an Alewite. Alewites stand behind Assad. Syrian-orthodox Christians are definitely non-jihadists. According tho the Syrian Bishop in Vienna, they think and have thought Assad to be the better choice. I do not know about the Jewish population of Syria. Whom do they support? The opposition? Don’t think so…I think Israel is happier with Assad (no panacea as they had issues with his father in the past) than with any possible alternative…
    Now look at who wants Assad out: Saudi Arabia, Quatar, Erdogan – all places/people where there are continous rumors of islamist tendencies. Maybe these rumours are wrong…
    Reasoning: parties that are definitely non jihadists: pro Assad. Parties of which, ahem, there are grave doubts as to their true orientation: against…
    (Of course, you get the opposite conclusion if your reasonig goes something like this: Putins enemies are ALWAYS my friends…)


    It is/was very unlikely that there are/were any true non-jihadi opposition groups large enough to make a successful ouster of Assad feasible.
    The incompetence of this (and many other before, I may add) American administration in these matters was already evident in 2011/2012. You knew it, I knew it. Since the abilities of the actors have to be taken into account with any strategic consideration, it is really beyond me how you could EVER have supported an intervention. There never was a good “window of opportunity”
    So the Brits made a wise decision not to intervene…

    Comment by Viennacapitalist — November 4, 2014 @ 5:30 am

  7. Getting back to science, there is no more dangerous feature of current thought than the (re) intrusion of ideology into the paradigm used for science. By self selecting what to study as well as how to study we are approaching a point of neo Lysenkoism.

    The cult of pseudo science or corrupted science has done more damage to the world than most of the overtly religious movements in the last 3 centuries. I say Overtly because science is a religion in that it claims infallibility – premi that cannot be questioned- (at least when used as a political cudgel to beat up opponents. The last two outbreaks of such stupidity were scientific marxism / bolshevism and the pseudo racial and eugenics movement of Sangster, Hitler, et al. And don’t we know what happened the last time! Pol Pot, Stalin Mao and Planned Parenthood (a joke, sort of).

    Socrates attacked unexamined premi: the use of “science” to shut up people is often nothing more than a refusal to examine these: with much of the animus of the attackers coming from rage that their beliefs (because that’s what they ultimated are) can be questioned.

    Comment by Sotos — November 4, 2014 @ 7:44 am

  8. In a typical scientific paper, the researcher starts with a brief explanation of the problem being studied and then provides a review of the literature. This second step is essential to an honest analysis.

    What a lot of dishonest non-scientists (like the folks at Daily Caller) do is pretend that scientists have not reached certain conclusions. The opposition isn’t angry that their pet beliefs on global warming or EV-D68 origins have been challenged. They are angry that the body of scientific literature has been misrepresented.

    If a scientist disagrees with the established scientific consensus regarding anthropogenic climate change, by all means she should submit her findings to Nature or Science for peer review. This is not what opponents of global warming do. They publish results in the popular press or on pseudo-scientific websites. In the process they misrepresent the conclusions that scientists have reached and over which there is broad consensus.

    If a journalist wishes to inform the public of the dangers of EV-D68, he should first honestly communicate what scientists currently believe. This is not what Neil Munro did.

    Science can be misused in the way the professor describes, but the examples of global warming and EV-D68 are not being abused in this way. Actually looking at what scientists say on the subject is important. Let’s be accurate in summarizing the current state of the literature.

    Comment by Ben — November 4, 2014 @ 3:46 pm

  9. @Viennacapitalist. You misremember. I have long been very skeptical about intervention in Syria, particularly under this president. There might have been window several years ago, but it is well closed.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — November 4, 2014 @ 7:32 pm

  10. Latest example of Science! journalism:

    Comment by DrD — November 5, 2014 @ 12:43 pm

  11. @ DrD: It’s funny the former restaurant critic paints himself as being so scientific.

    Comment by David Hoopes — November 7, 2014 @ 6:50 pm

  12. @David & DrD. That’s the thing about Science!® Anyone can do it. It’s just a matter of slapping the Science!® label on whatever opinion you happen to hold, and voila! it immediately comes with 300 percent more authority. Or should I say AUTHORI-TAY?

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — November 7, 2014 @ 9:59 pm

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