Conservatives distrust official science

Lately leftists have been moaning that conservatives have lost faith in the scientific community.

Conservatives distrust official science, because official scientist do not practice actual science, instead  manufacturing official truth.

If you start arguing the scientific method, rather than “the scientific community”, to a leftist, for example that warmists should make available the data that supposedly shows we are doomed if we don’t obey them, they will react like a vampire exposed to sunlight.  Leftists have not merely lost faith in the scientific method, they would like to burn anyone who advocates it at the stake.  If you start arguing with a leftist that evolution is natural selection, and natural selection did not stop above the neck, they will call you a racist.

Now whenever I have argued with a leftist that official science is not applying the scientific method to X, they argue that applying the scientific method to X is impractical or immoral, therefore we should believe that whatever official government scientists do is science.

So, here is a test example, where applying the scientific method is easy, almost trivial:  The Urban Hotspot effect.

The obvious way to measure the Urban Hotspot effect is to drive a thermometer from the countryside through the center of town then out into the countryside on the other side of town. Repeat at various times of day and various towns.

Now obviously no officially endorsed government funded scientist has ever done such a thing, presumably because if he did, his career would come to an abrupt end, for anyone who has ever gone looking for a picnic spot while driving through a rural highway on a hot day has noticed that the Urban Hotspot effect, if measured in such a fashion, would be quite high, and reporting a high Urban Hotspot Effect would have the same effect as saying “niggardly” in a room full of affirmative action English graduates.

So instead, he measures the urban hotspot effect in some highly indirect fashion involving obscure alleged Chinese historical records, that,  strange to report, no one else is able to find.

What would happen if a scientist was to actually measure the Urban Hotspot Effect?

Well the article I linked to above gives us a hint:

scientific authority is too easily had or invented — from temporary statuses with slow-moving associations that take time to detect and reject rogue members, to fake statuses with make-believe organizations of their own invention. Maddow recounts a situation in which a person masquerading as an authority was later kicked out of one association, relocated to another, was kicked out of that — but in the meantime, he was able to get cited literature into the scientific record and into books that had large cultural consequences, including justifying at least one despot to terrorize a class of citizens based on this false science.

Notice that in the example given, there was no argument that the scientists results were incorrect, merely that they could legitimize the incorrect political position, So, doing actual science, will swiftly get you ejected from all professional associations, since politics is now so all embracing that any scientific result could have political consequences.

If you cannot do actual science on the Urban Hotpot Effect, you cannot do actual science on anything political, and these days, just about everything is political, so, to a good approximation,  if anyone is an official scientist, chances are he is not doing science, and unlikely to be interested in doing science.

This may well explain our technological stagnation.  Science relevant to engines became political, so engines stopped advancing.  Similarly with one field after another, photo lithography being one of the last to fall.

What is the scientific method?

Well it cannot be entirely expressed in words, except cryptically and briefly.  It can, however, be expressed by examples, as I have just done.  Another good example illustrating the scientific method is the Sokal Hoax and Wood’s exposure of the N Ray delusion.  WHO research into the effects of pesticides, and all research into the effects of low dose radiation, are conducted in much the same way that research into N Rays was conducted, but back then it was safe to doubt N Rays, whereas today it is seriously dangerous for one’s career to doubt WHO.

Two famous and historically important summaries of the scientific method are:

  1. the Royal Society’s “nullius in verba”, which means that when expert authority claims to know X, you are supposed to ask how they know X, and if they don’t have a good answer, you are not supposed to believe them.
  2. Richard Feynman “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts”

Around the time that the Royal Society started weaseling on “nullius in verba” and the journals stopped insisting that those supplying politically correct science conclusions needed to provide their data and their methods of analyzing their data that supposedly led to their conclusions, official science and the scientific method parted company.

The rot set in earlier than that. The scientific method was in a bad way once they introduced peer review after World War II. If one reviewer of n can block unwanted truths, unwanted truths are never going to get through. For science to work, you need a system where you only have to impress one editor of n editors, not a system where you have to refrain from offending any one reviewer of n reviewers.  Peer review is entirely deadly in its effects on science.  Everything becomes political.





5 Responses to “Conservatives distrust official science”

  1. Lemniscate says:

    Science is now described and justified as part of public policy. It is rarely described by important people as the pursuit of truth in the natural world — and if it is, it is rarely a sincere description. Scientific research institutions aren’t much less politically correct than the sociology department. I doubt there’s much that can be done without official state science suffering a major embarrassment.

  2. Alrenous says:

    Two nits.

    Peer review is a great idea and I want some. However, giving each reviewer a veto power is corrupt. In fact, giving any of them veto is corrupt – it is up to the reader to decide the truth, not anyone in any official position. With the internet, we don’t even need to impress editors.

    Describing the scientific method is difficult, not impossible. Real scientists follow specific actions. The first draft could simply be a list of all those actions. (Ref. Tycho Brahe re: orbital observations.)

    The scientific method is simply the modern name for good epistemology. It is everything that indicates it is safe to agree with a presented hypothesis. This can be tested by measuring how often an argument will later by verified by predictions.

    The ancients got their list of fallacies this way. If an authority is really an authority, they’ll be able to give you logical reasons like everyone else. If an idea got popular because it is a good idea, then there are lots of authorities that can give you logical reasons, like everyone else.

    The obvious theme being logic. If you try to get beliefs purely based on authority or popularity, reality will disagree with you more often.

    So I don’t need a first draft. Here’s the scientific method.

    Do the conclusions follow from the premises? If CO2 is rising, should the globe warm? (No: CO2’s absorption band is already saturated, it cannot capture any more outgoing radiation.) The main problem here is simply thinking clearly, in straight lines, and stating all assumptions. This is indeed remarkably difficult, but not impossible. It requires training and practice, but not genetic engineering. (For example I’m assuming, since they keep explaining it this way, that the important energy balance is simply what’s escaping back into space, nothing more complicated.)

    Do the premises match observations? Is CO2 in fact rising? (Yes.)* What about the temperature, is it actually going up as expected? (Only inside urban heat islands. This distinction is relevant to the logic.)

    *(This is where replication comes in. You can go yourself and verify the observation – get your own gas chromatography equipment – if you have any reason to doubt the observation. Note that present scientists discourage layhuman replication.)

    There are also a couple thousand fiddly little details, none of which by themselves are very important, but add up to a great deal.
    For example the consistency condition: reality follows the law of non-contradiction. Therefore, when two separate lines of logic lead to the same conclusion, based on separate, independent premises, the conclusion can be safely regarded as very likely to be true. Get a third and then the only issue is checking the premise that the other premises are independent.

    Luckily, despite the corruption of the practice of science, everyone seems to agree on what actual epistemology is. Nobody needs to learn very much to be a good scientist; the trouble is convincing them to actually follow these methods.

    For example, sophist-scientists will manufacture multiple lines of evidence. They’ll look independent and everything. Only problem will be that all the observations are frauds.

    • Bill says:

      The attempt to define science is called the demarcation problem in the philosophy of science. Unless something has happened recently that I don’t know about, the problem is unsolved, and nobody thinks it is going to be solved.

      On peer review, it’s hard to tell what you are thinking about. Critical discussion, argumentation, and ongoing rivalries are clearly good things. So is formal debate—a central part of Medieval universities and basically non-existent today. But these things are carried out in public after publication. “Peer review” means, in part, carried out in private before publication. It is bad. I understand that you are asking for a thing-which-might-reasonably-be-called-peer-review, but the thing-we-actually-mean-by-the-term-peer-review is different from the thing you want, and the term’s meaning is set.

      At the end, you are endorsing Feynman’s definition of science, which is just determined truth-seeking about the natural world. I agree with this definition, but it has nothing, per se, to do with experiments, statistics, reduction, theory-testing, or any of the other crap which is routinely offered up as definitional.

      Problematically, it is very hard to test objectively and verifiably whether a particular person or group of people are actually doing science by this definition. That means that it is hard (impossible?) to institutionalize science.

      This feeds back into a point Charlton makes. What we know works in science is a combination of leisured hobbyists and practical engineers. That is what has worked in the past. It also feeds back into one of my hobbyhorses: the need for dramatic pay cuts in academia. If you make academic jobs good jobs, people with no interest in real scholarship will enter them in large numbers (as has happened). Just by weight of numbers, real scholarship is driven out. Just cut academic pay in half and good things will happen.

      • Alrenous says:

        “Unless something has happened recently that I don’t know about, the problem is unsolved, and nobody thinks it is going to be solved.”
        Quitters. This is why I mentioned simply listing everything a scientists does. If you don’t like my formulation, go do that. Even without asking the scientist why they’re doing it, you’d literally end up with a science recipe, cookbook style.

        I distrust ‘nobody’ for exactly the same reasons I distrust official science. And that reason is they don’t follow their own advice.

        “is different from the thing you want, and the term’s meaning is set.”
        It would be pretty easy to change ‘peer review’ back to mean ‘review by peers.’ And if you ask Jane Random, she’ll roughly say that’s what it means. Future historians will likely make that mistake by accident.

        “That means that it is hard (impossible?) to institutionalize science.”
        It takes time.

        Upon starting a study, take some of the putative scientists, and some layhumans. Ask them their predictions of the conclusion.

        The scientist’s actual conclusion should match reality better, as judged by falsification where possible, and by replication if not.

        If it doesn’t, you’re spending tons of time and money on something epistemically less powerful than speculation. Is it science? Who cares at this point?

        It’s probably bureaucratically impossible, but hardly physically impossible.

        “Just by weight of numbers, real scholarship is driven out.”
        Heartily agree.

        “Just cut academic pay in half and good things will happen.”
        The Moldbug link is his reference to the law of sewage.

      • jim says:

        At the end, you are endorsing Feynman’s definition of science, which is just determined truth-seeking about the natural world

        Feynman’s definition was not just determined truth seeking about the natural world. Feynman and Galileo told us to be especially suspicious of consensus truth, that you should not take “The experts say so” as an answer. In my terminology, one needs special vigilance against the madness of crowds. It is not enough to ask what someone knows, to ask someone what happened, one has to ask them how they know what happened, and then sometimes check up on them.

Leave a Reply