Over at a site known as “World News Direct” a fellow named Joseph Farah has issued a rather mundane bout of anti-science rhetoric1. Now, as near as I can tell, WND appears to be a kind of support group for people caught in the grips of paranoid delusions associated with WCCDS (more on that shortly). It offers a safe place where they can share their delusions with other delusional people without fear of facts or information intruding and casting the shroud of scrutiny, critical thinking, and shrewd judgement they so often entail.
For the most part, Farah’s column is what happens when, lacking the professional expertise – or even a basic understanding – of a subject upon which to base an opinion, a person stubbornly forges on ahead anyway and conjures one out of thin air. It evinces a pitiable lack of critical thinking skills and sorrowful abundance of “White Conservative Christian Derangement Syndrome” (WCCDS). Though the ultimate causes of WCCDS are uncertain, it is believed to result from situations where an individual’s beliefs about the way the world is and ought to be differ significantly from available evidence about the way the world actually is. It is frequently accompanied by inexplicable feelings of persecution and a pronounced tendency toward tribalism. WCCDS is named for its prevalence among conservative members of the White-Christian community, the majority demographic in the United States.
Given Farah’s apparent affliction, addressing the particulars of his rant is more or less pointless. Characteristic of WCCDS, he thinks climate change, cosmology, and Darwinian evolution are hoaxes, sculpted in the absence of the scientific method. Clearly this is the product of a mind that either lacks access to factual information or an ability to interpret empirical results in light of the nuanced process of provisional discovery known as the scientific method. Alternately, Farah may have misapplied the term scientific method, thinking it relates to the process whereby one compares reality to the Bible and, where the two differ, chooses to reject reality in favor of the often opaque and internally inconsistent teachings of a book selectively compiled from the ramblings of the ancient inhabitants of the Iron Age Levant.
I think only one of his points is worth addressing:
“When will everyone see through the fact that we now have a scientific establishment that is politically driven and government funded – a combination more dangerous than when the church was in charge?”
First, whether or not the “scientific establishment” is politically driven is a matter of perspective. To those on the Right, this might seem to be the case because liberally-minded folk seem to have empirical evidence on their side in both larger quantities and with greater frequency. That said, it should be noted that science can’t be politically driven. This is because scientific discoveries are emergent products of a continuous process, driven by patterns of both cooperative and adversarial interaction, where the veracity of results is ultimately arbitrated by the reliability with which they explain real-world phenomena. Individual scientists can certainly be politically driven, but the mutually constructive processes of peer-review, competition, and repeatability ensure that science as a whole can’t be.
Second, the notion that government funded science is somehow a bad thing is blatantly dangerous. People tend to forget that in a participatory democracy, the government is the people. That this ideal is not manifest is a product of government corruption, typically perpetrated by powerful market interests. Which, as it happens, are just the sort of interests conservatives so passionately defend as paragons of industrious self-interest and moral righteousness. In reality, their influence tends to inhibit the successful function of representative democracy. Why, if they were the primary source of scientific funding, should we expect that they wouldn’t corrupt science as well?
Indeed, insofar as it can be said that science is biased, it is biased by the urge to address hot-button issues and ignore informative negative results in order to secure a chunk of that government funding pie. If the funding of science were handed over to the private sector, things would be much worse. There would be no such thing as objective science – only science that serves the limited interests of for-profit entities like Exxon and Pfizer. The only results of interest would be those that help shareholders capture more and more profits. Explanatory science – science about how the universe was formed, how life evolved – would be forgotten. Science that exposes the deleterious consequences of corporate behavior – that deforestation and pollution are linked to devastating losses in biodiversity, that smoking causes cancer – would be forbidden.
So let’s all raise a glass to publicly funded science and, wherever and whenever possible, do what we can to keep it that way.