Hello everybody! I see we’re recycling content from the HQ now.
So Sorry, busy busy busy. (Deadlines for Graduation approach.)
Nevertheless, something has appeared on my radar that is to big to ignore and that’s the pending Science March!
Now as a guy who’s been blessed to be listed as co-author on a couple of papers coming out of a wet lab as well as a couple of papers that came out of a social sciences lab, I’m a fan in theory of science. But I also recognize it’s got a huge looming problem. Well several actually, Ok, a lot. But the biggest one for our purposes is: Science is rapidly losing the public trust. Now there are a number of possible reasons for this. Enough to fill even more than a dissertation. I know this because my original idea to write on this for my dissertation was nixed due to it being “far too broad of a topic.”
Maybe it’s the reproducibility crisis. The constant barrage of seemingly conflicting studies (red wine good, red wine bad) certainly doesn’t help. Ultimately, though we’re forced to confront the idea that perhaps science is starting to reach beyond it’s limits.
At it’s core science can tell us things that are tentatively true. Now at a certain level “tentative” becomes “functionally true.” Gravity is a fact for all of us who will never leave this planet. Sure it varies a bit depending on a number of factors, but unless you want to run around with a gravimeter you won’t ever notice because it’s simply not enough to matter. (Fun factoid: I’ve gotten to play with a very nice gravimeter once, and they’re surprisingly sensitive to vibration such that the crowd of people moving through the building gave it inconsistent readings. Mind you this was on the lowest floor of a cement foundation.)
At a much lower level though science is much more prone to problems. Especially as we get into science’s predictive abilities and what that means from a values perspective. Despite the claims of people who ascribe to “scientism” science cannot tell us everything. More specifically science has trouble in the areas of values. Oddly we used to understand this, the whole idea of the naturalistic fallacy revolves (in part) around this idea. And yet, as post-modernity moves on we lose more and more of this idea and science goes from describing how nature acts to describing how people must act (i.e. morality.)
This is especially troubling when one considers that by design all science can do is model things. Now those models may be incredibly complex, but they’re still models, based at some level on some set of assumptions. And defining those assumptions gives one significant control over the outcome of the experiment. And here’s the rub: it is in the defining of these assumptions that one can politicize science, whether intentionally or not. If for example you want a study that shows that women will choose LARC (Long Acting Reversible Contraception) over other methods it’s fairly easy to construct one. Such a study though, by it’s very nature only really serves as proof for Milton Friedman’s third way in which you spend money.
Setting aside for a moment my methodological concerns (as I read the methods section at some point the study switched so that the LARC methods covered a longer timespan than non LARC alternatives. And subjects received their contraceptives at no cost to them this represents a huge confounder and selection bias) this study cannot answer the fundamental values question: Even if this is fundamentally true, is it a policy that we should enact? The question of “should the government be paying for LARC?” is far more complicated than the questions the experiment can or did answer. Questions over priorities of spending, of potential for coercion, personal responsibility, conscience etc. And yet this study was pushed as the answer to the policy question of Obamacare’s first dollar coverage.
Which brings us back to the science march. On April 22, people will apparently “march for science.” Which is all well and good I suppose, science is a good thing. But they will not march for science in it’s idealistic form (dutifully providing evidence for us to use in our decision making.) Even the date of choice, Earth Day, tells us this. No, they’ll be marching for scientism. They’ll march to suggest that science be declared king of reason and anyone who objects to such be labeled as a denier.
In doing so, they’ll fully cement what has been one of my greatest fears: That science will be captured almost totally by the left as a political tool. But the left only cares insofar as science is a useful tool. If it ever ceases it’s usefulness they’ll discard it like so many others. Meanwhile, this overt act of politicization will be another self-inflicted wound to the reputation of science.
If marchers think they can simply try to hold to a generic “Science is Good!” message, they’re in for a rude surprise. The DC Science March Organization center is already running with a “we must save the EPA as it is now” message. I’ve seen other groups veering off into questions of sex ed in schools and trying to shut down pro-life crisis pregnancy centers. The left cannot, and will not, be apolitical about anything. As one bad apple spoils a bunch, it will only take a few people being IN YOUR FACE political to let the cat out of the bag on this one. (As a tangential aside I’m curious how many people will show up from the Anti-GMO movement which would be HILARIOUS.)
So march you crazy hippies, just don’t be surprised when a large chunk of the nation calls you crazy hippies and you harm your reputation more than you help.