On the Subjectivity of Science (Especially Lately)
For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled. —Richard Feynman
The human understanding is like a false mirror, which, receiving rays irregularly, distorts and discolors the nature of things by mingling its own nature with it. —Francis Bacon
There is a common, naive belief that science is essentially objective and unbiased—a naive belief held even by many scientists. This is a big reason why some politicians and political movements strive to get science on their side of a controversy: it gives their side an appearance of objective authority and reliability, rather like old-fashioned religionists claiming the authority of Scripture as supportive of their own side, and not the side of the godless heretics whom they oppose.
Even as a kid I acquired some insight into the falsehood of this notion of objective, impartial science: I had in my possession a science yearbook from around the year 1976, which contained an article on recent research on the harmful effects of smoking marijuana. The researchers essentially compelled a bunch of monkeys to smoke megadoses of cannabis, as though they were little Rastafarians, and then pointed out how lethargic and disoriented they (the monkeys) became. Even as a kid it was obvious to me, cynical little bastard that I was, that the government wanted scientific, or at least scientific-looking, evidence on the harmful effects of drug use to be exploited as propaganda, for the higher purpose of promoting docile, obedient, hard-working consumerism in the American populace. If for some reason the government wanted to take the opposite position, they would have hired scientists to find that smoking pot really isn’t all that bad, rather like tobacco lobbyists paying researchers to determine that cigarettes are safe, or egg lobbyists paying researchers to find that eggs are actually health food.
Years later, as a student of Biology (marine emphasis), I took a course in Ichthyology in which everyone was required to write a term paper on whatever species of fish they preferred to write about. So, always inclined to avoid the more well-trodden paths, I wrote a paper entitled “The Awe and Mystery of Pholis ornata, the Saddleback Gunnel.” After committing myself to researching this fish, I found that precious few ichthyologists had published any information on it. When I mentioned this difficulty to my professor, he stated with some impatience the plain fact that the thoroughly studied species are the economically important ones—because of course they’re the ones that get funding from the government and the fisheries industry. No doubt one can find entire books written about rainbow trout or Pacific halibut, with millions of dollars spent on research; yet hardly anyone gives a shit about saddleback gunnels, regardless of their indubitable awe and mystery. (I may as well gratuitously toss in here that, despite the ignominious economic insignificance of Pholis ornata, I nevertheless served gunnel fettuccini to my colleagues at the ichthyology dinner at the end of the quarter. The girlfriend of one of the other students, concerned that maybe she had just eaten some little eel-like fish, bones, guts, and all, worriedly asked if I had cleaned the gunnels before cooking them, whereupon I replied that they lived in water all the time, and so they were always clean. It was my polite, indirect way of assuring her that, yes indeed, she had just eaten some little eel-like fish, bones, guts, and all.)
Thus, even at its best, even when scientists really are as objective and unbiased as humanly possible, scientific research is still biased by being driven in politically and economically expedient directions, primarily by non-scientists with money to spare funding what they deem useful. Science for science’s sake, an impartial search for truth irrespective of politics and economics, tends to be an amateurish, low-budget affair, even more so than art for art’s sake. It tends to be the realm of student idealists and a few elite, independent scientific purists.
Also it should be fairly obvious that scientists become less objective when humanity itself is involved, even when they are trying to be purely empirical and detached. Human biological taxonomy is a classic case in point. Humans and chimpanzees are each other’s closest living relative (chimps are evolutionarily and genetically closer to us than they are to gorillas), and we should certainly belong to the same genus; yet we belong not only to separate genera but to separate families (chimps to the family Pongidae, which they ironically share with gorillas, and us to Hominidae). In recent decades there have been some “authorities” who deny the existence of separate races within the human species, justifying this with the observation that there is more genetic diversity within populations than between them; yet it is also true that there is six times more genetic distance between Nigerians and Japanese people than there is between the two distinct species of gorilla. And though Neanderthals are considered lately to be a totally separate species from us members of Homo sapiens, all it would take is for a tribe of living Neanderthals to be discovered in some remote valley of the Himalayas and people, including some scientists, would immediately begin insisting that they aren’t even a separate race. People, including scientists, have been politically correct since long before the term “politically correct” was ever coined, and we’ve always been anthropocentric and thereby handicapped with regard to seeing our own kind objectively.
In recent years the inescapable bias of scientific study has become more noticeable, sometimes painfully obvious, and thus more openly criticized in public. This is largely (but not entirely) because western society has come under the influence of the New Left, which sees objective empiricism as a tool of white patriarchal oppression, and which embraces feelings and emotionality as means of understanding reality. Also it considers truth to be just a cultural construct; and since the New Leftists wish to engineer and control the culture, they also see fit to try to control the cultural construct of truth, including, of course, scientific truth. Even relatively “hard” science is coming under the hysterical and irrational influence of feminized “progressivism,” especially in academia, much to its detriment (the detriment of science and of academia). In other words, not just the direction scientific research takes is influenced by external politics, science itself is becoming more internally politicized.
A typical example of this phenomenon, that is of political bias affecting science internally, not simply through external funding, etc., is discussed in a recent YouTube video by Dr. Steve Turley, a conservative Christian political commentator. In the video he comments upon a scientific meta-study in which more than five thousand biologists at more than one thousand academic institutions were polled concerning their judgements on when life begins in “higher” animals. When asked when the life of a mammal begins, approximately 95% of them declared that life begins at conception, at the moment of the fertilization of the egg and the formation of an embryo. This is, after all, basic biology, and should not be controversial. BUT, when asked when a human life begins—a human being a mammal, mind you—only around 75% allowed that life begins at conception. This finding was unexpected, so the author of the paper analyzed the personal information included in the poll and found that the biologists who backtracked on the idea of human life beginning at conception, the anomalous 20%, were made up almost entirely, if not absolutely entirely, of political liberals in favor of legal abortion. Not only biologists who were conservatives (a mere 11% of the academics polled), but also liberals who were neutral on the issue of abortion were inclined to answer the question in accordance with straight scientific principles. Thus left-leaning scientists were evidently biasing their own scientific opinions in accordance with their politics. I assume conservative scientists would not be immune to biasing their scientific beliefs also, though of course their biases would be in the politically opposite direction.
As a followup to the publication of the research paper, the author was attacked by other liberal academicians, and his paper was called the equivalent of KuKluxKlan propaganda. Most of the outraged, hysterical academics in this case, however, were probably not biologists.
A big, rather obvious case in point in recent years has been the case of climate scientists insisting on an impending environmental Doomsday if international regulatory commissions are not set up immediately and given draconian powers to control the energy management, and carbon management, of all the nations of the earth. This ultimatum of socialized world government or world death has actually been around since the 1970s at the latest, for different ostensive reasons—back then it was mainly the dangers of overpopulation, nukes, and maybe the ozone layer, which for some odd reason are mentioned relatively little in recent years. Obviously, despite the sincerity of the aforementioned panicky environmentalists, this idea of international bureaucracies regulating the energy infrastructure of the world is very popular especially with left-leaning globalists.
This partly political bias does not merely take the form of alarmist interpretations of empirical data, but occasionally, scandalously, involves deliberate cooking of data, à la Climategate. Also, environmental scientists may find themselves pressured by higher-ups to employ alarmist terms like “catastrophic” in their public statements, written or oral. And of course these scientists are subject to the same sort of funding bias as the experimenters on stoned monkeys—they are often paid, essentially, to produce results which can be exploited for political purposes, in this case the attainment of the goal of socialized globalism. International regulatory bureaucracies issuing decrees regulating carbon emissions, use of fertilizers, plastic straws, etc. would be a preliminary foot in the door for world government, and over-regulating, social-engineering, authoritarian world government at that. Also, there is the plain fact that scientists who dare to speak out against the fashion trend of climate apocalyptic literature may be attacked by their indoctrinated, conformist peers, much as the guy mentioned by Dr. Turley was attacked, in accordance with standard leftist hysteria and ruthless reprisals against “heretics.”
A few other recent examples of gross scientific (or pseudoscientific) bias include denial of physical and especially psychological differences between different human ethnicities or races, and denial of physical and psychological differences between human males and females. Both of these examples are indicative of resistance against empiricism, or science denial, based on the cultural Marxist insistence, in the teeth of actual empirical evidence (lots of it), that everyone has to be essentially the same, and that all inequality must somehow be the result of oppression by heterosexual white men, preferably conservative Christian ones. Reality must be force-fit to conform to the emotional wishful thinking of the new ideology. And we may as will pass over in silence the capitalism- or corporatism-driven cooked research and subsequent propaganda concerning, say, the effects of newly developed pharmaceuticals.
The point is that scientists are human, and as humans they are fundamentally irrational and have human foibles and weaknesses, pretty much like anyone else. Even a professional logician or mathematician is mostly irrational, and may enjoy ballroom dancing or cuddling kittens from time to time. Philosophers have demonstrated that ALL behavior is ultimately, necessarily beyond the scope of logic, since logic has no power to motivate an action. In the words of David Hume, one of the greatest philosophers to write in the English language, “reason alone can never produce any action or give rise to volition.” It can’t even give rise to abstract thought, or to further logical reasoning itself, since it is not a motive force, and deals only with ideas.
One may employ impeccable logic in playing a game of chess, but the desire to play the game in the first place is not fundamentally logical. For that matter, there is no logical imperative for getting out of bed in the morning, or even for remaining alive rather than, say, simply sitting in a room and slowly starving to death. That pleasure is preferable to pain, or life preferable to death, is a fundamentally irrational value judgement, based more on human animal instincts than on logical reasoning or necessity. And of course science is in the same boat, and would be even if it weren’t driven by political and economic forces.
Consequently even scientific method is inherently non-rational in its actual motivations, regardless of any intellectuality that is also involved; but worse still, as I’ve argued elsewhere, much of scientific inquiry itself is based on articles of faith, convenient assumptions that are accepted as self-evident axioms and never proven. Some of these axioms, or articles of faith, include the ideas that nature always follows regular laws, that these laws can be understood by a human mind, and that there is only one valid explanation of reality…although I won’t go into all of the messy details here. If anyone is interested in reading some details about how science itself is essentially a faith-based tradition, not entirely different from traditional religions, feel free to read my article “Buddhism and Scientism” on the nippapanca.org website.
So even at its best and strongest there is always some unavoidable irrationality and bias in science—and don’t get me wrong, I’m really not trying to bash science here, any more than I’m trying to bash being human. Science is powerful and extremely useful, but it is after all a product of the mind of hominid mammals, a kind of upgraded ape. Nevertheless, the situation of science now is growing more irrational and emphatically worse. It may be worse in the 21st century than it was in the 19th, at the time of Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian physician and martyr of science who was ignored, then persecuted, for insisting that if doctors washed their hands regularly they would greatly reduce the spread of infection among their patients. Other physicians and medical researchers at the time had their own favorite theories of infection, the idea of antisepsis still being unknown, and so his meticulous research was rejected with scorn by most of the medical and scientific community. He became so distraught by this, knowing that his discovery, if taken seriously, could save literally millions of lives, that he finally committed suicide.
Anyway, the situation of science today has retrogressed in certain important respects, and has become less rational and even less empirical. In academia especially, science has come under the sway of feminized cultural Marxism, which ironically denies the inherent validity of objective empiricism, preferring the postmodernist idea that truth is merely a cultural construct. Science has become more subjective, and has come increasingly under the influence of feelings and feelings-driven ideologies. The result is increased attempts at unscrupulous manipulation of science to further feminist, neo-Marxist, and globalist ends. Not only Grievance Studies and social sciences have been vitiated, even the most reputable “hard” scientific journals have begun publishing political correctness propaganda disguised as legitimate science.
For example, the premier International Journal of Science, Nature, less than a year ago published an article entitled “US proposal for defining gender has no basis in science.” Following is a sample of it:
The proposal—on which HHS officials have refused to comment—is a terrible idea that should be killed off. It has no foundation in science and would undo decades of progress on understanding sex—a classification based on internal and external bodily characteristics—and gender, a social construct related to biological differences but also rooted in culture, societal norms and individual behaviour. Worse, it would undermine efforts to reduce discrimination against transgender people and those who do not fall into the binary categories of male or female.
This is just one of many possible examples of “progressive” ideology taking over scientific discourse, rather like Christianity ruled medieval European philosophy or, closer to home, all academic study, including science, was required to be interpreted along Marxist lines in Soviet Russia. In another premier scientific journal, The Lancet, Dr. Richard Horton, the evidently still-sane editor in chief, has made this editorial observation on the recent trend:
The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.
Nevertheless, The Lancet also has taken a hard lurch to the political and social left in recent years, publishing obviously politically motivated articles on internalized racism, LGBTQ rights, anti-migrant xenophobia, “Climate Armageddon” (an actual title of a recent Lancet article), reforming gender norms, and “toxic masculinity.” Consequently it may be that Dr. Horton is gradually losing his sanity, or else will be replaced before long by a more postmodernist and neo-Marxist editor in chief.
The trouble is that science determined, not just funded, by emotional sentiment for purposes of propaganda and thought control is just not science anymore, and tends toward utter worthlessness as a means of understanding reality, regardless of its value as a means of controlling the beliefs of the populace, and of justifying the unscrupulous methods of politicians, leaders of NGOs, and ideologues.
So, science is in decline, which means it is in need of reform if it is not to be rejected with scorn by a society increasingly fed up with leftist/globalist irrationality, hysteria, and deception. Because it is human it must be somewhat irrational and biased anyway, and a right-wing establishment would no doubt try to spin science in its favor as well; but the strength and real value of science comes from keeping that irrationality and that bias to a bare minimum—which the political powers that be have reversed, with rampant lunacy and dishonesty as a result.