The Science of Politics and Vice Versa
Some scientists try to put conservatives and liberals in test tubes. This can cause fireworks.
Shedding Colored Light
PhysOrg asked a question that seems odd for a science site: “Are conservatives more obedient and agreeable than their liberal counterparts?” The article went on to clarify the questions:
Over the last few years, we’ve seen increasing dissent among liberals and conservatives on important issues such as gun control, health care and same-sex marriage. Both sides often have a difficult time reconciling their own views with their opposition, and many times it appears that liberals are unable to band together under a unifying platform. Why do conservatives appear to have an affinity for obeying leadership? And why do conservatives perceive greater consensus among politically like-minded others?
Two studies publishing in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin shed light on these questions.
It’s not clear that all observers would perceive the same things here. The dissent between liberals and conservatives is clear enough, but the article is built on subjective impressions: “it appears that” and “appear to“. To whom? Doubtless, some conservatives would deny these impressions, pointing to the last Presidential campaign and the continuing onslaught of liberal victories under the Obama administration on the one hand, and the inability of Republicans to band together on a consistent platform on the other. So are Jeremy Frimer and Chadley Stern steering their own biases to shed colored light on the question?
In their surveys, they admitted that “Testing the participants perceptions proved trickier than expected,” but it’s not clear they overcame biased perceptions with their human lab rats. On Live Science, though, reporter Stephanie Pappas jumped right into the colored light with her headline, “Liberals Don’t Hate Authority After All.” The presumption is that science can be neutral, objective, and authoritative on such matters. How many participants are required to get a reasonable opinion? How were the questions framed? How did the questioners behave in terms of dress, body language and tone of voice? Many such factors could sway the results.
The researchers extrapolated their results into even more dubious areas, like why the Tea Party “appeared” to succeed more than the Occupy Wall Street movement. It’s doubtful that those two movements are even comparable. Even more quizzical, the researchers considered liberal attraction to Che Guevara as a kind of submission to authority, even though Guevara was a violent radical trying to overthrow authority. On top of that, Friberg wandered outside of science to make a moral judgment: “Frimer said he hopes the findings can be used to bring left and right together.” If he were a chemist, would he hope his findings could be used to bring cesium and water together? (watch what happens here). Friberg voiced a political hope, not a scientific aim. It’s not even the best option in many contexts. If one group is wise and the other foolish, bringing them together defeats the wisdom. If one group is violent and the other peaceful, bringing them together is suicidal.
Tragedy of the Liberal Commons
Another example of scientists dabbling with politics comes from Yale University. At the outset it might be noted that economics has a bit more scientific cred than political psychology, being law-governed and mathematical, but even with that, economists tend to sort out into political ideologies. In their analysis of a “public goods” problem, to try to find solutions yielding sustainability for limited resources, they did find, fortunately, that democracy works. When participants were allowed to vote on allotments considering their own needs and those of future generations, sustainable solutions emerged (provided that votes were binding, an implicit requirement for rule of law).
But the Harvard and Yale psychologists only analyzed the situation in terms of “fair share” proportions, as if assuming a zero-sum game. Conservative economists argue that economics is not a zero-sum game. Private property rights, free market economics and individual liberties actually increase goods, creating wealth and promoting prosperity for all. The people using the phrase “fair share” are wealth redistributionists (including President Obama, who uses the term often while deriding conservatives). The psychologists’ experimental setup, therefore, contained an intrinsic liberal bias—hardly a good scientific practice.
Academic Freedom for Terrorists
On July 2, Nature’s editors bemoaned the decline in “academic freedom” in Egypt since the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, a terrorism-promoting international movement. This is a bit hypocritical, since Nature consistently denies academic freedom to critics of Darwin or skeptics of man-caused global warming. In this case, though, it appears they would be more willing to accept company with known supporters of terrorists than to let the Egyptian government have appointment authority over university administrators – this despite the well-known fact that in the UK and the USA, college campuses have become breeding grounds for terrorist sympathizers (read David Horowitz, a former liberal, on this, or try to find an Israel-supportive faculty in American universities). Nature moans,
Right now, academic freedom in Egypt looks to be in great jeopardy. Academics outside the country can only look on in despair and hope that the strategy of the human-rights network that represents them can at least win its battle for fair treatment of the academics detained for expressing their opinions.
But those detained had expressed support for ousted president Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, who had been actively suppressing the academic freedom of his critics. Which “academics” should share Nature’s hope? Are academics a homogeneous group? Where is that concern for academic freedom when critics of Darwin or of man-caused global warming express their opinions, backing them up with scientific data? Nature is supposed to be a science journal, but its editors inserted their liberal bias into the fireworks of Egypt, apparently more concerned for the rights of terrorist sympathizers than the ones trying to suppress the violent radicals who blow up college campuses, ending every academic’s freedom.
The world has gone crazy. A prime reason is the abandonment of the principles of America’s Declaration of Independence. This July 4th, take a moment to re-read that great statement of God-given rights that anchors human happiness firmly in belief in creation. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The truth of creation is self-evident. No amount of scientific manipulation can change that.