Helping “Conservatives” understand Science
Recently in a conversation with a self-proclaimed conservative about global climate change I was told that numbers can say anything, that there is no consensus on global climate change and its connection to man’s activities. It was explained to me that numbers can be audited to get at the truth of things. So I asked to be pointed to one audit in a credible scientific journal that proved that global climate change was the hoax he and other conservatives claim it to be. The reply I got back was the typical whoa, you mean an audit in those liberal environmental whacko sources.
This of course made no sense, there is a well established process by which science works and is published through peer-reviewed journals. You basically could say science gets “audited” before it is even published. Of course no audit system is perfect and occasionally we find errors in this process. The way these errors are caught is that science demands that experimental data be replicable. An example, if you publish a paper and claim you have a process for producing energy via cold fusion, your data may look good enough to get you published. However, when no one, following the process you outlined, can replicate your results you quickly get doubted and then discredited in the scientific community.
So why did I get such a disjointed reply? I was confused for a bit then it dawned on me, conservatives don’t understand science or the scientific method because it is so foreign to the way they have been indoctrinated to think. So I thought I would take a minute tonight to help them out, you know, the sort of thing I learned we should do under the philosophy of compassionate conservatism espoused by a former conservative president.
Science is a system of inquiry by which people ask questions about the world around them. You look at some phenomena and you take an educated guess about what’s going on. Under the scientific method you then construct an experiment to gather data, and then analyze the data to see what rational conclusions you can draw from that data. So far I think all of you on the right are with me, but hang on, this is where the right turn comes. You do all of this without having pre-determined the answer, you actually look at the data objectively as opposed to looking at it to make sure it fits the requirements of a particular, let’s say as an example conservative ideology.
Many times the conclusions we draw from experiments in science provide us results in directions we never even expected in the first place and that’s when science gets exciting for us, because it provides so many more questions. For this very reason much of science is funded by public institutions and governments. Why is that? Well the fact is when private companies do research they have limited acceptable answers. For example, if you’re a tobacco company and doing experiments to see if smoking causes lung cancer and your results suggest it does, then you can’t use that work because it goes against your dominant paradigm that suggests smoking is not harmful. This is considered very bad science by cigarette companies, but a good conservative capitalistic process.
Conservatives have been taught to “think” by the leaders of their movement like Limbaugh, Bush, Cheney, Fox News and Rove that answers that don’t fit their dominant paradigm, conservatism, cannot possibly be correct so those conclusions must be based on faulty data or conclusions. Not surprisingly, if the same process produced answers in support of the dominant paradigm, the data, analysis and conclusions are of course beyond reproach. It’s a hypocritical position without a logical foundation but that is a fundamental characteristic of all “isms.”
You see conservatism isn’t alone in this flaw; it applies to liberalism, capitalism, socialism, environmentalism, etc… It also applies to any extreme position in any belief system or religion. It is this type of thinking that led to decades of denial that smoking was harmful, to wars like Vietnam or the invasion of Iraq.
I’m not advocating that science should be our sole philosophy or that scientists should run the world. However I believe we’d be in much better shape if our government, the public, our political talking heads and media would take the time to develop a better understanding of the scientific method and critical thinking in general, it’s a dream I have.