Ideologically-Motivated Science?

Ann Althouse asks, "Is science-hating a phenomenon of the left or the right?"

She has specially requested comments from readers on her site:

I would love to hear, in the comments, from readers who have found themselves in college courses where instructors taught about sexuality and pressured students to accept theories of culture and actively excluded biological science. (Please don't name individuals.)

P.S.: Technorati seems to be messed up over here too.

Eric Rasmusen (mail) (www):
Why not name individuals, I wonder?
7.12.2005 6:10pm
Zywicki (mail):
Always looking for intereting new research questions regarding social norms, eh?

Seriously, I assume she didn't want the discussion to get personalized, or potentially even libelous.
7.12.2005 7:17pm
Greedy Clerk (mail):
It's a phenomenon most prevalent on the right these days. The stuff Ann is talking about is hardly a rejection of entire scientific theories, and there is no movement that has gained any traction to stop teaching about biological differences between the sexes in school entirely. This "crossfire" type analysis -- that both sides are wrong -- ain't going to fly here. Mainstream Republicans reject certain aspects of science completely. The same cannot be said of mainstream democrats.
7.12.2005 7:42pm
Greedy Clerk (mail):
By the way, I meant "a substantial number of mainstream Republicans" -- not all mainstream Republicans.
7.12.2005 7:43pm
Goober (mail):
I suppose I may as well invoke the Larry Summers blow-up, and the reaction of at least many liberals/Democrats/etc. against the very notion that biological neuroscience might have something to say about differences between men and women. Not to imply that the scientific actually supports a biological explanation for hiring differentials (I myself took only enough neuroscience to realize that I was never going to be very good at it, then recalled Socrates' maxim that wisest is he who knows he knows nothing, and declared victory and called it a day), but the spirit of scientific inquiry was not well served by very many liberals on that day.

I myself had nothing but professors who lectured on, among other things, the meaning of sexuality and forbade discussion of biological science, but I was a literature major.

But Greedy Clerk is of course correct. It's an article of faith among most Republicans that weak forces are directly proportional to the mass of a particle, rather than inversely. Democrats for their part are skeptical of Gaussian constants, but that counts as math instead of science, I think.
7.12.2005 8:49pm
M (mail):
To agree w/ GC above, one can very well think that biology doesn't explain a fact (or vastly under-determines it) but still take a scientific approach to the subject- I'd guess that linguistics, sociology, anthropology, economics, etc. all fall under this area. Even a "theory of culture" is quite possibly a scientific theory, so if you think that gender rolls, say, are explained by a "theory of culture" that hardly makes you anti-science in itself. I can't really tell what Althouse's position is, but if she thinks one either thinks we must accept that gender or sex roles or sexuality are completely or largely determined by biology or else we are "anti-science" she's quite mistaken.
7.12.2005 9:01pm
SupremacyClaus (mail):
All lawyers, right, left, up, down, are anti-science. I have yet to meet or hear of any exception to this absolute truth. Scientists turning trick going to law school, have closed their eyes during the royal screwing and indoctrination they undergo at the mercy of the criminal cult enterprise. Problem. They cannot split off their minds between the 2 professions. One of the professions is lying in the conflict between the 2 world views. Guess which.

Every minute, every day, the lawyer peddles supernatural, church drived doctrines in perverted form. It believes, the future is foreseeable. Minds can be read. And conduct should be compared to that of a fictional character. It banished math above the fourth grade, that necessary to handle money. For examples, a fifth grade subject, fractions, causes immediate loss of bladder control. If insisted upon, a consciousness change takes place. The eyes glaze over. One must get ready to catch the falling, unconscious lawyer. I suggest you lawyers start running seances to seek guidance from the dead criminal, such as Blackstone. Dial up Cardozo for some German Free Law Movement inspired verbal pyrotechnics. He would love to comment on Kelo.

Why would anyone educated do that, in gross violation of the Establishment Clause? Everyone knows the answer.

Beyond opposition to all science, they affirmatively attack it, seeking its defunding and destruction through unmeritorious litigation. When lawyer lying is exposed, there is no takes backsies from the criminal cult enterprise. Res Judicata. No repo on the Gulfstream jet from the anti-scientific cult criminal.

As to "res judicata," all Latin violates the Establishment Clause. Why not quote Arabic, from the Koran, in violation of the Establishment Clause? Why not promulgate doctrine from your Aunt Tsigani, the talented psychic? That's an obvious one. The lawyer would find Koran based and talented psychic based jurisprudence simpler, less lucrative.
7.12.2005 11:09pm
The left did just fine that day. Summers was asked a question -- why so few women in science? -- that he obviously hadn't thought about at all, judging from his fumbling response. This is pretty shocking for someone who is arguably the most important person in all of American academia. He basically threw in "biology" at the end, as if grasping for straws. To turn this ex post into a call for free scientific inquiry, and make Summers a vanguard of anything is to declare Ignatius Reilly a prominent medievalist.

Unless and until someone can offer any plausible hypothesis for how differential reproductive success is affected, it is not worth investigating. More so, the plausible benefits from the study might well be outweighed by the ultimate misuse of whatever data there are, since the effects are likely to be so minor. To a very large degree, success in math, or any science, depends on mastering method. Some people are Will Huntings, but that's a skill that's allocated randomly. Ability should also be distinguished from propensity, too. Maybe the "nurturing gene," if there is one (or, as is more likely, are several) pushes women to the humanities as a matter of inclination. This can be overcome, but the appropriate step for someone in Summers' unique position is to do everything in his power to encourage women to develop skills in scientific method. Ironically, strengthening the core curriculum was a strong step in the right direction.
7.12.2005 11:47pm

Who the effing hell are you referring to? As a lib/dem I have never met a lib/dem that refutes that there are inherent differences between men and women. What we do object to is the straw man argument you are making by taking one wacko and then applying it to 100 million americans.

Goober, of course we could simply state that every CC/republican believes the earth is no more than a few thousand years old as well as that cc/GOPers don't fear global warming (despite the large and near unanimous body of scientific evidence that it is happening) because they believe they will be raptured before it takes place &, in the worst case scenario, ecological doomsday will bring the day of rapture nearer.
7.12.2005 11:48pm
Steve P. (mail):
Let's focus on the question asked, shall we? Responding to another's hyperbole with your own doesn't accomplish much.

Greedy Clerk has some points, but in my anecdotal experience, I know of very few conservatives who would completely discount the science of anything that was pretty thoroughly researched (i.e. global warming or evolution). Both do suffer from scientific flaws (replication and falsification), but they're understood and accepted by the majority of Americans.

When you talk about science-hating, that brings about two categories in my mind, the strongly religious and the rest of us. The strongly religious may discount anything they cannot fit into their interpretation of the ideas proscribed by their holy book(s). The rest of us have the same problem, only we're more flexible. Instead of a holy book, we may focus on our moral ideals, or some other heuristic which governs our view of the world. Human beings don't like to see their world turned upside-down, and will respond vigorously to any idea that seems to do just that. Ever notice how Dems like me respond to scientific reports that give a lot of caveats to the human element of global warming? Admittedly, many of them were funded by oil companies, but think of your visceral reaction before you researched the origins of that particular study.
7.13.2005 12:46am
Don (mail):
Greedy Clerk's point depends critically upon the definition of just who is 'mainstream' in each party, of course.

Igglephan, despite his omniscience (Summers 'obviously' hadn't thought about a particular question at all) and impeccable taste in sports teams, misses the boat on this one. As I wrote in another comment thread here, the evidence on differential brain function across gender is simply overwhelming and begins days after birth. For instance, 75% of autistic individuals are male. Also, males and females differ in ability to complete tasks based on spatial perception. In this case, the first moment and second moment in the distribution of male ability are greater than that for females. So along this particular dimension, the extreme right tail of the aggregated population as well as the extreme left tail are both overwhelmingly male.

To believe in the face of this evidence that there cannot possibly be any gender-based biological difference in ability to do higher math and physics -- to reject it as a hypothesis with potential to explain observed phenomena -- is to reject the scientific method itself in favor of a religious belief that would do any creationist proud.

Likewise, dismissal of scientific results based on the source of the scientists' funding is, at its core, fundamentally anti-science. Dismiss results because the data were improperly collected. Dismiss results because the data analysis was faulty. Dismiss results because the conclusions don't follow logically from the analysis. But don't dismiss results because your politics are different from those of the fellow who wrote the checks -- that's just religion. Religion, by the way, is prevalent on the left as well as on the right nowadays, albeit in different forms (e.g., environmentalism).
7.13.2005 10:31am
Engineer turned lawyer here: both sides ignore inconvenient facts and theories and treat convenient theories as facts.

From the left>> Global warming is indisputable fact
From the right>> Global warming is a theory cooked up by greens

From the left>> We evolved from monkeys to suit our environment
From the fundamentalist right>> God made man

From the left>> Tax cuts equals lost revenues
From the right>> The Laffer curve (Tax cuts equals increased revenues)

From the left>> DDT kills birds
From the right>> DDT saves humans

Disagree with any of these and you are an apostate. Publish and article questioning global warming and lose your job. Science has been politicized and it is everyone's loss.

These debates have real consequences Kyoto will cost a trillion dollars, teaching intelligent design rather than evolution is not going to train strong scientist who can invent cures for cancer.

Treat politicians with scorn when they enter into the fray. Ask a Kansas School board member what a flagellum is or ask Al Gore to define a buffered system. If they can't answer these questions then they probably shouldn't be controlling the debate on scientific subjects.

Science is a tough business with rules for settling these disputes. Hypothesis, experimentation, data, statistics, repeatability? These are the things that should count, not who is lobbying and funding.
7.13.2005 12:58pm
von (mail) (www):
Both do suffer from scientific flaws (replication and falsification), but they're understood and accepted by the majority of Americans.

Huh? Do you understand the theories? Both evolution and global warming can be falsified in any number of respects.

The trouble, here, is twofold: First, most folks haven't the faintest idea as to what constitutes a scientific theory. Second, and this is a criticism directed to Althouse, there seems to be a conflation of doubt regarding poorly-established scientific theories and well-established scientific theories. The role of sex vs. nurture in one's ability to catch a fly ball is not subject to a robust scientific theory -- rather, the evidence is all over the place and (thus) so are the theories. Evolution, however, is a well-established theory: it is not a stretch to say that it is the foundation of modern biology. Disbelieving one person's theory of sexual differences (an alleged failing of the "Left") is thus qualitatively different from disbelieving the theory of evolution (an alleged failing of the "Right").
7.13.2005 1:27pm
Michael B (mail):
Agree with Steve P. and Don and similar sentiments.

In a thread devoted to the ideological cooptation of scientific interests (and let it be particularly emphasized the "scientific" includes the development of working and experimental hypotheses) there is a dearth of closely reasoned, non-ideological arguments. In fact, there's some deeply ironic eye-rollers on display, as if the subject invoked is to discuss others' ideological/religious biases, not one's own.

E.g., Larry Summers' comments were not at all out of line - indeed, very much to the contrary (after clicking on the link go to the graph beginning with "The most controversial ..."). His comments are couched in terms of tentativeness and hypotheses worthy of exploration, not in a language of foregone conclusions or preordained dogmas. Secondly, his language doesn't transgress any science whatsoever, again, very much to the contrary.

It's telling, in a thread devoted to science vs. the cooptation of science, that the unvarnished empirical evidence (either direct quotes from or more simply linking to the entirety of Summers's speech) has not to this point been referenced.
7.13.2005 1:57pm
Michael B (mail):
7.13.2005 2:02pm
OK, I was wrong in part. My understanding was that the differential aptitude thesis came about when flubbing a question. I was probably thinking of one of his comments during his apology junket. Summers, however, offers very little data in support of his hypthoses, meaning it's hard to take seriously as subjects of legit scientific investigation, and it's fairly undermined by his initial observation that there are very few people of either sex who could be at Harvard as researchers anyway. (Also, nothing is stopping anyone at Harvard from doing this research -- biologists do not need their university presidents to "call for" investigations, any more than American literature needed Emerson to call for it.)

With that relevant population class -- Harvard students -- socialization probably plays a higher role than innate ability. We're already at the "right tail," in Don's terms, and there are no doubt women there. They can also be competent scientists without having necessarily the extreme abilities of an Einstein, but tenacity and willingness to do the research, etc., any more than people can be antisocial without being autistic. Summers still throws out an idea that many people would find legitimately offensive, since, biology aside, it has independent grounding in stereotypes, and he does nothing to back it up. I almost am tempted to read his argument as a denial the problem even exists, because so few women would be good at this anyway, which is the misuse of whatever biological data there are. It's just so attenuated from the problem of educating existing and potential students at top schools of both genders -- a part of which may be a response to inadequate role models and support by eduational leaders, which probably operates beyond their consciousness, even. I just think you can't apply the science behind gender differences, what ever they may be, without being sensitive to differences due to status we *know* affect life chances; and Summers' has the burden of framing his comments to prevent misuse. Just allocate the funds for the research already!

He seems to want it both ways, which is his problem. To be able to invoke the mantle of disinterested scientist, while operating as a "public intellectual." His comments were not thought through enough to straddle the divide.
7.13.2005 4:29pm
Easlety (mail):
Igglephan, the link to Summers speech has now been provided. Could you quote from that and respond to the specific comments you object to?
7.13.2005 4:46pm