There are scientists, but this post is not about them.
(If you want my career advise for folks who like science, please read the following posts instead: “How Academia Works,” “When It Sucks to Be Young, “Science, Paradigms, and the Old Boys Network,” and How to Escape the Humanities Ghetto.”)
There are people who oppose science in ideological grounds, either out of a specific distaste for science, or else because scientific research or findings leads (or is seen to lead) to objectionable conclusions, or else because they do not know what science is and attack it as part of their other activities.. This post is about them.
Let’s consider two dimensions of anti-scientists, by the nature of their strength.
- The size dimension accounts for the number of their confederates int their attempt to retard or stop scientific progress.
- The seriousness dimension accounts for the intellectual rigor and elite infiltration that they and their confederates have gained.
We can describe each corner of this taxonomy:
- Popular X Elite: The elite and the public are united against scientific investigation. This is the case in most non-medical human biodiversity research, because of the ideological and historical connotations of such research in the eyes of many. Thus, Human Biomonoculturalists are examples of popular, elite anti-scientists.
- Popular X Downtrodden: Large, widespread public animosity towards science, but without elite support. In the United States and many Muslim countries, attitudes toward evolutionary biology fall into this category. So Creationists are examples of a popular, downtrodden anti-scientists.
- Small X Downtrodden: A politically unpopular and generally disenfranchised group is opposed to science, but has not yet gained any form of transaction. So Flat Earthers are examples of small, downtrodden anti-scientists.
- Small X Elite: A small, highly trained cadre of experts, with elite credentials, attempts to overturn scientific funding. In this post I’ll describe Collectivist Ideologues as examples of small, elite anti-scientists.
An example of such a small but serious attack on science — of Collectivist Ideologues — is Dr. Patrick Thaddeus Jackson’s recent post, “The Society of Individuals,” which appeared at the popular political science blog Duck of Minerva
The writing in Dr. Jackson’s article is dense, but the argument boils down to the following
1. Rational Choice Theory immorally operationalizes social decisions on the individual, not the society level
So we have two fundamentally different models here: autonomous individuals â€” prototypical males? â€” with preferences making strategic calculations, and relationally embedded actors (Iâ€™m not going to push the gender point any further here, but I think that many feminists might agree with me about the relative depictions of autonomy-vs.-embeddedness in a patriarchal society) engaged in deliberation and discernment looking for the right course of action. While the former might end up conforming to one or another moral code, only the latter can actually engage in â€œmoral actionâ€ per se, because autonomous individuals would be choosing whether or not to act morally while embedded actors would be endeavoring to suss out the moral thing to do and then doing it.
2. The implications of this are morally objectionable twiceover, for being based on individuality and sexism
I still maintain that rational choice theory â€” and indeed, the broader decision-theoretical world of which rational choice theory constitutes just a particular, heavily-mathematized province â€” endorses and naturalizes a form of selfishness that is ultimately corrosive of human community and detrimental to the very idea of moral action.
3. Thus, rational choice research programs — and the communication of those programs are “basically corrosive and should be opposed whenever practicable.”
I think that things like Freakonomics [tdaxp excerpt] are basically corrosive and should be opposed whenever practicable. We owe it to the broader society not to simply tell stories that reaffirm the value-commitments and modes of person-hood prized by dominant social actors who want us to equate our happiness with the satisfaction of personal desires
Dr. Jackson’s collectivism idealism states (apparently) that scientists are immoral if they attempt to help control, predict, and improve variation in the world in a way that doesn’t fit with Jackson’s ideals, biases and sentimentalities.
At first glance, Dr. Jackson’s post is odd. It’s too dense and abstract to gain much popular traction. And his description of Rational Choice theory is ridiculous to anyone familiar with it. But such talking heads have wracked havoc in other ares, by attacking science for opposing their sentimentalities and prejudices.
At second glance, Jackson’s post is somewhat more understandable. Political science does not progress like a normal science, and many people who use terms like “Rational Choice” may themselves have no idea how science works. Few anti-scientists are driven by animosity towards humanity. Ignorance of science, and a love of their idealized and wished-for worlds, doubtless plays a larger part.
Anti-science is dangerous. Popular-elite anti-science most of all, but even popular-downtrodden (like the hapless Creationists) and small-elite (like Dr. Jackson’s arguments) should be recognized as the threats to human progress than they are. Human history is a record of one stagnation after another, with brief bursts of progress in between. I hope the anti-Scientists do not stop our current progress, and consign us all to castrated academia composed of ideologues and their pet biases.