SCIENCE AND IDEOLOGY….John Quiggin, in a good post about Bush economic policy, says:

It’s striking that there is now almost no academic discipline whose conclusions can be considered acceptable to orthodox Republicans. The other social sciences (sociology, anthropology, political science) are even more suspect than economics. The natural sciences are all implicated in support for evolution against creationism, and for their conclusions about global warming, CFCs and other environmental threats. Even the physicists have mostly been sceptical about Star Wars and its offspring. And of course the humanities are beyond the pale.

Conservative disdain for the academic liberalism of the humanities is easy to understand ? those academic liberals really are liberal ? but John is right to be concerned about the rest. The Bush administration seems to have difficulty finding even halfway respectable economists willing to prostitute themselves in support of their insanely destructive economic policies, and the conservative disdain for even the harder sciences has been growing too. This has been a topic of frequent discussion in the pages of Science lately.

This is a problem to be concerned about, and not just from conservatives either. More and more, over the past decade, it strikes me that partisans on both the left and the right have increased their skepticism toward scientific results that clash with their ideology. This is easy to do with the social sciences, of course, since results are almost always statistical in nature and generally deal with wildly complex subjects. This makes them easy to dismiss simply by throwing mud at them and claiming that (a) the methodology was wrong, (b) the investigators were biased, (c) the statistics are suspect, and (d) common sense tells you the results are all wet anyway.

The general attitude here is that anything too complex for the common man to understand can be ignored. What do pointy headed intellectuals know, anyway?

This is an attitude to be avoided. In every field there are fringe elements, and it’s undeniable that occasionally they turn out to be right. But it doesn’t happen very often, and whether the results support your own beliefs or not, the mainstream of science is far more likely to be right than wrong. Ignore it at your peril.

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