7 Comments

What struck me with the widespread move to declare 'science is political [and we have no problem with that] is how it parallels the move within wider academic and corporate culture from promoting 'equality' to seeking 'equity'. Both declare that a previously laudable goal of trying to remain [politically neutral / colourblind] is impossible and therefore it is necessary to attempt to tip the scales in favour of [progressivism / minority groups]. Indeed, in their stronger forms, both declare that continuing with the previous goal is now itself a sin because 'silence is complicity' or that saying one doesn't see colour is itself a form of white supremacy.

And this pick-a-side approach definitely is damaging science: one only needs to witness some of the nonsense that has been put out by Scientific American or 'Science'-based Medicine on particular hot-button issues, or the dreadful optics of scientists in the middle of a pandemic trying to justify why certain protests were less of an infection risk than others. Trouble is, how to query this without coming across as some frothing GB News Wokefinder General - I thought this episode managed that well.

Expand full comment

Great episode. Reminds me of Ian Leslie’s recent substacks about how historians who become politicised end up endorsing shoddy or outright false research.... it’s a dodgy road to go down if you want your discipline to be trusted.

Expand full comment

Super episode. One point for interest, though. It's daft to argue that empirical facts are necessarily policy neutral. To know if something's policy neutral, you need to look at literature around policy and the specific area you have in mind. Someone shouting 'fire' in a crowded theatre doesn't, in banal logical terms, mean everyone will panic. Some might embrace death. But we know that would be silly argument to justify allowing people to shout 'fire' in crowded theatres. The fact in this case of shouting 'fire' in this case is strongly vectored in policy terms, as it were. That vectoring, or rather the lack of it, is what given the notion of policy neutrality meaning. You mention Harden's book as an example; but that illustrates my point. Harden stresses the psychological orthodoxy that black people have lower average IQs than white, then she says that we can only be anti-racist if we accept that that IQ inferiority might be influenced by genetics. She then goes on to make policy proposals. But who would honestly see her assertions about race as policy neutral? Just sayin', like.

Expand full comment

Have you seen this recent PEW Survey: https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2023/11/14/americans-trust-in-scientists-positive-views-of-science-continue-to-decline/. Among other things, "[b]etween 2019 and 2023 Democrats who say that science has a mostly positive impact on society decreased from 77 to 69%, while Republicans decreased from 70 to 47%." Ouch!

Expand full comment

The Nazi example is interesting, but where I come down on it is that it didn't seem to really matter? The "science is political" thing I think boils down to scientific institutions - and scientists themselves - having an inflated sense of importance. Science saying we should be nice to Jews is not going to make an Antisemite decide to be nice to Jews. Maybe it can matter at the extreme margins, but people just genuinely do not value the direct input of scientists NEARLY that much. You don't see a lot of policy analysts talk at city council meetings, and it's not because they don't have thoughts.

It's frankly not even worth the ink. The Nazis didn't become nicer, US and Britain did not lift immigration quotas, nothing of consequence resulted from the action. There would be upside if taking these stances as scientific orgs mattered, but they don't and there aren't.

Expand full comment

I agree with the points made in the podcast about keeping scientific research away from political ideology. I am wondering about your thoughts on politically-charged language, which is what many social science organizations are now promoting for the sake of inclusivity. An example of this is the American Psychological Association Style Guide’s recommendation to use “sex assigned at birth” instead of “birth sex.” I consider myself to be a lefty psychologist, but these language recommendations irk me because they seem imprecise, confusing, and have a political charge to them that likely alienates our politically conservative client population, which, ironically, is the opposite of inclusivity.

https://www.apa.org/about/apa/equity-diversity-inclusion/language-guidelines

Expand full comment