On the Left, Bad Politics Leads to Bad Science
In a democracy, everything is political.
Bad Politics and bad science seem to go together.
Last week, we saw this: “All I Want For Christmas Is Full Communism Now.” That’s the desire of BuzzFeed’s UK science editor Kelly Oakes. The verified user tweeted out that deep thought to her many followers.
She soon thought better of it and locked her account. As it happens, many of her readers had reminded Oakes of communism’s tens and tens of millions of victims.
Why would a science editor call for a murderous regime? Before answering that, let’s be fair and remember BuzzFeed is not a science site. Nor is it a site devoted to facts of any real or lasting interest to mankind. We might suspect a science editor there is be like a fashion editor at the New England Journal of Medicine.
Victims of Trumpenpanick
Another BuzzFeed reporter and verified Twitter user, Blake Montgomery, earlier tweeted this proverb: “‘Victims of Communism’ is a white nationalist talking point. Trump just made Nov 7 Natl Day for vics of Communism.” He later apologized.
Having sympathy for communism’s victims can’t possibly equal “white supremacy.” But given Montgomery’s hyper-sensitivity and Oakes fleeing the public square, sympathy for communism would seem to be a “thing” at BuzzFeed. And that might account for why their science editor called for “full communism.”
Yet there are also shades of Trumpenpanick, the irrational fear that President Trump will dictate what “science” gets to be. Of course, you also have to believe that only leftist governments can know what is best in science.
Trumpenpanick accounts for the mini-frenzy caused by the Washington Post. Last week, it reported that the Trump administration “banned” the Center for Disease Control from using certain science words.
With a face as straight as poker legend Nick the Greek’s, the paper said: “The Trump administration is prohibiting officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases.”
The so-called “forbidden” words? “Vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”
There was a strong sense that this was ideological meddling, with more than a whiff of “How dare they!” Science itself was under attack.
Turns out it was fake news.
Responding to the flap, CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald tweeted, “I want to assure you there are no banned words at CDC. We will continue to talk about all our important public health programs.”
She also had to state the obvious. “As part of our commitment to provide for the common defense of the country against health threats, science is and will remain the foundation of our work.” She called the Post’s report “a complete mischaracterization of discussions regarding the budget formulation process.”
By the way, why would there be a revolt over terms like “evidence-based” or “science-based.” That’s because these have specific meanings within science. They relate to a devotion to a method of analyzing data and communicating results, a devotion many scientists find annoying (and not particularly compelling).
Necessity of Politics
Now there is little point to complaining about politics taking over science. Ever since governments became its main source of money, science has been political. (The National Science Foundation dates only to 1950.)
It cannot be wrong per se that science is political. Politics, after all, can in theory be a force for good. It was politics that decided it would be nifty to toodle off to the moon.
But then politics also decided to fund “Visibly ageing femininities: women’s visual discourses of being over-40 and over-50 on Instagram.” And the journal Celebrity Studies paper “Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus: ‘becoming’ a woman, ‘becoming’ a star.” (Both titles were suggested by New Real Peer Review, a Twitter account well worth following.)
Good politics can lead to good science, but bad politics will lead to bad science.
As an example of the intrusion of bad politics, take the recent report in “prestigious” Nature magazine: “Five priorities for weather and climate research” at the World Meteorological Organization.
You might think one of these priorities would be education on the (severe) limitation of climate models, since the ones they have stink at predicting the future. But, no. The real problem, they say, is — wait for it — the lack of diversity.
“Female scientists,” they say, “and those in developing countries need support.” By “support” they mean given lots of money and non-merit-based promotions.
The roadblocks to gender equality need to be identified, and more meteorological service organizations should put strategies in place to retain female staff. Measures might include active recruiting and promotion of women, increasing flexibility and mobility, and stamping out bias.
Well, this just confirms that diversity always leads to mandatory quotas.
Too bad it doesn’t also lead to more accurate science.