Daniel Sarewitz has a post at Nature in which he decries the trend among many scientists of acting as shrill Democrat partisans:
The US scientific community must decide if it wants to be a Democratic interest group or if it wants to reassert its value as an independent national asset. If scientists want to claim that their recommendations are independent of their political beliefs, they ought to be able to show that those recommendations have the support of scientists with conflicting beliefs. Expert panels advising the government on politically divisive issues could strengthen their authority by demonstrating political diversity. The National Academies, as well as many government agencies, already try to balance representation from the academic, non-governmental and private sectors on many science advisory panels; it would be only a small step to be equally explicit about ideological or political diversity. Such information could be given voluntarily.
To connect scientific advice to bipartisanship would benefit political debate. Volatile issues, such as the regulation of environmental and public-health risks, often lead to accusations of ‘junk science’ from opposing sides. Politicians would find it more difficult to attack science endorsed by avowedly bipartisan groups of scientists, and more difficult to justify their policy preferences by scientific claims that were contradicted by bipartisan panels.
One of the more depressing aspects of the age in which we live is the prostitution of what is called Science for political ends, by people who claim to be scientists. The pursuit of truth is a noble endeavor. At its best that is precisely what Science is. Too often currently what is called Science is politicized junk with a clear agenda at its core. Andrew Ferguson in The Weekly Standard examines this phenomenon in regard to the attempt by liberal academics to claim that those holding conservative political views are irrational, selfish or just plain stupid.
Earlier generations of leftists knew the power of Science to discredit their political opponents. Most famously, in the years following World War II, Theodor Adorno and his fellow sociologists developed the F scale—“F” for fascism—to identify the “authoritarian personality” that so often gave rise to political and cultural conservatism. They discovered that conservatives suffered (unconsciously!) from “prefascist tendencies” like “intolerance of ambiguity” and “moral rigidity.” They acquired this scientific knowledge by reading questionnaires filled out by 180 respondents during the last year of World War II. Among the respondents were Rotarians, patients at mental hospitals, San Quentin inmates, students at the University of California, and members of the Lion’s Club.
You don’t hear much about Adorno anymore. As a political figure he was too extreme, and as a social scientist he was too transparently political, to remain in good repute with scientists who have persuaded themselves that they have no ideology. In time it became clear that in pretending to plumb the authoritarian personality, Adorno and his “investigators had arrived at their conclusions in advance” through a “set of self-validating procedures,” as the great sociologist Christopher Lasch put it.
Our generation of Democrats, in and out of the press, have now rediscovered Adorno’s methods, and put them to the same purpose. Edsall himself has become a booster of a series of “studies” that together form, in his words, “an extensive academic critique of the right.” The studies are boring, which is why the few people who bother to look them up rarely get beyond the one-paragraph summary. But they’re worth studying for an insight into the way Adorno’s heirs, our own psychopundits, continue his work.
The studies rely on the principle that has informed the social sciences for more than a generation: If a researcher with a Ph.D. can corral enough undergraduates into a campus classroom and, by giving them a little bit of money or a class credit, get them to do something—fill out a questionnaire, let’s say, or pretend they’re in a specific real-world situation that the researcher has thought up—the young scholars will (unconsciously!) yield general truths about the human animal; scientific truths. The scientific truths revealed in Edsall’s “academic critique of the right” demonstrate that “the rich and powerful” lack compassion, underestimate the suffering of others, have little sympathy for the disadvantaged, and are far more willing to act unethically than the less rich and not so powerful.
How do we know this? A paper called “Power, Distress, and Compassion: Turning a Blind Eye to the Suffering of Others” describes a study put together by a team of social psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley, a few years ago. Graduate assistants managed to collect 118 undergraduates, most of them under the age of 21. The kids agreed to participate in the experiment because they were given $15 or class credit for a psychology requirement. A skeptic might point out that the sample of participants was thus skewed from the start, unnaturally weighted toward either kids who badly need $15 or psych majors. And all of them, by definition, were the kinds of kids who want to go to college at Berkeley. Almost half of the participants were Asian American; only 3.5 percent were African American. Caucasians made up less than 30 percent. Continue reading