“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
— Philip K. Dick
There is nothing worse than the politicization of science. If there is one thing that 2020 has taught us it is that we live within this basic framework.
Science is nothing today if not political.
But it’s beyond even that. This is a framework of experts in all major intellectual arenas, be it economics, psychology, diet or health. And they have all been tied in some basic way to public safety and the role of government in administering that goal, supposedly for the betterment of all of us.
Now, the use of science and the scientific method is perfectly applicable when illuminating underlying physical laws of the universe. But it is a means to an end, not an end unto itself.
And politics is nothing if not obsessed with ends rather than means.
The problem, however, is that positivism, of which the scientific method is the implementation of said philosophy, ultimately has limited application in the real world.
This is because it rejects the illumination of truth through the use of intellect and logic, relying solely on experience.
Because positivism cannot create hypotheses, only test them. The process of generating hypotheses is known as a priori — the deriving of knowledge from that which has come before, some but not all of which derived from the results of positivist methodology, i.e. experiment and experience.
A priori arguments rely on intellectual rigor and logic to produce hypotheses based on what is known. Experimentation, via positivism, i.e. the scientific method, is then used to ‘prove’ or ‘disprove’ said hypothesis.
From Theory to Theorem
To give an example. The Gibbs Free Energy equation was derived from an a priori set of postulates built on the proven theorems through which mathematics were derived.
In short, we built math through logic and reason, a priori, and men like Gibbs used those mathematical tools to derive their equations which govern the way matter interacts.
Where positivism comes in is in testing Gibbs’ equation to see if it, indeed, holds up to scrutiny. And under very specific boundary conditions it does.
Theory? A priori. Practice and application? Positivism.
This distinction is truly the most important thing that needs to be interjected back into our political discourse. Hell, I’d like it to come back into our scientific discourse, c.f. the nonsense about dark matter, global warming etc.
The problem we have today with modern liberalism, especially those in the sciences, is this misapplication of positivism to subjects where variables are explicitly beyond its ability to control for.
This is why appeals to ‘believe all scientists’ and ‘science has spoken’ are, at best, specious, even if they have the veneer of truth to them. Because when you set up an experiment without proper controls none of the conclusions you draw from it are defensible.
They may point you to inquire further, certainly, and that is an unqualified good thing in the search for truth. But it cannot be a bludgeon by which that search for truth ends simply because someone got their intellectual cookie either.
In the down and dirty world of politics hastily drawn conclusions from poorly-controlled ‘science’ can be used to write really provocative headlines capable of swaying public opinion.
Again, I point you to both theories about dark matter and global warming.
Because we live in an age of experts it is easy to do this and create both mass hysteria as well as arm marginally if not wholly untrained people with bad arguments about how to craft policy.
Worse, now we’ve unleashed them on Twitter to ensure no real conversation is possible.
Listen very carefully to most political arguments that start with, “the data suggests” or “experts say” and what you most likely will hear is someone talking out of their ass but appearing to have facts on their side.
Because using positivism in the social sciences is just inappropriate. In medicine it’s the great frontier and by definition is difficult to get any kind of definitive answer from.
Once you’ve done real science, like I have, and have had your ass kicked by simple systems like an electroplating bath or a groundwater sample you realize that our knowledge of the subtle chemistry of human beings is, at best, hubris.
So, undergirding any policy discussion with “what the science says” isn’t just dishonest it’s dangerous.
Because, in essence, it’s all a giant appeal to authority logical fallacy. My argument is right because He said so. The whole of ‘science as policy’ industry is nothing more than that.
And when you factor in the corrupting nature of government funding of science picking winners and losers for grant money, you really have to question what it is you think you know about just about everything you’ve ever been told.
Now, I’m not being reductionist here in saying we shouldn’t use ‘science’ no matter how specious to inform policy.
Quite the contrary. I accept that politics has to deal with time pressures after all, certainly in a fluid situation like a pandemic. But, at the same time, we have to be cognizant of its limitations and use it only to support basic human rights principles.
Conversely, that means we explicitly don’t use them as an excuse to trample human rights out of fear, ignorance or good ol’ fashioned opportunity.
Politics is where the philosophy and science meet and, at times, explode.
For more than 100 years Progressives and ‘leftists’ of various stripes have appealed to science to engineer a better society through the misapplication of the scientific method to build their arguments.
They have pursued this to the exclusion of all other considerations to ‘prove’ to the world that the community as a whole is always bettered by the suppression of the individual through shared policy goals and ill-defined/ever expanding definitions of human rights.
And because they are driven ideologically and not intellectually they ignore any and all failures of the policies adopted in the name of their stated goals.
Black Communist Swans
The former U.S.S.R. was the original ‘technocracy’ built on these ideas. Today’s leftists still think it got a bad rap. It’s pathetic.
But they can’t give it up because they just know that if they run just one more experiment with slightly different rules, controlling these variables this time, the outcome will be different.
Welcome to the arguments of the Great Reset and the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It’s no different than the Cultural one or the Bolshevik one or the French one.
This is a fundamental misapplication of positivist thinking: asserting your hypothesis is correct when the ‘data’ tells you it’s wrong. You don’t get to keep back-fitting the data to fit the hypothesis and call that proof.
That’s the absolute antithesis of ‘science.’
And even then, the data is clear. Communism doesn’t work.
But I know that because Mises rigorously deconstructed all forms of collectivism a priori in his seminal work, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis published in 1922.
The 20th century experiments in communism and other flavors of socialism all support Mises’ conclusions, again derived a priori from first principles of human behavior. Do we really need another one?
Communism — and all forms of collectivism — destroys capital, wastes time and its adherents kill millions in their quest to find the perfect system. But they are chasing their own tails begging a question that was already answered a priori.
There really was a black swan on the horizon.
If not for the vast mineral wealth in the form of oil and gas the U.S.S.R. wouldn’t have lasted half as long as it did. And even then all it took was an oil price war in the 1980’s to bring it down.
FYI, there’s a lesson in there for other nakedly tyrannical petrostates, including those enlightened ones in Scandinavia. When the oil runs out Norwegians I hope you have something else to export other than lutefisk.
While here in the U.S. a similar technocracy was built slowly through the corruption of the institutions of education, politics and culture, all using the same positivist arguments.
But ‘Science’ Says…
Modern leftists pride themselves on believing in the rationality of science. Many going so far as to discount all religion and culture as nothing more than quaint customs of the mouth-breathing rubes in flyover country.
And with COVID-19 we’ve reached the height of this practice of imbuing scientists with a god-like knowledge of what we should do given any thorny political problem.
That’s why pseudo-intellectuals and midwits in white suburbia bought into the lies of Anthony Fauci, while ignoring the flip-flopping of him, the CDC, the WHO, and every other ‘expert.’
This science worship neatly bypasses politicians you don’t like to support whatever argument you want to believe. It doesn’t matter that it’s now just as much a religion as Christianity or Islam.
If the high priest of ‘science’ says masks are necessary on Tuesdays but not Thursdays then they simply go along with it because the alternative is admitting that your priests are just hucksters with fancy government titles.
It also absolves people of the responsibility of making the hard decisions. The experts have all that worked out.
Which brings me to what actually started this blog post.
One of these true high priests of ‘scientism,’ the straight-out-of-central-casting Neil Degrasse Tyson opined recently on RT about how disappointed he was with humanity over not coming together over COVID-19.
“I thought that when the coronavirus landed that we would’ve all banded together and say: ‘We’re all human and that’s a common enemy, like an alien invasion. We’ve all seen it in the movies. We got to be together on this one.’ But it didn’t happen to my great disappointment in our species.”
At this late date for a guy like Mr. Tyson to go on thinking COVID-19 was such an existential threat to humanity as an alien invasion is really stunning.
I thought this guy was supposed to be smart? Like really smart?
It’s like he’s forgotten that Alan Moore’s Watchmen, which I’m sure he read, wasn’t an operating manual for society but rather a warning of where this fetishization of official smart people leads.
I may just be some ‘deplorable’ boob living in the sticks of N. Florida, but last I checked more people are alive today than there were at the beginning of this pandemic.
Or maybe my understanding of math isn’t sufficient to handle a number as big as 7.7 billion.
Or that, according to the U.S. government’s population clock, a baby is born every 8 seconds on this planet and a person dies every 10. Now, with my admittedly only 3 years of college level calculus, I may not be as qualified as Mr. Tyson to judge the validity of 10 being greater than 8, so forgive my arrogance in thinking this.
But this seems like pretty strong evidence that COVID-19 isn’t a threat to humanity as a whole.
Further, I’m just a lowly degreed chemist and not an ‘astrophysicist’ like Mr. Tyson so maybe there’s something else I’m missing here.
The Reality Bomb
This false equivalence of an alien invasion we would all willingly fight is not the same as a virus with a slightly elevated risk of death versus the annual flu. This is the very definition of ‘not intellectually rigorous.’
In fact it’s the opposite. It is purposefully deceptive and manipulative emotional blackmail that should be beneath the contempt of a ‘scientist’ of Mr. Tyson’s stature.
He goes on further:
“I don’t mind political fights. Political fights are fine when you’re talking about policy and legislation. But you should never have a political fight about…scientific research that has been objectively shown to be true in peer-reviewed journals,” Tyson said, adding that doing so is a “recipe for disaster.”
Now this I agree somewhat with, which is why I consider this more like Coronapocalypse: The Movie and not a true existential threat to humanity which required any kind of policy decision which sparked this political fight he’s crying crocodile tears over.
Because, and I’m sure Mr. Tyson would agree with this if he were a scientist, there is little “…scientific research that has been objectively shown to be true in peer-reviewed journals…” about COVID-19 which has been properly discussed in the public sphere.
And yet very polarizing policies are in place depriving people of not only their rights, which he seems cavalier to, but also their future prosperity.
The ‘science’ has been used by governments assume a level of control over our movements and activities far beyond the scope of what the ‘science’ has shown. And since when the science isn’t settled, shouldn’t we settle back on first principles to minimize human suffering along all vectors, not just the one variable, virus transmission, we think we’re controlling? Isn’t this in everyone’s best interest for most people, the stated goal of public policy, for a virus with a survival rate greater than 99.8%?
And even this position undermines the basic framework of human rights by placing some cost/benefit analytic overlay on society giving the social engineers more credit than they deserve.
On the best of days in the simplest physical systems, getting objectively true data from any experiment is painstakingly difficult work. Reviewing it and assessing its validity in relation to known physical laws of the universe is even harder work. Thinking that somehow we can use this to craft global policy is frankly, prima facia evidence of psychosis devoid of empathy.
At best, this is the role commentators like Mr. Tyson are supposed to fill to keep us grounded in the humility of our ignorance. At worst, it’s the propaganda of tyrants.
It’s clear from his positions Mr. Tyson has forgotten all of these basic points.
But what should I have expected from someone who continues to support scientifically unproven junk like dark matter, which we’ve never found any evidence of, and CO2-induced global warming, which openly denies the magnetic and electrical interplay between the earth and the sun on our climate.
And these are his chosen fields of study.
But this is what comes when one school of thought, positivism, corrupts both the science and the politics in a feedback loop of granted favors and the open suppression of a priori arguments.
Because that’s where we are today and it will get worse before it improves. Our society has become post-rational.
By that line of reasoning I was wrong in my opening thesis statement. There is something worse than the politicization of science, the denial that it’s even possible.
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Great essay! A rarely read.
I happened to read this at Zerohedge. This article expresses a lot of what I have been thinking for decades, but especially in recent years. And more especially now during the pandemic. There is what I have been calling a “tyranny of experts,” mostly among progressive Democrats. Well, all Democrats seem to be progressives these days.
I constantly see Democrats claiming to be “pro-science” and accusing everyone else of being “anti-science.” Most of them have no real concept of what science is.
So I am very glad to find this blog and looking forward to reading more of it.
Thank you for reading Polly and following through from Zerohedge.
One of the reasons why the USSR lasted as long as it did was b/c of US aid in the form of technology transfers, and financing the bolshevik revolution in the first place. But don’t take my word for it; excellent research on this matter has been done by Antony Sutton, who was a professor at the Hoover Institute and whose career was torpedoed after his books came out.
Here is a clip on YT where he explains the whole thing succinctly, absolutely worth your while, Conclusion; the whole East vs West thing was a complete hoax (remember George Orwell writing about in 1984….)
Yes, and we dare not question official history as authors and researchers who have done so have their books banned online, and their careers ended.
Western historiography has been corrupt for decades now. So, we cannot trust “science” or officially accepted “history”. Very few individuals know the truth about the major events of the 1930s and 1940s that have shaped the world for the past several decades.
We have to remember that the entities that push this post-rational reality do not see socialism, communism, Marxism as failures. Those types of “realities” work superbly in separating the elite and the rest of the unwashed masses. The intent of these elites is beyond insidious and as ancient as man’s known history.
Kicked off Twitter for saying that lockdown advocates should be deported to North Korean.
I read this on LRC, so I appreciate your cross-posting. I was delighted to see your inclusion of dark matter as one of the failures of scientists to stick to science. In doing so, you are attacking a load-bearing structure of the atheistic story of the origin and history of the universe. Without the imaginary dark matter, there is just not enough “stuff” out there to make possible the materialistic cosmological model.
Good article. I came across it on lewrockwell.com.
Positivism versus intellect and logic reminds me of this:
“What is Chochmah and Binah?
The way our brain works is that we all first activate our Chochmah and then our Binah in every thought process that unfolds in our minds.
Chochmah is the original flash of insight. It involves the thrill of a new idea. When you feel “struck” by some new insight or new concept, you are in your Chochmah mode. Chochmah is that concise, nutshell of an idea that you just conceived. But you’ve only conceived it — you haven’t yet developed it, or even really understood it.
Binah, on the other hand, is the meticulous systemizing and quantifying of the solution that Chochmah has conceived. Binah involves taking that flash of insight, elaborating on it, and probing its particulars.”
One without the other does not work.
I missed an irony here. Positivism (only genuine knowledge comes from experience) is being used to modify an abstraction – the collective – that only exists in the mind and cannot be experienced.
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