Language, assumptions and the Conservative “War on Science” [Darleen Click]
The headline is a Left-liberal’s wetdream Study: Trust in science among educated conservatives plunges
Conservatives, particularly those with college educations, have become dramatically more skeptical of science over the past four decades, according to a study published in the April issue of the American Sociological Review. Fewer than 35 percent of conservatives say they have a “great deal” of trust in the scientific community now, compared to nearly half in 1974.
“The scientific community … has been concerned about this growing distrust in the public with science. And what I found in the study is basically that’s really not the problem. The growing distrust of science is entirely focused in two groups—conservatives and people who frequently attend church,” says the study’s author, University of North Carolina postdoctoral fellow Gordon Gauchat. [...]
Gauchat attributes the changes to two forces: Both science and conservatives have changed a lot in 40 years. In the post-WWII period, research was largely wedded to the Defense Department and NASA—think the space race and the development of the atomic bomb. Now the scientific institution “has come out from behind those institutions and been its own cultural force.” That has meant it is increasingly viewed as a catalyst of government regulation, as in the failed Democratic proposal to institute cap-and-trade as a way to reduce carbon emissions and stave off climate change.
“People are now viewing science as part of government regulation,” Gauchat says.
Not that Gauchat views that as problematic on its face. The published study is here and is revealing in its language. Look at what Gauchat bases his study on:
Pg 6: Data for this analysis come from the General Social Survey (GSS), 1972 to 2010 (Smith et al. 2011). [...]
The GSS asked respondents the following question: “I am going to name some institutions in this country. As far as the people running these institutions are concerned, would you say you have a great deal of confidence, only some confidence, or hardly any confidence at all in them [the Scientific Community]?”
Note the sleight of hand here. The question is specifically about scientists not science. Yet this paper uses the word SCIENCE!!1! as if the individuals that practice it, and the process and resulting knowledge, are one and the same. Thus Gauchat, throughout his paper, tries to explain why the “authority of science” — the “accepted” consensus science of scientists involved in “public policy” — finds itself at odds with conservatives.
Gauchat attributes the decline in trust to the elections of Ronald Reagan (the arise of the “New Right”) and George W. Bush. What might have been happening within the science community during those times is never mentioned in the paper. It’s as if the changes within conservative attitudes were spontaneous political events rather than reactive to scientists demanding unelected political authority.
Gauchat also finds counter-intuitive the higher mistrust of “science” among well-educated conservatives. However, this, too can be explained
Pg 13: As mentioned, one interpretation of these findings is that conservatism in the United States has become a cultural domain that generates
its own knowledge base that is often in conflict with the cultural authority of science.[...]
Martin and Desmond (2010) distinguish between ideology, which they argue shapes public opinion by providing knowledge of what is the case, and political sophistication, which they describe as the capacity to incorporate new information or political arguments into an existing ideological rubric.9 This implies that educated or high-information conservatives will hold hyper-opinions about science, because they have a more sophisticated grasp about what types of knowledge will conform with or contradict their ideological positions, and they will prefer to believe what supports their ideology (see Vaisey 2009). Thus, contrary to conventional wisdom and predictions of the deficit model, Martin and Desmond predict that educated conservatives will show higher levels of distrust than noneducated conservatives.
Thus the assertion that even educated conservatives are political hacks who refuse to consider any data outside what will conform to their ideology. Nice, neat and so scientifically based. Also consider that science as some-sort of badge of unaccountable authority is revealed by Gauchat’s further language manipulation:
Pg 17: [T]he public defines “what science is” in three distinct ways: (1) as an abstract method (e.g., replication, empirical, or unbiased); (2) as a cultural location (e.g., takes place in a university or is practiced by highly credentialed individuals); and (3) as one form of knowledge among other types such as commonsense and religious tradition (see Gauchat 2011). Interestingly, conservatives were far more likely to define science as knowledge that should conform to common sense and religious tradition.
Gauchat doesn’t even take a breath between science as one form of knowledge among others to conservatives demand science to conform to the other two forms of knowledge.
Pg 17: Contemporary sociological theory has placed science at the power-center of modern social systems, along with governments and transnational corporations. Political realignment and social conflict in the United States related to science is thus worthy of theorizing and further empirical analysis. Not only could growing conservative distrust of science threaten funding, it may also fundamentally transform how science is organized.
Ah, but we can’t have any interruption of our power and money!! Nein! Nein!
Conservatives have absolutely no reason to mistrust publicly-funded scientists, do they?
A former researcher at Amgen Inc has found that many basic studies on cancer — a high proportion of them from university labs — are unreliable, with grim consequences for producing new medicines in the future.
During a decade as head of global cancer research at Amgen, C. Glenn Begley identified 53 “landmark” publications — papers in top journals, from reputable labs — for his team to reproduce. Begley sought to double-check the findings before trying to build on them for drug development.
Result: 47 of the 53 could not be replicated. He described his findings in a commentary piece published on Wednesday in the journal Nature. [...]
Begley’s experience echoes a report from scientists at Bayer AG last year. Neither group of researchers alleges fraud, nor would they identify the research they had tried to replicate.
But they and others fear the phenomenon is the product of a skewed system of incentives that has academics cutting corners to further their careers.
George Robertson of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia previously worked at Merck on neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s. While at Merck, he also found many academic studies that did not hold up. [...]
When the Amgen replication team of about 100 scientists could not confirm reported results, they contacted the authors. Those who cooperated discussed what might account for the inability of Amgen to confirm the results. Some let Amgen borrow antibodies and other materials used in the original study or even repeat experiments under the original authors’ direction.
Some authors required the Amgen scientists sign a confidentiality agreement barring them from disclosing data at odds with the original findings. “The world will never know” which 47 studies — many of them highly cited — are apparently wrong, Begley said. [...]
For one thing, basic science studies are rarely “blinded” the way clinical trials are. That is, researchers know which cell line or mouse got a treatment or had cancer. That can be a problem when data are subject to interpretation, as a researcher who is intellectually invested in a theory is more likely to interpret ambiguous evidence in its favor.
The problem goes beyond cancer.
On Tuesday, a committee of the National Academy of Sciences heard testimony that the number of scientific papers that had to be retracted increased more than tenfold over the last decade; the number of journal articles published rose only 44 percent.
Yessiree, those Conservatives and their War on Science!
Send ‘em to the re-education camps, posthaste!
Tags: conservatives, gordon gauchat, sociology, war on science