Monday, September 24, 2012

Mooney Review: Abuse the Authority of Science

Ari Schulman, senior editor of The New Atlantis, has an interesting and hard-hitting review of Chris Mooney's recent book in the Wall Street Journal.

I've written earlier about the bald nonsense behind Mooney's thesis. I still believe his writing is a perversion of science, for purely political purposes. And -- since science is the most powerful (and successful) philosophy we have for understanding the world -- it is a dangerously deception basis for proclaiming political superiority (and I've never seen any evidence that Mooney understands even the basics of science).

Mooney's writings are as blind, and and dangerous, as anything Mark Steyn has written. It's just that most people who read this blog like what he says, politically. That's not enough for me.

You should read all of Schulman's review, but his conclusion is particularly relevant:
Central to that narrative, and to both of these books, is the practice of claiming that science simply says that one side of a political argument is right. Such claims typically misrepresent partial scientific understanding and invoke the authority of science as a cover for moral, philosophical and political premises that have not been argued or accepted. And this practice gets to the root of our science problem. What makes science special is that its claims don't rest on authority but are available for anyone to rigorously question and verify. Yet there are far too many scientific advances today for anyone to know them all, and most are impractical for nonscientists to replicate. Thus we must place our trust in scientific authority. But when science is invoked as the final word on claims for which it obviously isn't, it subverts this very authority. What results is a general public distrust—irrational but in a sense reasonable—of science, providing grounds for people to resist findings that undermine their beliefs. Books written with the transparent aim of satiating the partisan palate may be as inevitable as politics itself, but the ones that abuse the authority of science to do so make worse the very problem they claim to be fighting.
There are no easy answers. Political writers who latch onto science as a way of forcing their politics forward are as dangerous as writers who utilize any device, and frankly, they should be tossed out onto their ear with just as much disgust and just as much force.

And be sure to spit in their direction as you throw them. Or at least right after.

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