Paper: Conservatives Have Lost Faith In The Integrity Of Science

Notes from: Politicization of Science in the Public Sphere: A Study of Public Trust in the United States, 1974 to 2010 — Gordon Gauchat
Available at:

1) Their position: Science is, and always has been, political. It will remain political, because the economy of the scientific establishment, and academia in particular, represents a large number of people, a great deal of money, large bureaucratic organizations, and a dependence upon the public trough.

2) “the scientific community leverages its credibility and technical expertise to assess and certify social policy and other institutional practices (e.g., military technology, medical developments, and expert advisory panels). A breakdown of this postwar consensus along sociopolitical lines may signal that the authority of science no longer provides sufficient legitimacy to policymakers and government regulators or, paradoxically, that the authority of science has reached its upper limit (Yearley 1994). ”

3) I’m not sure I agree that the conservative position has been articulated in this paper. The problem is that conservatives laud the achievements of science in discovery of the physical world. But they see nothing but the politicization of it in the social and political arenas.

Science fits within the conservative concept of man: imperfect and hubristic. Therefore science is a means by which we can overcome our imperfection perception, imperfect comprehension, and hubristic fantasies.

Conservatism is scientific: it seeks demonstrated proofs of success via observation before something can be incorporated into the ‘fragile’ social and political system.

The question is whether, just as man’s ‘law’ should be ruled by ‘natural law’ to prevent hubris, whether scientific inquiry should be limited by ‘natural law’ to prevent hubris. Meaning, science loses its legitimacy whenever it seeks to hypothesize that it is possible to alter the nature of man by policy. Instead, man’s systems of cooperation must be altered carefully by market forces, which are utilitarian, and ‘scientific’ not utopian and ‘scientism’. Scientism meaning, subject to the errors of scientific reasoning.

4) Conservatives and Libertarians in particular were heavy supporters of science. Science fiction forms the basis for libertarian mythology. Technology is inseparable from the western conservative military tradition, and obsession with technology is probably the primary differentiator of the western man from every other civilization.

5) Science as a process, and as a profession, has a very checkered history. it’s only because most of science’s history relates to the physical world, not the social world, that many and frequent the failures of science are immaterial, and its successes valuable. But when science works on social policy, and when we consider human beings are such victims of hubris and error, and prone to so many biases and cognitive failures, then the cost of those failures is not born by the community itself, but externalized onto the rest of society. Many of whose members are engaged in commerce. Commerce exposes human nature and incentives more accurately than do any other forms of test. And for the commercial sector, whose ‘science of human nature’ is exercised daily. The propositions of science with regard to human nature, and the consequences of political and social and economic policy are UNSCIENTIFIC in its methods, and COUNTER TO THE EVIDENCE in its results.

This is why conservatives see science through two methodological lenses: The physical world through observation of the physical sciences — those objects and processes where our senses fail us. And the commercial science, where our senses and their limits are the very means and methods used to build society through voluntary and productive exchange.

This is a profound concept that I have only been working on for a few months. Maybe a year. But commerce is the science of human cooperation. Conservatives are commercial. Conservatism is scientific. The physical world can neither learn from the tests imposed upon it, nor can it seek to outwit them. Humans do both. And the members of the scientific community are as subject to those failures because they possess a multitude of incentives, a means of exciting them, and human frailty of reason.

Commercial science is brutally scientific. Failures are found early. They are costly to the individuals who explore them. They are beneficial to consumers no matter whether successful or a failure.

Economics has failed because of scientism. We already have a science of human nature: it’s commerce. It’s the only science of human behavior that can be trusted.

From that perspective, academic science is a religion of mysticism founded on obviously false methodology, seeking to fulfill utopian preconclusions, producing a history of demonstrated catastrophic failures. And as such is an industry, an ideology, and a political movement that has been as damaging to human life as it has been beneficial in the physical sciences. The only catastrophic commercial experiments have been communistic in origin and promoted by academia. They were “anti-scientific scientism.”

I would argue, as have others, that science-envy in economics and philosophy was as responsible for the downfall of western civilization as was the nation state.

6) “Parsons (1962) proposed that scientific knowledge, particularly its empirical and universal qualities, is essential to secular institutions.
Similarly, Barber (1952, 1975, 1990:40) describes a “special congruence” of science with rational-legal authority and modern societies. Yet, even these scholars envisaged limits to public trust in science, because, in their view, organized science would reach a level of societal prestige and power that would engender public anxiety (Barber 1990; Merton 1938; Parsons 1962). STS scholars have been sharply critical of the “special congruence” of science and modernity on numerous fronts (for a concise summary, see Shapin
2008), but most clearly, the underlying assumption that modernity is irrevocably tied to scientific progress and technical innovation. Notwithstanding these criticisms, the modernist argument translates into a clear and testable hypothesis. Predominately, it forecasts science’s cultural ascendency: a uniform growth in public trust in science over time that may be slowed by a general distrust in power and authority.”

In other words, science will cease to be an independent external form of useful heresy, and will become part of the bureaucracy. The libertarian argument is that this is only possible because we publicly fund sciences. Basic research in the physical sciences is useful. The question is whether we should fund practical research or research into the social sciences. And I would argue no. Including economics in that social science. Social and Economic sciences are subject to perverse incentives and so must be part of the “Commercial Science” not physical science. (This would not help with the global warming problem, but it would help with the economics problem.)

7) The author repeatedly makes the mistake of stating that conservatives are skeptical of science. THey aren’t. They’re skeptical of the motivations of scientists. They’re skeptical of the motivations of politicians. They’re skeptical of the use of pseudo-science in the political sphere. Conservatives after all, rely upon NORMS (self-organizing traditions and habits) not articulated, man created, and therefore hubristic rules. Modernity consists of rules. (Weber).

8) I realize that I’m one of the ‘educated’ conservatives, and one of the conservative intellectuals, and one of the ‘new right’ conservative intellectuals at that. So I am able to articulate conservative ideas, and I don’t rely on the same arguments as do social conservatives. (Or classical liberal economists and political thinkers either.) But that’s different from saying that conservatives aren’t rational. It’s purely rational, even if they express the concepts in allegorical language. Conservatives speak in antique speech. That doesn’t mean we can’t understand the content of it.

9) Again, American Conservatives LOVE technology that can be USED by society. They just reject that science can CHANGE society – or man for that matter. Conservatism as a sentiment is a bias in favor of group competitiveness against other groups.

10) OK, Now we get to his argument: “Jacques, Dunlap, and Freeman (2008) have identified an elite-driven movement that is culturally located in conservative think tanks and media outlets and often disputes scientific conclusions to advance ideological or financial goals (see also Oreskes and Conway 2010). Altogether, a wide range of scholarship points to the NR’s intellectual boundary work that successfully distinguishes the conservative identity in terms of a competing base of knowledge that opposes the broader society’s established cultural institutions (Gross et al. 2011).”

THis statement contains a number of erroneous assumptions
a) “Broader society” tends to AGREE with conservative sentiments. It’s not like ‘liberal’ is anything but a minority sentiment. The society leans conservative. Research confirms that every month. (Pew).
b) Yes it’s an elite driven movement.. ALL political movements are elite driven.
c) Yes, political movements exist to advance ideological goals.
None of these are tests of anything rational. The question is whether conservatives who respect commercial science or anti-conservatives who advocate utopian physical sciences into the social sphere, are RIGHT in their assumptions about what it is possible for human beings to achieve by rational choice versus institutional habit. And by consequence, wht the impact to our civilization and mankind would be. Again, conservatism is scientific. It states that hubris leads to catastrophe. It states that scientism is a mystical religion. And it’s demonstrably true.

We have to understand that conservatism in this context means ‘european aristocratic christian commercial manorialism’. Or what we call ‘classical liberalism’. And that it was classical liberalism and its emphasis on commercial society as separate from the church and dependent upon the norms created by the church.

7) “Yearley (1994:252) argues that “there has begun to be a switch from
science being seen as a way of increasing production to a view of it as a means of handling risks and of achieving regulation.” The shift toward regulatory science that began in the 1970s could account for conservatives’
growing distrust in science, given this group’s general opposition to government regulation.”

Again, this is a progressive interpretation of history. Commerce requires tht all members of an industry are subject to the same rules. Those rules must exist GOING INTO the investment, not after it. If the government allows pollution then comes in later to fix it, then it’s a government cost so to speak. A conservative or a libertarian just wants the government to acknowledge property rights. We understand that in an effort to promote industrialization, governments in the west violated property rights (Took away rights of individuals to sue polluters of all kinds: toxic, light, noise, etc. And failed to force industrialists to clean up after themselves: replanting trees, re-landscaping mines.) This was a government action. The common law let farmers sue industrialists for damages. THe state conspired with industrialists. As such, conservatives and libertarians feel that this process wold be better handled as property rights, rather than as legislation. Because bureaucracy is slow, incompetent and self serving, and drives up costs. (We have that data too.)

8) The rest of the paper goes on to describe the data and the methods used. It’s not of much interest other than it’s based upon survey data — ie:it’s dependent upon human expression rather than OBSERVATION of human action. (Which a commercial scientist would argue is unscientific on its face since people act very differently from how they speak. But may be useful in some way or another. )

I should write a paper on this for one of the rags. But I’ve got other work to do.

CONSERVATISM IS SCIENTIFIC AND RELIES UPON COMMERCIAL SCIENCE. Conservatives are skeptical whenever the physical sciences attempt to encroach upon the commercial sciences. One is a process of discovery. One a process of invention. They are governed by different rules.

Conservatism is SCIENTIFIC. I don’t know what’s hard about that. WHy do you think westerners invented ‘science’ in the first place? Because they were a minority that relied upon technology for military superiority and financed their superiority through commerce. Commerce is scientific. Westerners are (were) a commercial people. Commerce is scientific. Science as we know it is an outgrowth of commercial society.

Sigh. So obvious its painful.

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