I’m still fighting through the flu Manchu; I left the house tonight for the first time in 3 days, in order to take Cassie the Wonder Dog on our (usually) nightly walk. Even that little bit of activity left me light-headed and clammy, and my raw throat has gotten to the stage where my usually strong Brando impression is even better.
I kept Cassie entertained with Godfather monologues during our walk. “And if by chance an honest dog such as yourself should make any enemies, then they would become MY enemies. And then they would fear you.”
This column will be an unusual one. Since I’ve spent the last 3 days fever-ridden and drowsing, I haven’t kept on top of each day’s news. But before I got sick, I’d been thinking about the topic of science and politics, mostly because of a visit with a very old friend who is a committed lefty. I value his friendship, especially because in my experience, not many hard-core lefties are willing (or psychologically able?) to remain friends with conservatives.
Plus, he has a goodness of heart that goes a long way toward making up for his hardness of head. 😊
When he brought up climate change, he was frustrated with what he considered my denial of the relevant science. Because our time together was short, we agreed to exchange some emails on the topic, and I’d drafted a first salvo before the ‘Rona hit me.
So for what it’s worth, here are what I hope are a few coherent thoughts on politics and science:
My first thought is that whenever science and politics are mixed, science almost inevitably ends up giving way to politics. In all large-scale research, someone is paying the tab, and some constituencies (types of businesses, academic centers, interest groups both private and public) will potentially be helped or harmed by the eventual findings.
Thus, disinterested, bias-free scientific inquiry is vanishingly rare.
I don’t think that fact necessarily destroys the credibility of scientific findings. But we’ve got to be aware of the interests at stake, and resist the utopian claims of both sides to be pure, Platonic seekers of capital “t” Truth. Rather, we should employ the empirical method ourselves, and skeptically analyze all findings.
That’s not what I see happening in public debate. We’ve all got a late-stage case of “confirmation bias,” and we all tend to glom onto any data, claims or “studies” that support our preferred position, and dismiss any that don’t.
My second thought is that the secular left tends to weaponize “science” in political debate more, and more vociferously, than does the right. I think that tendency goes hand-in-hand with an overall condescension – often bordering on contempt – for religion. In many cases, that condescension is well merited – there are a lot of religious nuts out there – but for many secular lefties, an anti-religious prejudice confirms their own correctness, and obviates the need to take other positions seriously, or to scrutinize their own.
A lot of people have pointed out that political leftism/socialism functions very much like a traditional religion. There are rituals and behaviors used to signal your own virtue, an accepted orthodoxy that demands conformity, the division of the world into the redeemed (woke) and the benighted (deplorables, those in need of having their consciousness raised), with excommunication (cancellation) for the latter, etc.
Real, valid science is instinctively humble. It outlines the limits of its knowledge, and couches its findings in careful qualifications. Scientific journals are full of phrasing like, “Though this study had a small sample size, preliminary findings suggest that there is likely a link between Cause A and Effect B. More studies are needed to either confirm or rule out other potential causes….”
Politicized science is arrogant and dismissive. “Studies show that A causes B. More research needs to be done, but we can’t afford to wait, because decisive action must be taken immediately. Scientific consensus has been reached, and what are sometimes proposed as alternative theses are actually bad faith or unsophisticated thoughts of fringe characters or deniers.”
One quick recent example involves transgenderism.
This idea has gone from fringe to orthodox with lightning speed. None of the proponents can point to any empirical, verifiable data that could identify a person who has this condition: no organic differences in the brain or any other organs, no chemical or hormonal differences, no chromosomal differences.
For nearly all other conditions that are as impactful as this one, a scientist could quickly find empirical data to confirm or disconfirm the diagnosis. Sickle cell, spina bifida, MS, brain injury, schizophrenia – all can be definitely established with replicable tests.
But if a patient reports that s/he is “really” a woman in a man’s body, or two-spirited, or non-binary, that self-diagnosis must be accepted as if it were a proven hypothesis.
Many reasonable people – from within medicine and psychology, as well as from without – have posited a contrary but logical view of transgenderism. They suggest that it might be a form of mental illness, in the same family with something like anorexia. They don’t use the term “mental illness” as a derogatory or dismissive term, but as a compassionate one, geared toward acknowledging the suffering of the patient and finding types of treatment to reduce or relieve it.
They point out that one of the fundamental ways we define mental illness is that the patient’s perception of the physical world doesn’t match reality. One believes that she is Katherine the Great or a famous actress, or that satellites are recording her thoughts, or that she is morbidly obese when she is skeletally thin. Believing that one is the opposite sex fits that pattern perfectly.
When it comes to possible treatments, they cite the Hippocratic Oath’s axiomatic, “First, do no harm.” They warn about the obvious danger arising from quickly starting hormonal treatments (with drastic, long-lasting and incompletely understood ramifications) or cutting off healthy organs. They cite data suggesting that “sex reassignment” surgeries carry much higher rates of serious post-op complications than do any other surgeries undertaken by patients who are not at dire risk of death in the first place.
They point to data suggesting that the vastly higher rates of suicide and suicidal ideation associated with transgenderism is almost identical in the short run for those who undergo surgery and chemical treatments as for those who don’t.
They point to other studies suggesting that especially for adolescents and pre-adolescents who consider themselves transgender, fully 80% of them grow out of that perception by early adulthood, if left alone and not prodded into risky chemical ingestions and dangerous surgeries.
I don’t claim to be a medical doctor or scientist, so I can’t say definitively that one of those views is 100% wrong and the other 100% right. I’m just a humble roving correspondent with a low-grade fever and an inquiring mind.
But I think that the summation that I just laid out is at least reasonable enough to merit serious consideration and further study. And if a reader were seriously trying to understand and follow The Science, he would want to do some open-minded research, and test the comparative validity of the opposing views of what transgenderism is, and how it could be best treated.
But that’s not the reaction I see coming from the vast majority of the lefty LGBTQ commentariat. What I see looks a lot more like the zealotry of the Spanish Inquisition in the middle of a frenzied heretic-hunt. All evidence from all of your senses, including common sense, must be rejected in favor of their evidence-less, metaphysical claims.
I had meant to discuss covid as another example, but the Nyquil-induced brain fuzz is descending upon me. So here is a cliff-notes summary:
The Received Scientific Orthodoxy on covid – at least as represented by Fauci and the approved voices of public health bureaucrats — displayed none of the humility of real science, and all of the arrogance of propaganda.
Ubiquitous masks and lockdowns were crucial in stopping the spread. (18 months later, the data is in. Masks were no more than marginally effective, and only in a very few circumstances indoors. Harsh lockdowns made only a statistically insignificant difference, while producing devastating psychological, social and financial damage.)
Vaccinations will prevent catching or spreading the disease… but only with multiple boosters. And there are no significant side effects. (The data is in: nope.)
In increasingly shrill and ridiculous appearances, Fauci became more and more adamant, reaching his nadir in the infamous, “If you’re disagreeing with me, you’re disagreeing with Science™!” rant.
I don’t fault anyone for being wrong at the beginning of the process, when we were making educated guesses. But after two years, the “pro-science” left’s arrogance and denial has only increased, with every empirical rib kick that the data has given them.
Even now, they’re not ruling out future mask mandates or lockdowns, or even apologizing to all those devastated by the lockdowns that we absolutely KNOW did not work. They’re not offering compensation or re-instatement to the tens of thousands of doctors, nurses, airline pilots or special forces bad-asses who lost their careers because they wouldn’t take a jab that was at least as risky to them as the virus it was meant to treat.
This is not science, people. It’s religion.
And it’s not even a good religion.
I get mercy and love and forgiveness from the Creator who made me in His image, plus the King James Bible and the writing of CS Lewis and the music of Beethoven and Handel, and on and on.
What do they get? Joe Biden, Hunter and Tony Fauci. (The doddering father, the degenerate son, and the unholy pest.)
That’s all I can manage right now. If you found this column semi-coherent, that was probably just the fever talking. I hope to have my wits about me the next time I write.
Avenatti/ Anybody but Fauci, 2024!