Culture

Oh Scientia! Oh Mores!

A boat washed ashore by Hurricane Irma in Miami, Fla., September 11, 2017. (Reuters photo: Carlo Allegri)
The whole ‘science denier’ canard is a weapon wielded by people who often harbor their own doubts about the scientific consensus.

Over the last two weeks we’ve heard a lot of folderol and bambosh about Republicans, conservatives, Texans — etc. — not “believing” in science because recent hurricanes have been bad and climate change is causing it and blah blah blah.

As you can probably tell, I don’t think much of all that. We had a historic lull in hurricanes until the lull was over. Once the hurricanes started back up, so did the claim that climate change caused the hurricanes just as the scientists predicted — the same scientists who didn’t predict the lull. Similarly, California had a historic drought that recently came to an end. Most of the climate models say that California should get wetter because of global warming. But that didn’t stop President Obama and others from suggesting the dry spell was a symptom of climate change. Then, when California experienced huge amounts of precipitation, suddenly the models were prescient.

But look: I don’t want to debate global warming because a) it’s boring to me, b) you get screamed at by people who act like we have seconds to act before the world ends, and c) you — or at least I — also get screamed at by people who insist it’s all a complete hoax. For those interested, I’m basically in the Matt Ridley “lukewarmer”camp.

Now, back to my point. This whole “don’t believe in science” canard amounts to ackamarackus bordering on flimflam. Even if you were a 100 percent “denier” of climate change, that wouldn’t necessarily mean you don’t “believe” in science. Indeed, many of the hardcore rejectionists I know are really, really, really into the science of climate change (tell the guys at CEI they don’t believe in science, I dare you). They just tend to think the prevailing “consensus” is a politically and journalistically contrived sham. But even if you are a “denier” without being a science dork, that doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t believe in “science.” Rejecting one scientific finding — whether accurate or inaccurate — doesn’t mean you must reject all “science,” never mind suggest that you don’t “believe” in it.

To be honest, I don’t know what people who say “you don’t believe in science” think they mean when they say it. Climate “deniers” don’t insist the world is flat (though I have to assume flat-earthers have unconventional views on atmospheric science). They don’t refuse to take medical treatment or prescribed drugs. They have faith that the internal-combustion engine is based on sound science. Etc.

Often, when I stupidly engage people who sincerely claim that Republicans or conservatives don’t “believe in science,” I like to point out that many liberals and leftists have problems with science, too. People who want to ban golden rice or other GMOs; people who deny that a fetus is a whole human; people who insist fetal pain is a myth; people who get outraged by claims that, say, men can’t get pregnant. The list goes on and on. And yet, I don’t argue that “Democrats don’t believe in science.” You know why? Because that would be stupid.

Anyway, what brought all this to mind was a story in the Washington Post this morning. Apparently, researchers claim they can tell whether you’re a homosexual or lesbian by using facial-recognition software. The results aren’t perfect, they claim, but the computers apparently do better than humans at guessing which team you play for — or secretly want to play for but don’t.

Not surprisingly, gay-rights groups are angry! They don’t like it! And, to be honest, I can understand why. But that’s not the point.

We’ll probably find out that some things are wired, some are a choice, and most are a mix of the two.

Both GLAAD and Human Rights Watch can’t seem to decide whether the science is bad because it’s fake and flawed or bad because it might work. A representative of GLAAD said something interesting: “Technology cannot identify someone’s sexual orientation.”

Wait a second. Who says? Maybe this effort isn’t up to snuff yet. But saying that technology can never identify someone’s sexual orientation strikes me as pretty anti-sciencey, unless we’re now back to saying sexual orientation is a choice, which opens a whole new kettle of fish.

Anyway, I’m not sure what I think about this technology or its ramifications, but I have no problem with the notion that science will be able to figure out these things (and we’ll probably find out that some things are wired, some are a choice, and most are a mix of the two).

The point is that opponents don’t like this science because of the political and social consequences of it. Maybe there’s a parallel here with some “deniers” of climate change. But only those deniers get accused of not “believing” in science.

READ MORE:

How to Recognize ‘Science Denial’

Progressives Claim to Love Science, But What They Truly Love Is Power

Climate-Change Activists Are the Real Science Deniers

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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