When denying science is a progressive moral imperative
By Jonah Goldberg • National Review
The Left has long claimed that it has something of a monopoly on scientific expertise. For instance, long before Al Gore started making millions by claiming that anyone who disagreed with his apocalyptic prophecies was “anti-science,” there were the “scientific socialists.” “Social engineer” is now rightly seen as a term of scorn and derision, but it was once a label that progressive eggheads eagerly accepted.
Masking opinions in a white smock is a brilliant, albeit infuriating and shabby, rhetorical tactic. As the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” Science is the language of facts, and when people pretend to be speaking it, they’re not only claiming that their preferences are more than mere opinions, they’re also insinuating that anyone who disagrees is a fool or a zealot for objecting to “settled science.”
Put aside the fact that there is no such thing as settled science. Scientists are constantly questioning their understanding of things; that is what science does. All the great scientists of history are justly famous for overturning the assumptions of their fields. The real problem is that in politics, invocations of science are very often marketing techniques masquerading as appeals to irrefutable authority. In an increasingly secular society, having science on your side is better than having God on your side – at least in an argument.
I’m not saying that you can’t have science in your corner, or that lawmakers shouldn’t look to science when making policy. (Legislation that rejects the existence of gravity makes for very silly laws indeed.) But the real intent behind so many claims to “settled science” is to avoid having to make your case. It’s an undemocratic technique for delegitimizing opposing views and saying “shut up” to dissenters.
For example, even if the existence of global warming is “settled,” the policies for how to best respond to it are not. But in the political debates about climate change, activists say that their climatological claims are irrefutable and so are their preferred remedies.
If climate change is the threat they claim, I’d rather spend billions on geoengineering to fix it than trillions on impoverishing economic policies that at best slightly delay it. It doesn’t matter; I’m the Luddite buffoon for thinking ethanol subsidies and windmills are boondoggles.
Even more outrageous: If you dispute, say, the necessity of spending billions on windmills or on killing the coal industry, you are not merely wrong on climate change, you are “anti-science.”
Intellectually, this is a monument of asininity so wide and tall, even the mind’s eye cannot glimpse its horizon or peak.
For starters, why are liberalism’s pet issues the lodestars of what constitutes scientific fact? Medical science informs us fetuses are human beings. The liberal response? “Who cares?” Genetically modified foods are safe, sayeth the scientists. “Shut up,” reply the liberal activists. IQ is partly heritable, the neuroscientists tell us. “Shut up, bigot,” the liberals shriek.
Which brings me to the raging hysteria over the plight of transgendered people who need to use the bathroom.
The New York Times recently reported about A. J. Jackson’s travails in a Vermont high school. “There were practical issues,” Anemona Hartocollis writes. “When he had his period, he wondered if he should revert to the girls’ bathroom, because there was no place to throw away his used tampons.”
Now, one can have sympathy for the transgendered – I certainly do – while simultaneously holding to the scientific fact that boys do not menstruate. This is a fact far more settled than the very best climate science. Perhaps it’s rude to say so, but facts do not cease to be facts simply because they offend.
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio is pushing to fine businesses that do not address customers by their “preferred name, pronoun and title (e.g., Ms./Mrs.) regardless of the individual’s sex assigned at birth, anatomy, gender, medical history, appearance, or the sex indicated on the individual’s identification.” The NYC Commission on Human Rights can penalize offenders up to $250,000.
Many liberals believe that “denying” climate science should be a criminal offense while also believing that denying biological science is a moral obligation.
In the law, truth is a defense against the charge of slander, but for liberals, inconvenient truth is no defense against the charge of bigotry.
— Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor of National Review. You can write to him by e-mail at [email protected], or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2016 Tribune Content Agency, LLC