Science, Properly Understood at Heritage

john holdrenOne of the most profound things about the move to silence critics of scientific orthodoxy or those open to questioning it publicly is how anti-enlightenment the notion is.

As John G. West, vice president of the Discovery Institute, pointed out last week in a speech to the Heritage Foundation, thinkers such as atheist John Stuart Mill, the 19th-century utilitarian philosopher and author of On Liberty and “Utilitarianism,” argued for the freedom to question science in his day.

Mill’s logic and West’s application of it is one that can be applied not only to the physical sciences, where global warming is sacrosanct under the Obama administration, but also the social sciences, where Keynesian economics reigns supreme in Washington, whenever politicians wave the authority of science over our heads to persuade us to move in the direction of their policy priorities.

After all, the policies could be based on bad science.

West quoted the following passage from Mill’s On Liberty: 

“If even the Newtonian philosophy were not permitted to be questioned, mankind could not feel as complete assurance of its truth as they now do. The beliefs which we have most warrant for, have no safeguard to rest on, but a standing invitation to the whole world to prove them unfounded.” 

According to West, atheist philosopher and NYU professor Thomas Nagel, is a modern Mill in the sense that he advocates for the freedom to discuss opposing views in science. In 2012, Nagel himself wrote a book called Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False which argued, among other things, that the reigning Neo-Darwinian purely physical account of consciousness was inadequate.

West also highlighted that what 19th century scientist Charles Darwin wrote in his introduction to The Origins of Species was at least good in principle: “A fair result can only be obtained by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.”

West titled his lecture “Scientism in the Age of Obama,” which was simply about the Obama administration’s overuse of science to reach certain political ends.  He pointed out that in President Obama’s first inaugural address, the president promised to “restore science to its rightful place,” which West argued the administration is doing the opposite.

He discussed six points that bolster his argument:

  • The appointment of political ideologues, such as John Holdren, who in the 1970s warned of catastrophic “global cooling” and advocated authoritarian measures to slow population growth and high marriage fees to discourage marriage, to high administrative positions.
  • Stretching the scientific data to fit the Obama administrations agenda, such as when Holdren, now Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, in 2014 released a video “hyping the purported link between warming and extreme cold weather events,” a claim which a few scientists challenged a few weeks later.
  • “Coercive utopianism” which is embodied most visibly in Michelle Obama’s past school lunch reforms. “The apparent belief that science alone should determine what every child in the nation should eat is classic overreach,” West said.
  • The EPA’s failure to be transparent about the data it used to established air pollution standards.
  • The misuse of science to trump religious liberty and ethics, such as when former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius defended the Obamacare regulation to force employers to provide plans that covered abortion-inducing drugs when she wrote “scientists have abundant evidence that birth control has significant health benefits for women and their families.”
  • Enlisting science in a culture war, such as when president Obama gave his presidential stamp of approval of the Fox show “Cosmos” during an intro on the first episode of the show.

The Bush administration was not free from West’s criticism. But he notes that when it came time for the Obama administration to ditch or defend a controversial study on premature babies based on bad science, rather than ditching it, the administration “circled the wagons,” as West put it, and defended it.

As a corrective measure, West said that allowing criticism of prevailing scientific orthodoxies will make their defenders better communicators of them. “And if they can’t do that, then that’s a warning sign that maybe the consensus isn’t based just on overwhelming scientific data,” he continued.

“We really need to push back at unjust claims of people being anti-science simply for raising questions,” West said. After all, scientific orthodoxies change over time. But also, there are people who have recently publicly advocated for the jailing of climate change critics.

Watch the complete lecture here

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Comments (12)

  • Avatar

    Gator

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    Faith is for religion. Questions are for science. Censorship is for losers who cannot debate.

    Reply

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    sonnyhill

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    [quote name=”Gator”]Faith is for religion. Questions are for science. Censorship is for losers who cannot debate.[/quote]
    Well said. Conspicuous by its absence is the word “truth”. Nothing matters more than the truth. Maybe “winning” [i]matters more today[/i]than truth.

    Reply

    • Avatar

      Gator

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      I remember when science used to be the search for truths, and not a political hammer.

      Reply

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    Amber

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    Politicians are grappling with things they can try to control .
    Do they any longer have the desire and ability to keep national debt from compounding . NO…that is a pass the hot potato issue now .

    Do they really have control of government labour costs ? See California as the poster boy for who really runs the show .

    They can’t or will not tackle any major issue because they have reached a point
    of diminishing returns in fleecing tax payers .

    What hasn’t changed is they need more cash to cover their spending habits. Save the planet with carbon taxes and cap and trade schemes.

    Ontario expects to raise $2 Billion buying and selling hot air certificates for example .

    Consumers get the tax increase through higher prices and the government hides behind the skirts of what remains of industry in the Province .

    Cowardly yes, but that’s what people voted for in Ontario.

    Reply

    • Avatar

      Gator

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      [i]According to the GAO, [b]annual federal climate spending has increased from $4.6 billion in 2003 to $8.8 billion in 2010, amounting to $106.7 billion over that period. [/b]The money was spent in four general categories: technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, science to understand climate changes, international assistance for developing countries, and wildlife adaptation to respond to actual or expected changes. Technology spending, the largest category, grew from $2.56 billion to $5.5 billion over this period, increasingly advancing over others in total share. Data compiled by Joanne Nova at the Science and Policy Institute indicates that [b]the U.S. Government spent more than $32.5 billion on climate studies between 1989 and 2009. This doesn’t count about $79 billion more spent for climate change technology research, foreign aid and tax breaks for “green energy[/b].”

      The Small Business Administration estimates that compliance with such regulations [b]costs the U.S. economy more than $1.75 trillion per year — about 12%-14% of GDP, and half of the $3.456 trillion Washington is currently spending. The Competitive Enterprise Institute believes the annual cost is closer to $1.8 trillion[/b]…[/i]

      http://www.forbes.com/sites/larrybell/2011/08/23/the-alarming-cost-of-climate-change-hysteria/

      The estimated cost per US household is expected to top $4000 per year, any day now.

      Reply

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    sonnyhill

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    California, Ontario, same thing. You can manipulate people with your lies. Everyone is entitled to the truth and that is non-negotiable. Politicians are allergic to it.

    Reply

  • Avatar

    sonnyhill

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    [quote name=”Gator”][i]According to the GAO, [b]annual federal climate spending has increased from $4.6 billion in 2003 to $8.8 billion in 2010,…………

    The Small Business Administration estimates that compliance with such regulations [b]costs the U.S. economy more than $1.75 trillion per year — about 12%-14% of GDP, and half of the $3.456 trillion Washington is currently spending. The Competitive Enterprise Institute believes the annual cost is closer to $1.8 trillion[/b]…[/i]

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/larrybell/2011/08/23/the-alarming-cost-of-climate-change-hysteria/

    The estimated cost per US household is expected to top $4000 per year, any day now.[/quote]I agree that Washington et al are taking our economy down the garden path, but where should we be going? The Bush administration promoted home construction as a replacement for lost manufacturing jobs. Crash and burn! Technology promised jobs but unfortunately, it gets used to replace people. Before I retired, I monitored five computer screens linked to three furnaces and two boilers. A sixth computer with software was installed to run everything, and I could have stayed home and watched it from there. The cheapest money in history is available to anyone with a viable business plan, yet the money piles up on Wall Street. We suffer from a lack of inventiveness. Politicians still have a job. I believe that the Canadian Parliament has created some more seats to fill.

    Reply

    • Avatar

      Gator

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      Bush was a Progressive, just not as flaming a Progressive as Obama. The way to kick start industry is to shove government to the side.

      Reply

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    Amber

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    Good point Sonnyhill .It starts at the top .

    Parliament buildings are so stuffed with unproductive politicians it is a wonder anything gets done

    Technology has streamlined and made more efficient many things in society yet politicians proliferate like University of Victoria rabbits .

    105 unelected Senators appointed for life and 338 elected members of the House of Commons in Canada with a population of 36 million .

    Contrast that with the USA with 100 elected Senators and 435 members of Congress and a population of approx. 317 million .

    Canada for the most part is essentially run by the Prime ministers office if one party has a majority .

    The USA has a broader distribution of powers but is far more likely to be ineffective because of it .

    The point being, would either country see any change in the way they are run if there were half the government elected and appointed politicians ?

    How about linking greenhouse gas reduction “pledges ” to the actual reduction in elected and appointed government officials ?

    Think of the carbon footprint reduction and all those grandkids that will one day ask why it wasn’t done sooner .

    Why in this day and age does it require
    450 Canada –535 USA politicians to sit and fly around when you could accomplish the same things with less than half ?

    Reply

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      Gator

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      Originally, the US Constitution mandated that each state legislature elected its state’s senators for a six-year term. This made sure that influences outside the state did not interfere with that states agendas, or elections. The 17th Amendment changed this, and has helped to corrupt government and weaken state sovereignty.

      Reply

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    amirlach

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    It’s a lot like this.
    [quote]
    How do you tell a communist? Well, it’s someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It’s someone who understands Marx and Lenin.

    Ronald Reagan [/quote]

    How does one tell a Climate Alarmist?

    Well, it’s someone who uses fiddled data and invalidated Models.

    And how do you tell an anti-alarmist? It’s someone who understands the data id adjusted, the models invalid and both are worthless.

    Reply

    • Avatar

      Gator

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      Great Reagan Quote! 😆

      Reply

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