May 29, 2022Liked by Stuart Ritchie

What's particularly baffling about the "all science is political" crowd is that a lot of the papers they are defending are pretty blatantly terrible. It's rarely used to defend against marginal criticisms, instead it's truly awful papers that are about as far from defensible as possible. Take one that went around Twitter recently on Capitalism vs Communism:


This paper is horrible. Like legitimately one of the worst papers I have ever seen. And actual economists pretend that it's not bad! Among its many many problems are:

1. It is a paper about economic systems that controls for economy

2. There are zero high-income Communist/Socialist countries, and countries that were the same country as recently as 50 years prior the Capitalist offshoots are in a higher economic group in literally every single instance.

3. It largely compares Warsaw Pact Europe to Latin America for the Upper-Middle comparison, and then the Lower-Middle has only four Socialist/Communist countries and the Lower Income group is literally just China. For reference Low-Income Capitalist is 33 countries.

4. It excludes countries with a recent Socialist revolution but includes every country that is considered Capitalist regardless of how recently it changed governments/faced instability. This leads to the hilarious fact that Capitalist Yemen is included but Socialist Yemen is not.

I think this is genuinely the quality of paper the "science is inherently political" cope most often tries to defend. There's clearly a degree to which you can't protect against biases seeping in, but the scientific community has to acknowledge that we are nowhere near that threshold and A LOT of the papers criticized for being politically biased are just trash papers.

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May 30, 2022Liked by Stuart Ritchie

Peer review prior to publication only became popular around the 70s, and doesn't actually seem to improve quality that much. Post-publication review should be the norm, with no presumption that a paper is correct merely because it's "published".


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Jun 14, 2022Liked by Stuart Ritchie

This is one of the better papers I have read on this topic in a long while. Should be required reading for all undergraduates in all disciplines. Biased? You bet? But cautiously, skeptically, so.

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Jun 6, 2022Liked by Stuart Ritchie

Excellent essay, hits all key points on the topic.

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I agree with most of your points, although your attempt to equivocate between "woke" and righ-wing in terms of politicizing science was a bit annoying. Those are not symmetric at all. "Woke" is coming from within the institutions and seems to have taken over quite a few of them. The right-wing is entirely from without and seems to have almost no influence over what happens within science itself.

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You might be interested in my attempt to hold physics education research to normal scientific standards, especially with regard to causal inference. Some but not all of the problems are tied in with politics. The stages of the story can be retraced from this last paper: https://econjwatch.org/articles/invalid-methods-and-false-answers-physics-education-research-and-the-use-of-gres.

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I could not agree more with your conclusion, but I think one of your arguments is a little sloppy here. When you talk about the shooter referencing certain studies in his manifesto, you argue that calls to counter this with politically motivated science is 'two wrongs making a right' (in the view of WIRED etc.).

But the shooter wasn't injecting politics into science; he was using science to inform his politics (poorly, I should add). So the argument from the activists wouldn't be that two wrongs make a right, it would be to do politically motivated science to avoid giving their opponents the ammunition. Which is also very misguided, in my opinion, but it's a very different argument that deserves to be properly rebutted.

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"witness all the people complaining about “wokeness” invading science who don’t bat an eyelid when right-wingers push unscientific views about COVID or climate change"

So, the author has decided what views are "unscientific" according to his ideological beliefs. He's doing the very thing he condemns.

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I agree with most of what you write, except wrt ideology. I only ever see this point brought up with regards to a person making an explicit ideological claim, even though implicit ideologies generally go unscrutinised. For example, biologists who conduct experiments on animals, or do research to help make factory farms more efficient, are acting under the ideology of 'animals are worth less than humans and it's fine to treat them as objects'. The person who criticises this, however, is marked as being ideological. I think similar points could be made regarding how open science should be, the treatment of human participants, conducting research on behalf of weapons manufacturers, etc.

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Lots of people in science and related fields won't state their opinions on various matters because they are too controversial, despite being almost statements of the obvious to people knowledgeable in the field. I've been told things in private conversations that if repeated on the internet generate storms of controversy. In particular some medical treatments are known to be useless or even counterproductive by experts, but woe betide anyone stating it out loud. I'm not sure if that comes under politics or social acceptibility.

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I think it's extremely important to examine the accuracy of the specific beliefs of people who want science to be political. If their beliefs stemming from "believing in" "science" are often or mostly false, that kills it.

There's an amazing situation with COVID related beliefs where people seemed to have skipped the critical step of examining or searching for the science. Masks is my best example. This or some tweaked version is true: There's no scientific evidence that masks reduce COVID spread in the real world. 2) There's definitely no scientific evidence that cloth masks reduce COVID spread in the real world. 3) There's no scientific evidence that mandates reduce COVID spread in the real world.

All that hinges on "scientific evidence" being trials, which is the only way we'd know, and the standard scientific approach. There are only two trials, the Danish study reporting no significant effect for surgical masks, and the Bangladesh mosque study reporting a significant effect for surgical masks for old people, and no effect for cloth masks for anyone.

We wouldn't care about lab studies, droplet reduction inferences, computer modeling, etc in a universe where we know about trials and how to conduct them, and where they're super cheap to do. Any serious scientist should be able to list at least six reasons, in five minutes of reflection, why masks wouldn't reduce COVID spread, in either direction, in the real world (even surgical masks). I mean imagining if, from doing a bunch of trials, we discovered that masks didn't reduce spread, what the reasons might be. Even a research psychologist should be able to spin up several decent hypotheses there, easy, if you can deactivate their leftist ideological identity.

People have these amazing beliefs about scientific issues, without any evidence or search for evidence, and they have them at Time 1, the day after the question emerged. There's an issue of conflating a government agency's recommendations or claims for science, which is a big chunky issue itself. When the media doesn't even engage with scientific evidence directly, now you've got people who don't look stuff up depending on intermediaries who don't look stuff up, who in turn depend on government intermediaries who.... well, I have no idea what they do since they don't tell us. They don't disclose their methodology, and it appears to be an unscientific one – they're not doing meta-analysis, and their artifacts are just propaganda sheets full of false statements, errors, and stunning exclusions of contrary studies. When there's so little research that looking it up is trivial, it gets super awkward.

Otherwise, the big thing you missed is that "reality has a leftist bias", or that science backs one's ideology, has fully backed it, and necessarily backs it in the future, because well leftist ideology is just true, even the part about men and women not having different bodies, morphologically, or invisible forces causing all unfavorable outcomes for some groups, etc. There's also a distinctive issue with the very content of leftist/coercensor ideology, such that they commonly don't distinguish between their ideology and descriptive reality. They'll use their proprietary abstractions as descriptive terms, things like social justice, or even fake clinical pathology terms like some non-existent phobia (it's unclear why it's always a phobia specifically) to smear all humans who disagree with or don't conform to their ideology on some topic outsiders won't even be familiar with. They've broken the is-ought understanding, and in a deep, multifaceted way.

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I think it will be mute once we have the pandemic treaty https://georgiedonny.substack.com/p/from-may-2024-unelected-officials?s=w our health will be controlled by the technocracy whatever the science says.

Here's my small run down of why the science says we don't need a global treaty of nations https://georgiedonny.substack.com/p/we-do-not-need-a-pandemic-prevention?s=w

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I also find it very unusual that biologists of all people would often be socialists. You'd think evolution by natural selection is the best example of an emergent process that requires no central design or planning ahead, and biologists would all be devotees of Hayek or something.

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There's a problem with some 'science' when it's done well by professionals who because of bias publish a press release which distorts the results. This may be because of funding for the always needed 'further research' or because they know the results will upset benefactors. Tobacco control science is horrendous for this.

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"Trofim Lysenko’s Soviet agriculture .. exacerbated famines that killed millions in the Soviet Union and China"??

Chomsky advises dividing such figures by 100 or 1000 and I advise ignoring them, since they are often entirely made up.

Nobody has starved to death in China since 1951, despite what our media tell us. Even during the Three Difficult Years of 1959-61, everyone had something to eat every day–despite the US Grain Embargo.

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Science has been used politically. Even when scientists were only into science and technology, the power derived from those endeavors was used for political means. No matter how neutral you are about the science of ballistics, if you make great guns for the British Empire, it will be used for the empire. If you make them for Soviets, Soviets will use them. If you make them for Nazis, Nazis will use it.

So, science and technology always end up serving politics even when scientists and innovators are apolitical. So, we should always be mindful of how science and technology are used. But, some people confuse the political uses of science/technology with the notion that science/technology, in and of themselves, are political. But that's not how science/technology works. There is no libertarian aeronautics or communist aeronautics. There is only aeronautics that work best. The thing is, whatever aeronautics is produced, it will be used politically by those who control the state. So, nuclear power in the US served the US empire, and nuclear power in USSR served the Soviet empire. And military technology in Israel is used to carry out pogroms against Palestinians. Not because military technology per se is anti-Palestinian but because Israel is. And so, whatever technology it has is used against Palestinians and Arabs.

So, the proper outlook should be 'science is science' and 'technology is technology', but they should be used morally by sane political orders. But US isn't such an order as its sacred icons are now homo fecal-penetration, genital mutilation, and 'man with penis is a woman'. Utterly crazy.

Of course, some people conflate science with 'racism' because science arose in the West, and white people used their advancement in knowledge to conquer and rule other peoples. So, some fall for the fallacy 'science = white supremacy'. The question they should really ask is, "Why did our peoples fail to develop science and technology so that we could have protected our own orders from Western imperialism?" Rule of nature is, strong rule over the weak. The West, with better science and technology, made itself more powerful. But others can learn the same tricks and gain in power... like modern China and India.

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