Why are scientists leftist? Shouldn’t they be neutral?

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James Warren

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Oct 26, 2021, 8:23:27 AM10/26/21
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Why are scientists leftist? Shouldn’t they be neutral?

If science is supposed to be objective, then why are not scientists
politically neutral?

Erik Engheim



Ijust saw this questioned posed recently, I thought this was indeed
a very interesting question. Embedded in this question there are so
many misconceptions about science, culture and politics, which are
very common in society today.

Before answering this, we might actually try to establish whether
scientists are indeed leftist? It turns out that a lot of famous scientists
were not only a little bit leftist but quite radical as well:
Albert Einstein — One our greatest minds ever, wrote Why Socialism,
which details why he was a socialist.

Bertrand Russell — A noble laureate and British polymath who contributed
to logic, set theory, artificial intelligence, computer science and
mathematics. He was vocally championed socialist, liberal and pacifist
ideas.

Stephen Jay Gould — Prominent American evolutionary biologist. Gould
was inspired by many ideas from Karl Marx, even if he did not consider
himself a Marxist.

Marie Curie — Who discovered radioactivity worked extensively with
liberal and socialist politicians.

So let us assume that leftist beliefs are common among scientists.
Why is that? A problem with the concept of “neutral” is that the idea
that you cannot be on the left or right politically is baked into
the assumption. That implies that being neutral is the same as being
a centrist. However what constitutes the political centre is completely
arbitrary, influenced both by historical period and the particular
society you live in. The political centre in America e.g. if far to
the right of political centre in my native Norway. In fact both the
American left and right, are politically on the right in Norway.
Thus an American centrist would be a right-winger in the Norway. A
Norwegian centrist would be a left-winger in the US. Thus there is
no qualitative value in being a centrist. It doesn’t offer a more
objective world view.

Your thoughts on whether health care is a privilege or a human right,
isn’t really a scientific question. Science cannot help you, as it
is a moral and philosophical question related to your values. That
applies to a lot of things in life.

The question also assumes the perspective that what the general public
thinks about political issues somehow what should define our views
on moral, philosophical and political questions.

While this may sound elitist the uncomfortable truth is that the general
public is generally poorly informed, backwards and conservative. E.g.
when they stopped torturing people with hot pliers and similar in
e.g. Norway or other countries for that matter, it was seldom due
to the common people wanting more humane treatment. No, usually this
was a demand from the intellectual elite.


Back in the 1700s the “woke” intellectual elite of Denmark-Norway
decided to virtue signal all over the place by insisting that hot-pliers
should no longer be used to torture people against the will of “real”
Danes and Norwegians. They insisted it was an inhumane practice, which
should be ended.

Who stood up against things like slavery? The common man? No, usually
it was people among the educated elite. Where have revolutions against
oppression and fight for democracy usually started? Among farmers
and factory workers? No, it has usually began among intellectuals.
Often among students at universiteis. This goes all the way back to
the French revolution up to the Arab spring.

It is not so much that scientists are leftist, but rather that common
people tend to be conservative. They like to stick to what they know.
They like to stick to traditional values and not rock the boat. However
nobody makes it in science if they are not ready to challenge conventions
and old ideas.

If you read about conservatives complaining about their children getting
liberal at university, what you often see is that they complain about
children starting to questioning the values and rules they have laid
down. This is the essence of science. You question things around you.
You don’t take anything at face value. It is the very opposite of
what conservative ideology teaches you, which tells you to obey and
respect the old ways of doing things. It tells you do to things because
you are told to do them and not question it.

Great scientists almost always go against the establishment. If you
look at the European enlightenment so many of the great minds challenged
the church at great personal risk. They where rebels of their time.
By the standard of their time they where leftist radicals.

A lot of scientists and great thinkers in history were exactly the
kind of people conservatives love to hate. Leonardo da Vinci e.g.
was a bastard, born out of wedlock and most likely gay. In fact he
was close to getting arrested for homosexuality, and actually spent
some time sketching devices for breaking out of prison.


Computer pioneer Alan Turing, who played a key role in defeating the
Nazis by building a machine decoding messages sent from the German
Enigma machine.

The mathematical genius Alan Turing, who helped create the machine
that broke the German Enigma code and helped win WWII, was not quite
as lucky. He got outed as a homosexual and sentenced to chemical
castration.
He killed himself shortly after with cyanide as a result. What a way
to “honor” a war hero.

In short, intellectuals have many good reasons to reject conservatism.
One has to keep in mind that an usually large part of the European
intelligentsia has been Jewish and conservatives have seldom been
on their side. German conservatives turned a blind eye to the rise
of the Nazis. In fact they even helped them rise to power. While not
put in the gas chamber, Jews in America at the same time faced rampant
discrimination.

Many in fact ended up teaching at black colleges due to lack of acceptance
at elite white universities. Many European Jews fleeing Nazi Germany
could see the injustice towards African Americans and relate to their
own lives. That is why e.g. Albert Einstein was quite engaged in the
civil rights movement.


Einstein at Lincoln University

It helps explain something which seems to be a mystery to many
conservatives,
which is why Jews tend to vote for liberal politicians. It is easy
to look at Jews today as the successful ingroup, but many Jews know
it is not long ago since they where the discriminated group and that
the sentiments could always move against them again.

The Charlottesville “Unite the right” march clearly threatened Jews
and they could see themselves the very early stages of a resurgent
anti-semitism:

The demonstration was suffused with anti-black racism, but also with
anti-Semitism. Marchers displayed swastikas on banners and shouted
slogans like “blood and soil,” a phrase drawn from Nazi ideology.
“This city is run by Jewish communists and criminal niggers,” one
demonstrator told Vice News’ Elspeth Reeve during their march.
When these forces of intolerances have been on the rise, conservatism
has seldom been the ones to count on. They may not hate Jews, but
they often turn a blind eye to rising anti-semitism. Supporting the
state of Israel is no substitute for ignoring the rise of Neo-Nazism
on hometurf.

It is not just about minorities, but great thinkers know that all
through history they have been prosecuted for their ideas. Socrates
was basically sentenced to death by a conservative mob that could
not tolerate his radical new ideas challenging the status quo:
Socrates died in Athens in 399 BC after a trial for impiety and the
corruption of the young that lasted for only a day. He spent his last
day in prison among friends and followers who offered him a route
to escape, which he refused. He died the next morning, in accordance
with his sentence, after drinking poison hemlock

One of the reasons so many great thinkers emerged in Europe was in
fact because Europe was not unified. Many great thinkers in Europe
lived close to the borders so they could escape once they got unpopular
with the establishment. Something that frequently happened.

Thus scientists, skeptics, intellectuals and great thinkers have very
good reasons to not remain neutral to politics. When one side tries
to silence free thinking, you cannot remain neutral.

While the ways today are less brutal, you can still see a modern version
in how conservatives are trying to silence evolutionary scientists,
climate scientists and even those trying to promote vaccines. If you
remain neutral to such efforts, then you are not a very brave and
independent thinker.

Erik Engheim

Geek dad, living in Oslo, Norway with passion for UX, Julia programming,
science, teaching, reading and writing.


Lucretia Borgia

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Oct 26, 2021, 8:48:08 AM10/26/21
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Interesting but I would tag Bertrand Russell as liberal, not
socialist.

Mike Spencer

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Oct 26, 2021, 2:56:03 PM10/26/21
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> Why are scientists leftist?

Reality has a well-known liberal bias.
-- Stephen Colbert, 2005

Facts have a well-known liberal bias.
-- Paul Krugman (title of column, NYT, 8 Dec 2017

--
Mike Spencer Nova Scotia, Canada

James Warren

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Oct 26, 2021, 3:28:03 PM10/26/21
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On 2021-10-26 3:55 PM, Mike Spencer wrote:
>> Why are scientists leftist?
>
> Reality has a well-known liberal bias.
> -- Stephen Colbert, 2005
>
> Facts have a well-known liberal bias.
> -- Paul Krugman (title of column, NYT, 8 Dec 2017
>

That's how I see it too Mike.

HRM Resident

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Oct 27, 2021, 4:24:41 PM10/27/21
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<https://theconversation.com/amp/many-conservatives-have-a-difficult-relationship-with-science-we-wanted-to-find-out-why-165499>

Many conservatives have a difficult relationship with science – we wanted
to find out why

Stephan Lewandowsky, University of Bristol, Klaus Oberauer, University of
Zurich

August 9, 2021 11.44am BST

Many scientific findings continue to be disputed by politicians and parts
of the public long after a scholarly consensus has been established. For
example, nearly a third of Americans still do not accept that fossil fuel
emissions cause climate change, even though the scientific community
settled on a consensus that they do decades ago.

Research into why people reject scientific facts has identified people’s
political worldviews as the principal predictor variable. People with a
libertarian or conservative worldview are more likely to reject climate
change and evolution and are less likely to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

What explains this propensity for rejection of science by some of the
political right? Are there intrinsic attributes of the scientific
enterprise that are uniquely challenging to people with conservative or
libertarian worldviews? Or is the association merely the result of
conflicting imperatives between scientific findings and their economic
implications? In the case of climate change, for example, any mitigation
necessarily entails interference with current economic practice.

We recently conducted two large-scale surveys that explored the first
possibility – that some intrinsic attributes of science are in tension with
aspects of conservative thinking. We focused on two aspects of science: the
often tacit norms and principles that guide the scientific enterprise, and
the history of how scientific progress has led us to understand that human
beings are not the centre of the universe.

Sociologist Robert Merton famously proposed norms for the conduct of
science in 1942. The norm of “communism” (different from the political
philosophy of communism) holds that the results of scientific research
should be the common property of the scientific community. “Universalism”
postulates that knowledge should transcend racial, class, national or
political barriers. “Disinteredness” mandates that scientists should
conduct research for the benefit of the scientific enterprise rather than
for personal gain.

These norms sit uneasily with strands of standard contemporary conservative
thought. Conservatism is typically associated with nationalism and
patriotism, at the expense of embracing cooperative internationalism. And
the notion of disinterestedness may not mesh well with conservative
emphasis on property rights.

Science has enabled us to explain the world around us but that may create
further tensions – especially with religious conservatism. The idea that
humans are exceptional is at the core of traditional Judeo-Christian
thought, which sees the human as an imago Dei, an image of God, that is
clearly separate from other beings and nature itself.

Against this human exceptionalism, the over-arching outcome of centuries of
research since the scientific revolution has been a diminution of the
status of human beings. We now recognise our planet to be a rather small
and insignificant object in a universe full of an untold number of
galaxies, rather than the centre of all creation.

Testing the issues

We tested how those two over-arching attributes of science – its intrinsic
norms and its historical effect on how humans see themselves – might relate
to conservative thought and acceptance of scientific facts in two
large-scale studies. Each involved a representative sample of around 1,000
US residents.

We focused on three scientific issues; climate change, vaccinations, and
the heritability of intelligence. The first two were chosen because of
their known tendency to be rejected by people on the political right,
allowing us to observe the potential moderating role of other predictors.

The latter was chosen because the belief that external forces such as
education can improve people and their circumstances is a focus of
liberalism. Conservatism, on the other hand, is skeptical of that
possibility and leans more towards the idea that improvement comes from the
individual – implying a lesser role for the malleability of intelligence.

The fact that individual differences in intelligence are related to genetic
differences, with current estimates of heritability hovering around 50%, is
therefore potentially challenging to liberals but might be endorsed by
conservatives.

The two studies differed slightly in how we measured political views and
people’s endorsement of the norms of science, but the overall findings were
quite clear. Conservatives were less likely to accept the norms of science,
suggesting that the worldviews of some people on the political right may be
in intrinsic conflict with the scientific enterprise.

Those people who accepted the norms of science were also more likely to
endorse vaccinations and support the need to fight climate change. This
suggests that people who embrace the scientific enterprise as a whole are
also more likely to accept specific scientific findings.

We found limited support for the possibility that belief in human
exceptionalism would predispose people to be more sceptical in their
acceptance of scientific propositions. Exceptionalism had little direct
effect on scientific attitudes. Therefore, our study provided no evidence
for the conjecture that the long history of science in displacing humans
from the centre of the world contributes to conversatives’ uneasiness with
science.

Finally, we found no strong evidence that people on the political left are
more likely to reject the genetic contribution to individual variation in
intelligence. This negative result adds to the evidence that science denial
is harder to find on the left, even concerning issues where basic aspects
of liberal thought – in this case the belief that people can be improved –
are in potential conflict with the evidence.

The two studies help explain why conservatives are more likely to reject
scientific findings than liberals. This rejection is not only dictated by
political interests clashing with a specific body of scientific knowledge
(such as human-caused climate change), but it appears to represent a deeper
tension between conservatism and the spirit in which science is commonly
conducted.

--
HRM Resident

James Warren

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Oct 27, 2021, 7:41:00 PM10/27/21
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This confirms the results of many other studies.

Mike Spencer

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Oct 28, 2021, 12:15:23 AM10/28/21
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HRM Resident <hrm...@gmail.com> writes:

> James Warren <jwwar...@gmail.com> wrote:
>
>> On 2021-10-26 3:55 PM, Mike Spencer wrote:
>>>
>>> James Warren <jwwar...@gmail.com> wrote:
>>>
>>>> Why are scientists leftist?
>>>
>>> Reality has a well-known liberal bias.
>>> -- Stephen Colbert, 2005
>>>
>>> Facts have a well-known liberal bias.
>>> -- Paul Krugman (title of column, NYT, 8 Dec 2017
>>
>> That's how I see it too Mike.
>
> <https://theconversation.com/amp/many-conservatives-have-a-difficult-relationship-with-science-we-wanted-to-find-out-why-165499>
>
> Many conservatives have a difficult relationship with science -- we
> wanted to find out why


From the article:

The two studies differed slightly in how we measured political
views and people's endorsement of the norms of science, but the
overall findings were quite clear. Conservatives were less likely
to accept the norms of science, suggesting that the worldviews of
some people on the political right may be in intrinsic conflict
with the scientific enterprise.

I'd like to see a more fine-grained study, viz. one that tested
attitudes to a larger number of accepted scientific facts and to ones
clearly not tied to contemporary political rhetoric/propaganda. That
would make the statistical analysis more difficult (or less
meaningful) but would offer more avenues to penetrating etiology of
counterfactual (pathological?) thinking.

A further, perhaps parallel, question: How does it come about that
conservatives are resistant to the collective authority of scientists
yet are credulous to the point of gullibility on the pronouncements of
prophets, demagogues, polemicists and pundits?

We've known about persuasion and charisma for millennia. Revival
preachers with an intuitive bent for such have been doing their thing
successfully for 150 years. The ad industry has been pursuing same as
a technology since Edward Bernays. FB has the mass data and
computational power to bring it to a new pragmatic level even though
any actual, comprehensible explanation of mechanism is lost in the
haystack of neural net weight tables.

People that want to persuade are doing it because they can and we
don't understand how it works. Everybody is trying to find the
notional "magic believe-me button" and we're pretty sure it doesn't
lie in the domain of fact and rational thought.

There has long been a popular recognition of the phenomenon with no
real science. For centuries, it was "the grace of God". After radium
and X-rays and radio were discovered, it was "rays" that did it. In
the era of "better living through chemistry", it was chemicals. And
now it's "memes" on FB.

And you know what? I think it's always been memes, albeit combined
with a je ne sais quoi of individual style. In the last 300 years,
we -- most of us -- have gotten over the notion that the earth is the
center of the universe and man is the apex of creation. But we have
one thing still that makes us different from anything else; language
and the attendant, closely related ability for abstraction. If we can
make words mean to the listener whatever we choose them to mean, the
Enlightenment is doomed.

And how does language allow us continued claim to the apex of
creation? It's late. That's a rant for another day.

James Warren

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Oct 28, 2021, 8:16:03 AM10/28/21
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How about confirmation of wishful thinking and wishful hating (xenophobia)?

>
> There has long been a popular recognition of the phenomenon with no
> real science. For centuries, it was "the grace of God". After radium
> and X-rays and radio were discovered, it was "rays" that did it. In
> the era of "better living through chemistry", it was chemicals. And
> now it's "memes" on FB.
>
> And you know what? I think it's always been memes, albeit combined
> with a je ne sais quoi of individual style. In the last 300 years,
> we -- most of us -- have gotten over the notion that the earth is the
> center of the universe and man is the apex of creation. But we have
> one thing still that makes us different from anything else; language
> and the attendant, closely related ability for abstraction. If we can
> make words mean to the listener whatever we choose them to mean, the
> Enlightenment is doomed.

Yes, it has always been memes. The Enlightenment isn't doomed. It just
has its ups and downs, currently in a down state.

>
> And how does language allow us continued claim to the apex of
> creation? It's late. That's a rant for another day.
>

Please MIke. I like your rants. :)

James Warren

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Oct 28, 2021, 1:13:43 PM10/28/21
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On 2021-10-28 1:10 AM, Mike Spencer wrote:
Yes please Mike. Your rants are informative and spot on.

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