Friday, August 19, 2016

PC Is Harming Science

Alex Berezow at American Council on Science and Health cites a paper by Nathan Cofnas in the journal Foundations of Science in which Cofnas argues that political correctness is stifling science. Berezow writes:
To support his case, Mr. Cofnas focuses on the taboo subject of group differences in intelligence, which he says is suppressed by those who believe that even discussing the topic is “morally wrong or morally dangerous.”

Those who embrace such a viewpoint obviously do so with the honorable intention of preventing discrimination. However, the proverbial road to hell is paved with good intentions. Such misguided efforts to maintain perfect equality can hamper the advancement of knowledge. Mr. Cofnas states:
[W]hen hypotheses are regarded as supporting certain moral values or desirable political goals, scientists often refuse to abandon them in the light of empirical evidence.
Is he right? Absolutely, yes.

Not only do intellectuals refuse to abandon politically correct beliefs in the face of contradictory evidence, but simply questioning them can ruin a person’s career. Lawrence Summers’ tenure as president of Harvard was cut short because he suggested that there are intellectual differences between men and women. As a result of such punitive pushback, some researchers are afraid to investigate differences between male and female brains, which certainly exist. Without a doubt, this reticence is holding back the field of neuroscience.

A similar chilling effect can be seen in climatology. The only politically correct belief regarding the climate is that humans are 100% responsible for everything bad that happens and that the Four Horsemen are already marching toward Earth. Questioning that apocalyptic and unscientific belief has resulted in multiple researchers being labeled “climate deniers.” Climatology would greatly benefit from the more skeptical approach of so-called “lukewarmers,” but far too many are ostracized and demonized.

Discussions about the causes of homelessness also fall under the purview of the PC police. The politically correct explanation is that homelessness is the result of poverty. While obviously a factor, often left out of the debate is the fact that, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 20% to 25% of homeless people are severely mentally ill, a prevalence that is roughly four times that of the general population. The same group estimates that 38% and 26% of homeless people are dependent on alcohol and drugs, respectively. In fact, NCH states that, “Substance abuse [is] the single largest cause of homelessness for single adults.”
Berezow could have added to his examples of how science is stifled by political correctness the furor and opprobrium heaped upon sociologist Charles Murray for his 1994 book The Bell Curve which argued that there are disparities in average IQ between different races.

Or he could have mentioned the threats of legal sanction leveled at anyone who dares to suggest that transgenderism or homosexuality may, in some cases, be a treatable disorder, or the professional difficulties encountered by scientists who are skeptical of Darwinian explanations of origins.

Berezow closes with this:
Certainly, many — perhaps most — people prefer to ignore reality in favor of feel-good fallacies. Mr. Cofnas believes this phenomenon is rooted in a “deep human impulse to conflate facts and moral values.” In other words, (positive) statements that describe the world as it is are often interpreted by people as (normative) statements that prescribe the world as it ought to be.

This fundamental confusion distorts debate and impedes progress.
Indeed, there should be nothing off limits to scientific inquiry. Scientists should be free to follow the evidence wherever it leads and let the factual chips fall where they may. To place certain areas of inquiry out of bounds because honest research may lead to conclusions that are socially or politically inconvenient or morally unpalatable to some people is to be guilty of the same crime against the intellect of which the Church has often been accused for its punishment of Galileo.