Wednesday, November 30, 2016

From Hypothesis To Premise To Piety

     The mystery of where the milk went to was soon cleared up. It was mixed every day into the pigs' mash. The early apples were now ripening, and the grass of the orchard was littered with windfalls. The animals had assumed as a matter of course that these would be shared out equally; one day, however, the order went forth that all the windfalls were to be collected and brought to the harness-room for the use of the pigs. At this some of the other animals murmured, but it was no use. All the pigs were in full agreement on this point, even Snowball and Napoleon. Squealer was sent to make the necessary explanations to the others.
     "Comrades!" he cried. "You do not imagine, I hope, that we pigs are doing this in a spirit of selfishness and privilege? Many of us actually dislike milk and apples. I dislike them myself. Our sole object in taking these things is to preserve our health. Milk and apples (this has been proved by Science, comrades) contain substances absolutely necessary to the well-being of a pig. We pigs are brainworkers. The whole management and organisation of this farm depend on us. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for YOUR sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples. Do you know what would happen if we pigs failed in our duty? Jones would come back! Yes, Jones would come back! Surely, comrades," cried Squealer almost pleadingly, skipping from side to side and whisking his tail, "surely there is no one among you who wants to see Jones come back?"
     Now if there was one thing that the animals were completely certain of, it was that they did not want Jones back. When it was put to them in this light, they had no more to say. The importance of keeping the pigs in good health was all too obvious. So it was agreed without further argument that the milk and the windfall apples (and also the main crop of apples when they ripened) should be reserved for the pigs alone.

     [George Orwell, Animal Farm]

     If there’s a mandatory-reading article anywhere on the Web this morning, it would be John Tierney’s excellent, nearly encyclopedic survey of the Left’s exploitation of “science.” The Left’s “war on science” claims about the Right have been a critical part of the American political discourse for several decades. Yet – surprise, surprise – virtually no media attention has gone to the identities and tactics of the real perpetrators of the attack on science and scientific thought.

     To unearth those identities and tactics, it’s mandatory that we first be absolutely clear about what we’re talking about when we discuss “science.” It’s been long enough since I was in school that I cannot say whether the nature of the scientific method is still taught there:

  1. Note a pattern in observable natural phenomena.
  2. Formulate a hypothesis that might explain that pattern.
  3. Examine the hypothesis for its causal implications.
  4. Design experiments to test all those implications.
  5. Perform experiments:
    • Under carefully controlled initial conditions;
    • With safeguards against “experimenter interactions” and “confirmation bias;”
    • And full attention to the time intervals involved.
  6. Match the observed results of the experiments to the causal implications of the hypothesis:
    1. If the results conform to what the implications predict, the hypothesis survives. (alternately, “is confirmed.”)
    2. If the results fail to conform to those predictions, the hypothesis is disproved.

     Note that according to step 6.2 in the above, one nonconforming result is sufficient to disprove a hypothesis. There are no exceptions to this rule. In contrast, though the hypothesis survives any number of conforming results, no accumulation of conforming results is sufficient to prove the hypothesis for all time. In shorter and much more imperative terms:

The Science Is Never Settled.

     That is the foundation of all scientific inquiry.

     My years in the sciences acquainted me intimately with the problem of faith as a substitute for science. Faith is relevant only to propositions that can never be either proved or disproved. Yet faith has been critically important to the flacksters of the “anthropogenic global warming” hypothesis. Those...persons, frustrated with their lack of success at getting sufficient “buy-in” from the general public to support their political ambitions, are the ones best known for the use of the phrase “The science is settled.”

     In this connection, refer back to the previous segment. “Anthropogenic global warming” is a hypothesis. It has several clear causal implications. However, the predictions founded on those implications have been contradicted by real-world observations. By the rules of real science, that’s sufficient to disprove the hypothesis. That’s why the warmistas harp on the results emitted by their beloved “models.”

     But that hypothesis is too precious for the Left to allow it to be discarded. It supports their fondest aspiration: accession to total control of the world economy...and therefore, of the world. So they repeat that “The science is settled” in every available venue, hoping to win the day for their cause by exploiting the widespread ignorance about the nature of science through repetitious browbeating.

     This is the first step: the recasting of what started as a scientific hypothesis – a proposition with causal implications to be tested through experimentation – into an unchallengeable premise.

     In a number of cases, no amount nor intensity of repetitious browbeating will suffice to “close the deal.” The hypothesis cannot be made into a premise for a simple reason: the evidence of its falsity is too widely available and is too easily observed and comprehended. If the proposition is to survive, more will be required of those who insist upon it. The faith must be “established:” i.e., made into a social piety of which no discussion will be tolerated.

     Social pieties are dangerous things to question. As I wrote in that earlier essay:

     One cannot challenge the pieties of a society without provoking condemnation or ostracism. To question a piety, even along its margins, is to ask to be thrown out of the church. This is an absolute that applies to all peoples and times.

     Pieties have their dangers. The unquestioned belief, in late 17th Century France, that Catholics were morally superior to Huguenots allowed Louis XIV to revoke the Edict of Nantes, the decree of religious tolerance for the Protestant minority. The resulting mass emigration of Huguenots to Belgium weakened France severely, as the Huguenots were among the most industrious and educated persons of northern France. Indeed, part of the Catholic animosity toward them was that they worked on Sundays, and thus had a competitive edge over Catholics in business and commerce.

     If we are in thrall to a piety contrary to the actual facts of our society, we are in danger too. The question is only of degree.

     Thus the Left sees the elevation of a cherished hypothesis to a social piety as a supreme achievement – a supreme political achievement. It’s a close parallel to the creation of an established church in which membership is mandatory for all subjects. No one wants to be thrown out of such a church; the foreseeable consequences are too dreadful to contemplate. Heretics have all too often been burned at the stake.

     The transformation of hypothesis into a piety requires two steps:

  • The association of dissent with something near-unanimously regarded as shameful;
  • The placement of any contradicting facts, no matter how widely available and easily comprehended, beyond polite examination or discussion (i.e., “tabooing” the subject).

     Note how the Left has achieved this in its promotion of “racial equality” – and note how complete is the contrast with the observable facts.

     I could go on about this for many pages, but I’ll spare you. For most Americans, the essential part is to be aware of the process that converts a hypothesis to a premise and / or to a piety, the reasons for it, and the steps the Left and its fellow travelers take to achieve it.

     At this time, the Left is in retreat politically. However, its aims will not permit it to back away; therefore, it has “doubled down” on the methods above, and has chosen to treat new subjects to those methods. Consider in this light the Left’s treatment of particular figures in the incoming Trump Administration as “fascists” or “Nazis.”

     But to return to John Tierney’s core thesis, the greatest of ironies can be found in this: The Left alleges that it’s the Right that’s conducting a “war on science.” It’s attempted by repetition to make that proposition as unchallengeable a premise as “anthropogenic global warming.” The campaign has largely failed, for which reason we may expect the Left to attempt to make “the Right’s war on science” into a piety, for example by associating conservatives’ observations about differences in academic performance among the races, sexes, and ethnicities with “a desire to bring back slavery.”

     You might want to bookmark this essay. Forewarned is forearmed. The weapons are your keenness of observation and willingness to dispute Leftists’ assertions with sharp, evidence-based questions. I hope I’ve provided a sufficiency of ammunition.


John said...

It has been my experience that if you ever want to know what the Left is up to just look at what they accuse those on the Right of doing. Not directly out of Alinsky's playbook, but I'm sure he would've approved.

Anonymous said...

I'm on the Right, but I have faith in an extraterrestrial alien in the sky micromanaging my life. I don't have the slightest scrap of evidence to support this belief, but The mainstream media has been confirming my bias for 2,016 years. When I dissent, the mainstream media tells me I'm supporting a competing extraterrestrial alien who is bad. Who should I believe?

Joseph said...

It's not science unless it has error bars.

It's not science reporting unless they report the error bars.