The myth of ‘objective’ science
June 20, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) - Promoters of Science with a capital “S” such as the planetarium manager and TV personality Neil deGrasse Tyson claim science is trustworthy because it is so objective and factual.
But Tyson himself, though he speaks with the authority of the Discovery Channel, is far from objective, flagrantly twisting facts to make religious believers look like scientific imbeciles. And on a host of issues, scientists wade right into America’s culture wars, usually against religion, the natural family and heterosexuality and for secular humanism, homosexuality and abortion.
A recent example comes from an invaluable organization Retraction Watch, which as the name suggests, reports on egregiously erroneous research findings when publishers are embarrassedly forced to renounce them. So it is with the American Journal of Political Science, which recently retracted a 2012 research report titled “Personality Traits and Political Ideologies.” Its authors claimed to have established that the more psychotic a person is, the more likely he is to be conservative politically.
Oops, sorry, it only took the researchers four years to notice they had it exactly backwards. They meant to say that it was liberals who were likelier to be psychotic. No harm done, though.
The Center for Open Science in Charlottesville, Virginia, in what it called the Reproducibility Project, tried to replicate 100 psychological studies but got the same results as the originals only 40% of the time. In other words, 60% were a waste of time. Other research into research itself indicates the hard sciences are just as problematic in terms of the believability of their research, or so says an article called Scientific Regress in the May issue of First Things
Retraction Watch says there is a 20 to 25% increase in retractions in 10,000 medical and science journals in the past five years: 500 to 600 a year now, versus 40 in 2001. Its staff estimate two-thirds are caused by “misconduct or suspicions of misconduct.”
While personal gain—fame, fortune (research grants), and careerism—are the probable explanation for much fraud, another and not unrelated one is political correctness. Grants and promotion are surely more certain when one’s results conform to social expectations.
Fortunately, there are enough conservative academics and schools to provide more than one way of looking at reality. Both sides in the debate over same sex “marriage” in the U.S. can therefore cite scientific evidence for their opposite positions on its impact on the children. A federal court considering a constitutional challenge of Michigan’s new law reserving marriage to heterosexual relationships was presented with 57 studies showing same sex couples produced identical outcomes as heterosexual ones. It also was presented two or three studies showing the opposite, including one by Simon Fraser University economist Doug Allen.
The Michigan judge not only threw out Michigan’s marriage law, he also deemed Allen’s research to be “fringe,” while accepting the 57 studies to the contrary. Allen told me: “I don’t think he looked at any of them. I think he just counted.”
Had he bothered, and had he known a thing about research, he would have noted that the pro-homosexual studies were methodologically skewed: all were small, biased samples badly slanted by the selection method; the raw data was not released (and so couldn’t be refuted); the questioning was soft and sometimes biased. (A soft question: does your child have good self-esteem? A hard question: did he fail any year of high school?)
Allen’s study was truly random: thousands of Canadian couples, both same-sex and heterosex, were asked about their children’s school success during the Census. Children raised by heterosexual parents were 35% more likely to graduate from high school. Luckily for Allen, Simon Fraser U supports academic freedom staunchly and ignored calls for his dismissal. American sociologist Mark Regnerus nearly got run out of his university and academia for producing a study showing comparatively negative outcomes for children of same-sex parents.
Dr. Robert Spitzer, past president of the American Psychiatric Association, was similarly hounded by the homosexual lobby until he retracted his 2002 study showing homosexual attraction was a treatable condition.
Another way to be politically correct is to do honest, solid research but bury the unpalatable findings. In 2014 the journal Child Trends published one such study comparing the impact on children of their parents’ marital happiness, across several parental “subgroups.”
The researchers gladly reported the happy-slappy findings that the better the parents got on with each other, the better the children did at school and in life. But, as the redoubtable conservative author and thinker Elizabeth Marquardt exposed, the researchers did not admit that their data also revealed that children did much better with two, married biological parents.
“In other words,” summarized Marquardt, “the children in stepfamilies were over twice as likely to be reported as having behavior problems compared to children living with their own married parents. The children in a co-habiting step arrangement (translation: in most cases, mom living with her boyfriend) were almost three times as likely to have these problems.”
The point is that the cultural wars now divide science, though not 50-50. There are studies counting the manifest harms that abortion does to the health of women; but for each of these there are two showing there is no harm at all, and some that show childbirth itself is harmful. There are studies claiming to show that Evangelicals are stupid and credulous believers in Biblical literalness, and there are other studies showing that liberals are superstitious believers in astrology and Tarot cards.
Retraction Watch is now reporting on a debate over when fetuses first feel pain. At issue is a 2005 study carried by the Journal of the American Medical Association indicating fetuses are incapable of feeling pain before the third trimester. A conservative fact check organization called JustFactsDaily has asked JAMA to withdraw the paper because subsequent research has put the point where unborn babies feel pain around 20 weeks.
JAMA’s editors have refused, and rightly so in my view, on the grounds the 2005 study hasn’t been faulted for its methodology or its results. The existence of contrary evidence, even overwhelming evidence, doesn’t mean the researchers didn’t find what they said they found in 2005.
But JustFactsDaily is on stronger ground in wanting JAMA to admit the 2005 research team included an employee of the leading abortion rights lobby group NARAL Pro-Choice America, the medical director of an abortion clinic and a past employee of a different clinic.
JustFactsDaily has a good motive for wanting to knock out this study: it is repeatedly cited by journalists whenever the fetal pain issue arises, as it does when Republican states table bills to criminalize abortion after 20 weeks.
Since we cannot depend on objective science, we are left hoping that objective journalists not only cite the study that supports their own biases, but look for studies to the contrary.
Sadly, most mainstream journalists are pro-abortion, pro-same sex “marriage” (and pro-climate change, pro-Democrat, and pro gun-control). Yet most also consider themselves objective and also believe in the myth that science is objective, which is why it supports abortion, homosexuality, climate change, etc. They routinely accept reports that beggar common sense (such as, that abortion does no injury to woman and homosexual parenting does no harm to children) and ignore reports to the contrary, such as the Chinese metastudies linking abortion to breast cancer.
This puts a heavy onus on the public to be sceptical not only of politicians and lobbyists with axes to grind, but even more on people pretending to being unbiased such as reporters, scientists, bureaucrats, educationalists and judges.
Our courtrooms acknowledge, with defence and prosecuting attorneys, the usefulness of argument, contention and division in attaining the truth. Sadly, we must accept that our society has reached such a state of division—the Culture Wars—that knowledge itself is divided into politically correct and incorrect, Liberal and Conservative in Canada, Democrat and Republican in the U.S. and Christian and secular in both. The inexpert public, like the inexpert judge, must weigh the competing arguments. It is our job.