“We believe in science, and that means that we have a responsibility to protect this Earth.” Elizabeth Warren
This was part of a longer list of progressive values that Elizabeth Warren listed in a July speech to Netroots Nation.
I agree with her list, but I thought it interesting to dig into why progressives believe in science. It might also be interesting to compare those beliefs with the implied opposing conservative view. Since this is just my opinion, I’ll change this perspective from “we” to “I”.
Why I believe in Science?
Science is inherently about the search for truth. While any human endeavor is vulnerable to bias, the scientific community celebrates revolutionary thought rather than suppressing it.
These claims are the result of the modern scientific method.
That method employs what we would now call crowd sourcing as a protection against bias.
Science, at least the hard sciences, depends on mathematics. Mathematics has no bias.
There are two types of scientists in the world – theoretical and experimental. Theoretical scientists rely on mathematics to create new models to explain or predict experimental results. Experimental scientists test these theories through experiments.
All scientists publish the results of their work in peer reviewed journals. The scientific community engages through these journals to verify the math, confirm experimental results, and comment on new theories.
If the math behind the theories survives review by independent groups, the theories gain credibility.
If the theories accurately predict experiment results, the theories gain credibility.
If the experimental results can be duplicated by independent groups, they gain credibility.
As theories gain support in the scientific community, more scientists engage in exploring the boundaries of those theories. As the experimental evidence accumulates and the boundaries of the theories emerge, those theories become accepted by a majority of the scientific community.
That’s where we are with climate science. The boundaries are still evolving, but the basic assumption that the current changes in climate that we are seeing are caused by human activity is accepted by 98% of those qualified to have an opinion.
I believe in science because I believe in the purity of mathematics and reliability of the peer-reviewed crowd sourced model.
Why do liberals believe in science?
The answer here is more nuanced.
The facts are that we are all fundamentally emotional decision makers. That’s what moral intuitionism is all about. The difference is that when it comes down to a choice, it is easier for liberals to alter their views in the face of contradicting facts than it is for conservatives.
We’ve also talked about how liberals and conservatives operate emotionally from two different sets of moral foundations. Liberals focus on fairness and care. Conservatives share those foundations but are also concerned about liberty, loyalty, authority, and sanctity.
Science is inherently fair. Liberals view science as a tool to determine how to best address the problems of those who need care and protection.
That isn’t to say that liberals don’t also have their biases and areas where these emotional moral foundation-based decisions cause them to be science deniers. Vaccinations, though not exclusively a liberal issue, is a good example.
Finally, studies also show that liberals are fundamentally accepting of change while conservatives fear it. If science has any bias, it is toward change. Scientists are motivated toward answering the unanswered questions. That inevitably leads to upending accepted theories and replacing them with new ones.
Why are conservatives science deniers?
Conservatives weren’t always science deniers. The coalitions created by Nixon and Reagan, aligned conservatives with Christian fundamentalism. Fundamentalist Christians ARE science deniers. The result has been the politicization of science because it calls into question beliefs that spring from a literal interpretation of the Bible.
Big Tobacco developed the political tools to cast doubt on mainstream science. It was the only way they could continue to sell a product that killed people. A long line of conservative political operatives have refined those tools to create wedge issues, build conservative coalitions, and attack liberalism.
Mathematics is one of the few things in our existence that is pure, absolute, and rational. That is not an indictment of emotion or belief. Science, because it is based on mathematics, simply stands in stark contrast to belief.
Those who attempt to base their lives on belief, for example, have no choice but to deny science. Science isn’t specifically attacking their beliefs. Science is simply creating theories to explain experimental evidence that is being discovered. Any damage that any particular belief suffers is generally unintended.
Here’s just a simple thought experiment to illustrate the point. If at some point in the future, science discovers that there WAS evidence of some “creative event” that could only be explained by intervention from a higher power, liberals would have no problem accepting that theory. Liberals would find themselves more closely aligned with conservative Christian beliefs on this particular topic. Atheists would then find themselves in the curious position of denying science in order to defend their position.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work the other way and that’s the basic challenge of this age.
For liberals, science largely guides belief.
For conservatives, belief trumps science.