Opinion

How a liberal bias is killing science

This recent correction is absolutely hilarious — and very revealing

Oh boy. Remember when a study came out that said that conservative political beliefs are associated with psychotic traits, such as authoritarianism and tough-mindedness? While liberalism is associated with "social desirability?"

The American Journal of Political Science recently had to print a somewhat embarrassing correction, as the invaluable website Retraction Watch pointed out: It turns out somebody made an Excel error. And the study's results aren't a little off. They aren't a lot off. They are exactly backwards.

Writes the American Journal of Political Science:

The interpretation of the coding of the political attitude items in the descriptive and preliminary analyses portion of the manuscript was exactly reversed. Thus, where we indicated that higher scores in Table 1 (page 40) reflect a more conservative response, they actually reflect a more liberal response. [American Journal of Political Science]

In other words, at least according to this study, it's liberals who are psychotic and conservatives who are awesome.

Well, obviously, as a conservative, I first had to stop laughing for 10 minutes before I could catch my breath.

I could also make a crassly political point, like of course liberals are psychotic given liberal authoritarianism, and of course conservatives are more balanced — after all, we're happier and we have better sex.

But actually, this is bigger than that. Adds Retraction Watch, "That 2012 paper has been cited 45 times, according to Thomson Reuters Web of Science."

I've been a harsh critic of shoddy scientific research. Criticizing American academia's liberal bias earned me a lot of pushback, mostly from progressives on Twitter patiently explaining to me that it's not "bias" to turn down equally qualified conservatives for tenure or promotion or their papers, since after all conservatives are intrinsically unreasonable and stupid (they could have added psychotic for good measure. After all, science proves it!).

Contacted by Retraction Watch, the authors of the study hem and haw and say that their point was not about conservatives or liberals, but about the magnitude of differences between those camps. Yeah, right.

Actually, as independent reviewers point out, the paper itself is so shoddy that we conservatives shouldn't use it to crow about how liberals are psychos. The correlations are "spurious," explains one reviewer. And looking at the methodology, I couldn't help but agree.

The reason the study was made, and the reason it was published, and the reason it was cited so often despite its shoddy methodology, was simply to smear conservatives, and to use "science" as a weapon in our soul-deadening cultural-political war.

Isn't it time we see that this is killing science and its credibility? Isn't it time to do something about it? That is, if science is an actual disinterested pursuit, and not a priestly class that, like all priestly classes, eventually forgets its calling and just seeks to aggrandize its power and control the masses.

The political bias problem is merely the visible part of the iceberg.

Science's problems run much deeper. The social prestige associated with the word science has led to excesses in many directions, leading us to believe that "science" is the equivalent of "magic" when it is a specific and flawed process for doing important but limited things. We're not helped by the fact that most scientists are themselves ignorant about how science works.

The end result is that Big Science is now broken, with it being nearly certain now that most published research findings are false — and, most importantly, nobody has any idea what to do about it. And nobody is panicking! Because science is infallible, so how could anything be wrong with it?

It's time for scientists and the scientific establishment to wake up. Only 11 percent of preclinical cancer research could be reproduced according to a recent survey. False results have spawned entire fields of literature and of study and grants. And this is just one example. At stake is much more than political and culture wars.

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