Chris Moody’s book “The Republican War on Science” took President George W. Bush to task for suppressing scientific efforts that did not match up with his political and religious agenda. Republicans were connected to legislative efforts to stop stem cell and climate change research. Furthermore they were linked to creation science and the dismantling of scientifically based safety regulations. According to Moody, Republicans simply do not have an appetite for scientific findings that do not comport to their political/religious agenda. That is probably true.
But what if the scientific findings do not comport to the agenda of the Left? Do they have the intellectual fortitude to go with the science instead of their agenda? We have seen the answer to that and unfortunately that answer is no. The recent work by Mark Regnerus on same-sex parenting was such a test for the Left and they failed big time. He found that, contrary to earlier research, there were negative dysfunctions correlated to having same sex parents. As you might imagine his failure to adhere to the orthodoxy of the liberal activists (Imagine that! He only wanted to report his findings.) engendered a firestorm. One of the other bloggers at B, W and G has already posted a defense of Regnerus (In Appreciation of Mark Regnerus ). But now we have new information. The University of Texas has decided to investigate his research. http://www.statesman.com/news/local/ut-investigates-professors-study-on-children-with-gay-2415276.html It’s official. Let the witch hunt begin!!!
At first, the attacks on Regnerus’s work consisted of attacks on his methods and the empirical limitations of his research. A lot of it was over the top considering that these academics did not pay much attention to the deeply flawed earlier research that had the proper “politically correct” conclusion and was lauded as evidence that same-sex parenting does not matter. As a scholar I know what research looks like. Perfect research in the social sciences does not exist. Regnerus’s work is not perfect. But his data collection was far superior to the sampling used in previous work on this topic. The way science is supposed to work is that future research addresses the limitations of his work and we gain more knowledge through better studies. But the size of the blowback that he received shows that these individuals are not looking for better studies but want to push their own political agenda through vicious attacks. What made this blowback even worse were the ad hominem attacks. Regnerus was automatically described as a fundamentalist Christian with a far right-wing agenda. I do not know him but I do know that he has conducted research that challenges the efficacy of abstinence only sex education programs. Those findings do not sound like support for a far right-wing agenda to me but hey, why let a few facts get in the way when you are trying to destroy scientific results? If you cannot eliminate the message then take out the messenger.
All of this blowback was over the top but at least some of it was acceptable if it pertained to his methodology and analysis. But the attempt to investigate his research takes this to a whole new level. (I must say that I am a faithful Longhorn alumni and eagerly await the upcoming football season but it pains me that this is occurring where I received my doctorate.) What business does the university have putting together a panel of mostly non-sociologists to evaluate the work of a sociology scholar? The peer review process is where other sociologists evaluate his research to decide whether his work deserves publication. He underwent that process and the sociologists said “yes”. Why should a university investigate a scholar? If there is evidence of academic malfeasance or falsification of data then such an investigation is in order. What is the crime in this study? Read the article. The crime is that the review process was shorter than normal. The crime was that the journal was extraordinarily efficient!! Oh the horrors of it all.
I have liberal friends who like to tell me that “reality has a liberal bias.” Well it certainly does when scholars are not allowed to go where the evidence takes them if it violates a progressive political tenet. This is not as much about stopping Regnerus. His work is out there and it will be debated regardless of what is done now. This is about stopping the next scholar who dares to violate the unspoken acceptable conclusions we are to draw from science. We all know that science and scientists are not completely objective. But if we cannot at least make an attempt at being disinterested in the results and not playing to a certain political bias then we do not have science. We have polemic propaganda. There is nothing wrong with polemic propaganda in the right context but it is not science. We should stop pretending that it is science.
Maybe we can get a little insight into the “Republican war on Science”. There are clearly some indefensible Republican activities. But if Republicans suspect that science is not an open search for the truth but rather merely attempts to reinforce the political aims of the Left, then why should we be surprised that Republicans do not accept global warming, evolution or other scientific ideas connected to progressive political aims. Perhaps the best way to deal with this war on science is not to merely rant against the political party you hate but to produce science open to all possibilities and when the research suggests a finding that is counter to liberal presuppositions that we treat it like we treat the ones counter to conservative presuppositions. Mirroring the proper attitudes and actions for conservatives would go a long way to show how science should be used in our society.