Science and Public Policy (cont.)

As I pointed out in a column a few weeks back, there are two sides to the Left’s claim to be the more science-friendly faction. It’s not just conservative politics that is hostile to science, it’s any politics, though the particular scientific topic objected to may be different for Left and Right. A political position, especially one that incorporates a religious view of human affairs, usually contains some implicit view of human nature. Scientific inquiry into human nature, which has been picking up steam in recent decades, is therefore liable to turn up results displeasing to lots of politicians and their more ideological supporters (I include religion as a species of ideology), and will be looked at askance for just that reason.

I’m not sure Dennis Overbye is quite right when he says:

Dr. Fang got in trouble initially because he favored the Big Bang, but that was against Marxist orthodoxy that the universe was infinitely unfolding.

As I recall, Fang Lizhi’s error was more trivial than that. In speaking up for a finite universe, he contradicted an offhand remark of Friedrich Engels in one of his books. Engels mentioned gazing up at the night sky and reflecting that it was so awesome, it must surely be infinite.

That was enough to get you in trouble in Mao’s China. Fang later got into much more trouble. I have no personal acquaintance with him, but he looks to me like a pretty good egg. Likewise Xu Liangying, whom I am ashamed to say I did not know about.

These are real heroes of our time. I recall once during my own time in China, being in private conversation with a worldly man of good character who had suffered some injustice at the hands of the authorities. Naïvely I asked him why he didn’t make some kind of protest. He looked at me with a withering scorn I shall never forget, and said: “Foreigners! You don’t know what it’s like for us. You can’t imagine what punishment is like in China.” That was in the 1980s, well post-Mao.

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6 Responses to Science and Public Policy (cont.)

  1. Daniel Dare says:

    With respect, Bradlaugh, I think you’re focusing on the wrong question. The point is not who is better (or perhaps the least-worst).

    The point is: Since the enlightenment, it is the competition between rationals that is the most important force driving history.

    Any deviation from unconditional commitment to reality, is likely to be a liability in the long-run to the perpetrator, no matter which side gives rise to it.

    For instance the example you gave: The excessive ideological slavishness of Maoist China exacted a severe toll in backwardness, for which China is still paying. Maoist extremism in China was the best thing that ever happened to America. Since it gifted the West an extra few decades of dominance. A more-rational post-war China might have already been number one by now. Maybe at the same social level as Taiwan – Just BIGGER.

  2. mnuez says:

    Totally OT but if I can’t mention this here, where can I mention it in the company of intelligent people?

    The headline of the Jerusalem Post just informed me that yet more Kassams have been fired against Israel from Gaza despite the fact that Israel and Hamas have a new ceasefire in place. Oh and apparently this is the third attack since the onset of the Arab’s “truce”.

    I have an enhanced Google News page that runs as long as google allows and that includes the maximum number of world related stories and even has a special section on Jewish related stories that includes DOZENS of those. Why then is there not a SINGLE headline related to this repeated truce violation that the Gazans had been begging for?

    I’m sure we’ll all hear about it though when Israel finally strikes back. And we’ll all be as shocked as we were last month because this unwarranted Israeli aggression just CAME OUT OF NOWHERE.

    Deep breath…

    As to the subject at hand, the long list of enforced orthodoxies by Communist governments everywhere leads me to wonder as to how doctrinaire Marx himself was. As a total ignoramus on the subject who has a vague feeling that the popular conception of Marx in the Western World is somewhat unfair to the strength of some of his ideas, I wonder as to whether he himself actually believed that he was the be all and end all of knowledge that his subsequent “followers” tried to pass him off as.

    This, by the way, is how revolutionaries ought to speak:

    “Throughout this article we’ve made imprecise statements and statements that ought to have had all sorts of qualifications and reservations attached to them; and some of our statements may be flatly false. Lack of sufficient information and the need for brevity made it impossible for us to formulate our assertions more precisely or add all the necessary qualifications. And of course in a discussion of this kind one must rely heavily on intuitive judgment, and that can sometimes be wrong. So we don’t claim that this article expresses more than a crude approximation to the truth.”

    Then again, he doesn’t quite have Marx’s success record (if you can call it that) so I suppose every so often you just have to defer to the economist over the mathematician (sorry Derb).

  3. Don Kenner says:


    The Israel news is hardly off topic. When it comes to irrationality, blind allegiance to (political) dogma, and a stubborn — if not downright psychotic — refusal to look at the facts, fundamentalist Christians have NOTHING on the herd of independent minds who ignore Jew-hating violence and slaughter, only to emerge from under their rocks with cries of “war crimes!” as soon as Israel fights back.

    Try to convince your bible-thumping sister that the earth is older than 6,000 years; then try to convince your grad-student cousin that the Arabs are the major aggressors in the Arab-Israeli conflict. It’s pretty much the same experience.

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  5. Daniel Dare says:

    Another reason I am disinclined to see left or right as inherently more science friendly or unfriendly, is because I tend to see both as evolving movements rather than fixed positions. They differ in place and time. Modern societies and scientific knowledge evolve so fast that there is no fixed left/right position.

    In the long run, I agree with Ayn Rand on this question (my favorite AR quote):

    “Whenever you committed the evil of refusing to think and to see, of exempting from the absolute of reality some one small wish of yours, whenever you chose to say: Let me withdraw from the judgment of reason the cookies I stole, or the existence of God, let me have my one irrational whim and I will be a man of reason about all else – that was the act of subverting your consciousness, the act of corrupting your mind.”

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