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June 26, 2008

An Artful Response To The Anti-Science Rap?

Jim Manzi, a CEO of a software company and former CEO of Lotus Development Corp, writes a thought provoking piece in NRO called "Science Without Experiments." Manzi unpacks the term “integrated complexity,” which is used to describe certain fields of science that are resistant to falsification.

While some fields of science lend themselves well to proving claims through falsification and experimentation, the science we care most about does not. It is dominated by highly complex, highly interconnected systems. These fields of science rely on dueling models rather than experiments. Examples include environmental science, systems science and epidemiology. These are also the areas of science that more and more influence public policy. 

Because of the probablistic nature of these sciences, scientists are highly vulnerable to reaching conclusions driven by their worldview, or as Manzi phrases it, their “unconscious bias.”

Serious scientists in fields dominated by integrated complexity are constantly trying to develop methods for testing hypotheses, but the absence of decisive experiments makes it much easier for groupthink to take hold. A much larger proportion of scientists self-identify as liberal than conservative, so when scientific questions of integrated complexity impinge on important political questions, the opportunities for unconscious bias are pretty obvious. Hasty conservative political pushback (e.g., “global warming is a hoax”) naturally creates further alienation between these politicians and scientists. The scientists then find political allies who have political reasons for accepting their conclusions; consequently, many conservatives come to see these scientists as pseudo-objective partisans. This sets up a vicious cycle. Unfortunately, that’s where we find ourselves now in far too many areas.

How do we engage in thoughtful conversation about scientific topics in these complex sciences in such a way as to be heard and avoid the "anti-science" rap? Like Manzi says, often the conservative push-back comes in the form of claiming that conclusions in these scientific fields are hoaxes. This sets up the “you are anti-science” response and the conversation ends.

Manzi’s suggestion to get around this road block is to elevate the role of experiments.  This strikes me as an artful approach worth considering.

I would be interested in hearing some Point readers weigh in.

(HT: Stand To Reason)

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Dr. Schaeffer predicted this back in the late 1960s. He pointed out that with the rejection of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, science no longer had an epistemological basis to know the objective universe, and that this would lead to 'existential science' and 'science' by consensus and for social engineering - exactly what we see today with global warming alarmism, 'science by consensus', the religious test on science (Was the experimenter an atheist? If not, his results are invalid), James Hansen's altering data to invent global warming and remove disproof, as well as choosing starting and end-points to make cycles look like a trend, and so forth.

Schaeffer, Polanyi, Jaki and Kuhn were right.


Hooray for Kuhn! I agree, labrialumn. Kuhn should be required reading for anyone wishing to address scientific concerns without getting laughed at- he addresses things without bringing up religion, which in many of the scientific discourses is the place you must start (simply because to bring in religion is to shut down the conversation).

Not saying religion is wrong- by no means! I am a conservative Christian. Just saying in these conversations, if the person has certain assumptions, you have to step around them first.


J. Clinton,

In order to engage in thoughtful conversation, you're going to have to make some amends. For example, this blog promoted the movie "Expelled" pretty heavily. "Expelled" misrepresented the stories of the people who were supposedly on the receiving end of discrimination. Please read the "Expelled" portion of the page below.


How do you expect to be respected when you engage in such flagrantly immoral behaviors, i.e., acts of bearing false witness?

Gina Dalfonzo

Walter, this post isn't about "Expelled." Please stay on topic. If you think Jeff isn't worth engaging, then don't engage him. If you think he is, then talk about the particular topic he raised. Thanks.

Jason Taylor

Somehow I wonder about deigning to worry about the "anti-science" rap. When people say that you are anti-science they do not merely mean that you are an occupational snob. They are saying you are "Evil, Evil, Evil!" Because there is no god but Science and Richard Dawkins is his prophet. Being in a hurry to answer gives a sign of groveling. Being anti-science is no worse then being anti-lawyer or anti-journalist.



I'm the only person you seem to correct. Why is that? I was answering J. Clinton's question:

"How do we engage in thoughtful conversation about scientific topics in these complex sciences in such a way as to be heard and avoid the "anti-science" rap?"

The prerequisite to engaging in "thoughtful conversation" is to enter into the conversation as an honest entity. If the prerequisite isn't fulfilled, thoughtful conversation is a bust. Expelled is very on topic because it demonstrates how not to behave if you want to avoid the "anti-science" rap.

J. Clinton,

Please explain this to Gina so she doesn't ban me. ;-)

p.s. Gina, This post isn't about Richard Dawkins is it? Does Jason get a ping?

Jason Taylor

The conversation is about the anti-science rap.

Jason Taylor

Walter, I mentioned Richard Dawkins because I needed someone to fit the sarcasm. Whether or not I got a ping.

Steve (SBK)

I would expect someone accusing Jeff of "flagrantly immoral behaviors" to at least get his data from more than a biased website. (Since there are equally biased websites in disagreement. A good start would be to take the testimony of those involved. But that would probably be disregarded as biased or incomplete.)

Rhetoric likely won't get the competing model supporters to dialogue or respect each other. Experimentation may bring the sides closer together. Unless of course people who wanted to pursue a line of experimentation were not allowed to - might make a good movie.

J. Clinton

re: “Being in a hurry to answer gives a sign of groveling.”

This may be true, but I believe there is scriptural principle (Col 4:5-6) to engage graciously with and be wise toward 'outsiders'. So how can we do that prudentially?

Manzi makes a compelling case that a persuasive approach to disputing controversial claims made by liberal scientists is to use science. This seems like a more artful approach than to simply say, your claim is baloney.

There is a fundamental difference between making a claim that can be demonstrated by falsification through experimentation, and one that is made by constructing a model laden with assumptions, guesses and bias. His example of Galileo’s falsification of Aristotle’s claim is a good one. There is very little controversy any longer about Aristotle’s belief that heavier objects should fall faster than light objects. Galileo demonstrated Aristotle's idea to be baloney. He didn't merely say, your idea is baloney.

I recognize that worldviews influence conclusions made by scientists and philosophers alike. Kuhn was right. I recognize that “a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” However, I don’t think that gives us the license to pick up our marbles and go home. If we are going to engage in debates about public policy involving a claim by scientist X, we need an artful way to do that. Manzi’s suggestion of using the epistemology of science to expose a weak argument strikes me as a thought worth considering.


This is a good article.

Many of us can smell a "world view" and "hidden quasi religious assumptions" and "dubious view of truth" a mile away -- because we've been taught (or self taught) to recognize such things.

But to those enmeshed in such science world systems (who have not been so trained) it just looks like we're just ranting....Blah blah blah the religious types are ranting again. (Sound of a click here as they turn off active listening...)

The back door approach - avoiding the flagrant and inflammatory language -
definitely is the way to go in those cases where the scientist is NOT deliberately manipulating a world view, - but is trying to honestly understand what is happening in the world.

The trick is to come up with specific, and wise ways to get people to look at the scientific question in NEW and yet SOUND ways.

ie THINKING outside the BOX!)


J. Clinton,

This was a good one. You definitely fooled vikingmom. Jim Manzi is not appealing to "the religious types" because "the religious types" *are* anti science. Jim is talking to policy makers who tend to regulate industry based on unsubstantiated assumptions about how complex systems work.

Jim wasn't talking about PR campaigns that sow doubt, like the campaign of the tobacco industry that tried very hard to say that each smoker's body is a complex system. Thus, there is no proof that an individual's lung cancer was caused by his/her smoking. Political campaigns intended solely to sow doubt harm the cause in the long run.

It's interesting when "the religious types" climb on board such PR campaigns as is the case with oil industry lead opposition to reducing oil consumption for the dual purpose of extending the life of oil reserves (making oil affordable, longer) and reducing greenhouse gas emissions which cause global warming. Here's what the "religious types" said about the letter from the National Association of Evangelicals:

"We have observed that Cizik and others are using the global warming controversy to shift the emphasis away from the great moral issues of our time, notably the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage and the teaching of sexual abstinence and morality to our children," said the letter, which was signed by prominent religious conservatives such as James Dobson, Don Wildmon, Paul Weyrich and Gary Bauer."

And what about those "great moral issues"? Doesn't the knife cut both ways? Can "the religious types" dispute simple cause and effect correlations with respect to global climate and then turn around and say that same-sex marriage will destroy the social institution of marriage or that abstinence-only education will reduce teen pregnancy? No, of course not, but they will create "research counsels" to do just that.

If "religious types" want to use science to further their "conservative agenda", they shouldn't hold on to unprovable hypothesis. The Dobsonites may have sneaked in a literal interpretation of the story of Genesis under "teaching...morality to our children". This is where the unprovable intelligent design hypothesis enters the conversation.. Jim Manzi had something to say about that in a National Review article:


Manzi's challenge to "religious types" is "show me the science". From the article:

"But the obvious question for ID proponents is never asked: OK, this great science is being suppressed, so please show me the data, lab notebooks, scientific work papers, unpublished manuscripts, and so on that contain all of these amazing discoveries that nobody will confront. But we never see it."

Manzi ends his article with this:

"Trying to wish away valid scientific findings because you believe that they imperil religious or ethical beliefs is a fool’s errand on many levels. Augustine’s guidance from The Literal Meaning of Genesis is quite relevant here:

Even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipse of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn."

I don't believe that Jim Manzi is your guy, J. Clinton, but good try. You get an "A" for effort.

J. Clinton


Re: “I don't believe that Jim Manzi is your guy”

True statement. Nor is Jim Manzi Walter’s guy. Jim Manzi is his own guy.

Re: Intelligent design.

Talk about an “A” for effort. You keep attempting to threadjack this discussion to fit your jihad against intelligent design.

I don’t know you, have never met you, and yet you start off by making sarcastic comments against me and impugning my character. I am truly sorry that you feel compelled to try and make me your enemy when we don’t even know each other.

I continue to hold out hope that there are others out there who hold different worldviews than me, but are willing to show respect and enter into a real conversation. It was Aquinas who said that civilization is constituted on conversation. He said it was the barbarians who settled differences with their clubs.

For those still reading and interested, this thread is not about intelligent design.

Jim Manzi is a writer for National Review. He is smart, politically conservative, and disinterested in intelligent design. As Walter points out, Manzi disagrees with intelligent design.

Jim Manzi makes an astute observation in the essay linked in this post. Manzi points out that there is a notable difference between knowledge proven through experimentation, and knowledge based on hypothetical models laden with assumptions, complexity and therefore unconscious bias. That is a valid epistemological point. Manzi is to be commended for noting how much worldviews play a part in shaping our inferences, and for highlighting the fact that not all arguments made by scientists are equal (i.e. fact) just because they are made by a scientist.

The reason that Manzi points this out is because he notes that the science driving public policy debates is of the model variety, and based on unproven (and possibly unprovable) arguments. Manzi, for example, is skeptical about climate change arguments based on man’s impact on the environment. He is not skeptical that the planet is getting warmer – just on the case that man is the sole cause. The models promoting the cause of AGW are laden with unconscious bias – and he also notes that the majority of scientists are liberals. Therefore, it is no surprise that these model based arguments contain the unconscious bias (aka worldview) of left-leaning human beings built into them.

Manzi suggests that the skepticism be directed at the models, and that a greater emphasis should be placed on insisting on proving the case through falsification and experimentation as much as possible.

I like Manzi's article because he is discussing an important point about knowledge and worldviews ... and, because he offers food for thought on how to argue prudentially and persuasively in the public square.


J. Clinton,

I'll do my best to try to explain my points which were not sarcastic, jihadist, nor a personal attack against you.

Context is important. I don't know how a blogger qualifies to be a BreakPoint blogger nor do I know Gina's criteria for approving posts. I do know that BreakPoint posts represent a "worldview" and that there is consistency in outlook across all the bloggers. I read your post in the context of all the "scientific" posts that I've read over the past few months. Many of the posts in the "Health & Science" category dealt with (against) evolution and in support of intelligent design. As you see from Manzi's article, he found no valid science in ID proponent arguments.

When you entered the conversation asking how conservatives can be treated seriously by the scientific community, you inherited all of the anti-science horse hockey promoted by other BreakPoint bloggers, including Regis Nicoll's outlandish "proof" that "the scaffolding of evolutionary theory collapses in a rubble."

The issue with this post is guilt by association. In order for it to be treated seriously, it must distance itself from the anti-science posts published by fellow BreakPoint bloggers. If this post doesn't do that, readers won't see it coming from a conservative scientist. Instead, the post appears to be insincere. All the other bloggers come across as religious worldview activists who are threatened by science. It wouldn't be unfair to claim that there is incontrovertible evidence that science "imperil[s] religious or ethical beliefs" of the BreakPoint worldview.

And it would be equally not unfair to claim that there is considerable(NEVER say "incontrovertible"-there is seldom any such thing)evidence that religion is considered to imperil philosophical or ethical beliefs of the Scientific worldview. Of course both "science" and "religion" are vague terms but we understand enough to get on with.
And yes Breakpoint posts represents a Worldview. That is of course because Breakpoint represents a worldview and so naturally most posters would have a reasonable amount of friendliness to it.
As for "In order for it to be treated seriously, it must distance itself from the anti-science posts published by fellow BreakPoint bloggers", the wording makes it sound rather like a Decree From On High. I should think you have more work then being the Seriousness Police.
In any case what you really mean is "Taken seriously by those whom Walter takes seriously" Why does Breakpoint care whether it is "taken seriously" by them, or by anyone else for that matter? The impression I get from the "Worldview" of most posters is not that being "taken seriously" is the most important of things in the world.
And again, Walter, you have not answered my question. Why is being anti-science the definition of unseriousness?

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