Friday, January 04, 2008

The Corruption of Science

Gilbert Omenn is a professor of medicine at the University of Michigan. And according to Breitbart, he is really worried that Mike Huckabee might be president:

"The logic that convinces us that evolution is a fact is the same logic we use to say smoking is hazardous to your health or we have serious energy policy issues because of global warming…I would worry that a president who didn't believe in the evolution arguments wouldn't believe in those other arguments either. This is a way of leading our country to ruin…If our country starts to behave irrationally whereas all the other countries coming up and chasing us (to take over as the world leaders in science and technology) behaving rationally, we are doomed."

My goodness – we are doomed if a guy who doesn’t believe in purely materialistic Darwinism is elected president? The good professor seems unaware that the President of the United States, subject to checks and balances, a presumed veto-proof minority (if not much more) in Congress that doesn’t wish to see creationism in the schools, and the small federal role in education policy, would be able to do next to nothing about whether creationism is taught in which schools.

As a professor at one of America’s better universities, Prof. Omenn is presumably very good in his field. Perhaps he should stick to it, because he knows nothing about politics, about public policy and its tradeoffs, etc. It seems almost too easy to note that we had a healthier (in the political sense) republic when smoking rates were much higher, when climate-change hysteria was not the order of the day, etc. An intelligent person concerned about climate change beyond what the natural sciences have to say about it might ask a few questions, such as:

(1) How many years of life have been saved because cheap fossil-fuel transportation has increased access to medical care – the patients who can fly to elite hospitals, the patients who can be transported rapidly by ambulance to the local ones?

(2) What is the total effect of restraints by humans on human-induced climate change likely to be? What “solutions” are politicians likely to give us, and what human freedoms and advances in living conditions will we then be forced to give up?

But if he is like most politically engaged iscientists, Prof. Omenn has no time for such Hobbesian complexities. Like most such scientists, he has all the answers, the fragile traditions of American self-governance be damned. Whatever we do to the climate, or whatever the extent of creationism in the schools ends up being (almost certainly modest, as the recent ousting of pro-creationist school officials in Kansas demonstrates), the republic and the citizens in it will continue to get along, managing and coping and handling whatever problems arise.

Natural scientists are among the most admired Americans, often for good reason. But increasingly they are joining their fellow intellectuals in the social sciences and the humanities in the fatal embrace of political power – their belief that the future of the country, even civilization itself depends on paying attention only to that which concerns them, obeying them without question, and not giving any critical thought to the consequences. They, or at least the ones who like to see their names in the paper, seem to be increasingly of the view that they know things we don't, not about their fields of expertise but about what to do about that knowledge. Our scientific establishment is very robust, and we are much the better for it. But their unique expertise ends at the laboratory’s edge.


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