“…this and countless other scientific findings led the President of the American Sociological Association—in his 2005 presidential address—to call upon members to, ‘Prepare to defend against the genomic data juggernaut heading their way down the pike.'”
he 2020 presidential campaign, particularly on the Democratic side, has thus far placed the concept of “facts and the science” at center stage. When former president Barack Obama endorsed his former Vice President, Joe Biden, for President of the United States on April 14th, former President Obama asserted that Vice President Biden would—unlike conservatives—adhere to the “facts and the science” in running his administration. Then, on April 28th, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton added her endorsement of Vice President Biden. Secretary Clinton indicated her view that it was necessary to have a president, who “listened to the science, put facts over fiction.” As such, she suggested that Vice President Biden—unlike President Donald Trump—would be that person.
Secretary Clinton’s endorsement of the former Vice President was followed almost immediately by The New York Times’ podcast “When Science Is Partisan” in which Frank Bruni stated: “From the very start of his administration President Trump has shrugged off expertise; he has outright mocked experts, and he has shown special disregard for science. Even more dangerous, he has frequently presented fiction as fact.” Again and again, Democrats have asserted that their Republican counterparts flagrantly ignore the research findings of experts, thereby regularly running afoul of reality. As I will argue, this Democratic line of argument is simply not correct, and I will trace each group’s actual willingness to follow the “facts and the science,” wherever they might lead.
Failings When It Comes to Science
Conservatives, admittedly, either ignore or reject the well-demonstrated theory of evolution. Simply stated our planet (and all of its many species) were not created in six days. Our Universe is approximately 13 billion years old, and the sphere on which we live congealed about 4.5 billion years ago. However, in 2013, roughly 48% of conservative voters believed that creation according to The Book of Genesis is factual. This is as compared to the 67% of Democrats and 65% of Independents who believe humans evolved over time. As such, rather than alienate this large segment of the Republican electoral base, if a reporter asks a conservative candidate if he or she believes in evolution, the candidate will frequently duck the question. This position is a violation of both the “facts and the science,” and these Republican politicians should be ashamed of themselves for not endorsing the truth. This is a well-known example of conservatives choosing to ignore the evidence.
Turning to progressives—and the subject of abortion—we find that those on the Left either ignore or reject the scientific facts. In an October, 2019 Quillette article “I Asked Thousands of Biologists When Life Begins. The Answer Was Not Popular,” Steve Jacobs reported that he had polled 5,337 biologists asking each of them when life begins and 96% answered, “at conception.” Only 240 (4%) disagreed. Interestingly, 89% of these biologists self-identified as liberal; 85% said they were pro-choice; 63% were secular, and 92% were Democrats. The bottom line is that the scientific consensus does not materially influence their position on the question of life.
Many on the Left also deny the facts and the data regarding the allegation that rising inequality is occurring in the United States. The statistics that rebut this claim can be found in my article published in Merion West entitled “In Reply to McManus: Harping on Income Inequality Ignores the Data.”
Now we move on to the hard part. Ever since the polymath Francis Galton coined the term “Nature Versus Nurture” in the second half of the 19th century, the nature-nurture debate has raged on. As Néstor de Buen wrote in Merion West (When We Debate “Biological Differences”) this past July, “All of these cases have one common thread: the Right will argue that differences between human groups (i.e. men and women, or Caucasians and African-Americans) are explained by biology, while the Left will argue that they are largely the result of socialization and historic circumstances.” de Buen’s essay approaches the “genes versus environment” question from the Left, while my following arguments all spring from the biological side of this basic disagreement.
The first rejection of the idea of genes and human development (often called “scientific racism”) came from anthropologist Franz Boas. In his 1938 article entitled “An Anthropologist’s Credo,” he wrote, “It is my conviction that the fundamental ethical point of view is that of the in-group, which must be expanded to include all humanity.” This egalitarian bent was formalized in 1942 by one of Boas’ students, Ashley Montagu, in his book Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race. About this book, Aldous Huxley wrote that “…where most assume that ‘facts speak for themselves’, [Montagu] makes it clear that the facts are mere ventriloquists’ dummies, and can be made to justify a course of action that appeals to the socially conditioned passions of the individuals concerned.”
Both men—and much of the world—were shocked and horrified by the countless travesties of Nazi Germany; as such, this social scientific idea spread far and wide. In his famous and extremely influential 1970 book The Struggle of the Scientific Revolution Thomas Kuhn reported:
“Spending a year in a community composed predominantly of social scientists confronted me with unanticipated problems about the differences between such communities and those of the natural scientists among whom I had been trained. Particularly, I was struck by the number and extent of the overt disagreements between social scientists about the nature of legitimate scientific problems and methods […] Somehow, the practice of astronomy, physics, chemistry, or biology normally fails to evoke the controversies over fundamentals that today often seem endemic among say, psychologists or sociologists.”
In short, the social sciences were rejecting on ethical grounds the findings of the hard sciences.
Then, in 1972, the Left altered course by asserting that the genetic findings of the hard sciences were simply wrong. Richard Lewontin’s paper “The Apportionment of Human Diversity” concluded that 80-85% of the variation within human populations is found within local geographic groups and the differences attributable to traditional “race” groups are a minor part of human genetic variability, and, thus, “race” had to be a social construct. This idea that there exists no scientific basis for human races spread quickly through the academy and through much of the media.
Next, in their 1984 book Not in Our Genes, Richard Lewontin, Steven Rose, and Leon Kamin added a purely political goal: equal economic outcomes. In their own words, “We share a commitment to the project of the creation of a more socially just—socialist—society. And we recognize that a critical science is an integral part of the struggle to create that society.” Their egalitarian goal was now obvious. Diminishing their stature was the recollection of Robert Trivers, a top-notch evolutionary biologist in his own right, who remembered in “Vignettes of Famous Evolutionary Biologists Large and Small” that “… Lewontin would lie openly and admit doing so. Lewontin would sometimes admit […] that some of his assertions were indeed fabrications, but he says the fight was ideological and political—they lied and so would he.” Further deflating Lewontin’s image was his 1985 book, The Dialectical Biologist, which he co-authored with Richard Levins. In The Dialectical Biologist, they asserted that there was nothing in Marxist or Leninism that could be contradicted by objective reality.
In 1994, Richard Herrnstein & Charles Murray published The Bell Curve, and the battle was truly joined. A number of books written by social scientists were rushed into print all criticizing The Bell Curve, and a rebuttal to this onslaught was signed by over 50 experts regarding the science of intelligence and published in The Wall Street Journal in December of 1994, as an op-ed entitled “Mainstream Science on Intelligence.” This article stated in part that “Intelligence can be measured, and intelligence tests measure it well. (These IQ tests) are among the most accurate (in technical terms, reliable and valid) of all psychological tests and assessments.”
Among the books that attacked The Bell Curve was an effort by Russell Jacoby and Naomi Glauberman, who published in 1995 The Bell Curve Debate. Their book contained two essays by Leon Kamin. In one of these essays, he engaged in some initial backpedaling. In “The Pioneers of IQ Testing” Kamin offered that, “There is, of course, the theoretical possibility that the genetic theorists are correct. IQ is highly heritable and perhaps differences between races […] are in large measure due to heredity. There are serious scholars who have assumed this, and who have labored to adduce supporting evidence. Their data ought not to be ignored, and they deserve careful scrutiny.”
Things remained relatively quiet until 2000 when the project to synthesize the human genome was completed (after which genetic research took off). Also, in 2003, A.W.F. Edwards struck an important blow against the nurture side of the genes/environment debate by publishing a scholarly paper entitled “Human Genetic Diversity: Lewontin’s Fallacy.” In this paper, he found that:
“It is therefore been proposed that the division of Homo Sapiens into (ethnic or racial) groups is unjustified by genetic data. This conclusion, due to R.C. Lewontin in 1972, is unwarranted because the argument ignores the fact that most of the information that distinguishes populations is hidden in the correlation structure of the data and not simply in the variation of the individual factors.”
This was followed in 2005 by Richard Dawkins writing in The Ancestor’s Tale that “However small the racial partition of the total variation may be, if such racial characteristics, as there are, highly correlate with other racial characteristics, they are by definition informative, and therefore of taxonomic significance.” And, thus, any vitality remaining in Lewontin’s 1972 paper was dissipated.
Then, in 2004, the highly regarded scientific journal, Nature Genetics, devoted an entire special edition (“Genetics for the Human Race”) to the question of whether human races exist, and the journal found that they did. Next, in a March, 2005 op-ed in The New York Times “A Family Tree in Every Gene,” Armand Marie Leroi asserted that the consensus regarding social constructs was unraveling and that the new genetic data show that races exist. (Note: Leroi’s book Mutants: On Human Variety and the Human Body, is—by far—the very best book that I have read regarding the role of genes in human development. It is readable, short and persuasive.) One of the 2004 papers that appeared in the Nature Genetics special edition was by Lynn B. Jorde and Stephen P. Wooding entitled “Genetic Variation, Classification and ‘Race.'” It found that “Genetic variation is geographically structured, as expected from the partial isolation of human populations during much of their history. Because traditional concepts of race are in turn correlated with geography, it is inaccurate to state that race is ‘biologically meaningless’.”
As quoted in “Philosophy of Race Versus Population Genetics Round,” this and countless other scientific findings led the President of the American Sociological Association—in his 2005 presidential address—to call upon members to, “Prepare to defend against the genomic data juggernaut heading their way down the pike.”
The scientific evidence supporting nature over nurture continued to roll in. For example, in a 2007 article by Tarmo Strenze entitled “Intelligence and Socioeconomic Success: A Meta-Analytic Review of Longitudinal Research,” it was found that, “The relationship between intelligence and socioeconomic success has been the source of numerous controversies. These results demonstrate that intelligence is a powerful predictor of success…” This sent the progressive left’s claim that economic success is due to “privilege” down in flames. Even African-American academics joined the fray. In the Winter 2008/2009 edition of The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, the article “Why Family Income Differences Don’t Explain the Racial Gap in SAT Scores” appeared, and it reported that, “For Black and White students from families with incomes of more than $200,000 in 2008, there still remains a huge 149-point gap in SAT scores. Even more startling is the fact that in 2008 Black students from families with incomes of more than $200,000 scored LOWER (emphasis in the original) on the SAT test than did students from White families with incomes between $20,000 and $40,000.”
In the interim, neuroscientists had joined the debate. Using functional MRI (fMRI), they were confirming what the geneticists had been discovering. In 2010, Ian J. Deary, Lars Penke, and Wendy Johnson published a paper entitled “The Neuroscience of Human Intelligence Differences” in the journal Nature Reviews: Neuroscience. They found that, “Neuroscience is contributing to the understanding of the biological bases of human intelligence differences […] Quantitative genetic studies have established that there are additive genetic contributions to different aspects of cognitive ability—especially general intelligence—and how they change through the lifespan.” They continued, “The brains of some people are more efficient than those of others. The biological foundations of these differences are of great interest to basic and applied neuroscience. There are already some well-replicated general findings. Thus, the differential neuroscience of human intelligence, therefore, has a strong mandate and a firm foundation from which to proceed.” Later the authors added, “The first adequately powered genome-wide studies of intelligence are in progress.”
As Jonathan Haidt wrote in his article “Political Diversity Will Improve Social Psychological Studies,” “When facts conflict with…sacred values, almost everyone finds a way to stick with their values and reject the evidence…”
In 2014, a study by Mark Horowitz entitled “Whither the Blank Slate? A Report on the Reception of Evolutionary Biological Ideas Among Sociological Theorists” was published in the journal Sociological Spectrum. His paper caused quite a storm in the community of social scientists. Horowitz found that, “Sociology is a house divided. Just over half of the (sociological) theorists in our sample deny the role of natural selection in shaping a range of human tendencies. Many more are unwilling to acknowledge the plausibility of evolutionary argument applied to sex differences.” (Does this not sound at least a little bit like the beliefs held by Evangelical Christians who also deny evolution?) Progressive social scientists lashed out at this study, but both Jonathan Haidt and Steven Pinker rushed to Horowitz’s defense. As Jonathan Haidt wrote in his article “Political Diversity Will Improve Social Psychological Studies”:
“When facts conflict with…sacred values, almost everyone finds a way to stick with their values and reject the evidence. On the Left, including the academic Left, the most sacred issues involve race and gender. So that’s where you find most direct and I would say flagrant denial of evidence. I think the results of this study do clearly show that political concerns influence the willingness of sociologists to consider a major class of causal factors in human behavior.”
To this point, Steven Pinker, in an op-ed in The Washington Post entitled “Liberals Deny Science, Too,” added that “I’m not surprised by the findings of this study. Sociology itself is a divided discipline, with radically diverging views on the role of science in general and of course evolution and genetics in particular. Nor am I surprised that gender is the bloodiest shirt. Together with race, gender has always been the biggest impetus for believing in the blank slate, and since the Larry Summers affair almost a decade ago, that has only intensified.”
Another uproar came in 2014 with the publication of Nicholas Wade’s book Troublesome Inheritances: Genes, Race, and Human History, which asserted that, “…race has a biological basis, one that is found in the subtle quality of allele frequency.” This claim “…is far more likely than the alternative, that evolution has played no role whatever in shaping present-day societies.” (Note: Wade clearly pointed out in the preface of his book that the first half was factual, and the second half was speculation. However, this did not stop 139 geneticists from signing a letter to the editor in The New York Times insisting that the latter portion of Wade’s book had not yet been demonstrated conclusively.)
A year later, science took a sharp turn away from nurture and towards the almost totally deterministic impact of genes. In an article entitled “Meta-analysis of the heritability of human traits based on fifty years of twin studies,” J.C. Polderman examined all of the twin studies from 1958 through 2012 (numbering 2,748 separate research projects that looked at 14,558,903 twin pairs, as well as 17,804 human traits). Polderman’s meta-analysis was published in the journal Nature Genetics. These scientific researchers found that the “…observed pattern of twin correlations is consistent with a simple and parsimonious underlying model of the absence of environmental effects shared by twin pairs and the presence of genetic effects that are entirely due to additive genetic variation.”
Richard Haier, former editor-in-chief of the scientific journal Intelligence, published a book entitled The Neuroscience of Intelligence in 2017, which found that researchers using functional MRI (fMRI) have concluded that:
“Everyone has a notion about defining intelligence and an opinion about how differences among individuals may contribute to academic success and life achievement. Conflicting and controversial ideas are common about how intelligence develops. You may be surprised to learn that the scientific findings about these topics are more definite than you think. The weight intelligence from neuroscience research is rapidly correcting outdated and erroneous beliefs.”
He continued, “…if you already believe that intelligence is due mostly to the environment, new neuroscience facts might be difficult to accept. Denial is a common response when new information conflicts with your prior beliefs. The older you are, the more impervious your beliefs may be. Santiago Casal, the father of neuroscience, once wrote: ‘Nothing inspires more reverence and awe in me than the old man who knows how to change his mind.'”
In 2018, Harvard geneticist David Reich published the book Who We Are and How We Got Here, bringing with it the following thoughts: “…Reich allows readers to discover how the human genome provides not only all the information a human embryo needs to develop but also the hidden story of our species. Reich delves into how the genetic revolution is transforming our understanding of modern humans and how DNA studies reveal deep inequalities among different populations, between the sexes, and among individuals.” Even more compelling was the op-ed “How Genetics is Changing Our Understanding of Race” that Reich wrote for The New York Times in March of 2018. According to Reich, it was found that with “Groundbreaking advances in DNA sequencing [we now know that] differences in genetic ancestry that happens to correlate to many of today’s racial constructs are real.” Later, Reich followed by writing, “I have deep sympathy for the concern that genetic discoveries could be misused to justify racism. But as a geneticist, I also know that it is simply no longer possible to ignore average genetic differences among ‘races.'” He concluded: “I am worried that well-meaning people who deny the possibility of substantial biological differences among human populations (races) are digging themselves into an indefensible position, one that will not survive the onslaught of science.”
In 2018, a group of sociologists decided to confront head-on this question, and they published the book Reconsidering Race: Social Science Perspectives on Racial Categories in the Age of Genomics. The forward to this tome was penned by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and it offered:
“For decades most [social science] scholars and even the general public—at least in the United States—generally accepted the story that races are socially constructed […but…] after the initial completion of the genome [project] around the year 2000, some in the scientific community began unearthing vestiges of debates and questions around the science-race linkage. Even prominent scientific journals such as Science and Nature published articles that seemed to reassert the existence of categories that match the traditional understanding of racial groups. These developments have forced social scientists to reconsider race: To ask whether there is any credence to the natural science arguments that there might be a biological and genomic foundation to racial categories.”
On January 28, 2020, Charles Murray’s latest effort Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class hit bookstore shelves, and another blow was struck against the soft science’s orthodoxy of social construction. According to Murray, “All people are equal […but…] all groups of people are not the same.” Murray also writes:
“…advances in genetics and neuroscience are overthrowing an intellectual orthodoxy that has ruled the social sciences for decades. The core of the orthodoxy consists of three dogmas: gender is a social construct; race is a social construct and class is a function of privilege. The problem is that all three dogmas are half-truths. They have stifled progress in understanding the rich texture that biology adds to our understanding of the social, political, and economic worlds we live in…Why the resistance? Because social scientists have been in the grip of an orthodoxy (gender, race & class) that is sacred stiff of biology…The core doctrine of the (gender, race & class) orthodoxy in the social sciences is a particular understanding of human equality.”
It is not, for Murray, “equality in the sense of America’s traditional ideal—all are equal in the eyes of God, have inherent dignity, and should be treated equally under the law—but equality in the sense of sameness.” “…in a properly run society, people of all human groupings will have similar life outcomes.” (Emphasis in the original) “Individuals might have differences in abilities … but groups do not have inborn differences in the distribution of abilities. Inside the cranium, all groups are the same.”
I firmly believe that all of the aforementioned scientific evidence, findings, and data lead to the conclusion that many members of the progressive left are failing to accept the clear cut truth on a number of issues, thereby doing precisely what they accuse their conservative counterparts of.
But what about climate change? I now turn to that topic, and readers will quickly see why I saved global warming until the end. First, here is an overview of the alleged scientific consensus regarding Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). Three surveys of climatologists have determined that 97% of these scientists believe in AGW. This finding has been repeatedly reported in the media. However, what many media outlets never mention is that a nationwide poll taken of meteorologists in 2016 found that “Nearly half of weathercasters (46%) are convinced that the climate change over the past 50 years has been primarily or entirely due to human activity, and nearly one quarter (22%) think it is more or less equally caused by human activity and natural events. About one quarter (24%) think the change has been primarily or entirely due to natural events.” But 46% is nowhere near 97%. And, far too frequently, media outlets fail to tell the complete story of scientific findings on climate change. As such, I have included below a non-exhaustive list of findings from climate science that might appear very surprising to those who have exclusively followed certain popular treatments of the issue.
Scafetta et al (2017): “The severe discrepancy between observations and modeled predictions found during the 1922-1941 and 2000-2016 periods further confirms, according to the criteria proposed by the AGW theory advocates themselves, that the current climate models have significantly exaggerated the anthropogenic greenhouse warming effect. According to AGW theory advocates own criteria, a divergence between observations and climate models occurring at a bi-decadal scale would provide strong convincing evidence that the global climate models used to support the AGW theory are severely flawed. Thus the models are not able to reproduce the natural variability observed in the climate system and should not be trusted for future planning.”
Cerrone & Fusco (2018): “the results herein indicate that a progressive cooling has affected the year-to-year climate of the sub-Antarctic since the 1990s.”
Kim et al (2018): “the Yellow and East China Seas are widely believed to have experienced robust, basin-scale warming over the last few decades. However, this warming reached a peak in the late 1990s, followed by a significant cooling trend.”
Morner (2018): “The concept of an anthropogenic global warming (AGW) driven by the increase in atmospheric CO2 is compared to the concept of a natural global warming (NGW) driven by solar variability. The application of the AGW concept only rests on models, whilst the NGW concept rests on multiple observational and evidence-based facts. Even more so, the long-term solar variability predicts a new Grand Solar Minimum with severe climatic conditions (type Little Ice Age) to occur in 2030-2050. This violates all talk about an increasing, even accelerating, global warming. Similarly, there is no true treat of a future sea level rise flooding lowlands and islands.”
Shen et al (2018): “The results showed both future climate change (precipitation and temperature) and hydrologic response predicted by 20 global climate models were highly uncertain, and the uncertainty increased significantly over time.”
Abbott & Marohasy (2018): “While general circulation models are used by meteorological agencies around the world for rainfall forecasting, they do not generally perform well at forecasting medium-term rainfall, despite substantial efforts to enhance performance over many years. These are the same models used by the IPCC to forecast climate change over decades.”
Scafetta et al (2018): “Herein, the authors show that such a temperature peak is unrelated to anthropogenic forcing: it simply emerged from the natural fast fluctuations of the climate associated to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon. By removing the ENSO signature, the authors show that the temperature trend from 2000 to 2016 clearly diverges from the general circulation model (GCM) simulations. Thus, the GCMs models used to support the AGWT are very likely flawed.”
Lean (2018): “Climate change detection and attribution have proven unexpectedly challenging during the 21st century. Earth’s global surface temperature rose less rapidly from 2000 to 2015 than during the last half of the 20th century, even though greenhouse gas concentrations continued to increase.”
Scafetta & Wilson (2019): “The climate warming hiatus observed since 2000 is inconsistent with CO2 AGW climate models [citations omitted].CO2 anthropogenic global warming (CAGW) climate models [citations omitted]. This points to a significant percentage of the observed 1980–2000 warming being driven by TSI variation [citations omitted]. A number of other studies have pointed out that climate change and TSI variability are strongly correlated throughout the Holocene including the recent decades [citations omitted].”
Pei et al (2019): “During the period of 0-10,000 years before present, China’s temperature has closely followed the solar forcing. The correlation is as high as 0.800 (p less than 0.01) for Empirical Orthogonal Function-based reconstruction.”
Paudel et al (2019): On a global scale changes in cloud cover were found to be significantly related to changes in solar activity through its effect on the flux of cosmic rays reaching the lower atmosphere [citations omitted] suggesting changes in solar emissions could be related to those in cloud cover and global radiation at the Earth’s surface…Analysis by stepwise regression indicated that since 1970 changes in cloud cover accounted for 61% of the changes in Eg↓ while the major increase in local fossil fuel consumption, serving as a proxy for anthropogenic aerosol emissions, only accounted for an additional 2% of the changes.”
Varotsos & Efstathiou (2019): “Based on these results and bearing in mind that climate systems are complicated and complex with existing uncertainties in the climate predictions, it is not possible to reliably support the view of the presence of global warming in the sense of an enhanced greenhouse effect due to human activities.”
Kauppinen & Malmi (2019): “The IPCC climate sensitivity is about one order of magnitude too high because the strong negative feedback of clouds is missing in climate models. If we pay attention to the fact that only a small part of the increased CO2 concentration is anthropogenic, we have to recognize that anthropogenic climate change does not exist in practice. The major part of the extra CO2 is emitted from oceans (cite omitted), according to Henry’s Law. The low clouds practically control the global average temperature. The last 100 years the temperature was increased by about 0.1 degrees C because of CO2. The human contribution was about 0.01 degrees C.”
Mao et al (2019): “In science, when there are two or more ideas to be employed to explain the recent global warming, we always trust which can fit perfectly all the observed monthly anomaly of GLST from 1880 to now. Until now, no one claims that he can fit perfectly the observed monthly anomaly of GLST from 1880 to now as we do… The function with best verification result has also been employed to predict the future behavior of the monthly anomaly of GLST; we can see that the downward trend for the monthly anomaly of GLST had already begun; it will reach the lowest point at −0.6051˚C in 2111.”
Given all of this, it appears that both progressives and conservatives ignore or reject the “facts and the science” when it suits their ideological need to do so. That said, as I have argued, it appears that the Left is actually more guilty of these transgressions against the truth than the Right. Given this reality, perhaps certain Democratic politicians and media outlets should refrain from slandering their political adversaries with the mostly false allegation that conservatives regularly reject—or at least ignore—the “facts and the science.” Regardless of what the Left decides on that matter, one should always remember what Neil DeGrasse Tyson said on Real Time with Bill Maher in April of 2011: “The good thing about science is that it is the truth whether or not you believe it.”.
Richard W. Burcik is a retired economist and attorney.