Strange Omissions

Crooked Timber is hosting a seminar on Chris Mooney's book, The Republican War On Science. In the course of a guest post, D2 asks whether there could be a Democrat war on science as well. Some commentors point out the typically left-wing opposition to things like nuclear power, GM foods, childhood vaccinations, evolutionary psychology and the study of genetically mediated differences between racial groups.

In fairness the latter two are simply not issues for Democrat politicians and thus aren't really politically relevant in the same way that, say, stem cell research is. And I haven't heard any prominent Democrats railing against GM food, so I discount that one too. But that's not what I want to talk about. What's more interesting to me is the stunning omission that's being left out here. It's the one area where Democrats can unambiguously be said to have systematically ignored professional consensus in shaping policy for many decades: economics.

Consider that despite significant disagreements among serious economists on all kinds of issues, there's an accepted core of economic wisdom that has stood the test of time and has broad acceptance among virtually all economists. Off the top of my head, these items include:

...and I'm sure several other things I can't think of right now. My point is not that deliberate ignoring of economics is solely or even mostly a Democrat thing (far from it, much bad policy is bipartisan); merely that Democrat politicans do in fact willfully ignore empirically sound science in their political activities, and in particular that this occurs in areas with an immediate impact on human welfare. Frankly the importance of science curricula in schools or even federal funding for embryonic stem cell research pales in comparison to these issues. So why do Democrats get a pass here?

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I for one am more irritated

I for one am more irritated by the secular folk who lack any kind of respect for the scientific method.

It's one thing when a religious person takes something on faith and runs with it. At least they'll admit that they believe in something they don't have evidence for.

But seriously, nothing irks me more than an unreasonable rationalist.

The Democrats get a pass

The Democrats get a pass because the policies have intuitive appeal, the cost is counted only at the second step:

Tariffs and other protectionist measures prevent the loss of identifiable jobs. It is only at the second step that we realize that we are also freeing resources to create new jobs (and the obvious benefits to the Other is completely ignored).

If I increase the minimum wage, I increase the wages of people earning minimum wage. Again, problems come only upon further examination.

If we control the rent, the price will not increase. All those other effects require further examination.

I think marijuana prohibition benefits from some odd social factors. I don't think anyone wants to be on record as "supporting drug use."

Anyhoo... my point is that the liberal case is not immediately comprehensible to most of the public because it requires two or three steps. Republicans were generally better because they were simply in the pocket of various business interests. Now that the markets are more deregulated, it's time to begin a cycle of buying exceptions and rules to lock control of an industry for a few decades--or at least try to.

Steve, I think we're all

Steve, I think we're all pretty familiar with the public choice reasons why economically stupid legislation gets enacted. The question was a rhetorical one directed at the Crooked Timber crowd and likeminded folk who are intelligent enough to know better, who completely ignore the biggest example of politicians disregarding scientific consensus where it matters immensely. It's vexing.

What?!? Economics is a

What?!? Economics is a science?!? You've got to be kidding!

No, I am not kidding.

No, I am not kidding.

It’s vexing. This is me:

It’s vexing.

This is me: :razz:

This is me thinking about this subject: :wall:

(...yeah, I just really love those little guys)

Economics is not scientific

Economics is not scientific enough? How about climate change? Every study that lefties trot out regarding global warming has been produced and funded by parties that knew in advance what they wanted the conclusion to be.

The democrats ignore the

The democrats ignore the economics of global warming also. It costs less to go with the flow and I don't just mean money.

James, can you actually back

James, can you actually back that dumb statement up? I'm guessing no. More to the point, how much do you actually know about climatology? I'm guessing not much. I really don't like this tactic of attacking the messengers because you don't like the message. I agree that discussions about global warming are frustratingly muddied by careless mixing of scientific analysis with politics, but the weight of evidence seems pretty strongly in favour of global warming as a real phenomenon. I can't justify believing this, because it's based on a trust of the scientific process. Consensus can be wrong, but because you and I don't have time to become experts on a complex subject, I think reasonableness demands that we tentatively respect the cognitive division of labour and treat the conventional wisdom as our working hypothesis (unless we have very good reasons not to).

But this doesn't mean we should pay much attention to scientists when they advocate policy, because most of them are economic ignoramuses and suffer from specialization myopia. The policy implications of global warming are not immediately obvious, and the stance echoed by Brian Macker is much more reasonable: it doesn't immediately follow that we should actually do anything to stop global warming because the costs of doing so could very likely outweigh the benefits.

Matt, If I had made the same


If I had made the same original post about particle physics, someone would have responded with a half dozen counterexample cases where particle physicists had reached conclusions that they weren't expected when they started. If I call astrologers' responses to their critics antiscientific, well then I'd expect to be called dumb, to be accused of not knowing enough about astrology to ahve an opinion, to be accused of attacking the messenger because I don't like the message, etc.

To be clear, I don't deny the reality of trends in the earth's average temperature. What I claim is that lefties engage in antiscientific thinking to support their belief in global warming. Now you won't see this from all Dems, only because most Dems really don't care about climate change at all. They have become more concerned over Iraq and the income distribution lately. But find some Democrats who actually are concerned about global warming and ask them if an unusually warm winter would strengthen their belief in global warming. Ask them if an unusually cold winter would strengthen their belief in global warming. Then ask yourself if such attitudes seem scientific.

James, you don't get off the

James, you don't get off the hook that easy. You made a very specific empirical claim in your first comment about the actual scientific studies themselves, and it behooves you to prove it or else retract it. Handwaving comparisons of climatology to astrology are lame and won't cut it. Neither will trying shift the focus toward Democrats/lefties in general because that's not who you were talking about. You were specifically impugning the motives of the researchers rather than addressing their findings. Don't talk to me about having an unscientific attitude until you pull the plank out of your own eye.

BTW, there have indeed been studies that seemed to contradict the CW on global warming. But there have been problems with those and/or the way they should be interpereted, and they've not been able to overthrow the models that show a warming trend. What's less certain is just how much of that trend is directly attributable to human action, which from my layman's perspective not settled yet.

Matt, I wasn't comparing


I wasn't comparing climatology to astrology, only the reactions of the believers in both when their views are criticised.

My initial comment certainly is an empirical claim, and one that I may not be able to convince you of, which would surely mean that it was false, or that I was a dummy, or that I am waving my hand, or something. What convinced *me* of it was the fact that I've encountered a lot of people that I believe to be reliable saying almost exactly the same thing. For a fairly recent but not unique example see the third and fourth para on this post by D. Friedman.

Just a note that childhood

Just a note that childhood vaccinations don't fit the list. The vast majority of politicians of both parties support them, and Republicans like Dan Burton are more prominent than Democrats among the opponents. The standard example of a Democratic opponent of vaccination, cited in your link, is Robert Kennedy, who has a famous name, but has never even run for office.

And nuclear power tends to undermine the second part of your argument. The economic case for nuclear power is, to put it charitably, weak, and supporters tend to rely on dubious economic claims.