Musings of a Recovering Lutheran: The war on science
O LORD, God of my salvation,
         I have cried out day and night before You.
Let my prayer come before You;
         Incline Your ear to my cry. 

Psalm 88:1-2 (NKJV)

Friday, July 13, 2012

The war on science

The following article caught my eye this morning: Pakistan and the Higgs boson.

Key quote:

Have you heard about Pakistan’s contribution to last week’s discovery of the Higgs Boson? No, thought not. Remarkably, the reason you probably won’t have is because Pakistan doesn’t want you to.

Dr Abdus Salam, a theoretical physicist, carried out pioneering work in the 1960s to suggest the existence of a hypothetical particle after creating a grand unification theory for weak forces and electromagnetic fields. He won the Nobel Prize in 1979 for his efforts, the only Pakistani to have ever received the honour.

Yet, his name is largely airbrushed from textbooks in Pakistan and is rarely mentioned in public debate. The problem is that he belongs to the Ahmadi sect, a branch of Islam which is officially regarded as heretical by the Pakistani state and which is constitutionally discriminated against. Ahmadis cannot call themselves Muslim or build mosques, and are frequently the victims of violent attack.

After Salam died and was buried in the Punjab his headstone recorded his legacy as: ‘the first Muslim Nobel Laureate’. The word ‘Muslim’ has since been forcibly scrubbed out.

Can't happen in the West, right? We are so much more tolerant and dedicated to the scientific method, yes? No religious or political bigotry to worry about in scientific research and institutes of higher learning, eh? Thank goodness (or Darwin) that can't happen here.

Think again.

Mark Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas-Austin, recently published a study about the children of homosexual parents and the problems that they experience. The study has provoked a backlash against the professor, who is now the target of a fact-finding "inquiry".

Key quote from the Inside Higher-Ed article:

Regnerus disclosed the Bradley Foundation and Witherspoon Institute’s sponsorship of the study, acknowledging their conservative pedigrees and asserting that “the funding sources played no role at all in the design or conduct of the study, the analyses, the interpretations of the data, or in the preparation of this manuscript.”

His disclosure squares with the code of ethics of the American Sociological Association, which does not prohibit sociologists from taking research funding from any particular funding source as long as the researcher discloses that relationship.

However, UT-Austin's standard appears to be stricter. “It is the policy of the University of Texas that research is conducted with integrity and free from any actual or apparent institutional or personal conflict of interest,” says the university’s Compliance and Ethics Guide. Texas researchers, the policy says, “must insure that there is no reasonable expectation that the design, conduct, and reporting of the research will be biased by any significant financial interest of an investigator responsible for the research or other educational activity.”

The university is currently conducting a pre-investigatory “inquiry” in response to a formal complaint lodged by Rosensweig. (The writer posted a copy of his complaint to his blog on The New Civil Rights Movement, a website dedicated to LGBT activism.) The difference between an inquiry and a full-blown investigation is that “the scope of the inquiry does not include exhaustive interviews or extensive analyses of research records,” according to the university’s Revised Handbook of Operating Procedures.

Aside from the ominous if vague terminology - just what the heck is a "pre-investigatory inquiry”, anyway? - the clumsy actions by the University of Texas have opened themselves up to the charge that the inquiry is political rather than scientific. The complaint against Regnerus was posted on a left-wing Web site, which appears to be an effort to undermine due process. Even more frightening, these "stricter" standards at UT seemed to have conveniently materialized out of nowhere.

As Glenn Reynolds, a law professor and supporter of gay/lesbians rights,wrote at his blog Instapundit:

I don’t know if the study’s any good or not — but I’m positive that if it had found that children of gay couples do better, there would be no such inquiry, regardless of who had funded it. And the point here is mostly to warn other researchers that it’s just better not to look into certain subjects, or to come up with the wrong conclusions if you do.

In many universities the so-called soft sciences (sociology, economics, psychology, etc.) have been largely ruined by political activism, and nowadays seem to do little more that ratify the prejudices of the majority of professors who make up those departments. But now there is a serious effort underway to break STEM (science, engineering, technology & mathematics) to the saddle of political correctness. Professor William Jacobson recently wrote about proposed efforts to apply Title IX to STEM enrollment. The underlying assumption is that the lower enrollment rates for women in STEM subjects represents discrimination, although proponents fail to explain why lower enrollments of men in (say) education do not also demonstrate anti-male prejudice.

For those who think this is no big deal, I would ask you the following: would you drive across a bridge or enter a skyscraper designed and built by someone who was enrolled because of Title IX and who graduated at the bottom of her class? Get ready, because you may have to face that situation some day! Mathematics and physics bow to no one, no matter how many lawsuits are threatened.

All of this is made much worse because of the fact that the secular media - whose scientific and engineering credentials are usually nonexistent - normally act as cheerleaders in the witch hunts against Professor Regnerus and others who reach the "wrong" conclusions. To be seen as even remotely critical of the homosexual lifestyle, global warming, or evolution is to invite personal attacks as a homophobe, a "denier", or a fundamentalist wacko. The self-described watchdogs of the press have become the attack dogs working for a narrow-minded few.

There is a war on science. The irony is that in true Orwellian fashion it is being waged by the very people who claim to represent scientific reason and progress.

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