This Ain’t Science

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You don’t need to be a supporter of President Trump to view the endorsement of his opponent by one of the nation’s most prestigious scientific journals as an ominous event. Displaying something like the opposite of the objective, dispassionate scientific approach, an approach that backs its claims with evidence and courts rigorous counterarguments, Scientific American denounced Trump for everything except clogging the kitchen sink and instigating the Crimean War. The editors’ frantic screed accuses Trump not only of failing to combat the coronavirus, thus killing tens of thousands of people, but also of failing to finance alternative sources of energy, provide universal (cunningly called “comprehensive”) healthcare, stop “climate change,” and accomplish other progressive goals. Not only that! He prevents people from voting, and he neglects to increase the wages of childcare workers. By these and a plethora of other offenses Trump has unmistakably demonstrated his utter contempt for “evidence and science.”

Biden, by contrast, “has a record of following the data and being guided by science.” Evidence:

Biden wants to spend $2 trillion on an emissions-free power sector by 2035, build energy-efficient structures and vehicles, push solar and wind power, establish research agencies to develop safe nuclear power and carbon capture technologies, and more. The investment will produce two million jobs for U.S. workers, his campaign claims, and the climate plan will be partly paid by eliminating Trump’s corporate tax cuts. Historically disadvantaged communities in the U.S. will receive 40 percent of these energy and infrastructure benefits.

All very scientific. You can tell from the numbers — exactly 2035, exactly two million jobs, exactly two trillion dollars, exactly 40% of the, uh, benefits. Like the Great Gatsby, Biden has clearly been devoting at least two hours a day to the study of needed inventions.

When Trump acted, for better or worse, on the advice of scientific experts to shut down travel to and from China, Biden immediately and repeatedly denounced these measures as “hysteria, xenophobia, and fear-mongering.” So did many of his Democratic political colleagues, some of whom insisted that their constituents join in mass celebrations of Chinese New Year and other notable events. Biden’s science consisted of little more than constant, repetitive, over-the-top attacks on Trump, against whom he happened to be running for public office. So far from showing a grasp of public health issues, Biden has yet to say a word about the governors, mainly Democratic, who shoved infected old people into nursing homes, where they and their associates died like flies. Trump offered safe beds on Navy hospital ships, but the beds were never used.

By diving into politics, a premier learned journal has removed itself from the list of trusted sources.

These are some of the counterarguments available to anyone who has a computer — counterarguments that anyone of scientific or even rational mentality would feel bound to answer. But not Scientific American. Instead, it accused Trump of the deadly sin of criticizing said governors. It went further. It blamed him for the tens of millions of job losses that followed, as the night the day, the governors’ lockdowns of their economies.

Scientific American’s mishmash of accusations is what one might expect from the president of the Young Dems club at the local high school — or from a group of people so isolated in their specialized professions, and so arrogant in their isolation, that they imagine they can simply voice their dogmas and prejudices and have it all pass for science. The editors’ manifesto is what the Marxists used to call “a class product.” It’s what such people spontaneously utter at a cocktail party attended by members of their caste, where ritualized opinions pass for truth.

Experts on the sex lives of termites and the behavior of quarks have, I suppose, no way of knowing that economists, sociologists, historians, political scientists, and yes, physical scientists, have actually studied the issues and demands that appear in the editors’ remarks, and have formed a more (shall we say) complicated view of them. There’s not a hint that anyone ever broke the editors’ self-contemplation by advising: “Hey, did you know — not far from your office, there’s a whole library full of books about these things! And by the way, what they’re saying doesn’t look particularly good for what you’re saying.”

As science, learned writing, and even as journalist rhetoric, Scientific American’s performance is shameful. It is also funny, if you like to see professors making fools of themselves. (And who doesn’t?) But the bad thing, the terrible thing, is that by diving into politics, a premier learned journal has removed itself from the list of trusted sources. By revealing its desperate partisanship, it has annihilated confidence in the objectivity, hence the truth and usefulness, of everything it publishes. Its articles may be ever so true, and ever so useful, but who can trust them now?

And please don’t tell me about peer review, which is one of the longest running academic jokes. Who selects the peers?