Modern science has long progressed beyond relying on solely on personal experience. Nevertheless, that acknowledged, at least in some instances Yogi Berra’s quip that you can see a lot by looking around still remains relevant.
The role of personal experience is particularly relevant to two contemporary scientific theories. The first is global warming, specifically the earth grows warmer as a result of human activity and this rising temperature will ultimately prove catastrophic (see here). The second theory posits the existence of deeply imbedded genetic factors to explain group differences. To condense a long story, the first theory—global warming and its awaiting disastrous impact—has become a public, widely accepted scientifically-certified truth. Meanwhile the second assertion—racial differences are real and DNA determined—is an unspeakable heresy in public though it rests on solid science (see here, for example),
Scientific validity is not the issue here. Believers in global warming may be factually correct but their argument inescapably must appeal to authority (“settled science”) since their claims are beyond personal verification. Everything rests on obtuse technical analyses buttressed with massive amounts of data whose collection methods are likewise beyond the comprehension even to the reasonably well-informed. Acceptance requires an act of faith in science akin to embracing the Bible-based theology of creationism.
Can any person, no matter how perceptive, personally tell if average atmospheric temperatures have crept up a few degrees since industrialization or that sea levels have likewise risen two or three inches? Who can possibly on their own assess the alleged uptick in atmospheric carbon dioxide let alone attribute it to human causes? Ditto regarding supposed shrinking of Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets and whether polar bear populations are declining. And how is one to interpret periodic heat waves, hurricanes, cold spells, draughts and multiple other idiosyncratic weather events? Can even a coach potato person glued to the Weather Channel possess accurate statistical baselines so vital to certifying genuine change from historical, localized random-like blips? Further keep in mind that today’s climatic analyses requires super-computers crunching billions of data points so even Ph.D.’s in atmospheric science cannot rely on personal observations.
These non-personally verified data have monumental political and economic consequences. Unlike, say, defending Einstein’s theory of relativity versus Newtonian physics, there is an enormous amount of skin in the climate change game. Its acceptance as the scientific truth means billions in tax subsidies for “green” energy, a virtual war on fossil fuels (especially coal) and multiple other measures of immense economic consequences. And let’s not forget radical statists who see combating climate change as the perfect justification to advance their agenda.
The absence of personal verification plus the existence of some noisy dissenters (see here) conceivably explains why its adherents increasingly demand harsh measures to cement the orthodoxy. After all, forceful measures would be unnecessary if New York City winters averaged 60 F or LaGuardia Airport slipped under water. Some of these climate change defenders have even demanded that opposition, particularly from the fossil fuel industry, be made a federal crime under the RICO statute, the equivalent to how the tobacco companies mislead the public by sponsoring bogus research on the cancer/smoking link. In fact, 20 scientists who specialize in climate science have written to President Obama imploring him to criminally prosecute dissenters. A few have even suggested that global warming dissenters are the equivalent of Holocaust deniers.
Now, compare what ordinary people can observe regarding global warming with the in-your-face facts regarding hard-wired genetically determined group differences. Even the most PC environment-is-everything egalitarian cannot avoid this reality. For example, outside of genetic predispositions how can one explain the readily visible evidence regarding the sizable and enduring differences in academic achievement between whites and blacks or between these two groups and Asians? And that nothing, even billion dollar panaceas have closed these gaps over a half century of trying? Similar enduring, well-known disparities exist in violent crime, welfare dependency, illegitimacy and poverty. Why are predominantly white cities such as San Francisco far more livable than black-dominated Detroit or East St. Louis? Can anything but innate differences in cognitive ability explain why sub-Sahara Africa remains forever economically under-developed despite hundreds of billions in foreign aid while Germany and Japan quickly returned to prosperity following WW II devastation?
These only begin the cataloguing of highly visible group-related differences suggesting a strong genetic element. Complicated contentious statistical models are unnecessary to show that schools populated by under-class African Americans are disasters compared to those with enrolling immigrant Chinese and Vietnamese and that these varied outcomes span generations. Any sports fan can see on TV that racial groups differ sharply in athletic performance.
As in the case of global warming, there are substantial financial benefits associated with upholding the environmental determinist orthodoxy. Why lavish billions on social engineering if group differences are largely intractable? The blank slate vision of human nature is a bonanza to all those who labor to close racial gaps in education, work on eliminating inner-city poverty and for those NGO’s trying to transform Rwanda into Switzerland.
The irony we have depicted bodes poorly for the future informed public discussion on these two issues. As the doomsday predicted by global warming believers fails to appear for all to see, its champions can only double down on suppressing disbelievers (it is hardly accidental that “global warming” has morphed into the scientifically nebulous “climate change”). Perhaps a parallel exists with the reaction of cultists who alleged that the end of the world was imminent and when that fateful day arrived and life continued, they became even more fervent in their obviously wrong beliefs. All those feeding at the climate catastrophe trough will not go without a fight, even if these means wasting billions, stalling economic growth and unemploying millions whose livelihood depends on fossil fuels.
A similar uptick in heresy prosecution will afflict those who argue that some group differences are sufficiently hard-wired that not even mighty Washington can force the incoming MIT freshman class resemble a cross-section of America. At best, a few heretics may gain their 15 minutes of notoriety but such voices are barely heard in public before being censored as “hate.” So, get ready for more inquisitions to stamp out “racism,” more mandatory sensitivity training, and more mainstream media dishonesty. Remember the travails of James Watson, the Nobel Prize winning co-discoverer of DNA, when he merely suggested that the lack of economic progress in Africa might be a result of low IQ’s though there is compelling evidence for his case. Alas, the repeated failures of social engineering projects will only further motivate lying and suppression.
We are not suggesting that modern science should rest exclusively on verification by personal experience. That would be a disaster–I for one have never observed an electron let alone an infinitesimally small vibrating string and I suspect that 99% of science is beyond what most people can readily grasp let alone observe. Rather, while we have come a long way from when scholars took pains to avoid offending the prevailing religious faith, we still have a way to go.