Sean King

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Knoxville, Tennessee, United States

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Why Most Scientists Are Liberals

Steven Hayward has written an excellent summary of Climategate that includes much history about which I was previously unaware, as well as previously-unknown-to-me details of the leaked emails.

And interestingly, Steven's summary includes the following comment:

In 2004, Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin wrote in the New York Review of Books: “Most scientists are, at a minimum, liberals, although it is by no means obvious why this should be so."

Respectfully, I beg to differ with Mr. Lewontin (and Hayward to the extent that Lewontin speaks for him). It is obvious why most scientist are "at a minimum" liberals: Successful scientists working at prestigious academic or research institutions often perceive themselves (sometimes rightly) as being among the "best and brightest" in the world. And, people convinced of their own intellectual superiority are particularly susceptible to the totalitarian temptation--that is, of coming to believe that everyone's interest is best served (i.e., the "common good" is realized) when the smartest people make the most decisions. And, since the less intelligent among us are not likely to just hand their life over to these luminaries, the luminaries need government to intercede to require them to do so. Hence, big government advances these scientists' worldview.

Add the above to the fact that, by virtue of their chosen profession, scientists are generally not opponents of modernity and progress (i.e., they favor social evolution and don't cling to the past), and what you find is that, almost to a man/woman, scientists are what I call "Collective Modernists" or what society today calls "liberals" or "progressives". These are people who believe that society works best when experts make decisions for the "common good" (i.e, they are "collectivists" in that they value the common good above individual liberty), and that society needs to evolve progressively (i.e., away from tradition and towards something newer and better).

And, if you think about it, it couldn't really be any other way: For few "brilliant" people are possessed of sufficient humility and self-discipline to realize that the common good can ever only be an emergent property. ;-)

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