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Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Your mum should have told you: Never make friends with political activists

Politics is the opposite of truth. What happened to feminism could happen to science.

T he UK's Daily Mail is a very strange newspaper: it pretends to be right-wing, but it fills its front page with stories about people we never heard of saying the N-word. It pretends to be populist, but it feeds its readers confabulated stories about Trump. These days its only intellectual stories are those ‘find-the-panda’ articles. And, desperate to prove they're as nutty as the UK Guardian, they're now pushing a new term of abuse: “becky.”

A becky, apparently, is a white female, which includes feminists. It's a great example of how the political activists pay you back if you join them: they will invent a racist name and tar you with it.

Allow me to wallow in schadenfreude for a few minutes here. There, all done. Okay, what was I saying? Oh yes, politics is the opposite of truth.

At the moment, both the Left's and the Right's worldviews are collapsing. The political Right is, as usual, in despair. Their guy is in the White House. Twice as many people claim to be conservatives as liberals. They have majorities in both houses. So, conservatives say, it's hopeless! The battle is lost! All we can do is move to rural Pennsylvania, buy some cows, and stare helplessly at wreckage of the Kinzua Bridge.

The political Left has the same problem, but instead of despair, their motif is outrage. The Left's problem is that there is very little to be outraged about. So their strategy is to assume that the problems are practically non-existent, which is outrageous, and the fact that they're also invisible means it's even more outrageous.

So the #MeToo movement must have seemed like a ray of sunshine. Women had been falling behind: most college students are women, the pay disparity myth has been largely debunked, and their biggest problem seems to be people liking them too much. Well, something must be done about that. Now it's dead—murdered by the anti-Trump movement called #resistance. Last week's circus in the Senate was not just a miscarriage of justice; it was also an autopsy of the feminist movement. Like a real autopsy, it was awful to watch.

How do these things happen? Politics has a fatal weakness: in politics, truth is whatever gives you more power. The #MeToo movement, initially relying on sympathy, was taken over by people who care only about power, money, and influence. Truth? meh.

Maybe it was those little pink hats that started it. Feminists were seduced by the idea of portraying President Trump as anti-woman, so they allowed their movement to taken over by #resistance-ers. The Democrats paid them back by swatting their movement like a bug.

Take the statistic that 25% of women on college campuses have been raped. Nobody ever seriously believed it; even college newspapers acted as if it were not anything that actually demanded doing anything like, say, prosecuting somebody. In the theocracies that our universities have become, saying so openly would get you burned at the stake, but it was clear that there was more than a little eye-rolling going on.

The statistic was designed to elicit displays of sympathy. Everyone sympathizes with rape victims, so inflating the statistics will get you even more sympathy, right? Alas, politics is inherently Manichean: if you claim, for example, that all women must be believed, the first time a woman is caught in a lie your opponent will claim the opposite: that no woman can be trusted. The real victim here is our belief that the real truth can ever be known.


All this is important because the next battleground in politics will be in science, and scientists need to be prepared.

This week, for example, the top story in Nature is that Nobel Prizes aren't “diverse” enough. The article, written by somebody named Elizabeth Gibney, complains that they exhibit “gender imbalance”: only one woman has won the Prize in chemistry. Women have only won 3% of science prizes, and only 18 out of 605 NPs have been given to women. Another article tells us that many female CEOs believe, deep down, that they're incompetent, because they're afraid they got their job because of affirmative action insted of merit. Strangely, nobody ever warned about that.

We all want women to succeed. But the unspoken assumption is that the these things are not indicators of success, but candy: resources to be divided up on the basis of fairness. Diversity advocates demand that all rewards be allocated equally, with little regard for merit. It's politics in the form of socialism applied to real life, and it has real costs.

Now, the most meritocratic organization in the known universe is under pressure to give out 50% of its prizes to women. Women participated, so they should get a prize too. By that logic, they should give everyone a Nobel Prize, because they all participated. If the NP gets politicized, it will fall into ridicule, just as the Peace Prize has done.

Any institution that relies on human judgment becomes an attractive target for politicization. The problem for science is that politics is the opposite of truth. To preserve its integrity, science must reject any encroachment by political activists, no matter how sympathetic their cause. Equality or merit: that is the battle facing science today, and it is divisive, because both sides will have something to gain if they win.

If science gets politicized, the first victim will be its credibility. Who wants to see scientific findings classified as liberal or conservative, feminist or masculinist? Would they be accorded any credibility if they were? If you're unsure, just take a look at climate science.

oct 02 2018, 6:32 am

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