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Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Scientists need to repudiate the woke religion

The anti-truth brigades are once again coming after science

T here are some truths that, while backed up with empirical evidence, are best to remain silent about; even saying what they are is not safe. They are unsolvable, and there is little practical benefit from knowing more. The role of science is not to expound every single truth, but to solve problems. Whether it solves a problem is the criterion by which a work of science is judged.

There are other truths that matter a great deal to people. One of these is whether there is such a thing as sex. Almost inconceivably, a very vocal group of activists has decreed that there is not, and they will dox, cancel, and demonetize anyone who suggests otherwise. Even worse, they have the support of huge corporate interests that have demonstrated a willingness to repress whatever scientific truths their woke employees complain about.

Those of us who owe our existence to sexual reproduction and who had hoped someday to use it to create descendants and help propagate our species have a great deal to lose in this battle.

Those of us who work in science, where sex is an important parameter, need to worry as well. We spend a lot of our grant money buying two of each species, just as that Noah—maybe the first biologist—did, so as to make sure that biological problems involving women don't get overlooked, and we've found a lot of them: depression, mood disorders, and autoimmune diseases preferentially affect women. If women don't exist, we're wasting a lot of tax money.

It can be taken as given that ‘gender’, as the term is now used by political activists, is a social con­struc­tion: the supposed existence of hundreds of them, only two of which have empirical support, lends credence to the idea that gender is not real; there is only sex, and no evidence of any sort of biological continuum. Using the term ‘gender’ merely encourages the anti-science brigades to invent more of them.

But what is going on in a society where speaking a scientific truth can get you canceled? Sadly, there is nothing new about this, nor is it evidence, as some on the right persist in saying, that the culture wars are over and culture has lost.

Throughout its history science has often come into conflict with religions that made claims about the physical world that were provably false. The woke religion is nothing new. It is just the latest example of an ideology that tells people what they want to hear to give them a false sense of empowerment.

Ideology is a type of intellectual scaffolding that people invent to avoid facing reality. It simplifies the believers' world by relieving them of the burden of evaluating the truth or falsity of every statement that they hear: much easier to evaluate whether or not it supports their ideology.

The latest example is the wokesters who tried to cancel J.K. Rowling for saying sex is real. They're dangerous because Google and Twitter demonetize websites that don't support their pet causes, and the news media invent fake stories and spike articles that might upset their base. These wokesters are scarcely different from the religious fundamentalists who insisted there was no such thing as evolution, that believing in natural selection was evil and caused the two world wars, and that the Biblical creation story must therefore be taught in science classes.

The actions of political fanatics and religious fundamentalists are indistinguishable, suggesting that there may be no real difference between them. That's a question for sociologists to answer once they get their act together, but whether religion and ideology spring from a common source or not, both create a spiral of untruth as they try to expand their reach into reality-based areas of inquiry: as the percentage of true statements the average person is exposed to decreases, it becomes harder to determine what, if anything, is true, and people give up trying.

There's a branch of science called decision theory that calculates the probability of making a correct decision for a given degree of uncertainty. It is very complicated and mathe­matical, but in general we can say that the more facts that are required to make a good decision, the more harmful inaccurate reporting becomes. The more complex the decision, where many true facts are needed, the higher the percentage of true facts that are needed. This gives us the two principles of fake news.

  1. If every news source has the same opinion, it is predictable and therefore not worth reading, as we already know what they will say.
  2. If the probability of a given fact in a paper being correct is below 50%, the non-reader will be more informed than the reader.

Our mainstream media are currently hovering just above the fifty percent mark; the daily tabloids and many of the specialized political news sites sunk below it long ago, and most people read them not for enlightenment, but for entertainment, to bolster their sense of outrage, or for ideological support.

Scientists may wish the humans could be less ideological, and maybe someday we'll find a gene for it, and big pharma can find a cure. But until then we're still waiting for a Richard Dawkins to step up and take a stand against the woke religion. To imagine we're safe because the attacks are coming from a different direction, or to keep our heads down to appease the bureaucrats, would be a mistake.

On my route to work there are two dogs that always run out onto the street. If I slow down to avoid running them over, they sense victory: they start barking at my car and try to surround it on the street. They're impossible to see, so I used to stop. But I found if I speed up, they're smart enough to get out of the way . . . usually . . . and they stop barking.

This is where we are now. We slowed down for the activists, and they will keep barking at us until it becomes clear that they're going to get run over. Maybe it's time to worry a bit less about people's sensitivities and pay a bit more attention to the danger science is in.

jun 17 2020, 6:53 am. edited 5:03 pm

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