The Tyranny of ‘Scientism’ and the Subversion of Science

In an interview with Tucker Carlson on Wednesday, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy unintentionally defined this critical moment in America’s history. “We weren’t thinking of the Bill of Rights when we did this,” he explained about his draconian decrees, including a ban on religious gatherings, to fight coronavirus. “First of all, we looked at the data and the science and it says people have to stay away from each other.”

Murphy’s comments undoubtedly buoyed the egos of academic “experts” across the country. A leading politician boasted, without the slightest sense of remorse, that his fidelity to the almighty deity of “science” prevailed over protecting the rights of his state’s citizens.

The first 10 amendments to the Constitution? Meh. The six-foot distancing rule concocted by a handful of careerist bureaucrats in Washington? Bow and scrape.

“Science” is a one-word cudgel wielded by dishonest elected officials, journalists, and yes, scientists, to force us to conform to their political whims; this is particularly true of climate change. The Democratic Party, we are assured, is the “party of science.” Democratic lawmakers and candidates routinely promise that they “believe in science.” The idea that humans are the main (or sole) drivers of global warming is “settled science.”

Anyone who dares question whatever science du jour is published in the pages of the New York Times or churned out by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is, of course, a denier. (I have covered scientific issues such as agricultural biotechnology and climate science for years; being called a denier has been one of the kinder taunts.)

Meanwhile, claims like Murphy’s—when he insists he’s dutifully responding to the irrefutable evidence about the spread of coronavirus—go unchallenged.

What if Tucker had pushed Murphy to explain the “data and science” that justify his punitive power grab? Could Murphy explain the scientifically proven danger posed by people praying together for 45 minutes in church? Can the governor cite numerous sources of peer-reviewed papers that support the near-laughable demand that healthy Americans stand six feet apart even in outdoor spaces?

No, he can’t—because none exist so far.

If anything, the hysteria surrounding COVID-19 largely is fueled by pseudoscience rather than exhaustive evidence gleaned from careful study. It is far too early in the crisis to have any sort of reliable data, especially in the United States since states are reporting metrics such as fatalities, cases, and hospitalizations in general terms with little granularity.

(Some preliminary analyses are just now going online; an article posted April 7 contains interesting details about suspected transmission during the outbreak in China but cautions that the authors’ work hadn’t been evaluated and “should not be used to guide clinical practice.”)

Since this virus just cropped up over the past five months or so, it doesn’t take an advanced degree to accept that we know very little about its contagion level, lethality, or virulence. The country of origin—China—can’t be trusted to furnish accurate information; researchers are still getting a handle on what happened in northern Italy and other parts of Europe.

But that doesn’t stop the “experts” here from brandishing the weapon of “science!” to promote their own agenda, which involves the ongoing shutdown of the U.S. economy for at least the next several weeks.

The alleged scientific basis propelling this fast-moving catastrophe is the so-called social distancing rule of six feet. As I wrote earlier this week, the guidance published by the Centers for Disease Control offers a weak case for this inhumane policy. The language is vague; links to a trove of academic research are nowhere to be found.

But that doesn’t seem to agitate the “experts” or their dutiful scribes in the elite media.

The New York Times produced a fancy animation this week to show how the SARS-CoV-2 virus might be transmitted between people in close quarters. An accompanying article quotes several scientists and academics defending the settled safe space.

“Three feet is better than nothing,” according to Dr. Harvey Fineberg, a top official at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. “Six feet is better than three feet. At that point, the larger drops have pretty much fallen down. Maybe if you’re out of spitting range, that could be even safer, but six feet is a pretty good number.”

Huh? Call me skeptical, but that’s hardly the ringing endorsement a free society should demand from the credentialed class before we submit to interminable house arrest as our livelihoods and liberties are destroyed.

The Timesanimation, relying on something called “augmented reality,” visualized the spread of infected droplets between people occupying a 600-foot space for a prolonged period of time. It is a cool graphic, but relies on plenty of assumptions. A disclaimer at the end noted it is a “scientific simulation that has not yet been peer-reviewed.”

Anyone sensing a trend?

The fact is that this panic and overreach is ”scientism,” not science. Scientism is rooted in an appeal to authority; people with lots of letters after their surnames are not to be questioned by people who don’t.

Here’s a great description of scientism by Bruce Thornton at the Hoover Institution:

[T]he success of science has ironically given it an authority we too often accept without question. The provisional conclusions of research frequently are announced as definitive before the scientific community has adequately vetted them. But the prestige of science and its scholarly institutions can often obscure just how tentative the claims of much research are. When professional advancement, political advantage, or ideological gratification are bound up in the acceptance of new ideas or alleged truths, the temptation to suspend one’s skepticism becomes powerful and sometimes dangerous.

In other words, experts with advanced degrees from prestigious universities are trained to automatically trust other experts with advanced degrees from prestigious universities without so much as a second look. That, of course, is not just hostile to the pursuit of truth, it is inimical to the foundation of science.

Sadly, nearly everyone on the Left and an alarming number of people on the Right now have been intimidated into silence and submission by the raised hand of “science” related to coronavirus mitigation. Decades of climate change brainwashing is reaping huge benefits for the partisan scientific community, the same group that demands we sacrifice the comforts of modern-day life to save the planet despite their long history of failed predictions.

This crisis is achieving their goals quicker than they could have ever dreamed. Many climate propagandists are using the same shaming techniques that they’ve wielded against climate skeptics. “Nonetheless, conservative pundits, who are not trained as climate scientists, have repurposed the coronavirus modeling to attack climate projections in recent days,” a columnist for Science magazine sneered this week amid legitimate criticism of the bogus model that drove the extended shutdown. The underlying message? If you’re not a climate scientist or a virologist or epidemiologist, shut your mouth while your small business burns and your freedoms are trampled.

Let’s not pretend any of this is guided by “science.” It’s tyranny disguised as the common good to rationalize authoritarian tactics employed by politicians like Phil Murphy and his like minded colleagues. And too many Americans are falling for it, no questions asked.

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