Junk science

A couple of months ago, I made the observation that

there is now almost no academic discipline whose conclusions can be considered acceptable to orthodox Republicans. The other social sciences (sociology, anthropology, political science) are even more suspect than economics. The natural sciences are all implicated in support for evolution against creationism, and for their conclusions about global warming, CFCs and other environmental threats. Even the physicists have mostly been sceptical about Star Wars and its offspring. And of course the humanities are beyond the pale.

I didn’t extend this claim at the time to the Australian right, but looking at the most recent Quadrant, perhaps I should have. Quadrant has been the biggest backer of historical polemicist Keith Windschuttle (whose fabrications have just been exposed yet again) and a keen promoter of global warming ‘skepticism’.

But when writing the above, I assumed that creationism would not find any support on the Australian mainstream right. I was wrong. The April 2003 Quadrant has a piece by Jenny Teichmann attacking Darwinism and claiming that support for Darwinism arises from the fact that it promotes atheism. The piece is short (less than two pages) but very confused – not surprisingly given that it draws on Windschuttle’s massively confused mentor David Stove, also an opponent of evolution.

One article doesn’t define an editorial stance, and perhaps the next issue of Quadrant will contain a vigorous defence of evolutionary theory. But running a piece like Teichmann’s is yet another indication of the declining intellectual standards of what was once a major journal.

While I’m on this general topic, the same post noted that, having been caught in a piece of glaring dishonesty, the National Review Online covered it up by amending its Web Site without acknowledgement. This seems to be standard practice on the US right. Cato’s change of name from ‘Project on Social Security Privatisation’ to ‘Project on Social Security choice’ was similarly unheralded. And, more recently, Tim Lambert has caught the Independence Institute and the Heartland Institute amending or suppressing articles by John Lott of the American Enterprise Institute where he has been exposed making false claims about defensive gun use.

These people have read their Orwell of course, and seem to think of Websites as being like the memory hole, where the past can be erased. They don’t, however, seem to be aware of Google archives, let alone the Wayback Machine.

Of course, Orwell was talking about Stalinist rewriting of history. And, until recently, anti-scientific irrationalism was more common on the political left than on the right. But those days are gone, and it’s now advocates of truth and rationality on the political right who have to blush for the company they keep.

Update Professor Bunyip (permalinks not working) weighs in as assistant counsel for the defence in the Windschuttle case. As always with Windschuttle, the evidence of participants in the conflict who denied doing anything wrong is preferred to eyewitness evidence against them. By Windschuttle’s account, the fabrication of Aboriginal history is not the product of recent leftwing historians but a conspiracy stretching back to the beginnings of European settlement.

As I pointed out in an earlier piece on junk science, facts are inconvenient things. If you do science or history honestly, you will always come across facts that don’t suit your preconceptions, and will need to acknowledge this openly. Plenty of leftwingers have failed this test in the past. But Windschuttle fails it to an extent unparalleled outside the rigidly disciplined ranks of Marxism-Leninism from which he (and, I think, Bunyip) came.

Does this all matter? Well, yes. This is not an argument over old bones but part of an organised campaign to assure white Australians that if the Aboriginal population is suffering now, it is their own fault. In essence, the line is that, until they sort out their own problems (drink, violence etc), we (whites, that is) have no need to worry and no wrongs to atone for. This is even more false and dangerous than the mirror-image claim that, since problems like drink and violence are the result of oppression, Aboriginal communities cannot be expected to do anything about them.