AN INTERVIEW WITH MATT RIDLEY: How Science Lost The Public’s Trust.
“Science” has become a political catchword. “I believe in science,” Joe Biden tweeted six days before he was elected president. “ Donald Trump doesn’t. It’s that simple, folks.”
But what does it mean to believe in science? The British science writer Matt Ridley draws a pointed distinction between “science as a philosophy” and “science as an institution.” The former grows out of the Enlightenment, which Mr. Ridley defines as “the primacy of rational and objective reasoning.” The latter, like all human institutions, is erratic, prone to falling well short of its stated principles. Mr. Ridley says the Covid pandemic has “thrown into sharp relief the disconnect between science as a philosophy and science as an institution.” . . .
Vaccines have been central to the question of “misinformation” and the White House’s pressure campaign against social media to censor it. Mr. Ridley worries about the opposite problem: that social media “is complicit in enforcing conformity.” It does this “through ‘fact checking,’ mob pile-ons, and direct censorship, now explicitly at the behest of the Biden administration.” He points out that Facebook and Wikipedia long banned any mention of the possibility that the virus leaked from a Wuhan laboratory.
“Conformity,” Mr. Ridley says, “is the enemy of scientific progress, which depends on disagreement and challenge. Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts, as [the physicist Richard] Feynman put it.” Mr. Ridley reserves his bluntest criticism for “science as a profession,” which he says has become “rather off-puttingly arrogant and political, permeated by motivated reasoning and confirmation bias.” Increasing numbers of scientists “seem to fall prey to groupthink, and the process of peer-reviewing and publishing allows dogmatic gate-keeping to get in the way of new ideas and open-minded challenge.”
The World Health Organization is a particular offender: “We had a dozen Western scientists go to China in February and team up with a dozen Chinese scientists under the auspices of the WHO.” At a subsequent press conference they pronounced the lab-leak theory “extremely unlikely.” The organization also ignored Taiwanese cries for help with Covid-19 in January 2020. “The Taiwanese said, ‘We’re picking up signs that this is a human-to-human transmission that threatens a major epidemic. Please, will you investigate?’ And the WHO basically said, ‘You’re from Taiwan. We’re not allowed to talk to you.’ ”
He notes that WHO’s primary task is forestalling pandemics. Yet in 2015 it “put out a statement saying that the greatest threat to human health in the 21st century is climate change. Now that, to me, suggests an organization not focused on the day job.”
In Mr. Ridley’s view, the scientific establishment has always had a tendency “to turn into a church, enforcing obedience to the latest dogma and expelling heretics and blasphemers.” This tendency was previously kept in check by the fragmented nature of the scientific enterprise: Prof. A at one university built his career by saying that Prof. B’s ideas somewhere else were wrong. In the age of social media, however, “the space for heterodoxy is evaporating.” So those who believe in science as philosophy are increasingly estranged from science as an institution. It’s sure to be a costly divorce.
Everything run by the global ruling class becomes church-like, except, oddly, actual churches.
Mr. Ridley notes that the question of Covid’s origin has “mostly been tackled by people outside the mainstream scientific establishment.” People inside not only have been “disappointingly incurious” but have tried to shut down the inquiry “to protect the reputation of science as an institution.” The most obvious reason for this resistance: If Covid leaked from a lab, and especially if it developed there, “science finds itself in the dock.”
Other factors have been at play as well. Scientists are as sensitive as other elites to charges of racism, which the Communist Party used to evade questions about specifically Chinese practices “such as the trade in wildlife for food or lab experiments on bat coronaviruses in the city of Wuhan.”
Scientists are a global guild, and the Western scientific community has “come to have a close relationship with, and even a reliance on, China.”
The Chinese must be astounded at how easy it has been to suborn our institutions.
I am not so worried about the Chinese: they went way out of their way to rip apart their future. Even plenty of money, a chain of submissive and gullible foreigners, and a massive international security service is no substitute for a dead future.
I am not even that worried about Our Betters: they placed their bet on control of academia, the courts, the universities, the newspapers and TV stations, and – just in case – all the mainstream churches. All of which are collapsing into irrelevance. The only real control tool they have are the welfare and regulatory state, which are both showing their age.
What worries me is the fearfulness, faithlessness and hopelessness of Christians. I want competent leaders in a free society, but Christians who hate the Law will never provide either the leadership or have the interest in liberty, or have an interest in expanding the dominion, the Kingdom of God.
This is what worries me, and this is what needs to change.