It’s easy to lie with statistics, but to completely invent data and then publish it in a peer-reviewed journal takes a lot more effort–and some serious chutzpah. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what Michael LaCour appears to have done in a study which purported to show that people more readily changed their position on same-sex marriage if they spoke to a gay person about the issue than if they had the same conversation with a straight person. These revelations are disturbing enough as we await the Supreme Court’s decision on the immediate question of same-sex marriage, but in a deeper way, such dissimulation has even more troubling implications for our future as a free people.
The rapid technological advances of recent years have allowed us to access the wealth of accumulated human knowledge in ways which were never before possible. Yet even with all of the information we have at our fingertips, we have become voracious for even more. This is especially apparent in our public discourse, as people expect to see infographics and charts and tables of figures to accompany any argument. In short, we worship science–but not really science though. Let’s call it scienceyness.Thomas Dolby from the music video “She Blinded Me With Science”
If a cause is true and just, there ought to be no reason to falsify and fabricate supporting evidence dressed up with what the study’s co-author, Professor Donald Green, called the “baroque and ornate ornamentation” of scienceyness. Skepticism is not a dirty word, especially when such antics are commonplace not just on the issue of same-sex marriage, but as we have seen on a scale ranging from the massive doctoring of climate data in the East Anglia University email scandal to Brian Williams’ ignominious fall from grace for his tall tales. In a similar vein, a post-graduate student at Catholic University recently wrote in First Things about an interview he gave while attending the March for Marriage last month:
“Aren’t you worried you’ll end up on the wrong side of history?” Her article ridicules the “closed-mindedness” of traditional marriage supporters, but when faced with actual arguments on the subject, Shapiro opted to pretend I’d said something else. Even on the “cusp of victory,” same-sex marriage supporters are taking no chances by engaging these dangerous, volatile truths. How strange to discover such fear among those who have routed their enemies so completely.
Perhaps there is still an uncomfortable nagging in the back of people’s minds that something is not right. It takes a certain sophistication to declare that a vice has now become a basic human right–even more precious than the right of conscience–in less than a single generation. People can believe what they want to believe, but the gods of the copy-book headings always return in blood and fire.
In both science and in justice, the goal is to learn the truth, because the truth stands for all time. The trouble with a hypothesis is that, like a trial or an election, you don’t know what the result will be. It takes faith and conviction to test ideas either in the laboratory or in the courts–and in the court of public opinion. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom of 1786:
King John Signs the Great Charter, engraving by Edmund Evans, 1864
Whereas…truth is great and will prevail if left to herself; that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate; errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.
Liberty and scienceyness are in direct opposition. Unlike real science, where the burden of proof lies with the creator of a hypothesis, scienceyness presents often nonsensical and unsubstantiated claims as fact, and skeptics are branded as deniers, reactionaries, and obstructionists. This is exactly the opposite of our once-esteemed principles of presumption of innocence, habeas corpus, the right to face one’s accusers, and all the rest.
Next month, we will mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, which set down in writing basic principles of ordered liberty from time immemorial. Today however, the English common law is all but vanished and in its place is the pile of technocratic psychobabble of our “Living Constitution.” People no longer talk about Rights in polite conversation. People no longer feel a yearning for Liberty in their bones. People thirst for knowledge instead of wisdom, but obtain neither. In all this, the more that scienceyness is ascendant, the more our liberties will suffer for it.