Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Public vs. Private Polarisation.

The Parting of Ways

North America has a strong right-wing lobby, a lobby whose understanding of the phrase small government is invested in their belief that the flow of wealth in laissez-faire markets is a fix-all regulator and exclusive panacea for society’s ills. They may even apply this small government ethos to academic and noetic endeavors where otherwise risky blue skies research must be government funded because of a lack of any immediately obvious return on investment. The passion of these right-wingers (which includes some quite extreme fundamentalists and gun tooting conspiracy theorists) has help fuel a public sector vs. private sector polarization. One outcome of this is the anti-academia feeling one finds amongst right-wingers and conspiracy theorists. I have recently come across two examples of this on the blogs of PZ Myers’ and Larry Moran, who as public academics (and atheists at that) probably feel got at.

In this blog post PZ Myers publishes an open letter from conspiracy theorist and fundamentalist Kent Hovind who according to Wiki is currently serving a goal sentence for tax avoidance by fraud. Hovind, who is likely to believe that government is populated by criminals if not the anti-Christ himself, feels completely justified in not paying taxes that he thinks the government has no right to claim. Hovind may see himself as a libertarian hero who is being persecuted by an anti-Christian public establishment in league with the one-world-government conspiracy. As Hovind writes to Myers:

I am NOT in prison for “tax fraud.” I did NOT break any laws but the government probably did……CHALLENGE- PZ, When I get out and can travel I will come to your university at my expense and debate you on the evolution topic. Since you are using tax dollars to promote your religion… and the burden of proof is on you I would like you to supply the 5 or 10 best evidences for evolution above the level of minor changes within kinds as the basis for the debate. (My emphases in bold)

The scientific naivety of the man can be judged from him thinking that a few items of evidence would decide the matter; but that is by the by. The thing to notice here is the deliberate way in which Hovind juxtaposes his willingness to fund himself against Myers being a tax funded academic. Perhaps Hovind sees his tax loathing as a general American historical tradition going back to the Boston Tea Party. Like some other right wingers he’s still fighting the War of Independence!

Hovind is a fundamentalist extremist who with clear conscience engages in criminal activity because he believes he is working for a greater good; in this sense he compares with the Islamic bombers. To people like this the democratic intuitions of government are held in contempt. My experience of fundamentalists is that they can be dangerous, sometimes very dangerous. This is because they have little compunction in applying maximum duress in order to further a cause they hold with absolute conviction. I have come across other fundamentalists like Hovind who will use the laws of a civic society in order to put pressure on people; another example is the Witness Lee Brotherhood.

Another sign of fundamentalist epistemic arrogance is seen in Hovind referring to PZ Myers as an “atheist”; that is, by using quotes, a practice that Myers queries. What I think to be at the bottom of this practice is the common fundamentalist misinterpretation of Romans 1:18-32, a passage which is read by them as a reference to atheism (when in fact it is referring to idolatry). From this passage some fundamentalists argue that atheists are not genuine atheists at all but in actual fact they believe in a God whose truth they are wilfully suppressing in unrighteousness. The implications of this is that these fundamentalists have a tendency to distrust the genuineness of any testimony that contradicts their beliefs; they are inclined see a bad conscience or even total depravity behind those who contradict their version of fundamentalism. Fundamentalist beliefs about the basic depravity of their antagonists have precedence over any testimony a person offers of himself. This is why I think there is usually very little point trying to relate to the self–assured fundamentalist. Relationships can’t proceed on the basis of this underlying distrust.

Now, it would be completely wrong to put the North American ID community in the same extremist category as Hovind and yet they too have been sucked into to the polarising fields of the public vs. private contention.  This becomes clear in a blog post by atheist Larry Moran where he publishes the contents of an attack on him by IDist Michael Egnor. Egnor's attack on the publicly funded scientific community is vociferous:

The funny thing is that Moran has had a few self-pitying posts about the reductions in public funding for science (particularly bogus science like AGW "research").
He doesn't see that the two issues are related. If you tell the public that they're idiots, and you link your anti-religious hate to science, why would you be surprised that after a while the public tells scientists to "go get your paycheck from someone else."
Science is an overrated endeavor. Obviously there have been substantial advances, but most of them have been in applied sciences like medical research and engineering, not ideology-infested "disciplines" like climate science and evolutionary biology. Ninety-five percent of the scientific literature is garbage, most of it is irreproducible, and most of the rest is irrelevant except to tenure. A lot of published science is so dodgy with data and logic that if it were a financial prospectus the authors would be prosecuted by securities authorities. And of course scientific literature is a prospectus, attracting hundreds of billions of research dollars annually.
Incompetence and fraud seem to plague particular kinds of science. Think about it: what exactly have climate scientists and evolutionary biologists done for you lately, except take billions of tax dollars and then compare you to Holocaust deniers if you question them or call you idiots if you believe in God and drag you into court if you talk about God in public or if you don't want their materialist religion taught to your kids in your schools?
People are starting to catch on. There's a simple solution. Defund these credentialed losers who hide behind their worthless "science." They have no marketable skills -- many would require remedial training to work at the drive-through window at McDonald's ("Larry, we know you're new to the restaurant, but you really have to stop telling the customers that they're IDiots -- they pay your salary").
So aim at the scientific disciplines they infest and take their money away. We don't need just-so stories about evolution, about surviving survivors and randomness generating all of life, and transparent frauds like the crowd in Climategate.
Time to pull away the teat.

There is a tremendous irony in all this: Government funded science sinks enormous amounts of cash because it is dealing with the discovery of irreducibly complex ideas. The search for these ideas demands much seeking, finding, rejecting and selecting and this process consumes huge resources; those resources are needed to jump the cognitive gaps as it were. On the other hand laissez-faire markets are less likely to jump such large cognitive gaps as they work using short term “greedy algorithms” with the low intelligence needed for small gap jumping! This is just so ironic it’s breathtaking!

Addendum 21/03/14: A recent blog post on Myers blog is relevant to the above topic. This post references work done in psychology on the connection between the "libertarian" right wing, conspiracy theorists and science denialists. The pronounced psychological complex which manifests itself in the paranoiac illusions of the conspiracy theorists and the fundamentalists is in sympathy with the anti-government anti-academic libertarians. The common factor amongst all parties seems to be a rejection of the public sector and government as the natural domain of malign intelligence, evil, and conspiracy. This is turn leads to the rejection of public domain based science like climate change and evolution; and even in some cases  heliocentricity, a spherical Earth and the Moon landings.  I have to say here however, that it all seems a very American malaise.

End Notes
Note to Self: Glen Beck, is another conspiracy theorist (Mormon in this case) who is worth keeping an eye on as an example of the kind of client I’m referring to above
Some relevant links:

My Mathematical Politics series:

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