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ParanoiA

Question about Scientists and Politics

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I've always wondered why scientists tend to be more liberal / socialist, rather than conservative / capitalist. If that's inaccurate, correct me, but I don't think it is at all.

 

The reason why this seems odd to me is because while I realize there are dozens and dozens of science categories, it seems all understand the basics of survival of the fittest. Most scientists seem to understand this concept on a deeper level than the rest of us, irregardless of their specialty. So, the people who understand nature's capitalism better than most of us, reject that concept in governing humans. Why is that?

 

Many have their theories on why capitalism has worked so well, in terms of advancement of quality of life, prosperity, economic security and so forth. I've always thought it was because it compliments our nature to compete with one another - survival of the fittest. Other forms of governing seem to go against our nature, survival of everyone equally.

 

So, why do the majority of scientists seem to dislike unhindered capitalism, when it's basically the model they are specialists in and is proven to work?

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So, the people who understand nature's capitalism better than most of us, reject that concept in governing humans. Why is that?

 

Ethics. We see how evolution works, and it is not a pretty process. Constant death and fighting, exploitation, and parasites so horrifying that the mere discovery of one made Darwin doubt God since no loving God could create such a horrific monster.

 

Also, while evolution works, it's not necessarily the best system, but merely the one that occurs in nature. It's a dumb, unguided process sustained merely by mutation and the struggle to survive and reproduce. Why assume that human intelligence can't create a better system?

 

Your reasoning is actually based on two flaws, the naturalistic fallacy (that 'natural' equals 'ethical') and the assumption that nature is optimal (when, in fact, there are numerous examples of sub-optimality in nature, starting with our own eyes).

 

Furthermore, I'm not sure nature is a good model for economy; there we have groups who compete, but are part of the same 'team' (species), competition within teams, and, more importantly, genetic inheritance, while in the economy, a member of one team can join another, and information flows freely rather than being restricted to vertical transmission. Not to mention spatial restrictions (animals interact with just their neighbors, not the global marketplace) and transferrable value (you can move money back and forth, but not fitness). In spite of superficial similarities, I'd need a lot of convincing that economics is really like nature at any meaningful, functional level.

 

Mokele

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Yeah, your first paragraph is what was brewing in the back of my mind. I wondered if perhaps the brutallity was so sickening that one couldn't possibly advocate that concept into anything else. I certainly understand that.

 

It's a dumb, unguided process sustained merely by mutation and the struggle to survive and reproduce. Why assume that human intelligence can't create a better system?

 

But it works. Why assume that intelligence is necessary? This dumb, unguided process hasn't been duplicated anywhere in the universe as we can tell so far, and it's done quite well here providing life for millions of years. If science is correct, this dumb process managed to propogate literally thousands of species of animal life - millions if you consider the extinct - and eventually create the human brain that can look at it and call it "dumb".

 

And I'm not so sure I'm guilty of the naturallistic fallacy as I never mentioned ethics. I'm suggesting our innate "programming" is for competition. If we're programmed to compete, then obviously any system that involves competition would compliment that.

 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not for unfettered capitalism either. I do love capitalism, but it's inherently evil for the same reason communism is inherently evil - power is seductive and very few can be trusted with it. Capitalism mixed with socialism creates a spread out power base - I like that better.

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When you say capitalism you seem to be refering specfically to laissez faire capitalism. Capitalism is simply the private ownership of industry, laissez faire refers to a low level of government interference in industry. It's at least conceivable that you can have laissez faire communism, where industry is state-owned but with little regulation. In some ways this describes China, although the government privatised some industries, so it's really a mixed economy.

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It's interesting (and revealing) that Mokele actually found it necessary to demonize the question as flawed reasoning. The implication being that it's necessary and natural for scientists to follow a liberal rather than conservative line. Anything else must be flawed reasoning. This is a typical ideological argument, and just proves my point, which is that scientists (on average) are just as ideological as anybody else. They're just as ready to throw logic and reasoning out the window in the face of human suffering as the average television journalist.

 

I don't think it necessarily follows that scientists become capitalists either (regardless of where the money to fund their research comes from). But I don't think you can say that scientists naturally flow into one ideology or another. IMO, there is every bit as much hypocrisy and leaping-to-conclusions amongst liberal scientists as their is amongst conservative ones.

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I don't think the tendancy for scientists to lean towards the left has ANYTHING to due with natural philosophy. Simply stated, the left seems to put a lot more funding into non-military research than the right.

 

The fact that only 10% of the NIH grants are getting renewed this year seems to reflect upon the current conservative administration. Cut backs and national labs have resulted in lack of funding for research and jobs. These things very directly affect a scientist's personal life, even more than foreign policy or economic issues that a given scientist may happen to agree with the right on. As a result, voting for the left trumps.

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There are a few good points here. What might "work" in nature could easily be disasterous in something like a global economy, where things happen very quickly and on a global scale. Natural selection leads to "dead ends" all the time, organisms which, though each incremental change resulted in more offspring in the immediate environment, the overall effect was going to down a road of self-destruction. In nature, that might result in an extinct species. But if the "species" is the economy of an entire country or even the entire human race, what happens then? So really, from both a practical standpoint and the more obvious humanitarian one (the economic equivalent to Darwin's eyeball-burrowing parasite), I should think the lessons of nature would instill a great deal of caution regarding unrestrained capitalism.

 

Pangloss, I also agree with you, not necessarily with regards to your dismissal of Mokele's point, but rather with regards to the general subjectivity of politicalization even of scientists. Just yesterday a paleontologist told me a story about these two extinct species of primate, which a colleague was claiming was actually one species, just with dramatic differences between male and female. He had lots of valid reasons for thinking so, though it was still pretty inconclusive. The hypothesis met with a big uproar, not so much because of problems with the science, but because it was idealogically offensive that creatures that closely related to humans would have so much bigger, stronger, probably smarter males than females. The critics had their scientific reasons as well, of course, but it was obvious that the motivations behind everything, the reason people were getting angry, was political. And these were all very intelligent and well-respected scientists, which just goes to show how easy it is to let idealogy carry one farther than the hard science is really capable of supporting.

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A few thoughts:

 

As a biologist, I realize that "being social" is a great survival strategy for a species. A few examples: social wolves can tackle larger prey; social ants can support a very large standing population; and social hyenas can fend off larger predators. Social behaviour leads to a differentiation in roles: some individuals gather food, while others stay behind to guard the nest, and so on. Social behaviour also comes at a cost: the food gatherers have to feed the ones who are left behind on other duties. If they fail to do so the system collapses and as a result, the species suffers.

As a species, we owe our success to being social, and one giant thought leap brings me to the conclusion that being social(ist) is the way to go for the continued success of our species.

 

ParanoiA also mentions that all scientists tend to have a more left-wing view on economy. I think that is correct, and I also think it's quite natural. After all, it takes a certain type of person to engage into a scientific career. Research jobs in general don't pay very much, so someone who is primarily interested in making money is not going to follow that career path. So I think that the sciences mainly attract people who already have a more left-wing view on economics for whatever reason.

 

Airmid.

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May as well link to this:

 

http://www.scienceforums.net/forum/showthread.php?t=25092

 

I make a parallel sort of observation as you, Airmid, only in relation to morality instead of socialism. It's basically the same idea, though.

 

 

 

 

Oh, Mokele. No matter how slighted you are, you always find a way to overreact ridiculously, don't you?

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I've always wondered why scientists tend to be more liberal / socialist, rather than conservative / capitalist. If that's inaccurate, correct me, but I don't think it is at all.

 

IMO, scientists need to be more open to new ideas, which would be more liberal. Clergy would tend to be more conservative.

 

So, why do the majority of scientists seem to dislike unhindered capitalism, when it's basically the model they are specialists in and is proven to work?

 

I think almost all people dislike unhindered capitalism if they really understand the concept.

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I think it probability. The education system is quite liberial, and I am sure a scientist spend a great deal in school. I think also that if there was conservative scientists they would keep their political opinion on the low down, considering that if the enviroment your in is mostly liberial, too much clashing ideologically speaking. Plus if your a die-hard conservative captialist, I don't think there is much money to be made, you'd probably be against things such as funding, well maybe not against but rather you might prefer to generate your own income.

 

In a way though scientist are conversative to a degree, they hold on to that scientific method pretty tightly, which of course is a good thing.

 

I wonder how much a family or upbringing would sway a scientist to be a specific way. You know that many science is more interesting to someone who live in a liberial enviroment from the beginning.

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Cuz liberals are smarter than conservatives, duh

 

:D

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My opinion: The lifestyle of an academic is more closely aligned to a liberal ideology than it is to a conservative/capitalist ideology. Conservatives tend to not go into academia because doing so is against their goals and their worldview. Very few scientists get rich. Those who want to get rich eschew higher education and academia for the business world.

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Is it just me or does the idea that

"I don't think the tendancy for scientists to lean towards the left has ANYTHING to due with natural philosophy. Simply stated, the left seems to put a lot more funding into non-military research than the right."

misses the point that the right wing put a lot more money into research (military research) than the left wing puts into any research.

If, as a scientist, I just want a government that spends lots on research, my best bet is to vote for the right wing and get a job working in military research.

This could be taken as evidence that scientists are even more left wing than they look but some of us have been "paid off" by military research work.

 

Personally I understand the efficiency of a free market for goods; Adam Smith worked out the basics of it a long time ago.

However, being quite clever- which may be related to the fact that I'm a scientist or it may not, I can also see that, for example the care of the mentally ill is not something that the market can be expected to do well. There are other things (I gather the economists call them "public goods") which capitalism simply can't handle properly.

That's why I'm not rabidly left wing or right wing; it's why I can take some sort of place in a debate on the matter, and it's also why I can see fault in either side getting too powerful- total freedom can be freedom to oppress

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The right wing put a lot more money into research (military research) than the left wing puts into any research.

If, as a scientist, I just want a government that spends lots on research, my best bet is to vote for the right wing and get a job working in military research.

 

Do you know any people who do military research? I do. I did a stint many years ago working on things that went high up in the sky and came down with a rather spectacular finale.

 

These people (at least the ones I knew) are not particularly liberal, particularly those who invent new devices to kill people on an small scale (e.g., better tanks, fancy guns). Working on weapons of lesser destruction is anathema to a lot of liberals. Those who work on weapons of mass destruction tend to be more liberal than those who work on lesser weapons (but are still more conservative than most scientists and engineers). How does a liberal rationalize working on weapons of mass destruction? One way of ensuring that such weapons never get used is to make them so terrible that even the most extreme war hawk president would never authorize their use.

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it seems all understand the basics of survival of the fittest. Most scientists seem to understand this concept on a deeper level than the rest of us, irregardless of their specialty. So, the people who understand nature's capitalism better than most of us, reject that concept in governing humans. Why is that?

 

dont forget that the emergence of societies probably had something to do with NS. ie, when we started hanging out in co-operative tribes, we survived better than those who wished to survive as individuals, so we continued to do so.

 

I tend to think of lezzy fair capitalism as a hightly individualistic approach, whilst socialism is more of a society-based approach. given this, it actually makes more sence that socialism be used, as it's more in line with the fact that we're social creatures, as (at least partially) a result of NS.

 

not that i'm saying that's a very good argument for socialism, just that, if NS is relevent, it would seem sensible to act in a way consistant with the societies that we formed to make it easyer for us to survive the NS process...

 

Also, as d h said, science is pretty socialistic and 'liberal', with a history of sharing results with other scientists (even across borders), and so on. 'conservatism' -- the idea that we should stick with tradition -- should be an at least slightly alien concept to scientists, due to the continualed abandonment of traditional beliefs when we find that they're inacurate (as we continually do).

 

I'd suspect more scientists savvy the open source method as well, for similar reasons -- science is pretty open source, so we can see, first hand, why it works (and also that uber-mega huge and expensive projects are better done by big pharmasutical companies who have the money)

 

 

One way of ensuring that such weapons never get used is to make them so terrible that even the most extreme war hawk president would never authorize their use.

 

that was nobels idea. the person after whom the peace prize is named developed a more powerful explosive for use in field artillery, on the assumption that war would become so horrific that no-one would ever be insane enough to start one.

 

since then, we've developed stealth bombers, ICBMs, napalm, nukes, tanks, assault rifles, and all manners of other nasty shit, and we're still killing each other.

 

so, that rationalization is flawed.

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But we've never actually used ICBMs, have we? And when was the last time there was an open conflict between big powers? Nobel wasn't really wrong, he just overestimated how quickly civilization would catch on. Wars today are pursued by desperate people with nothing to lose, by people who WANT to die in some kind of holy war, or by nations with such great advantages that it's not all that horrific for THEM at all. [/OT]

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Well, I am liberal/socialistic myself, BUT I do know pharmacy majors who are conservative/capitalistic and even other science majors including chemistry. Therefore, from that statement, I do believe that it also depends on the person and their personality. But also what they're in science for. A lot of pharmacy majors I knew were in it for the degree out of college and job and money. You can't blame them.

 

I actually grew up and went to a conservative college for a year(and then transferred here which is very liberal). So I've been around conservatives. I've just always been naturally curious about the world around me. I got more and more liberal as I learned more and more about the world, too.

 

I also agree that science is always looking forward. The religious right and conservatism in general either looks at the present and now or the past. Science never looks back, it's always looking forward. Liberalism allows looking forward. I think the scientific community is just that, a community. Therefore socialism seems to fit. I won't go into socialism because I don't really have that much time to...I just wanted to say my two cents and take a bit of a break from my studying....

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Well if that's not a plateful of ideological preconceptions, I don't know what is.

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I think you would first have to confirm that scientists generally lean to the left, or is it just an appearance? People tend to advance those who agree with their ideas, so obviously disagreeing with your boss is a career killer.

 

Secondly I think there is a flaw in an unspoken assumption. The assumption that the scientist is somehow "different". He isn't.

 

As a community, scientists are just as capable of illogical, hidebound thought as any other community.

 

A simple example.

 

The Great Sphinx was attributed to Khafre by Selim Hassan in 1946 after his extensive work on the site, but with this comment;

Taking all things into consideration, it seems that we must give the credit of erecting this, the world's most wonderful statue, to Khafre, but always with this reservation that there is not one single contemporary inscription which connects the Sphinx with Khafre, so sound as it may appear, we must treat the evidence as circumstantial,

Ever since, all competing ideas concerning the age and originators of the statue have been asked to meet standards of evidence that the prevailing theory cannot. Science has nothing to do with it, hidebound thinking does.

 

(As an aside, I don't back any theory yet. I'll wait until there is more evidence and see where it leads.)

 

Always remember the "Scientist" is also a "Human Being". Left, Right, Kind, Stingy, all types, just like any community.

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You guys should really declare a truce. Everybody looks stupid in a flame war.

 

ParanoiA, please don't leave. We desperately need variety of opinions.

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I don't know how I got unbanned, but I guess I'll try to make my last post again before the pretentious egomaniac known as Mokele deletes it and bans me again. He doesn't like it when he's faced with the truth of his behavior...
Why post like you're going to be banned again soon? Continued posts like this will just ensure it. It was unnecessary and it's been fixed. Can we move on, please? Perhaps we can chalk this experience up to Science and Politics not always mixing as well as we would like. ;)

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Do you not think that leaving is over-reacting somewhat to the fact that Mokele over-reacted somewhat?

 

anyway, i assume that the mods moderate each other behind the scenes... you got banned, you got unbanned, if the other mods think that Mokele over-reacted, or behaved incorrectly in some other way, I'm sure that they'll have pointed it out to him.

 

But we've never actually used ICBMs, have we? And when was the last time there was an open conflict between big powers? Nobel wasn't really wrong, he just overestimated how quickly civilization would catch on. Wars today are pursued by desperate people with nothing to lose, by people who WANT to die in some kind of holy war, or by nations with such great advantages that it's not all that horrific for THEM at all. [/OT]

 

[ot]

that latter one still goes completely against Nobel's intent...

 

I didn't know we've never used ICBMs

[/ot]

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I didn't know we've never used ICBMs
Not for nuclear payloads but I believe they are used to launch satellites (at least the Russians do). And I think the whole world breathes a sigh of relief when scheduled launches actually do turn out to be for commercial purposes. ;)

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The whole concept of mutually assured destruction which prevented cataclysmic war between NATO and the Soviet bloc was more or less what Nobel had in mind, I think. In a certain sense, Vietnam was miraculous in being so contained, when the real powers at work were so much, much greater.

 

Of course, there was and is always a very uncomfortable relationship between these weapons and the scientific community. I think it was Carl Sagan who described the nuclear arms race as analogous to "two men standing waste-deep in gasoline, one with three matches, the other with five." A terrifying and ridiculous situation to be in, but one which combined with any shred of sanity will guarantee peace.

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