Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Scientists As Spin Doctors

Politicians love to spin things. To get out there first and get people to interpret data a certain way. It works. People are influenced big time by that. Nobody admits that they were personally influenced but that is even better. The numbers show the influence is huge and the people involved are unaware. Some of your political opinions and mine are likely as a result of political spin and we think we came to those ideas on our own.

Now we have science getting involved. We have seen this in climate change debates. We certainly see it in the gay "marriage" debate. Recently there is a much quoted study in the abortion-contraception debate. Politicians use studies to spin issues. It works. People trust scientists because they think they are more honest that the politicians. They are not. We used to think journalists were objective. We were wrong. We want to find someone we can trust. We can't. That is what a moral breakdown in society looks like. We have been ignoring warnings about that for so long. Guess what? We are getting there.

Churches used to play this role. Historically when churchmen and politicians have gotten together it has been a bad thing. You want the churchman to sanctify the politician. That is not typical. It more often happens that the politician corrupts the churchman. The Catholic church is still paying for some of the alliances it had with the Democrats a few decades ago. Today's bishops seem to get that they don't want to switch parties. They want to transcend parties. I wish I could say the same for evangelical leaders.

Power corrupts. It can corrupt churches. It can corrupt journalists. It can corrupt scientists. But we think scientists are immune. That is not rational. We trust science above all else. That is secularist dogma. Still science can't solve the problem of sin. There is an old saying that figures don't lie but liars do figure. It is interesting that we often hear the first part of that quoted without the second. We don't like to think about that second part. We want to think politicians are just obedient to scientists. The truth is the tail wags the dog more often than not. Scientific studies are manufactured to prove what the politicians want them to prove.

So where do we go? We have self-appointed fact checkers in our political world now. They have huge biases as well. We have people that know something of statistics and criticize studies they don't like. But can we trust them? Most of them seem to come to conclusions that show a political tilt.

I have said it was a mistake for voters to accept dishonesty as inevitable for any politician. Once we crossed that line, once our respect for the truth got lost, then the system cannot work. We cannot have rational, informed political debate without demanding honesty from all sides. It is not a matter of, "O well, they are all liars so just pick one." It is matter of, "Your lies are destroying our political system so even though I like you and like you policies I will never vote for you again." When people get to that place then things will change. Democracy will start to work again.

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