The late social scientist Clifford Geertz noted that absolute objectivity is impossible in science, but just because is impossible to operate under absolutely sterile conditions doesn’t mean we should operate in a sewer. Good science training entails rigorous methods and high standards of neutrality to avoid the pitfalls of confirmation bias.
The News Tribune editors make a false equivalence when they claim to be “balancing” Richard Davis’ conservative think-tank column with a so-called liberal, academic voice in Katie Baird, who is a genuine social scientist. Serious university research seeks to discover provisional answers, testing hypotheses to see what may or may not be true.
In contrast, a think-tank researcher, however smart, already has his answers in advance and only engages facts insofar as they support his position. He doesn’t seek to discover anything, only to prove himself to already be in possession of the ideological keys to Universal Salvation.
Because modern conservatism widely adopts a form of false absolutist opposition — that is, if you don’t believe in my god you must believe in my devil — its propaganda outlets have successfully misrepresented, sometimes even demonized, the genuine science that goes on at universities as if it expresses some kind of “liberal bias,” simply because empirical sciences mostly “fail” to support conservative story lines about “reality.”
Our growing willingness to confuse good-faith scientific research with the propaganda-oriented research of think tanks is yet another sign of an apparent ignorance of (or disdain for) the nature and role of science in American culture.