Scientific Authority and Political Myth

 

Roger Pielke gave a wide-ranging talk a couple of days ago at a meeting in Lyon, on “Scientific Authority and Political Myth”. His 72 slides are all available here. He also gave an overview of the talk on twitter, where he said that the question he is considering is “what should we (the highly educated) be doing in this political moment?” In his tweet sequence he focuses on the highly educated elite, who he describes as “rich, powerful, likeminded, biased, prejudiced”, and ends up with:

“To summarize my argument (caveat lector: work in progress):
Can we highly educated play power politics and win? No way.
Democracy runs on votes, not advanced degrees.”

One of the political myths that he uses as an example is the so-called “green revolution”, see slides 17-27. He talks of the population bomb and famine scare of the 1960s, and how scientists joined in with this bandwagon, with the National Academy of Sciences declaring that there was a growing consensus about food shortages and imminent disaster.

There’s a lot of thought-provoking stuff in there. Read the whole thing, as Bish used to say.

 

8 thoughts on “Scientific Authority and Political Myth

  1. Paul’ s link is to slides only. It would be nice to have the whole talk. Still, it’s most interesting. I particularly like slide 33 “Picketty 2018 on educational inequalities,” where Pielke quotes from a pamphlet “Brahmin Left vs Merchant Right: Rising Inequality and the Changing Structure of Political Conflict” by the French economist Thomas Picketty
    http://piketty.pse.ens.fr/files/Piketty2018.pdf as follows:

    The main mechanism that I have in mind is the following: educational expansion, and in particular the rise of higher education, creates new forms of inequality cleavages and political conflict that did not exist at the time of primary and secondary education. For a long time, the main issue in terms of education policy was to generalize access to primary and secondary education. Such a policy agenda is naturally inclusive and egalitarian: one can argue that the objective is to bring the totality of a given generation to this level. Once everybody has reached primary and secondary schooling, things look markedly different: it is difficult to imagine a situation where the totality of a generation becomes university graduates; and even if this happens it is hard to think of a world where everybody in a generation obtains a PhD, at least in the foreseeable future. In other words, the rise of higher education forces societies and political forces to deal with inequality in a new way, and to some extent to accept certain educational inequalities on a permanent basis, which can lead to complicated political cleavages.

    This is a point I stole from another French researcher, Emmmanuel Todd, who made the point more savagely: the left are the new inegalitarians, and their fundamental opposition to democracy can be seen every day at the Guardian and the Conversation, on every subject from Trump to Brexit to the Italian election (as well as on the touchy subject of whose air miles are to blame for the death of the planet.)

    Pielke follows up with a graph showing the left-right voting tendencies of the 10% most highly educated compared with the other 90%, for France, Britain and the USA. In all three cases there’s been a “progressive” (if that’s the word) tendency for the brainboxes to move left while the deplorables go right. What I find fascinating is the crossover point, where the percentage of the brainy left equals the percentage of the dim lefty masses. This invisible revolution occurred in 1968 in France (probably around the month of May, I’d guess) in the early seventies in the USA (Ho ho Ho Chi Minh?) and not till the early eighties in Britain, i.e. the Thatcher era.

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  2. “the left are the new inegalitarians, and their fundamental opposition to democracy can be seen every day at the Guardian and the Conversation, on every subject from Trump to Brexit to the Italian election (as well as on the touchy subject of whose air miles are to blame for the death of the planet.)

    Pielke follows up with a graph showing the left-right voting tendencies of the 10% most highly educated compared with the other 90%, for France, Britain and the USA. In all three cases there’s been a “progressive” (if that’s the word) tendency for the brainboxes to move left while the deplorables go right. What I find fascinating is the crossover point, where the percentage of the brainy left equals the percentage of the dim lefty masses. This invisible revolution occurred in 1968 in France (probably around the month of May, I’d guess) in the early seventies in the USA (Ho ho Ho Chi Minh?) and not till the early eighties in Britain, i.e. the Thatcher era.”

    That sums up the state of modern politics nicely. I regard myself as vaguely left-wing but I’ve long since given up thinking in terms of left/right divisions, since many lefties (or at least people regarding themselves as lefties) propound policies that redistribute money from the poor to the wealthy; have not the first clue about the benighted lives of the disadvantaged; and show contempt for democracy. Meanwhile right-wingers have in some cases moved to supporting policies once considered left-wing.

    As I say, I’ve given up on left/right labels, and prefer to think of myself as a free spirit politically, supporting no political party.

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  3. I liked the talk. I do however think the challenge to the educated elite has happened over and over again in history. The rise of the Democrat party in America was precisely that.

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  4. Mark. Does it really matter if you are left or right? Politicians usually only listen around voting time and I have never lived in a marginal constituency. The fallacy of “my vote counting” was revealed to me when I lived in Western Canada. Because of its size voting for the federal government sweeps over Canada like a wave with the polls closing at different times and the media then free to broadcast the exit polls. Problem was that you could tune your radio to a station broadcasting in a neighbouring Province (to the right) to learn the result fully an hour before the polls closed in your province. Because the majority of the population resides in the two eastern Provinces of Ontario and Quebec who voted hours earlier, commonly the federal government had already been decided hours before. Our western votes meant zilch.
    Currently I live in rural Norfolk, an area so Tory that even weeds have blue roots. A vote for anyone else is a wasted vote.

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  5. But Allan, the same goes for all rural voters in urbanised countries with proportional representation, does this mean rural people should not vote because the city people always have the majority vote?

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  6. Hans. I don’t know of a better system (other than announcing results simultaneously and this merely hides the situation). My view is that all systems are inadequate and will disadvantage some. As a species we are not meant to live in larger than cave-sized groups.
    Explain to me the point of exercising your mandate when the vast majority of the electorate vote for the other guy since time immemorial? Or in Canada, where the result has already been predetermined?

    Oldbrew substitute right for left in your post and see if it makes any difference.

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