Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Kevin Drum Demonstrates that Michael Gerson is Completely dishonest here.

Gerson wrote among other things "Any practical concern about the content of government sex-education curricula is labeled "anti-science.""

Drum notes, among other things,
"Yes, liberals and conservatives have different views about sex education and stem cells, but those aren't even close to being the core issues in the liberal critique of the Republican war on science. The core issues, rather, are global warming denialism; creationism and intelligent design; the Gingrich-era shutdown of OTA; the promotion of phony cost-benefit analysis; and politically motivated lying about things like Plan B, breast cancer links to abortion, and condoms and STDs."

That is devastating. I would like to argue one thing and then debate an improved Michael Gerson who corrected the glaring omissions noted by Drum.

An important aspect of the Republican war on science is the authority given to the OMB (hence political appointees) to make sure everything in government publications is true. The provision (slipped in the middle of a huge bill) gave non-expert political appointees the authority to over-rule the scientific conclusions of all US government employed scientists. The day, Bush signed the bill was the D-day of the Republican war on science.

OK now I will pretend that Gerson just wrote ""Any practical concern about the content of government sex-education curricula is labeled "anti-science."" and didn't claim that that (and stem cell research funding) were the main arguments of people claiming that Republicans are making war on science.

I think that in 2001 one could make the arguments made by supporters of abstinence only sex education without being anti-science (one would have to have weird priors but no one had any data). Now, they are still making the exact same arguments. That sameness is anti-science.


I think that the relationship between science and sex education has changed recently. Science tells us something different about sex education, because there is a lot of new information. In particular abstinence only sex education has been tried and the attempts have been, imperfectly no doubt, evaluated.

Before the experiment performed under the Bush administration, it was not anti-science to argue that abstinence only sex ed would cause lower levels of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. IIRC in 2001 that was a testable hypothesis in social science.
To continue to argue this is to contest a, by now, large body of data. This is still not necessarily anti-science, as there is often a scientific debate about how to interpret data.

To ignore the data completely and stick to the exact same position based on the exact same arguments that one had before large amounts of relevant data were collected is anti-science. I think that is a tautology no ?

The scientific method is so utterly alien to Gerson that he doesn't seem to understand that a position that was not anti-science 7 years ago might be anti science now. The body of scientific knowledge changes. I stress that the new knowledge is that people have seriously attempted to evaluate abstinence only sex education and estimate that it's benefits are definitely close to zero (hence less well than comprehensive sex ed is estimated to work). Neither I nor Gerson nor anyone really knows that they are right. But to ignore the research entirely is to be anti-science.

Note Gerson's use of the word "practical". Any practical concern would lead any rational person to attempt to measure effects of policies and take the measurements (imperfect as they must be) into account. Gerson simply doesn't accept that new data makes any difference. He wouldn't recognize the scientific method if he tripped over it.

On the other hand ethical views, however strange I or anyone might find them, can't be pro or anti-science.

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