Last month I criticized the prestigious journal Science for pushing ideology and attacking the Supreme Court’s rulings — as if its authors’ and editors’ subjective beliefs and policy preferences are the same thing as supporting objective science.
Not to be outdone in conflating politics with “science,” the British journal Nature — perhaps the world’s most respected “scientific” publication — has similarly attacked SCOTUS based on the wrongheaded idea that policy preferences are somehow synonymous with good science. From “Inside the Supreme Court’s War on Science,” by Nature’s U.S. correspondent Jeff Tollefson:
In late June, the US Supreme Court issued a trio of landmark decisions that repealed the right to abortion, loosened gun restrictions and curtailed climate regulations. Although the decisions differed in rationale, they share a distinct trait: all three dismissed substantial evidence about how the court’s rulings would affect public health and safety. It is a troubling trend that many scientists fear could undermine the role of scientific evidence in shaping public policy. Now, as the court prepares to consider a landmark case on electoral policies, many worry about the future of American democracy itself.
Issues such as abortion, gun regulations, and yes, even what to do about climate change are not matters that can be determined objectively by science. Instead, they involve many different disciplines and possible approaches that policy-makers have to balance. For example, whether abortion should be permitted through the ninth month of pregnancy, as much of the pro-choice movement wants, or strictly curtailed, as many on the pro-life side want, or something in between, is a question based primarily on issues of morality, ideology, philosophy, ethics, and religion. Science per se cannot answer the question.
Science and the Administrative State
Tollefson seems particularly troubled by the Supreme Court’s recent rulings impeding the growth of the administrative state:
In September 2021, the court tossed out a moratorium on housing evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic that had been issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And in January, the justices rejected a mask mandate for major employers issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. But the conservative majority went one step further in West Virginia v. EPA, and laid out a new legal test: the ‘major questions’ doctrine, which posits that agencies need explicit permission from Congress when implementing major rules.
Please. The regulation imposed to prevent evictions was not a scientific question and, moreover, was clearly beyond the CDC’s jurisdiction. Neither was the West Virginia ruling, which in my subjective opinion — which is as valid as any scientist’s on a nonscientific question — upholds democracy by requiring Congress to explicitly delegate policy-making power to executive-branch bureaucrats.
Science and Technocracy
But that kind of democratic oversight is precisely what Tollefson objects to. He — and presumably Nature‘s editors — want a system of rule by experts, e.g., technocracy:
The problem, says Blake Emerson, who studies administrative law at the University of California, Los Angeles, is that the civil service is precisely where science enters government. That’s by design: Congress does not have the expertise or the political capacity to craft detailed regulations, so lawmakers pass broadly worded laws that are often intentionally vague, leaving the details up to the experts. Now, those experts are at risk of getting squeezed from both sides — being stripped of authority and becoming more vulnerable to the whims of elected officials.
Yes, heaven forbid that elected officials interfere with the policy preferences that unelected “experts” want to impose on society. Good grief.
Tollefson then wanders into the question of state gerrymandering, again not an issue of scientific concern. And like the Science article referenced above, he voices support for stacking the Court to increase the likelihood that SCOTUS will issue decisions more to his political liking.
If anything is a “war on science,” it is publishing ideological articles like this in what is supposed to be a science journal — a trend that seems particularly infectious among establishment medical and scientific outlets. By pushing rank political advocacy that would have been perfectly appropriate in The Nation or Politico — as if the issues discussed were scientific matters — Nature has undermined trust in its objectivity as an important institution furthering the dispassionate search for truth.
Cross-posted at The Corner.