Politicized science inevitably tends toward pseudoscience
Researchers shouldn't just make stuff up.
Back when I was an economics graduate student, I learned about Real Business Cycle models. These are mathematical models of economic booms and recessions, and they rely on some fairly suspicious assumptions. In these models, recessions happen because of a slowdown in the rate of technological innovation — basically, scientists and engineers suddenly fail to make new discoveries at the same rate as before, or even forget some of what they knew. And in these models, unemployment happens because people know that technology will be advancing more slowly for a few quarters, leading to slower wage growth, and they decide to take a little time off.
That is obviously wildly unrealistic. And even by the (necessarily) weak evidentiary standards of macroeconomics, Real Business Cycle models never did a good job of fitting the data. Nevertheless, the models won their creators a Nobel prize in 2004, and versions of them are still in use in many subfields of economics.
When I asked a macroeconomist at the University of Michigan why RBC models were still so strangely popular, he shrugged and said “Politics!” RBC theory basically says that neither the Fed nor Congress can stabilize the real economy, so using things like fiscal stimulus or interest rate cuts to try to fight recessions is pointless. The macroeconomist I spoke to suggested that this feature of the models appealed to small-government libertarians, who — at least at that time — had a decent amount of clout in the economics field.
If politics really explains a large portion of the popularity of RBC models, that’s not a good thing at all. In recent years, it has become fashionable in some circles to claim that because scientists are inevitably biased, attempts to be objective are doomed and therefore pointless. But as I argued in a post back in 2021, this is utterly wrongheaded.
Yes, researchers will always have their biases, but they should always work hard to suppress those biases and be as objective as they can. If they let those biases run free, science becomes less capable of discovering facts about the world — facts that ultimately give humanity greater control over our lives.
This past week, I noticed a couple of things that only reinforce my conclusion that politically driven science tends to rapidly degenerate into unusable pseudoscience. Unlike RBC theory, these examples involved leftist politics. The first was a flowchart released by Dr. Rupa Marya, a professor of medicine at the prestigious UCSF medical school.
The UCSF inflammation flowchart
Here was the flowchart that Dr. Marya released, tweeting it along with the hashtags “#Decolonization” and #FreePalestine”:
Now, one reason this chart represents pseudoscience is that the claim it’s making is not clear at all. What do the blue arrows on this chart represent? Does the arrow pointing from “white supremacy” to “genocide” mean that all or most genocides are due to white supremacy? Does it mean that white supremacy usually leads to genocide? Or does it mean that white supremacy tends to increase the risk of genocide?
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