This op-ed by Virginia Heffernan is about g=politics, but it reminded me of the politics of science.
Heffernan starts with the background:
This last year has been a crash course in startlingly brutal abuses of power. For decades, it seems, a caste of self-styled overmen has felt liberated to commit misdeeds with impunity: ethical, sexual, financial and otherwise.
There’s hardly room to name them all here, though of course icons of power-madness such as Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein are household names. In plain sight, even more or less regular schmos — including EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, disgraced carnival barker Bill O’Reilly and former New York Atty. Gen. Eric Schneiderman — seem to have fancied themselves exempt from the laws that bind the rest of us.
These guys are not exactly men of Nobel-level accomplishment or royal blood. Like the rest of us, they live in a democracy, under rule of law. Still, they like to preen. . . .
On Friday, a legal document surfaced that suggested Donald Trump and Michael Cohen, his erstwhile personal lawyer, might have known about Schneiderman’s propensity for sexual violence as early as 2013, when Trump tweeted menacingly about Schneiderman’s being a crook . . . Cohen’s office also saw big sums from blue-chip companies not known for “Sopranos”-style nonsense, specifically, Novartis and AT&T. . . .
Also this week, the Observer alleged that Trump confederates hired the same gang of former Israeli intelligence officers to frame and intimidate proponents of the Iran deal that Harvey Weinstein once viciously sicced on his victims.
Then, after this overview of the offenders, she discusses their enablers:
Law professor Alan Dershowitz’s new book claims that political differences have lately been criminalized in the United States. He has it wrong. Instead, the orderly enforcement of the law has, ludicrously, been framed as political.
As with politics, so with science: Most people, I think, are bothered by these offenses, and are even more bothered by idea that they have been common practice. And some of us are so bothered that we make a fuss about it. But there are others—Alan Dershowitz types—who are more bothered by those who make the offense public, who have loyalty not to government but to the political establishment. Or, in the science context, have loyalty not to science but to the scientific establishment.
In politics, we say that the consent of the governed is essential to good governance, thus there is an argument that, at least in the short term, it’s better to hush up crimes rather than to let them be known. Similarly, in science, there are those who prefer happy talk and denial, perhaps because they feel that the institution of science is under threat. As James Heathers puts it, these people hype bad science and attack its critics because criticism is bad for business.
Who knows? Maybe Dershowitz and the defenders of junk science are right! Maybe a corrupt establishment is better than the uncertainty of the new.
They might be right, but I wish they’d be honest about what they’re doing.
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