The Unscientific Hypocrisy of Paul Krugman

The Unscientific Hypocrisy of Paul Krugman
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If you've read one Paul Krugman column, you've read them all. They generally take this syllogistic form: (1) Can you believe a Republican said this? (2) All economists agree with me that Republicans are wrong. (3) Therefore, Republicans are stupid. He's now applied this pristine logic to Republican policy on science, noting in a recent column that Democratic science policy is based on facts, while Republicans suppress facts. 

Of course, that belief is partisan nonsense, as I detail in my new book Science Left Behind. And furthermore, it would be deeply ironic if it turned out that, in writing this op-ed, Krugman also was guilty of suppressing facts.

Exhibit A in Krugman's prosecution was what he referred to as the "ignorance caucus." He claims that Republicans are ignorant because they don't want the National Science Foundation (NSF) funding social science. Krugman fails to mention that a lot of scientists actually agree with Republicans on this point, as does Washington Post columnist Charles Lane, who correctly wrote that "society is not a laboratory." Additionally, besides being notoriously ideological, most social sciences do not rigorously follow the scientific method. That should disqualify them from receiving money from the NSF, which was originally designed for the purpose of funding science, technology and engineering — not psychology, sociology and economics. The social sciences are worthy of funding, but they can and should look elsewhere for cash.

Exhibit B in Krugman's diatribe was the Republicans' alleged opposition to "comparative effectiveness research" (CER), the aim of which is to determine which medical treatments work best. Who else opposes CER? Tom Harkin, the powerful, progressive Democratic senator from Iowa. He was the primary political force behind creating the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), which has wasted billions of dollars proving what scientists already knew, namely, that pseudoscience like shark cartilage tablets and magnetotherapy doesn't actually work.

And Harkin wasn't too happy about that, either. He complained that the NCCAM spent "most of its focus... on disproving things rather than seeking out and approving," as if the goal of medical science is to vindicate his unconventional medical beliefs. When smacked in the face by scientific reality, Harkin attacked the scientists. 

Exhibit C was Republican suppression of a tax report by the Congressional Research Service. But Krugman conveniently left out how the Obama administration purposefully withheld information from scientists during the BP oil spill and deliberately modified documents to make it appear as if scientists agreed with their decision to place a moratorium on offshore drilling. And Krugman also neglected to mention how the Obama administration actively interfered with the FDA's approval of genetically modified salmon. 

In a 2011 column, Krugman fretted "that one of these years the world's greatest nation will find itself ruled by a party that is aggressively anti-science, indeed anti-knowledge." I hate to inform him that has already happened. Both political parties willingly throw science under the bus when it is politically expedient.

Besides, it is strange that Krugman finds it necessary to wave the "pro-science" banner. The scientific enterprise is undermined when it is "defended" by political partisans. And bizarrely, the loudest self-appointed "champions" of science are almost never scientists themselves, but instead progressive journalists and English majors who have never set foot inside a laboratory.

Obviously, Krugman has an ideological axe to grind. That's perfectly fine. But, what's not fine is pretending to write an article that supposedly defends science by blatantly omitting all the data that contradicts his viewpoint.

That's unscientific. And even though it might be considered acceptable scholarship for a Nobel Prize-winning economist, it's not acceptable among actual scientists.

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