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Following the Science

In 2008, Sens. Obama and Clinton fell over each other with promises to “follow the science.” They were speaking particularly in criticism of President Bush’s ban on stem-cell research and Republican resistance to the widespread findings regarding anthropogenic climate change. By “following the science,” they promised, policy would no longer be the prisoner of “political” considerations—it would be decided based upon scientific findings.

Supporters of candidates Obama and Clinton knew exactly what was implied by that phrase—“following the science”—thus short-circuiting any real discussion of what, precisely, that phrase meant, and whether there was in fact any such thing as “following the science.” Obama and Clinton’s supporters knew exactly what policy prescriptions were implied in that phrase, and never stopped to ask questions such as, “should moral and ethical considerations guide decisions in the application of scientific research?” or, “should scientific research itself be subject to ethical and moral limitations?” or, “isn’t there a reason that public policy decisions are made by elected leaders who represent a variety of constituencies, and not scientists who may have a blinkered view of what their findings entail?” Does the fact that some sick people could benefit from kidney transplants justify opening a market in kidney purchases? What of signing up poor people to engage in risky medical research for significant compensation? What of using clones for organ harvesting? How does one, in such instances, “follow the science”?

Or, consider the most recent findings that add to a bevy of research conclusions regarding oral contraception—“the Pill.” Research shows decisively that oral contraception is linked to increased risks for various forms of cancer, particularly breast cancer, which is the second leading form of cancer overall (following prostate cancer), and is estimated to be responsible for 40,000 deaths this year alone, or about 7 percent of all deaths resulting from cancer in the United States. “The Pill” is listed [1] by the CDC and the WHO (through its International Agency for Research on Cancer) as a Group 1 carcinogen. An article [2] this summer in The Atlantic—hardly a publication of the conservative religious right—highlighted a recent study that confirmed again what many previous studies have shown—a link between the estrogen that is ingested in the Pill, and an increased incidence of breast cancer, among other cancers.

Yet, unsurprisingly, there was no cry from President Obama or Secretary Clinton to “follow the science!” Indeed, Olga Khazan, the author of the Atlantic article, acknowledged that the usefulness of the Pill to many people (women and men alike, presumably), complicated what exact conclusions are to be drawn from the science.

As with most things OB-GYN related, that’s frustratingly confusing. The pill is essential; not getting cancer is too. How do you choose what’s more important—a lifetime of easy reproductive autonomy, or ratcheting down your risk of a deadly disease by marginal amounts?

Based on “what the science says,” the answer is presumably easy: stop taking the Pill. But based on what people actually want —indicated in the admission that the “science” needs to be considered alongside the benefits of a “lifetime of easy reproductive autonomy”—then we should not be surprised that it’s not so easy to “follow the science.”

But notice how easily these very arguments can, and doubtless someday will, be marshaled on behalf of maintaining a steady diet of carbon from the burning of fossil fuels. The Right has spent considerable effort on the activity of simply denying the validity of climate change, or even where they admit it, resort to suggesting that it’s something other than a product of human consumption of petroleum. Their main response to accumulated scientific evidence is to deny its validity, rather than to confront its implications.

But imagine if we just slightly altered a few of the phrases from the Atlantic article on the link between contraception and cancer. One can well imagine conservatives eventually saying, for instance, “As with most things energy related, that’s frustratingly confusing. Fossil fuels are essential; not making the globe warmer is too. How do you choose what’s more important—a lifetime of easy energy-assisted autonomy, or ratcheting down your risk of climate change by marginal amounts?” Or, in the slightly-altered words of an OB-GYN expert cited in the article, “For the vast majority, the usefulness of fossil fuels outweighs the risk by a huge margin.”

Here is my prediction: we are as likely to cut back on fossil fuels in order to stop climate change as women are to cut back on their consumption of oral contraceptives to avoid certain cancers and to cease the pollution of the environment [3]. This is because when “following the science” runs squarely against “a lifetime of easy autonomy” of any form, “what the science says” will lose.

This is not simply coincidence: when we moderns speak of science, we are speaking of a specific kind of activity aimed at a specific end. We can contrast our understanding to that which preceded modern science.  Among ancient thinkers, Aristotle (for instance) engaged in “science” (though many would accuse of him of being at times a poor scientist), a form of inquiry aimed at understanding phenomena—whether “natural” or human. For a long time, this form of inquiry was understood to be an extension of philosophy, or the effort to understand phenomena, and was often called “natural philosophy.”  Thus, his “political science” was the effort to understand human nature, just as his natural science was an effort to understand plants or animals or the movement of the stars. To the extent that there was a practical implication of these studies, it was generally to understand how humans could conform to that natural order—including our own nature.

The moderns altered the meaning of the word science, particularly through the work of Francis Bacon. Bacon fiercely criticized the Aristotelian and scholastic understanding of science, instead arguing that science should not only seek to “understand” nature, but when possible, to command, alter, and master it. “Let the human race recover that right over nature which belongs to it by divine bequest,” he wrote in Novum Organum, urging that science be undertaken for the sake “of works.”  The hope, as he expressed in his utopian fantasy The New Atlantis, was to enlarge the “bounds of Human Empire.” America’s greatest Baconian—and architect of Progressivism and still-beloved philosopher of the American left—John Dewey, invoked Bacon in his recapitulation of the task of modern science:

Scientific principles and laws do not lie on the surface of nature. They are hidden, and must be wrested from nature by an active and elaborate technique of inquiry. [The modern scientist] must force the apparent facts of nature into forms different to those in which they familiarly present themselves; and thus make them tell the truth about themselves, as torture may compel an unwilling witness to reveal what he has been concealing.

(Reconstruction in Philosophy)

Both the employment of fossil fuels to power industrial and mobile modernity, and the discovery and widespread use of The Pill are legacies of this project of modern science—to extend human mastery over nature, even, when necessary, to “torture” nature. The right and the left might engage in many battles, but they agree in essence over the nature of the project of modern science; their disagreement about that project mainly lies in what constitutes the “nature” that should be conquered.

For the right (following early-modern lead of Bacon, his student Hobbes, and Locke), the conquest of nature should be aimed at “external” nature, the natural world, for the benefit of humankind. There is a residual respect for the creatureliness of humans, conceived within a frame in which humanity is radically separate from nature “out there” (an idea that Aristotle could not have conceived).

For the left (influenced by Rousseau), only through the overcoming of human “nature” (appearing always in just such quotes) can human liberation and true autonomy be achieved. The Pill is just one way that human nature is to be mastered; so, too, the ability to safely and surgically extract a fetus; to engage in embryonic stem-cell research; to redefine marriage without regard to considerations of reproduction; and, for a growing number, the hope of immortality through the project of “transhumanism.” However, the natural world is regarded as inviolable, a space that should bear no imprint of human exploitation. Like the right, the left reflects the modern divide between nature “out there” and human nature, but now it favors “the environment” over human “nature.”

In both cases, the aim is what Bacon described as “the relief of the human estate,” which has become tantamount to the securing of the greatest expansion of human autonomy. While the left and right appear to fight titanic battles over issues such as the size of the national deficit, both engage in a deeper fundamental shared project of expanding the scope of human autonomy with the assistance of applied science, or “technology.”

And if one finally considers the record, it is the advance of this shared commitment that has proven to be the heart of success of both the right and the left. The right has generally “won” in the economic realm, expanding trade and globalization, while generally losing in the realm of “social issues.” The left has generally won (and continues to gain ground) on these same “social issues,” without decreasing a jot [4] the production and consumption of fossil fuels around the world. There is a reason why a growing number of millenials exhibit a consistent ethic of libertarianism, describing themselves in growing numbers as “socially liberal and economically conservative.” They are the progeny of the marriage (feigned as a battle) between the modern left and the right, Baconians all.

We do “follow the science”—the path laid down by the modern scientific project to master nature—down the path to ever-increasing human autonomy, which in fact requires the architecture of massive government for its achievement. And down this path lies finally the mastery of ourselves, which is also our ultimately complete subjugation. Living autonomously through technology on a ravaged planet might not have been Bacon’s hope, but it is our destiny if we continue to “follow the science.”

Patrick J. Deneen is David A. Potenziani Memorial Associate Professor of Constitutional Studies at the University of Notre Dame.

Follow @PatrickDeneen [5]

50 Comments (Open | Close)

50 Comments To "Following the Science"

#1 Comment By balconesfault On September 25, 2014 @ 1:19 am

A woman’s decision to take the pill or not is a personal risk. Perhaps she may condemn her loved ones to witnessing the premature death of a mother, a daughter, a wife, a sibling … but the tragedy won’t flow down to her great grandchildren.

A society’s decision to maintain (or increase … Shale Oil!!!) carbon emission levels does the inverse – it enhances our current lifestyle, passing on the likely tragedy to be endured by our great grandchildren.

The author is right that science is not a decision unto itself. Science informs. One follows the science to inform oneself of the consequences of your decisions.

n one case, it informs the woman that she is balancing convenience with an increased risk of cancer for herself … in another case it informs us that we are balancing convenience with a significantly increased risk of ecological disasters to be suffered by future generations.

It seems to me that a moralist would make a bit more out of that difference.

#2 Comment By atimoshenko On September 25, 2014 @ 2:04 am

“Following the science” means acknowledging and integrating the fullest possible range of scientific facts into the decision-making process. How to value the scientifically established advantages and disadvantages of a particular situation or option is a matter of ethics, not science.

Not following the science, on the other hand, is denying that certain scientifically established advantages or disadvantages exist, usually because accepting them would then present a choice between the unethical and the unpleasant.

Continuing to support the Pill in the face of reports of heightened cancer risks does not contradict “following the science” so long as those reports are not denied. Refusing to act on the emission of greenhouse gasses would also be “following the science” provided the long-term impact of those emissions is accepted and integrated into the analysis of tradeoffs. Following the science only stops when people choose to pretend that the world is not as it really is or that certain activities do not have the tradeoffs they really do.

Following the science is about HOW we arrive at our choices, not about WHAT we value most.

#3 Comment By Reflectionephemeral On September 25, 2014 @ 9:21 am

Dineen writes: Obama and Clinton’s supporters knew exactly what policy prescriptions were implied in that phrase, and never stopped to ask questions such as, “should moral and ethical considerations guide decisions in the application of scientific research?” or, “should scientific research itself be subject to ethical and moral limitations?”

This ignores the context. The public debate has focused on empirical questions– is climate change happening, and are humans responsible. Everyone who studies this professionally says that the answers are “yes” and “yes”; Republican officeholders have tended in recent years to “who knows” and “I’m not a scientist, man.” That is the state of public debate, in which the politicians were speaking.

Ethical and moral limitations on scientific research are an interesting question generally– and the larger discussion here on autonomy or consumption as our lodestar is quite engaging– but organ harvesting is really neither here nor there to “following the science on climate change.”

#4 Comment By philadelphialawyer On September 25, 2014 @ 10:59 am

Besides the false equivalence, posited above by other posters, notice the choice of targets. Lots of things are said to cause cancer, so why zoom in on oral contraceptives? “Autonomy,” it seems to me, is only the bad guy in conservative writing when it pertains to women, to homosexuals, and so on. The autonomy of rich folks to pollute the environment, in all its forms, not just global warming, is seen as just the way things are. Same with the autonomy of corporations to do all the various nasty things they do to customers, employees, and so on. Indeed, the global warming aspect is only raised here as a strawman, as something to pair with “the Pill,” even though it is not at all similar.

In general, the right builds it house on autonomy…on technological solutions, on the free market, on intellectual property rights, on alleged devotion to individual freedoms, on scoffing, as in the case of global warming, at concerns about “the commons,” from the exact meaning of that term, ie public land, public space, to the metaphorical, as in clean air and water. And about communitarianism is general.

But then it turns on a dime and, somehow, is all about how God intended things (cue religio/spiritual noise machine) when it comes to individual choice about being a parent, or not, about what to do with one’s private parts, about marriage, and about unconventional lifestyle choices in general. Then, and only then, does the right think that, maybe, “autonomy” is a bad thing.

And, of course, no one actually says that either ditching the Pill or cutting back on greenhouse emissions will be “easy.” Everyone (well everyone but Big Oil and its paid shills) understands that the issue in both cases is not “following the science,” but what to do about the scientific findings. There does not happen to be obvious and “easy” substitutes for fossil fuels or oral contraception.

But, tellingly, because of the profit motive, if nothing else, in the case of contraceptives, scientists will probably be hard at work trying to find a substitute, thereby acknowledging the science, whereas with global warming, because of a perverted profit motive, we actually do have scientists hard at work trying to find ways to “deny the science.” Women who want contraceptives are not in a position to fund, even if they wanted to, research attempting to disprove the cancer findings. And, in reality, they don’t want to, and neither does the left/lib/Dem side of politics that support contraception (as opposed to the selectively anti autonomy, when it comes to women, gays, etc, boys on the right). But Big Oil sure does have the money and the inclination to fund fake research with regard to global warming.

#5 Comment By Aaron Paolozzi On September 25, 2014 @ 11:19 am

balconesfault:

I agree that the ecological disasters are of great import but I disagree that the woman’s choice there will have no impact on her great grand children, and thus the future as well.

I have been blessed with the advice and council of great grand parents, giving perspectives I could never have had the pleasure of listening to without them being around. The stories they told, and the things they remembered are priceless to me. Without that woman she robs her future family of many opportunities for increased knowledge and her influence in their lives while growing.

Her loss will be felt through generations, and how she could die will mar their consciences forever. It is a butterfly effect throughout a family and all who that family comes in contact with. I would not dismiss the effects of that loss so lightly.

#6 Comment By EliteCommInc. On September 25, 2014 @ 11:36 am

Well, I think you get a general bock from me on the science of climate change as to global warming.

The evidence when taken in all of its variaous parameters, leaves one scratching their head. The data is conflicting, there is grand narrative or evidence of the interconnectedness of climate changes one to another and yet there must be.

Climates do not live in the vaccuum as many would like us think. Unless one is prepared to toss cause and effect, then the model is far from accurate. And the environment is far more complex than current models areable to measure and consequently predict.

Comparing that to the pill, for which the data sets are far more static is just to grand an attempt. False comparison, in my view.

#7 Comment By Johann On September 25, 2014 @ 11:46 am

There is a market solution to the organ transplant supply problem. Let people sell their organs to organ supply businesses, but the organs would not be available until after the seller dies. The seller would get the money immediately, but the deal would be that the organ supply business does not get their organs until they die. So of course they would be paid at a great discount to what a healthy organ would be worth harvested after their death. By the time the seller dies, many, most, or all of their organs will not be suitable for transplant. But since the organ supply company would deal in high volume, they would make a profit, and there would probably never be a shortage of organs for transplant, if this were to be made legal. This is a case where so-called moral considerations result in needless deaths due to a shortage of organs.

#8 Comment By balconesfault On September 25, 2014 @ 12:28 pm

@Aaron Paolozzi I have been blessed with the advice and council of great grand parents

I would imagine that this puts you in a very small minority of the population, most of whom will never feel the touch of their great grandparents, much less grow old enough to receive actual advice and council from them.

But if it makes you feel any better – extend the statement one more generation, to the great great grandchildren … who will still be suffering the effects of climate change. Satisfied?

Her loss will be felt through generations, and how she could die will mar their consciences forever

Ummm … how? I certainly wasn’t marred by my mother’s father dying of a stroke long before I was born, due in large part to the horrible Eastern European diet he consumed. This claim seems non-sensical beyond credulity.

#9 Comment By Ben H On September 25, 2014 @ 12:57 pm

No, ‘follow the science’ is an appeal to authority. Its a simple as that. We are supposed to let the authority do our thinking for us on the matter in question.

Even, as in the case of global warming, when the scientific authorities are nakedly corrupt and dishonest and actively work in a political way to create the appearance of unanimity and certainty.

#10 Comment By EliteCommInc. On September 25, 2014 @ 1:05 pm

“Women who want contraceptives are not in a position to fund, even if they wanted to, research attempting to disprove the cancer findings. And, in reality, they don’t want to, and neither does the left/lib/Dem side of politics that support contraception (as opposed to the selectively anti autonomy, when it comes to women, gays, etc, boys on the right). But Big Oil sure does have the money and the inclination to fund fake research with regard to global warming.”

You know this is just another peculiar comparison. Of course oil has the money. It’s easy to use. It’s abundant. More people want oil than want to prevent themselves from having children. The west with it’s obsession for ‘free love’ for free, just doesn’t hae tghe market that oil does.

When I was a kid the best prevention method was the cheapets and remains so. Self control, abstinence, celibacy remain the most effective means of preventing unwanted children.

#11 Comment By Francis On September 25, 2014 @ 1:13 pm

This article is another example of data parsing and misinformation in an attempt to make a political point.

First, some actual statements in the Atlantic Article:

“A new study finds that pills with a high level of estrogen increase breast-cancer risk significantly. But that still might not mean you should change your prescription.

“The results are consistent with past studies that have found that breast cancer risk increases slightly with some oral contraceptive pills, though other studies have not found such a link.”

“Overall, women who recently took high-estrogen-dose pills were 2.7 times more likely to have breast cancer, while those who took moderate-dosed pills were about 1.6 times more likely. There was no increased risk for the low-dose pills.

“The caveats to this study are in some ways just as important as the findings:

•The high-dose pills are incredibly uncommon.

The cancer risk returned to normal for women who stopped using birth-control pills. The elevated risk was only found for women who had taken the pill within a year.”

The study concluded the following:

Our results suggest that recent use of contemporary oral contraceptives is associated with an increased breast cancer risk, which may vary by formulation. If confirmed, consideration of the breast cancer risk associated with different oral contraceptive types could impact discussions weighing recognized health benefits and potential risks.”

Regarding the WHO listing oral contraceptives as a Group 1 Carcinogen:

“ORAL CONTRACEPTIVES INCREASE RISK OF SOME CANCERS AND DECREASE RISK OF OTHERS

Use of OC’s increases risk of breast, cervix and liver cancer…
There is a small increase in the risk of breast cancer in current and recent users of oral contraceptives. However, ten years after cessation of use, the risk appears to be similar to that in never-users. The risk of cervical cancer increases with duration of use of combined oral contraceptives. The risk of hepatocellular carcinoma is increased in long-term users of combined oral contraceptives in populations with low prevalences of hepatitis B infection and chronic liver disease – two major causes of human liver cancer.

… but decreases risk of endometrial and ovarian cancer
In contrast, the risks of endometrial and ovarian cancer are consistently decreased in women who used combined oral contraceptives. The reduction is generally greater with longer duration of use, and some reduction persists at least 15 years after cessation of use.

More work needed to assess risks and benefits
Because use of combined estrogen-progestogen contraceptives increases some cancer risks and decreases risk of some other forms of cancer , it is possible that the overall net public health outcome may be beneficial, but a rigorous analysis is required to demonstrate this. This should be done on a country-by-country basis and also consider the effects on non-malignant diseases.”

This finding, suspected for years, is hardly something to warrant a President’s attention. It is simply a risk factor that needs to be weighed against benefits in a medical setting.

Given that two large studies found a significant reduction in adjusted relative risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer mortality in ever-users of OCs compared to never-users, the net cancer risk may actually decrease, as ovarian cancer is not 3 times more common than breast cancer.

Finally:

Tobacco smoke is a Group 1 carcinogen with much, much higher cancer risk and cost to society.

Alcohol is a Group 1 carcinogen with much higher cancer risk and cost to society.

Air Pollution is a Group 1 carcinogen.

#12 Comment By Henri James On September 25, 2014 @ 1:17 pm

From cancer.gov

“The results of population studies to examine associations between oral contraceptive use and cancer risk have not always been consistent. Overall, however, the risks of endometrial and ovarian cancer appear to be reduced with the use of oral contraceptives, whereas the risks of breast, cervical, and liver cancer appear to be increased (1). A summary of research results for each type of cancer is given below.”

Seems like these oral hormones are at best, a mixed bag with limited power to cause cancer in any direction.

Moreover, RE Aaron Paolozzi, by that logic, anything the least bit unhealthy is an immoral action, since it would statistically reduce the time you have to interact with your grandchildren.
‘Risk’ isn’t always easy to assess, but the Pill isn’t exactly a death sentence. It’s a statistical bump to a handful to cancers (and a protectorate from others). Grandparents will still die, pill or no pill. And realistically, on average, how much would use of the pill reduce human life span among users? I would be very surprised if it came out to be even an entire year of life lost.
Consider that there are a million and one other behaviors that are probably riskier. Commuting daily, periodic sky diving, spending long periods in direct sunlight. None of these are things we would consider to be inordinately inconsiderate of the needs of grandchildren.
If the Pill was Russian roulette, this would be a relevant consideration, but it’s more like…Russian roulette with like a million chambers instead of 6. I am not good with metaphors.

#13 Comment By Patrick On September 25, 2014 @ 1:30 pm

I take it the author is not a scientist and is unfamiliar with its methods and workings. The entire section on the bill spoke of exaggerated consequences of use without comparing those to the medical risks of pregnancy.

#14 Comment By IntelliWriter On September 25, 2014 @ 1:46 pm

I guess we could follow what 90+% of scientists say about humans causing climate change, or we could just wait to be enveloped by the sea. Either way: It’s a choice.

#15 Comment By Brian On September 25, 2014 @ 1:56 pm

I usually find Patrick’s pieces quite thought-provoking, and this one was no different. But I would like to echo and expand on the concerns some previous commenters have made on the comparison between contraceptives and climate change. While Aaron Paolozzi does make the important point that an individual life affects numerous other lives, it nonetheless remains true that society differentiates very clearly between exposing oneself to risk and exposing other people without their own willingness. Smoking is a prime example. After the initial surgeon general’s report on smoking in 1964, there was a strong push against smoking, yet many were able to justify it to themselves based on it being a choice one could make, being reasonably informed of the consequences and not harming others. Real societal disapproval began to increase after further research began to show that second-hand smoke is also a health risk — that smokers are also harming others by their decision to smoke. I think that it is important for people to be aware of the risks of contraception — but unless further information changes the equation, contraception is probably going to remain seen as a risk only to its users.

Further, slightly increasing one’s risk of cancer does not exactly translate to ratcheting down your risk of climate change by marginal amounts. Cancer is a binary — you have it, or you don’t, and if you do, chances are it will be pretty taxing if not devastating. But whether your chances of getting it are 1% or 2%, you still probably aren’t going to get it, and that’s how people probably will understand it. Climate change, on the other hand, is basically guaranteed (though with some of the details yet unknown) based on outputs of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Patrick is right that people may try to frame climate change the same way as Khazan frames contraception. But that doesn’t mean that the framing is equally accurate, and society just might realize that.

#16 Comment By grumpy realist On September 25, 2014 @ 2:39 pm

By Aaron Paolozzi’s argument, the most moral thing to do would be as many children as possible and as young as possible, in so much as you get MORE prior generations hanging around to give the young-uns advice.

So I guess he’ll be pushing for more teenage mothers, right?

#17 Comment By philadelphialawyer On September 25, 2014 @ 3:06 pm

The point, ECInc, is that they are NOT comparable. So, you score no points against me merely be repeating that. Yes, oil use is profitable. Of course, pharmaceuticals are profitable too. But my attack on the comparison was that women, and their liberal supporters (NOT big pharma), are not to funding fake research to disprove the cancer/”the Pill” connection what Big Oil, and its right wing supporters, is to funding fake climate research. Ie the former can’t do it and don’t want to anyway, while the latter are doing it. So, to compare the responses of the two to what “science” has shown is bogus. Get it?

“When I was a kid the best prevention method was the cheapest and remains so. Self control, abstinence, celibacy remain the most effective means of preventing unwanted children.”

That’s nice. When I was a kid, a Hershey bar was bigger than it is now. And Roy White was the best player on the Yankees. So what?

Your already well known views about abstinence and contraception are completely irrelevant to this discussion.

#18 Comment By balconesfault On September 25, 2014 @ 3:07 pm

@Francis … thank you for that detailed presentation of the data re: the pill and cancers. It does seem to be editorial malpractice on the part of the author to have parsed the evidence the way he did …

but again, as noted by myself and others above, his entire premise seems flawed in a misunderstand of what “follow the science” actually means, and Phillylawyer is spot on in his dissecting of the way some autonomy is championed by the right, which then tries to turn around and decry other forms of autonomy because they rub up against conservative moral templates for how humans should be obligated to behave in their personal lives.

I can only conclude that this is what happens when you begin with a conclusion based on theology, and then try to construct an argument to support your conclusion from ways of thinking that are skew to a theological worldview. The result is going to be kludgy, and probably not worth unveiling to the public.

#19 Comment By Stephen R Gould On September 25, 2014 @ 3:10 pm

I think that Deneen’s article inadvertently proves its own point in its misrepresentation of the science. He talks about “the Pill” when it’s clear that only one formulation gives rise to genuine concern. If he were not victim of his own prejudices, he would have observed simply that evidence suggests that women should switch from high-oestrogen to low-oestrogen formulations.

Perhaps, too, Deneen is unaware that there are actual relative risks in science.

#20 Comment By Adam Kolasinski On September 25, 2014 @ 3:53 pm

Science, properly understood, does not provide any normative conclusions. All science can do is provide tentative conclusions about the nature of the physical universe. That’s it. Some sort of philosophical reasoning, apart from the scientific method, is necessary to turn any such conclusions about physical reality into normative conclusions.

Hence anyone claiming that he is “just following science” to draw an ethical conclusion is doing no such thing. He must, by definition by making some non-scientific judgement using moral philosophy, but pretending not to.

#21 Comment By David J Staszak On September 25, 2014 @ 4:00 pm

I read the American Conservative to get a “reality based” conservative opinion. But all too often I come across articles like this. Articles that use a false comparison and cherry pick the data (all of which is amply outlined by other commentators). PLEASE hold your writers and/or editors to a higher standard. Fox News I do not want, but I do want to hear valid conservative argument.

#22 Comment By Kurt Gayel On September 25, 2014 @ 5:17 pm

Please file this under “Following the Science [and the Technology]” to social disaster:

The estrogen in some birth control pills increases the risk of some forms of cancer, but the increased risk of cancer is not enough to make young women forego the pill and require that their dates “put a sock on it.” After all, it’s not as if most young women see themselves as having any real option about sex: Not only are young women expected to have sex early and often — most young women who don’t have sex don’t have dates – but for a variety of reasons few young women will risk requiring their dates to use a condom (STDs be damned).

This deeply troubling state of affairs began to arise “in the late 1960s and very early 1970s (well before Roe v. Wade in January 1973) many major states, including New York and California, liberalized their abortion laws. At about the same time it became easier for unmarried people to obtain contraceptives. In July 1970 the Massachusetts law prohibiting the distribution of contraceptives to unmarried people was declared unconstitutional…This rather sudden increase in the availability of both abortion and contraception — we call it a reproductive technology shock — is deeply implicated in the increase in out-of-wedlock births. Although many observers expected liberalized abortion and contraception to lead to fewer out-of-wedlock births, in fact the opposite happened because of the erosion in the custom of ‘shotgun marriages’.”

It’s my sincere pleasure to inform you that no less than the current Chair of the Federal Reserve, Janet L. Yellen, and her husband George A Akerlof authored those insightful words in Policy Brief #5 prepared for the Fall 1996 issue of the “Brookings Review” and adapted from “An Analysis of Out-of-Wedlock Childbearing in the United States,” which appeared in the May 1996 issue of the “Quarterly Journal of Economics”:

[6]

In just 2,500 words Yellen and Akerlof demonstrate that the science and technology of medical abortion and chemical contraception ended the custom of “shotgun weddings” and sent the rate of out-of-wedlock births through the roof.

#23 Comment By Kari Q On September 25, 2014 @ 8:55 pm

Francis said what I was thinking, only much better. To say that The Pill causes cancer is overstating the studies. Oral contraceptives with high doses of estrogen are associated with an increased risk of cancer, which is why doctors rarely prescribe them, especially for women in their 40s. Oral contraceptives with lower doses of estrogen do not appear to carry the same risk.

This misrepresentation of the science in your first claim leads me to doubt whether you are any more interested in following the science than you claim liberals are.

#24 Comment By Glaivester On September 25, 2014 @ 10:43 pm

“The Pill” is listed by the CDC and the WHO (through its International Agency for Research on Cancer) as a Group 1 carcinogen.

That is useless information without a little explanation of what “Group 1” means. Obviously, we are supposed to infer that this means “worst of the worst,” while the [7].

#25 Comment By philadelphialawyer On September 26, 2014 @ 12:14 am

And so, now that the facts have been presented, it turns out that the analogy was even more fake than it appeared. There is no equivalence at all between fossils fuels/global warning and “the Pill”/cancer. Not only is there the obvious difference between screwing up the whole world, for decades, versus taking on a personal risk for countervailing reasons in your own life. But the fact, apparently, is that the personal risk is pretty much not that big a deal.

This shows that the whole thing was just a set up all along. Something was needed to bash liberals about “autonomy,” and thus a straw was clutched at.

Liberals do value autonomy, but unlike conservatives and libertarians, they draw the morally correct distinctions between autonomy as a matter of personal choice in one’s own life (as in consensual sex, marriage, childbearing, living arrangements, etc) and autonomy as an excuse to ignore the effects of economic and social conditions and practices on the common environment and the common good generally.

Conservatives deplore autonomy in the very areas where it makes the most moral sense, ie those personal choices, while celebrating the autonomy of already wealthy economic actors to use up our shared resources and spoil our shared air, water and land.

And we even see, as in Aaron Paolozzi’s claims, attempts to bootstrap harm to others commensurate with the harm accruing from economic exploitation from those personal choices.

Libertarians too pretend that all such choices are the same. Only they pretend that there are no harms from the economic exploitation “autonomy.”

“Follow the Science” indeed!

#26 Comment By grumpy realist On September 26, 2014 @ 3:42 pm

But being on birth control pills seems to help protect against ovarian cancer, so you can’t simply say “birth control pills increase one’s risk of cancer.”

Also, don’t confuse low-dose pills (which is the standard now) with high-dose pills (which is what doctors used to use). BIG difference.

#27 Comment By Russell Seitz On September 26, 2014 @ 6:05 pm

While metaphysicians like Patrick Dineen seem to view materialism as an existential threat to civilization as they imagine it, in these post Hegelian times, most scientists are content to view it as merely too important to be left to the Marxists, because science is a long way from completing the project of physics, let alone the biology of intelligence.

Absent closure on both fronts, few would presume to embark on metaphysical speculation, lest , absent material foundations, metaphysics descend into authoritarian fantasy.

#28 Comment By Robert On September 26, 2014 @ 8:39 pm

I’m always amazed at how smart people can read a piece and completely miss (or ignore) what is a relatively simple and straight-forward thesis. Here’s Deneen’s: “The right and the left might engage in many battles, but they agree in essence over the nature of the project of modern science; their disagreement about that project mainly lies in what constitutes the ‘nature’ that should be conquered.”

How ’bout y’all have a go at that instead of taking useless swings at the trees of the forest.

#29 Comment By philadelphialawyer On September 27, 2014 @ 7:32 am

Robert:

“I’m always amazed at how smart people can read a piece and completely miss (or ignore) what is a relatively simple and straight-forward thesis. Here’s Deneen’s:
‘The right and the left might engage in many battles, but they agree in essence over the nature of the project of modern science; their disagreement about that project mainly lies in what constitutes the “nature” that should be conquered.’”

But that anodyne point is pretty much worthless. Because everyone, not just the right or left, agrees that the “project” of “science” (besides its preliminary project of understanding the world) should be helping us live better. Nobody, or almost nobody, thinks, for example, that medical technology (drugs, vaccines, procedures, diagnostics, etc) are “bad” things per se because they interfere with “nature” and allow us to master or “conquer” it.

“How ’bout y’all have a go at that instead of taking useless swings at the trees of the forest.”

How about no, because, in fact, that is not the point here. Here, the alleged forest, if it is what you say it is, is so general and so well accepted across the boards in society (with perhaps only some Jehovah’s Witnesses, some earthy-crunchy, hippie/new agey folks, and some conspiracy theorists disagreeing), that it was hardly worth bothering with.

Rather, the focus is on the trees, ie on the alleged similarity/congruence of oral contraception causing cancer and fossil fuels causing global warning. That’s the real, political point here. With both sides allegedly not following the science because it is inconvenient. Well, us smart people have pretty much exploded that analogy, both on the facts and in theory.

Of course everyone wants science to make our lives easier, better, more rewarding, more fulfilling, etc. But, in this case, at least, the left is not doing so at the expense of society, while the right is. And, indeed, a factual case has been made that the left is not doing so at the expense of individual harm either.

#30 Comment By Rob G On September 27, 2014 @ 10:42 am

Dead on, Robert. If you’ve got the thesis wrong attacking the details doesn’t get you very far. You can bomb Washington, Pa. and do a lot of damage, but you’re not likely going to destroy the nation — you’ve got the wrong Washington.

#31 Comment By Al Kawi On September 27, 2014 @ 11:07 am

Like Robert, I am amazed at the way the great majority of the above comments completely missed Deneen’s thesis.

#32 Comment By philadelphialawyer On September 27, 2014 @ 12:52 pm

“The right and the left might engage in many battles, but they agree in essence over the nature of the project of modern science; their disagreement about that project mainly lies in what constitutes the ‘nature’ that should be conquered.”

Nonsense. Everyone, left, right and center, wants to overcome nature both in the sense that it means providing fossil fuels that so that we can do better than “nature” intended by having lights in the dark, by going places faster than we can walk or ride a horse or sailboat, etc, AND in the sense that nobody wants “nature” to have its unchecked way with our bodies (we all want modern medicine).

The difference is that the Right wants to pretend that generating fossil fuels has no downside, while the Left is willing to admit that oral contraceptives can have a downside (although that downside was overstated in the article). Another difference is that their no equivalence between the two downsides, one is societal, the other is personal.

Its amazing to me how people can simply assert, in a conclusory manner, than an argument has gone unrefuted while it in fact lies in ruins.

#33 Comment By Johann On September 27, 2014 @ 8:44 pm

There is another science that many on the left deny. Its the science of genetically modified foods. No matter what the science says, its all bad to them. Many of them consider GMOs to be Frankenfoods. And ironically, elimination of GMOs would result in more environmental damage.

#34 Comment By Russell Seitz On September 27, 2014 @ 8:54 pm

Be careful whose projects you agree with in essence: Plato’s Cave is full of the bodies of folks who, having sat down in the dark when neoplatonism was in flower, are still awaiting the invisible hand .

#35 Comment By Patrick Devine On September 27, 2014 @ 11:53 pm

Interesting article rfom an employee of a Catholic University. I subscribed to the AC as a more sensible alternative to FOX News. I am not sure I was correct in doing so. This is the kind of misinformation I expect from FOX. I expected a higher standard from AC

#36 Comment By pittsburghnonlawyer On September 28, 2014 @ 2:35 pm

“Its amazing to me how people can simply assert, in a conclusory manner, than an argument has gone unrefuted while it in fact lies in ruins.”

Hogwash. P. Lawyer, why don’t you pretend you’re reading it for money, like a brief? Maybe you won’t miss so much.

Deneen’s point can be summed up in his phrase, “the modern left and the right, Baconians all.” Both sides approve of the “torture of nature to gain her secrets,” they just disagree on the details, and on what aspects of nature it’s okay to torture.
Deneen obviously thinks that this Baconian approach to science is problematic, whether practiced by left or right.

You are completely missing the point by arguing that widespread use of contraception is “better” than widespread use of fossil fuels. And btw, a mainstream libertarian-leaning conservative could easily come on here and make the exact opposite argument. And he’d be missing the point too.

#37 Comment By philadelphialawyer On September 28, 2014 @ 3:59 pm

pittsburghnonlawyer:

“Deneen’s point can be summed up in his phrase, ‘the modern left and the right, Baconians all.’”

But again, that proves nothing, or, rather, it proves too much. Because all modern people, whether they are right, left, center or apolitical, are Baconians. Modern society rests on modifying, taming, overcoming, whatever word you choose, “nature.”

“Both sides approve of the ‘torture of nature to gain her secrets,’ they just disagree on the details, and on what aspects of nature it’s okay to torture. Deneen obviously thinks that this Baconian approach to science is problematic, whether practiced by left or right.”

Is that what he thinks? He wants us to stop “torturing nature?” Really? So, does he reject the internal combustion engine. Aspirin? Computers? Electricity? What “secrets” of nature would he have us unlearn? Again, no modern person really thinks this way.

“You are completely missing the point by arguing that widespread use of contraception is ‘better’ than widespread use of fossil fuels…”

Not “better.” The former has no direct effect on society in general, while the latter does. The former smacks more of the personal, the latter more of the commons. But both are necessary to modern life. And, both can be acknowledged to have possible drawbacks without agreeing that both are somehow equal. Both involve “taming” nature, yes. But, again, who is for real against that?

The so called point here is so vague and so general as to be meaningless. You might as well say the left and right are equal because both sides like chocolate ice cream. It may be true, but only in the most trivial sense.

And, as an aside, you might lay off the personal attacks, as they don’t do much for your argument.

#38 Comment By tz On September 28, 2014 @ 6:41 pm

There is also the Abortion Breast Cancer link.

But “climate” is uncertain. It is not the same kind of double-blind or other studies on the pill. And we have had no warming for more than one decade, and the “settled undeniable science” circa 1975 was that we were going to have a new ice age.

There’s this site (and specific article) which demolishes the nonsense [8]

I seem to remember a few “cigarettes are healthy for you” ads, one with Ricky and Lucy.

Also, we were told butter will kill you, now it is healthy. We were told to stop eating fat (and replace them with grains or other carbs) although the unanimous opinion and science before 1950 was that carbs were evil (addictive) and fats were satisfying (so you would stop eating when full) and good. “Pure, White, and Deadly” was written about sugar and was dismissed. (see dietdoctor.com, or gary taubes, or lestig).

#39 Comment By pittsburghnonlawyer On September 29, 2014 @ 12:58 pm

~~all modern people, whether they are right, left, center or apolitical, are Baconians. Modern society rests on modifying, taming, overcoming, whatever word you choose, “nature.”~~

Not so. Is nature primarily a repository of material resources or is it a gift? Should it be respected and cared for or merely used? Or where do you draw the line between caring and uncaring use? Your answers to these sorts of questions determine whether one is a “Baconian” or not. Numerous people have written on these questions. Just because you happen to think everyone’s a Baconian doesn’t make it so.

“The former has no direct effect on society in general, while the latter does. The former smacks more of the personal, the latter more of the commons.”

Really? Even at the level of mere demographics that’s not the case. A low replacement birth rate is not a problem for a society?

“The so called point here is so vague and so general as to be meaningless.”

It’s not if you divest yourself of the misapprehension that everyone’s a Baconian.

#40 Comment By philadelphialawyer On September 29, 2014 @ 4:06 pm

pnl:

Please. Let me know where Deneen or anyone other than some sort of tree hugging new ager, or neo luddite, really rejects a scientific breakthrough because, somehow, it constitutes a “torture” of nature (rather than what? a gentle interrogation of it?)or an “uncaring” as opposed to “caring” use of nature, or because they consider nature a “gift” rather than a “repository.” Modern life, tout court, rests on completely modifying the natural environment, on harnessing the “secrets” of natural processes, and applying them to our bodies (through modern medicine), our means of production, our transit systems, our communications, our food and water supply, our housing, our heating and cooling, and all of our other systems. No one, if they are going to be even the least bit consistent, can claim to think otherwise, unless they are living in a cave, hunting for food with a simple bow, and wearing animal skins!

Certainly, folks can have different views about nature, and how it should be treated, but no modern person can really claim to reject exposing its “secrets” and using them to our advantage. Who really wants to stop using nature, and really wants society to restrict itself to merely “understanding” it, as Aristotle and the Scholastics allegedly did?

What we really have here is simply an attempt to smear the left with the same “deny the science” label that actually does apply to the right viz a viz climate change. But the left does not “deny” the science of cancer research, rather it rests its case for continued contraceptive use on countervailing benefits and individual choice. The right simply announces nonsense like “Climategate!” and expects that to carry the day. And, as has been shown, the analogy breaks down even more, because the link to cancer is tenuous, whereas the climate science is not. And, moreover, it is not as if liberals actually believe that the natural world should be “regarded as inviolable, a space that should bear no imprint of human exploitation,” but rather only that care should be taken so that we don’t spoil our own sleeping quarters (if you get my drift!). So that is another strawman. Much the same with the “transhuman project,” which is far more a pet of the libertarian right than it is of conventional liberalism.

The two, contraceptives and climate change, are not even remotely the same, and the attempt to equate them under some facny/schmancy attack on “Baconism” is totally unpersuasive.

Again, the right only seems to care about what “nature” wanted when it comes to where folks put their private parts, marriage, childbirth, and unconventional lifestyles generally. In all other phases, I don’t hear word one coming from conservatives about “autonomy” being a bad thing, or about undoing “Baconism” and returning to some sort of pre industrial, pre technological wonder world, in “harmony” with nature and so forth. That babble actually usually comes from the out there left, in all honesty, and its seriousness is totally belied by the real lifestyles of those who purport to believe it.

“Really? Even at the level of mere demographics that’s not the case. A low replacement birth rate is not a problem for a society?”

Perhaps it is, but that is an indirect consequence of individual choices on childbirth. Whereas global warming is a direct product of choices about the scale of the use of fossil fuels. Moreover, decisions about the scale of use of fossil fuels does not touch on the personal in the same way as decisions about contraceptives do. The distinction is plain and obvious, to all who are not ideologically pre committed to not seeing. A personal, life changing decision, versus a decision that comes down to, in the end, economics.

And the attempt to equate them is so telling. They are not remotely the same, and reality must be bent so far as to make the issue a nonsensical one over “Baconism” to even create the theoretical equivalence. And even then it doesn’t really work.

#41 Comment By pittsburghnonlawyer On September 29, 2014 @ 7:17 pm

~~What we really have here is simply an attempt to smear the left with the same “deny the science” label that actually does apply to the right viz a viz climate change.~~

Sheesh, if this is what you think this piece represents it’s no wonder you’re misreading Deneen so badly. Why are you liberals always so defensive? It skews your thinking.

Oh and by the way, I can list any number of ecologist/conservationist/environmentalist writers, left and right, who express grave reservations about a Baconian approach to science. Ditto agrarians, both old and new, left and right. Ditto the entire stream of “Southern conservatism.” Ditto many of the Kirkians and Voegelinians. Ditto many religious cultural critics, theologians and philosophers, left and right. I can provide names by the dozens if you like of writers and thinkers who argue that one cannot respect nature as a gift or a sacrament while simultaneously treating it exploitatively. In this sense (not in your facile false dichotomy) there are loads of anti-Baconians.

#42 Comment By philadelphialawyer On September 30, 2014 @ 10:40 am

“…I can list any number of ecologist/conservationist/environmentalist writers, left and right, who express grave reservations about a Baconian approach to science…..”

Yeah, and they express those grave reservations over the internet, right? Or in books printed with computer technology, and shipped via the internal combustion engine. And I betcha those thinkers use word processors and computers too, when they put their deep thoughts into words. And that they use electricity in their homes. And rely on modern medicine to keep them healthy, and so forth.

But, taking you at your word, if that is the case, well then, the thesis here is still wrong, as both left and right contain, according to you, Baconian and anti Baconian factions, whereas, according to Deneen, both side left and right are “Baconians all,” and only “feign battle.”

“I can provide names by the dozens if you like of writers and thinkers who argue that one cannot respect nature as a gift or a sacrament while simultaneously treating it exploitatively.”

Let me know how many of these “dozens” of thinkers are willing to go back to merely “understanding” nature, and stop using its “secrets.” In particular, show me where Deneen, other than in this context of equating the left with the right, for the purpose of bashing the former, has done so.

“In this sense (not in your facile false dichotomy) there are loads of anti-Baconians.”

The facile dichotomy is Deneen’s. He has divided the world up into Baconians and anti Baconians. And the way that he has done it (ie with absolutist theories about understanding versus using, with simplistic take it or leave choices of “ban the pill”/”lie about the pill,”) makes virtually everyone a Baconian. Then you turn around and attack me for pointing that out!

“Sheesh, if this is what you think this piece represents it’s no wonder you’re misreading Deneen so badly. Why are you liberals always so defensive? It skews your thinking.”

Really? Funny, but last time I checked this is primarily a political website.

And if one checks Mr. Deneen’s archive here:

[9]

one finds a more or less unrelenting attack on liberalism. I agree that Mr Deneen is not your typical rah-rah for Big Business conservative. But, beyond that, he is mostly a critic of liberalism tout court. Perhaps it is that context that leads me to believe that what we have here is not some wholly objective, theoretical academic piece exploring in a non partisan, non biased way the implications of the philosophy of Baconism on our polity, rather than the facile notions of “skewed thinking” resulting from “defensiveness” that you posit so casually.

Claims of defensiveness are pretty much impossible to refute, as the better the refutation, the more self defeating it is. But the entire thrust of the article is aimed at the left and birth control. The right and global warming are there only to act as foils. To make the claim that left is no better than the right. The first five paragraphs are about the pill, and the left. And global warming and the right are only introduced to (allegedly) show the hypocrisy of the left, in that it calls for fossil fuel restrictions but does not advocate the supposedly corresponding “easy” solution of simply banning the pill. Despite the existence of some language viz a viz a pox on both their houses, the real point here is that the left, which actually does claim to value the environment, is hypocritical. Everyone already knows that the right, for the most part, doesn’t give a damn about the environment, and thus saying so does not paint them as hypocrites. But claiming that the left is in the same boat would, if it were true (it isn’t), would so paint them.

And that is the entire point of the article.

#43 Comment By pittsburghnonlawyer On September 30, 2014 @ 12:52 pm

~~the thesis here is still wrong, as both left and right contain, according to you, Baconian and anti Baconian factions, whereas, according to Deneen, both side left and right are “Baconians all,” and only “feign battle.”~~

He is obviously speaking there of the mainstream left and right, not the outliers.

~~Let me know how many of these “dozens” of thinkers are willing to go back to merely “understanding” nature, and stop using its “secrets.” In particular, show me where Deneen, other than in this context of equating the left with the right, for the purpose of bashing the former, has done so.~~

There’s that false dichotomy again. No one that I know of suggests that we should merely “understand” nature without using it. The question is about how destructive/exploitative is that use.

“one finds a more or less unrelenting attack on liberalism”

Yes — small “l” liberalism, Enlightenment liberalism, which is prominent on both the left and the right and manifested in sometimes similar, sometimes different ways.

One point of the piece may be interpreted the way you do as something along the lines of “the left tends to claim the high ground on science but in actuality its ground isn’t so high.” This presumes the low ground of the mainstream right, does it not? The pox on both houses stands; this is why I said that a standard mainstream conservative could find his way on here and make the exact same argument as you are making, but in reverse (accumulating data against contraception while pooh-poohing climate change). And he’d be wrong too, for the same reasons.

#44 Comment By philadelphialawyer On September 30, 2014 @ 2:30 pm

“There’s that false dichotomy again.”

Mr. Deneen specifically and explicitly presents the contraceptives issue as continuing to endorse the pill and lying or ignoring its cancerous effects OR the “easy answer” of not using it, and in the global warming context, of keeping natural world “inviolable” (supposedly what the left claims to want) and, presumably, doing nothing at all about it but deny it (the Drill Baby Drill/”Climategate!” approach that the right in fact endorses). And yet you continue to blame me for the false dichotomy!

“No one that I know of suggests that we should merely ‘understand’ nature without using it.”

From the article:

“…when we moderns speak of science, we are speaking of a specific kind of activity aimed at a specific end. We can contrast our understanding to that which preceded modern science. Among ancient thinkers, Aristotle engaged in ‘science…a form of inquiry aimed at UNDERSTANDING phenomena—whether ‘natural’ or human. For a long time, this form of inquiry was understood to be an extension of philosophy, or the effort to understand phenomena, and was often called ‘natural philosophy.’ Thus, his ‘political science’ was the effort to understand human nature, just as his natural science was an effort to UNDERSTAND plants or animals or the movement of the stars. To the extent that there was a practical implication of these studies, it was generally to understand how humans could conform to that natural order—including our own nature.

“The moderns altered the meaning of the word science, particularly through the work of Francis Bacon. Bacon fiercely criticized the Aristotelian and scholastic understanding of science, instead arguing that science should not only seek to ‘UNDERSTAND’ nature, but when possible, to command, alter, and master it. ‘Let the human race recover that right over nature which belongs to it by divine bequest,” he wrote…urging that science be undertaken for the sake ‘of works.’America’s greatest Baconian—and architect of Progressivism and still-beloved philosopher of the American left—John Dewey, invoked Bacon in his recapitulation of the task of modern science…[emphasis added]”

Thus, according to Deneen, to be a Baconian is to want to use nature, while to be an anti (or ante) Baconian is to want merely to “understand” it and “conform” to it. I agree with you that this distinction is not very helpful, because, as you imply, and as I already mentioned, nobody, left, right, center or apolitical, really buys into what is alleged to be the anti Baconian view here.

“The question is about how destructive/exploitative is that use.”

Yeah, and it seems pretty clear to most folks that burning fossil fuels willy nilly without the least concern for its effect on the environment is a lot, lot more destructive and exploitative a use of nature than is the personal practice of using contraceptive. Notice too that, unlike you, Deneen did not even refer to contraceptives alleged effect on demographics, rather, it was the left’s supposed refusal to “follow the science,” ie simply ban the pill as the “easy answer” to the supposedly lead pipe lock cinch connection between the pill and cancer, that, as I said, somehow equated it with the Drill Baby Drill/Climategate! right. And so the supposedly destructive or exploitative effect of the “use” of nature implicated by the pill (if you can even call it that) was even weaker in the original than in your apologia.

Really, do you not see the difference, even from a viewpoint that sets a high value on “nature,” and not exploiting or destroying it, between taking a pill that might hurt you down the road but that gives you control over your own reproduction and a blank check endorsement of a system of energy production that simply disregards the long term effect it has on the worldwide climate?

“Yes — small “l” liberalism, Enlightenment liberalism, which is prominent on both the left and the right and manifested in sometimes similar, sometimes different ways.”

Yes, but mostly as it is prominent on the left.

“One point of the piece may be interpreted the way you do as something along the lines of ‘the left tends to claim the high ground on science but in actuality its ground isn’t so high.; This presumes the low ground of the mainstream right, does it not?”

I’m glad you admit that my interpretation is now at least possible. As for the right, it is not a mere “presumption” that is has the low ground of the scientific argument when it comes to its denial of global warming, it is a fact. And, indeed, it is that fact, which is widely accepted outside of political circles, which the author hopes to offset by his novel claim that the left’s “denial” viz a viz the pill constitutes the same thing as the right’s attitude towards the fact of global warning.

“The pox on both houses stands; this is why I said that a standard mainstream conservative could find his way on here and make the exact same argument as you are making, but in reverse (accumulating data against contraception while pooh-poohing climate change). And he’d be wrong too, for the same reasons.”

Except, again, the conservative would be (1) wrong on the facts, as global warming science is real, while the cancer/pill connection is speculative; (2) falsely equating two very different things even if he wasn’t wrong on the facts, because of the differences between the risk to oneself as opposed to the risk to society, and indeed to the entire natural world in general; and because (3) in general, it is the left that purports to want to protect nature, and to restrict to some extent its “use,” as you put it, while that is not true of the right in general (even it is of Mr Deneen, the agrarians etc.), and so the real point of the entire exercise was clearly to show the hypocrisy of the left, despite the “pox on both your houses” gloss.

So, the mainstream conservative would indeed b e wrong, but not because my arguments match his, but because his own arguments don’t match the facts, nor the real purpose of the article.

#45 Comment By Peter On September 30, 2014 @ 7:19 pm

“nobody, left, right, center or apolitical, really buys into what is alleged to be the anti Baconian view here.”

I do. Now what?

#46 Comment By Rob G On October 1, 2014 @ 7:02 am

You call Deneen’s dichotomy false because you happen to disagree with one of his suppositions. Properly speaking, that’s not a false dichotomy. YOUR false dichotomy implies that what is in fact a continuum is really a sort of radical either/or.

“Thus, according to Deneen, to be a Baconian is to want to use nature, while to be an anti (or ante) Baconian is to want merely to ‘understand’ it and ‘conform’ to it. I agree with you that this distinction is not very helpful, because, as you imply, and as I already mentioned, nobody, left, right, center or apolitical, really buys into what is alleged to be the anti Baconian view here.~~

Nuance, my good man, nuance. Understanding does not imply non-use. The Scholastics surely understood the Biblican command to “have dominion” over the Earth to include usage of its resources. However, this usage included the idea of stewardship, which idea rejected an exploitative or extractive use of nature that treated it as if it were a merely material “thing” completely subject to human whim. The difference is not between use and non-use, but between the underlying world views determining the use.

~~do you not see the difference, even from a viewpoint that sets a high value on “nature,” and not exploiting or destroying it, between taking a pill that might hurt you down the road but that gives you control over your own reproduction and a blank check endorsement of a system of energy production that simply disregards the long term effect it has on the worldwide climate?~~

Seeing that I reject your rather diminished (in my view) description of the problems related to widespread use of contraception, the question is pointless.

~~it is that fact, which is widely accepted outside of political circles, which the author hopes to offset by his novel claim that the left’s “denial” viz a viz the pill constitutes the same thing as the right’s attitude towards the fact of global warning.~~

No. He’s not attempting to offset the fact of the right’s bad science, but instead, he’s showing that the left’s science is no great shakes either. That the left too has bad science does not make the right’s better. Surely this should be obvious.

Your (1), (2) and (3) all involve question-begging and unproven assertions. Don’t have time to respond to each individually right now, unfortunately.

#47 Comment By Rob G On October 1, 2014 @ 7:05 am

I’m pittsburghnonlawyer, as might have been apparent. Couldn’t help the cross-state swipe. 😉

#48 Comment By philadelphialawyer On October 1, 2014 @ 11:21 am

“He’s not attempting to offset the fact of the right’s bad science, but instead, he’s showing that the left’s science is no great shakes either. That the left too has bad science does not make the right’s better.”

Deneen is a conservative. Yes, he is a conservative in a deep, historical way, one which sees most of the modern right as not conservative. Of course, the modern left is even further removed from his POV, as, again, a glance at his archives shows.

Now, being an anti Baconian, one might think that, even if only in this one instance, Deneen MIGHT favor the conventional left when it comes to environmental policy, because, despite your claims about unproven assertions and so on, the modern left is almost uniformly seen as being more pro environment than the modern right. But he doesn’t want that. And so Deneen creates an elaborate, factually inaccurate, not even theoretically convincing, and completely incommensurate and inapt analogy, to try and prove that the left is just as bad as the right, when it comes to the environment.

The left’s alleged bad science does not make the right’s bad science better, yes, but it would mean (if it were true) that they are equal, that the left, even here, even when it comes to the environment, is no better than the right. So, in the perhaps single area where Deneen’s view should, one would think, lead him to favoring the left, it turns out that no, he doesn’t. That smacks of willful politics to me.

And that is what the article is all about: politics. NOT subtle philosophical arguments, NOT about the ever changing definitions of non Baconism that you present, and so on. It is about knocking the left off its pedestal and dumping it into the mud with the right.

#49 Comment By Jonathan On October 11, 2014 @ 8:53 pm

Mr Deneen provides us with two compact and seemingly mutual exclusive compartments :1) social control of the environment versus 2) personal control over one’s body. Such a distinction is an oversimplification and presents a fictive dichotomy. The former is not about control but need. The latter entails a submission to and dependency of the authority of others viz., that of the specialist, the healthcare professional, the medical researcher, and the pharmaceutical house.

There is a seemingly unquenchable thirst for energy and two reasons come to mind; 1) sustaining growth thereby providing employment without which the civil society may implode from within and 2)leverage in confronting, negotiating with and navigating around hostile nations with opposing interests. The case for imposing constraints on the production and deliver of energy from fossil fuels for the sake of questionable environmental concerns is bound up with these two considerations.
The issue here and the drama that unfolds in our geopolitics is not one of mastery over environment but our dependency as sentient but biologically grounded creatures upon the exigencies imposed by nature.

#50 Comment By Jonathan On October 11, 2014 @ 9:35 pm

balconesfault
How is it convenient that one is often compelled to drive to work in a car with an internal combustion engine? Even the commuter will ride on surface transit that uses fossil fuels or electrician often from a coal burning power plant. Why confuse convenience with economic and therefore physical necessity?

EliteCommInc
Well stated! But the Climate Changers continue to shout us down as though their assertions through their persistence magically turns to fact. When the chorister sings his refrain long enough, it resembles fact merely because the polity have grown to accept it as such. And this tactic has been used before with, unfortunately, considerable success.

tz
Your point is well taken. We are told and led to believe. Eventually the scales fall from our eyes and we habitually deny all that we are told. This creates a vacuum filled by our own fictive narrative such as belief in conspiracies. Hence this is blow back from years of contradictory propaganda presented to us by the mass media.