Flynn Holman

On Science and Conservatism: Is the Relationship Dead?

Why have conservatives have turned against science? This question is a fundamental mischaracterisation of the relationship between science and right-wing thinkers. As a young scientist and a conservative, I find myself straddling this so-called divide and in the unique position to offer analysis on the state of the relationship between the right-wing and science. It is true that today, with issues such as climate change and vaccine efficacy, right-wing criticisms of the scientific elite have overwhelmingly dominated the discourse on scientific distrust. But if one is to truly interrogate the disconnect between modern day conservatism and the scientific mainstream, you must also consider the converse; why has science turned against right-wing thought? Or perhaps more notably, how have left-wing idealogues used science against conservatives?

The left-wing bias of modern academia is well documented, with one recent study published by Nature revealing that only six percent of researchers self-identify as conservative and less than ten percent of academic political donations support conservative candidates. With this troubling trend of progressive overrepresentation in scientific circles, the left has used their advantage to co-opt and manipulate science for its own political ends. This threatens to undermine the very principles of intellectual freedom and academic integrity upon which scientific inquiry depends.

With the left having such a hold over modern science, the tendency on the right has, somewhat justifiably, been outright rejection of scientific thought and practice. This seems a self-defeating proposition. Sustainable prosperity will only be practically achievable if we look to make technological progress within our own borders. To do this we must address some major flaws which have become inherent to scientific thinking, causing both alienation of conservative thinkers and degeneration of the scientific practice.

Suppression of Dissent

Central to the ethos of scientific inquiry is the freedom to question the prevailing orthodoxy and challenge established thought. Yet, in recent years, the left has sought to suppress dissenting voices and enforce ideological conformity within the scientific community. This manifests itself in two ways, firstly through the development of a culture within academic institutions which is antithetical to conservative viewpoints and, perhaps more importantly, through political discrimination in grants and publication, prohibiting conservative viewpoints from being spread in scientific literature.

An often-understated consequence of the leftward shift in academia is the comprising impact on peer-review. Peer-review is the process which underpins science. Academics review the work of other researchers to assess the scientific validity and rigour of their experimentation and argument before the work can be published. Whilst a noble concept, it is easily victim to confirmation bias. If only six percent of academics identify as conservative, how likely is it that the handful of reviewers of a grant proposal or paper will be ideologically conservative or even supportive of controversial proposals? This fear is not merely the musings of a scorned conservative scientist but a reality backed up by research. Half of academics would mark down a right-wing grant application. Four in ten American academics admit they wouldn’t hire a Trump supporter. A third of British academics would not hire a Brexiter. Not only does this inhibit the volume of conservative scientific literature, but it restricts a conservative’s earning capacity from grants and promotion, and therefore their academic influence.  What this leads to is the self-censorship of conservative thinkers looking to progress their careers, thus creating a spiral of worsening conservative intolerance on campuses and in academia.

One striking example of this phenomenon is the case of postdoctoral researcher, Dr Noah Carl. Dr Carl graduated from the prestigious University of Oxford with a thesis titled ‘Cognitive ability and sociopolitical beliefs and attitudes’ and was subsequently awarded the Toby Jackman Newtown Research Fellowship at St Edmund’s College in Cambridge. For early-career researchers, such a postdoctoral fellowship is invaluable in gaining a foothold in the cut-throat academic industry. Yet Dr Carl was never able to assume his position as he was dismissed by St Edmund’s College for his alleged association with far-right figures. This so-called association involved attending a conference also attended by race researchers and publishing in a journal with a controversial editor. He advocated for free inquiry into how stifling debates around race can do harm and his research examined common stereotypes. Even a cursory assessment of this reasoning shows how Dr Carl was only guilty of challenging the left-wing orthodoxy. The University had no issue with his research when they appointed him, but guilt by association was sufficient to effectively end a young researcher’s career after left-wing student backlash.

Another case is that of esteemed Professor of Public Law at Macquarie University in Sydney, Andrew Fraser, who published a letter in 2005 in his local newspaper calling for restriction of African immigration, due to its effect on increasing crime rates. Macquarie University initially defended Fraser’s right to free speech, but after pressure from the local Sudanese community, Fraser was suspended, with the University citing how Fraser had affected the university’s ability to operate and offering a public apology to those who were offended. Again, absent from the response was any criticism of Fraser’s scientific rigour. Fraser has long been a proponent of the role of immigration in increasing Australian crime rates, the evidence for which remains strong to this day.

Regardless of your own views on these issues, its inarguable that both scholars faced vilification and professional repercussions for conducting research and providing comment which deviated from the left’s ideological agenda. The cancellation of scholars like Carl and Fraser serves as a chilling reminder of the dangers of ideological conformity in scientific discourse. By stifling dissent and enforcing orthodoxy, the left undermines the very foundation of scientific inquiry, to question and hypothesise, thus relegating it to a tool of political expediency rather than a genuine quest of understanding.

The Rise of Scientism

Perhaps the most insidious aspect of the left’s control over science is the rise of scientism,a quasi-religious belief in the infallibility of scientific authority. In the eyes of leftist ideologues, science has become not merely a tool for understanding the natural world, but an all-encompassing worldview that supplants religion and morality. There is no phrase I personally detest more than, ‘Trust the science.’ This phrase has become a mantra of progressive politicians, but it betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of scientific practice. In trying to project science as objective truth, they are committing a major offence of scientific thought, presenting a theory as fact. The scientific method is built around making hypotheses and proving them wrong based on observation and evidence. Anyone that tells you science can prove truth is lying to you. It is fundamentally impossible to prove truth by using the scientific method, as more evidence can always be uncovered to refute any such assertion. In the leftist zeal to elevate science to the status of an objective truth, they conflate empirical evidence with ideological principles, compromising the integrity of the scientific process.

Science was never intended to replace religion or morality but rather to complement and enhance our understanding of the world. Renowned scientist Isaac Newton, for instance, integrated his Christian faith into his exploration of natural laws, aiming to inspire others to appreciate the beauty of divine creation.

“When I wrote my treatise about our system, I had an eye upon such principles as might work with considering men for the belief of a Deity; and nothing can rejoice me more than to find it useful for that purpose.”

– Isaac Newton

Modern scientists are increasingly unravelling new frontiers, from artificial intelligence to genetic modification, prompting profound ethical questions. But unfortunately, as science has progressed, secularism and scientism have gained traction in intellectual circles, causing the influence of religion on scientific discourse to wane. This trend has left a moral vacuum within the scientific community at a time when it is most needed. As we look to address the ethical questions of new scientific frontiers, the increasingly fervent belief in the infallibility of science among the elite is a dangerous precedent to set in our quest for knowledge. 

How do we fix it?

It was easy during the Covid-19 lockdowns to argue against science, as it was used to justify draconian government laws. But now this period has passed, such a trajectory is self-defeating. Countless right-wing figures have continued to prosecute against science, yet they largely remain excluded from serious political discourse. Clearly though, a total embrace of the scientific establishment ignores a long-standing hostility and prosecution of right-wing thought.

As we look to wrest control over our own countries back from the leftist elite, conservatives and nationalists ignore science at their own peril. Across the Anglosphere we see conservative parties stagnating. Young people are disengaging from politics. Idealogues are pursuing their agendas. If a truly right-wing presence is going to be felt in politics it must champion cultural revival, national progress, and self-reliance. By leveraging national resources and driving scientific and technological innovation, we can build a future focused economy to our own benefit. Importantly, science can be reclaimed from leftist control by promoting independent domestic research to replace our current bureaucratic institutions, prioritising the protection of conservative thought in academia and rebuilding confidence among the right-wing populace.

So, is the relationship between conservatives and science dead? From suppressing dissenting voices to the promotion of quasi-religious faith in scientific infallibility, the left’s agenda threatens to degenerate scientific practice and undermine its capacity to investigate the world around us. But this should not catalyse right wing rejection of science. Science may have turned its back on right-wing intellectuals, but in a constantly evolving world it would be counterproductive for conservatives to concede science to the Left. It’s only with the input of conservative thinkers that truly free scientific endeavour can help lead us away from regression and embrace a vision for right-wing progress.

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