Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Should social taboos affect science?

Science ought to be objective, neutral and unbiased, examining just the facts and drawing conclusions from those facts, whatever those conclusions might be, without biases or agendas. If the facts overwhelmingly indicate thing X, then that's it. No ifs, buts or maybes.

That's not the situation in all cases, however. Sometimes things like cultural norms, stigmas and taboos hinder scientific research, no matter how objective that research might be.

As a hypothetical example, suppose that the IQ of a million white people and a million black people is tested, using an extensive unbiased IQ test that has been demonstrated to be completely independent of culture, upbringing and educational background (ie. those things do not affect the results of the test). The test is performed properly as a double-blind test with controls, and is as much automated as possible, to remove all possible bias from the people doing the research.

Now, suppose that the results show a quite significant difference in average IQ between the two groups. Would this result be taken at face value, and simply accepted as is, and added to our catalogue of knowledge? If the results showed, for example, that black people have on average a significantly lower IQ than white people, there would be an uproar, demands for censorship, and all kinds of sophistry to try to explain the result away (no matter how reliable the experiment was, given the ginormous sample size and the extreme rigor to remove all bias)? Much of this opposition to accept the results would undoubtedly come from the scientific community itself, not just the wider public.

(And, indubitably, if the result were the opposite, it would be wildly embraced in the current political climate. You know, because equality. Because it would be the progressive thing to do.)

And that's only one of the many taboos that our society has, which potentially affects science and makes it biased and even self-censoring. Sometimes it even introduces bias into the scientists, who try to artificially get the "correct" results that confirm the notions of the taboo.

The interesting thing is that these cultural taboos change over time. What was such a huge taboo 100 years ago that it affected science in that manner, might not be a taboo today. 100 years from now some of these taboos may have changed as well.

But shouldn't science be above these cultural norms and taboos, examining the facts of reality and nothing more?

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