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Politics, Ideological Disciplines, and Factual Inquiry

Over at our sister site, Econlog, Bryan Caplan has a post explaining why he hates politics.  The problem is the way politics brings out the worst in us.  He writes:

I hate the way people think about politics, independent of the ultimate outcome.

I hate the hyperbole of politics.  People should speak literal, measured truth or be silent.

I hate the Social Desirability Bias of politics.  People should describe reality as it is, not pander to wishful thinking.

I hate the innumeracy of politics.  People should focus on what’s quantitatively important, not what thrills the masses.

I hate the overconfidence of politics.  People shouldn’t make claims they won’t bet on, and shouldn’t assert certainty unless they’re willing to bet everything they own against a penny.

I hate the myside bias of politics.  People should strive to be fair to out-groups, and scrupulously monitor in-groups, to counteract our natural human inclination to do the opposite.

I hate the “winning proves I’m right” mentality of politics.  Winning only proves your views are popular, and popular views are often wrong.

I agree with quite of bit of this.  Moreover, one can often extend this criticism of politics to ideological disputes within academic disciplines.  If one’s academic discipline is based on political values rather than facts, then it will often operate in a similar manner.  The values of the group will substitute for strong arguments.  This is certainly the case in constitutional law, where much of the scholarship simply explores what constitutional rules would further the author’s values.

This is part of the reason that I enjoy originalism.  There is a fact of the matter about most originalist questions.  Especially among those who take originalism seriously and agree on a methodology, the questions are open to the evidence.  I have often found myself changing my mind about the original meaning of questions, even where I have strong political views about what the normatively best answer is.

At times, this has led me to imagine what it would be like to work in an area that was focused on the facts – on science or even a social science.  Yet, I suppose the grass is always greener.  As is well known, both natural science and social science have been undergoing a great crisis these days.  A large percentage of studies cannot be replicated in various fields including biomedicine (link no longer available) and social psychology.  If one restricted oneself to discovering the facts and lived in a field where there were massive problems with such factual inquiry, that would be extremely disheartening.

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