Essay in Integ. Phys. & Beh. Science, 1997, 32:299-302


John J. Furedy, Ph.D.
*Note*  The journal version of this essay has no abstract, and has minor ditorial changes from the text below.  The essay is also followed by an ditorial comment by Dr. Stewart Wolf (pp. 303-4), which is not reproduced ere.
Abstract--An earlier editorial in the Society's journal (Furedy, 1990) argued that for the maintenance of disinterested enquiry and genuine scientific discussion, the conflict of ideas should be added to observation the Society's guiding motto) and objectivity (the common thread that unites our members). I also suggested that the nature of the current external granting system in North America has produced intrinsic forces that work against the conflict-of-ideas approach among scientists.  In this editorial I contend that political correctness (PC) and the culture of comfort constitute am additional threat to disinterested enquiry.  An important piece of evidence for this contention is the apparent abandonment of the principle of disinterested enquiry by some relatively "hard" scientific organizations in North America, as manifested by their dealings with scholars who raise issues that are uncomfortable or "offensive".  I discuss four lines of criticism which suggest that my interpretation of the impact of political correctness is too strong.  I nevertheless conclude that my interpretation is justified, and that the recent trend against disinterested enquiry is present even in the "harder" sciences, and must be actively resisted.
As I suggested in a previous editorial in the Society's ournal (Furedy, 1990), observation is the guiding motto of the Society, while objectivity is the common thread that unites members with very diverse interests and differing approaches to the understanding of behavior.  The bulk of that editorial dealt with the third concept in its title--the conflict of ideas.  I argued that this concept was important for the maintenance of disinterested enquiry and genuine scientific discussion.
Good scholarship in science (or, for that matter, in any intellectual endeavour) requires that any personal conflicts between disputants be transcended by the conflict of ideas, so that the fundamental aim of the discussion can be epistemic rather than political. This aim of having a genuine, issue-directed discussion is well met in the Pavlovian Society, especially in the oral format provided by our annual conferences. 
A foe of the conflict-of-ideas principle that I examined previously was the fear of offending one's peers, engendered in researchers by the North American scientific granting system, because research is funded almost exclusively on the basis of reviews by peers (who are usually also competitors of the grantee).  More recently, however, a new threat to the conflict-of-ideas approach has arisen, and again that threat has been strongest in North America. 
I refer to political correctness (PC) or the "culture of comfort" (Furedy,1997b).  Sensitivity to whether assertions create discomfort for certain people or groups becomes the primary criterion for judging their truth or validity. 
There is, indeed, a proscription against the mere consideration of certain data (e.g., the observed statistical group difference in performance on IQ tests in North America between blacks and whites), let alone specific interpretations i.e., those that stress genetic influences).
Although the effects of PC pressures have been most evident in the humanities and social sciences, physical and biological scientists and their organizations, are not immune (Furedy, 1997a, p. 1).  In the title of the just-cited paper,  I refer to the decline of the "Eppur si muove spirit" in North American science. The reference is to Galileo's sotto voce (and probably apocryphal) assertion of the heliocentric theory.  Under threat of torture,Galileo  publically denied the theory, but said under his breath "And yet it [the earth] moves."  The significance of Galileo's whispered retort is that represents the value of disinterestedness--that what should govern inquiry is the search for truth.  In other words, no matter what an authority may say, even if that authority has power over life and death, it has no power over truth.
There is, of course, disagreement about the strength of the danger posed by PC and the culture of comfort for disinterestedness in science.  In my view, the threat is considerable, at least partly because it appears to come from within science itself.  In my "Eppur si muove" paper (Furedy 1997a) I recount how scientific organizations themselves seem to have abandoned disinterestedness when they are faced with issues that are controversial and uncomfortable. 
One such case discussed in the paper concerned the issue of whether race and intelligence are related.  Although this is an intensely "uncomfortable" issue (as was the issue, in Galileo's time, of whether the earth moved), it is one of scientific interest.  A poster presentation on the subject was submitted by fellow of the AAAS to its 1995 conference, and accepted by the AAAS program chair.  However, this chair later indicated on public radio that he had regretted accepting this poster presentation, because the organization did not wish "too overt" controversies to be discussed at its annual meeting.
Another case documented involved the board of the Behavior Genetics Association (BGA).  In a 1995 farewell dinner talk, the outgoing president referred to an uncomfortable set of data that showed a correlation between race and murder rate, and argued for the even more uncomfortable interpretation that the correlation could have a genetic as well as an environmental component. 
The BGA's Board responded initially by trying to force the outgoing president to resign not only from the Board, but also from the BGA itself.  The details of the Board's actions were described relatively neutrally by science reporters writing in Nature and Science (Butler, 1995; Holden, 1995a,b).  Other members of BGA who did not approve of the Board's actions were less neutral. For example, one expressed his dismay to "discover that a scientific society that one has valued for so long has fallen to the governance of a lynch mob." 
Another called on the Board to "apologize to the membership for valuing ill-perceived political correctness more than objective and impartial rigorous research in a socially important and sensitive area" (Furedy, 1997a). 
I interpreted these and other cases as involving "blatant abandonment of the Eppur si muove spirit by [some] scientific organizations".  The possibility remains, however, that I have over-interpreted the data in a way that does not do justice to the complexities of scientific research and its relation to societal concerns.  In this editorial I  consider four lines of criticism that have been raised against the claim made in the paper. 
1.  Science has always been influence by ideology, hence PC is not a new threat.--In North America, the PC of the nineties is often likened to McCarthyism, which is seen as the most destructive political force to affect campuses. The influence of McCarthyism, though considerable, however, was external to science.  When the cognitive S-S theorist Tolman refused to sign the Loyalty Oath (in this respect he acted in a more principled way than such contemporary scientific opponents like S-R theorists Hull and Spence) and was fired from his position at the University of California at Berkeley for this refusal, it was clear that the ideological influence was emanating from outside the science of psychology, and that Tolman's "sin" lay not in his scientific cognitive) opinions that Hull and Spence opposed (partly on the grounds that they were not sufficiently scientific, an opinion that prevailed in the scientific community until the "cognitive revolution" of the sixties and seventies), but in a political failure to meet McCarthy's exacting standards of ideological purity.
In contrast, the demand for conformity with PC sensitivities has come from within the scientific community, whether the pressure is of the blatant sort (as illustrated by such examples as that of the treatment of the outgoing president by the BGA's board in 1995), or more subtle (such as whether discomforting scholars are included in prestigious, invited symposia).
Perhaps because of the internal nature of these PC influences, the pressures against disinterested scholarship are more difficult to analyse than the earlier external attacks such as those of McCarthyism.  Again to take Tolman as the example, it was plain to all that he was fired not because his scientific views on learning being cognitive were wrong (or even not as "scientific" as the competing Hull-Spence S-R position), but because his political views were "unsound".  In contrast, especially because the PC-influenced incidents described in Furedy (1997a) were instigated by scientific organizations themselves, it is easy to suppose that the arguments made against denigrated scholars are scientific ones.  So whereas McCarthyism attacked only the livelihood of the proscribed scholar, the PC attack is against the scientific reputation itself of the offending individual.
2.  Scientific organizations have a responsibility to keep information out of the hands of those who have evil intentions.--This is a widely accepted position, and there are many current examples of scientific organizations acting in accord with that position.  So the American Society for Microbiology has been deeply involved in promoting the control of biological weapons, even though many of its members had previously employed their disciplinary expertise in the service of American biological weapons development. As another example, for some time a number of scientific organizations have worked to keep nuclear knowledge and technology out of the hands of governments and political movements of whose aims they disapprove.  In this case, again, many of the same individuals (or their older colleagues) had contributed their disciplinary expertise to the development of the same sorts of nuclear weapons.  The case of Robert Oppenheimer is, of course, the classic illustration of the conflicts involved in this sort of "socially responsible" behavior.
Nevertheless, although the position that scientific organizations must be "socially responsible" is widely held and often put into practice, I think it is wrong.  Individual scientists, as citizens, do have this sort of responsibility.  To the extent that they have specialized knowledge about certain issues, their individual responsibility is greater than that of those who have less expertise.  So, too, non-scientific organizations such as political, religious, and social-advocacy groups have that responsibility. 
However, scientific organizations that are devoted only to research do not, I believe, have it, and should not, as organizations, seek to control who has access to scientific knowledge.
This does not mean that scientists, acting either as individuals or as members of social groups, should be unconcerned about the implications of research in terms of the uses (and abuses) to which the research results may be put.  What my position does imply is that no scientific organization should ever suppress information, no matter for what evil ends others may use it.  The "weaker brethren" principle of Paul the Apostle may be appropriate for the Christian Church, but it will definitely not do for the Pavlovian Society.
3. Political ideologues have often sought support for their political positions from science.--This is clearly true, especially during modern times, when the qualifier "scientific" is effectively used to validate arguments. 
Ideologies, moreover, tend to select from scientific findings according to their predilections.  So Soviet ideology focussed only on evidence for environmental influences on behavior, while Nazi ideologues (and other extreme right-wing propagandists) pointed only to evidence for genetic influences. 
The fact that politically motivated individuals and organizations use science for their own purposes, however, does not mean we should accept the position that scientific organizations themselves should allow their activities to be politicized in reaction.
Here, too, I do not mean to imply that scientists should be apolitical.  They can, either as individuals or through non-scientific organizations, speak out in favor of any political position they choose. 
Moreover, they can  use their expertise in their science, if appropriate, to either bolster their own positions, or to counter arguments made by their political opponents.  Enquiry itself, however, should never be politicized, whether the politics involved is considered good(e.g., "anti-racist") or bad ("racist) by most people.  To return to the Galilean example, the heliocentric position was considered evil by most contemporary observers.  Accepting it seemed to entail a breakdown of the religious-political order at a time when that order was being threatened on many fronts.  It is possible that Galileo's way of stating his position was motivated by self-aggrandisement and that he was tactless compared with Copernicus.  Thess non-scientific consideration, however, were irrelevant to the astronomical issue that was the subject of both the heliocentric and
geocentric positions.
4. Not all experiments (e.g., human cloning) are permissible.--There is no question that this holds.   The human cloning example may not be convincing to all, but anyone seeking to argue for complete freedom in experimentation has only to think of the Nazi experiments under such monsters as Dr. Mengele to recognize that research has to be subject to ethical regulation. Recently an entire field of bioethics has been developed for this purpose.  I have always thought that individual investigators like me needed an external evaluatory body to keep an eye on them lest, in their quest for scientific knowledge they approach and even cross the ethical line between permissible and impermissible procedures.  In the case of my own research, it has been a source of continuing epistemological frustration that in human Pavlovian aversive autonomic conditioning, the unconditional stimulus (US) has not been as strong as I would like for obtaining robust conditioning effects.  Whether that US is shock or loud noise, there is a strong epistemological temptation to increase US intensity to a point where there can be danger to subjects. The final responsibility for what intensity of US is allowable should, quite properly, rest with an external source that renders its ethical judgment independently of my epistemological needs.
I would argue that there is a crucial distinction between actions (i.e., what is done in experiments) and enquiry (i.e., scientific opinions that are formulated during the course of both empirical and conceptual research). 
Actions should be subject to ethical scrutiny, but enquiry should be free.  This, of course, is the basic Voltaire-Mill perspective: that while opinion should be free, actions should not.  It applies a fortiori, in my view, to scientific organizations, whose sole purpose I take to be epistemological.
Accordingly, while I have appreciated the thoughtful criticisms from colleagues, I stand by my earlier claim (1997a) that there is evidence that North American scientific societies are abandoning the Eppur si muove attitude in their treatment of issues that may be uncomfortable, but are of scientific relevance.   Disinterested enquiry is under an attack from a new source, PC and the culture of comfort, and this new foe of the conflict of ideas needs to be recognized and fought not only in the humanities and social sciences, but in the "harder" sciences as well.    
Butler, D.  Geneticist quits in protest 'genes and violence' claim.  Nature, 378, 224.
Furedy, J.J. (1990).  Observation, Objectivity, and the Conflict of Ideas. 
Editorial in Pavlovian Journal of Biological Science, 25, 29-31.
Furedy, J.J.  (1997a).  The decline of the Eppur si muove spirit in North American science: Professional organizations and PC pressures. The Mankind Quarterly, in press.
Furedy, J.J.  (1997b).  Academic freedom versus the velvet totalitarian culture of comfort on current Canadian campuses: Some fundamental terms and distinctions.  Interchange, in press.
Holden, C.  (1995a).  Spectre at the Fiest of Science. Science, 269, 35
Holden, C.  (1995b).  Behavior Geneticists Shun Colleague. Science, 270, 1125.

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