Sunday, October 21, 2012

There Are No Parties In Science

As we enter a presidential election cycle, a common theme reemerging is the growing partisanship in the country. L.H. Bailey, in Ground-Levels in Democracy (1916) offers another view in regarding politics and the polarizing need to have one's opinion rule over substance and fact.   

   For a public officer we want a person who thinks as we do: this is what political parties mean. If we were scientific, we would want an officer because he were best qualified. Our method of government rests on this partisanship,—on my side and your side, the pros and cons, the ins and outs, the saints and sinners, the democrats and republicans. It is said that in the nature of things and in the quality of the human mind, the life of the race must be partisan. We are told that there is good and evil, a proposition, however, not capable of proof; that there is day and night, but the day and the night both are continuous and they merely pass over us where we stand; that there is up and down, but not one of us knows at this moment whether he is on his head or on his feet. The processes of nature are all continuous and we interpret the contrasts as if they were essential differences in substance.
     There are no parties in science. There may be difference of opinion when we do not yet know the truth, and variations in interpretation, and personal antagonisms between those whose science does not reach to the heart; but government at present is organized partisanship. A merchant is not partisan in his shop, nor a manufacturer in his factory, nor a farmer on his farm, nor a teacher in his class-room; but at the polls these persons think they are not citizens unless they have opinions which are correct because they hold them. This long-continued practice solidifies opinion and makes it impregnable to evidence; we come at length to substitute habit for reason.

It is not to be desired that there shall be an end to argument and discussion, but we ought to know that we cannot solve our questions by unscientific polemics, however much we may settle them for the time being.
I was reading a book on the war, and expressed my interest in it. My friend asked which side the author took. I replied that he took neither side. With astonishment he asked me how, then, the man could write a book on the war! To come to a public question merely with the desire to know and not to have an opinion in advance, is sufficiently unusual to excite comment. Verily, we are yet a long way from the open mind, the one that does not immediately take sides. The scientist makes inquiries long before he has an opinion. We may be open-minded with equanimity and with much self-admiration on abstract questions that are far off, but when they become concrete we are partisan. It is difficult to see facts in the face of self-interest, but this is nevertheless the conquest of the science-spirit.

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