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Jacob Falkovich, of PutANumOnIt fame, published a post-mortem on the Harris-Klein debate over IQ and race in Quillette. Not just the Quillette article, but the blog post inspiring it, The Context is the Conflict, are both worth a read. As Falkovich sees it, the Harris-Klein debate was merely one example of conflicting forms of political reasoning, pitting those who see political opponents as mistaken against those who see political opposition as conflict, and also pitting cognitive decoupling against contextualizing. To summarize the story the way Falkovich sees it, Sam Harris tells Ezra Klein, “Ezra, it’s dishonest of you to be so concerned with the social implications of the data that you discount what the data has to say,” and Klein shoots right back, “Sam, it’s dishonest of you to be so concerned with what the data allegedly says that you discount its social implications,” that is, whose interest is served by treating the data in question as reputable, and whose interests are harmed.
Both Klein and Harris have a point. We on the right are fairly open in our mistrust of “scientism,” after all. We know that, no matter how much data might seem to speak for itself, the scientific validity of data can’t be entirely separated from the nonscientific interests of the ones gathering, analyzing, publishing, and popularizing the data. Who funded a study, we wonder? Would funding have biased it? Was one study widely reported on while studies contradicting it were not; reflecting media bias? We aren’t fools for asking these questions, merely fools if we take them to their paranoid extreme: at some point, data must matter, even though it’s collected and interpreted by biased humans. Nonetheless, we suspect, probably rightly, that even good science can’t be wholly divorced from its social implications once it’s fodder for political dispute.