The Wall Street Journal’s Weird Embrace of Pseudo Science and the War on Real Science

By William K. Black

The Wall Street Journal published a self-revealing news article on Tennessee’s recently adopted law (modeled on a template created by the Discovery Institute – a Christian group whose ultimate goal is preventing the teaching of the core principles of biology) encouraging science teachers to teach their opposition to “controversial” scientific findings.  The Discovery Institute opposes the scientific consensus on evolution – the central pillar of biology.  One would never understand that fact, however, if one relied on the WSJ article.

The wording of the bill comes from a template created by the Discovery Institute, a think tank in Seattle that questions evolution and promotes the concept of “intelligent design.”

Evolution is the theory that generations of animal and plant species alter and transform over time in response to changes in their environment and circumstances, a process known as natural selection.

“Intelligent Design” is the proposition that scientific evidence exists to show that life in its multitudinous forms was caused by the direction of a higher intelligence.

What is that “scientific evidence”?

“Natural selection and descent does not explain the degree of complexity that exists out there,” [the head of the religious group promoting the bill] said.

See, there are two rival views of biology, a “theory” v. a “proposition.”  The rival views represent different opinions on biology by respectable biologists embracing the same scientific method and differing only in their interpretation of the “scientific evidence” emerging from their scientific studies.  Remember, this is a WSJ news article, not a screed by their “three bubbles off plumb” editorial staff.  What a difference a Murdoch makes to what was once a superb news organization.

Biology and “intelligent design” are not rival scientific theories.  Biology’s central proposition is evolution.  Intelligent design does not rest on the scientific method or scientific evidence.  The Discovery Institute is not a “think tank.”  It does not engage in hypothesis testing.  It does not make testable predictions of “intelligent design.”  It does not employ biologists if they commit what the Institute’s leaders consider the unbiblical heresy of believing in the standard biological canon about evolution.  The only example of “scientific evidence” the article cites as supporting “intelligent design” is the observation that life is “complex.”  Evolution cannot produce “complexity” because….  No evidence is needed to support this ipse dixit (it is because I assert it is).  The assertion is testable through modeling and through studies of the fossil and genetic record, both of which falsify the assertion.  There is no theory of “intelligent design.”  The brilliant satirical response to this thinly disguised evangelical theology is Bobby Henderson’s creation of the mock religion worshiping the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” as an alternative explanation of the origin of species.  Tennessee biology teachers should stage a mass Flying Spaghetti Monster teach-in to respond to the Tennessee law.

The WSJ news article on the Tennessee law is bizarre on another level.  The WSJ concentrates on business news and we have tens of thousands of businesses that make money (hundreds of billions of dollars in annual revenues) by practicing real biology.  Every one of these businesses practices real biology and most of them could not succeed but for the fact that DNA and RNA exist, sometimes express the ability to code for proteins, mutate, and admix during sexual reproduction.  We have dozens of TV shows based on some variant of CSI (crime labs) – each of which celebrates real biology and the use of DNA.  DNA identification means that we no longer inter the remains of our servicemen and women as “unknowns.”  The predictive strength of evolutionary theory is superb and the practical applications of genetics that the theory made possible are extraordinary.  No business anywhere it the world makes money by using the (nonexistent) insights provided by “intelligent design.”  WSJ reporters know all this because their jobs require them to study and understand businesses.  It is delusional to present biology and “intelligent design” as equivalent, rival scientific views.

Thinking about WSJ reporters’ business expertise caused me to ask a question about Tennessee’s law (similar to laws adopted in six other infra-red states) and the WSJ’s reporters approach to a faith-based series of “propositions” advanced by another discipline that calls itself a “science.”  If Tennessee wants to protect its students from “controversial” theories why doesn’t it ban the study of neoclassical economics?  Economics is the only field pretending to science whose predictive ability has fallen dramatically over the last 75 years.  It is a field that clings to dogma that has been repeatedly falsified by reality.  Neoclassical economics is not “controversial” – it is has been repeatedly falsified.  Sciences are supposed to abandon theories that are falsified.  Neoclasscial economics is not “controversial.”  Its most important theories are false and the financial policies it recommends cause widespread elite financial fraud and unprecedented harm.  The consequences of its errors have been catastrophic for much of the world.

There are alternative economic views and alternative fields (e.g., criminology) that are scientific, that advance testable hypotheses, and demonstrate far superior predictive strength and successful praxis. White-collar criminologists, for example, falsified the efficient market hypothesis two decades before the hypothesis was created.  The EU is busy throwing the Eurozone back into recession through faith-based austerity dogma.  Neoclassical economists praised the worst frauds and urged other nations to use Iceland and Ireland as their models.  Neoclassical economics is so criminogenic that it produces the recurrent, intensifying epidemics of “green slime” (fraudulent loans and investments) that hyper-inflate financial bubbles and drive our financial crises.  WSJ reporters must know this, they just witnessed the greatest plague of green slime in history bring the global financial system to the brink of collapse.

We all know why Tennessee attacks the scientific theory (evolution) that has demonstrated the greatest predictive strength and provided the most important changes in the life sciences with the greatest potential to add to the length and quality of life while expressing no concern about the faith-based economics and finance nostrums that have a horrific record of failures of prediction and praxis.  Conventional economics is not simply weak – it is criminogenic.  It is so criminogenic that it is the ideal medium for culturing the green slime that drives our crises.  Tennessee is being consistent – it wants its students to believe faith-based fables about dinosaurs and people simultaneously hiking the same trails and financial markets that are so efficient that they automatically self-correct and exclude all bubbles and frauds.  The thing these dogmas share in common is that they cannot survive the rigors of scientific inquiry.

The WSJ reporters who report endlessly and uncritically the theoclassical economic claims that they know to be false and disastrous can do the world (and the paper) a great service by simply playing it straight as journalists.  They can present the predictive failures of conventional economics and finance and interview and quote the views of heterodox scholars and practitioners and note their far superior predictive records.  They can quote views from other disciplines.  Few economists, for example, have any expertise regarding elite white-collar crime.  White-collar criminologists are the experts on dysfunctional financial markets that generate epidemics of green slime.

The UMKC economics blog (New Economic Perspective) is an excellent source of alternative, highly interdisciplinary theories that have repeatedly demonstrated superior predictive abilities and praxis.  My colleagues’ work on Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and job guarantees are two examples.  My work on financial regulation, fraud, corruption, and financial crises is also useful to any reporter willing to present an alternative perspective that actually is scientific.  As Jim Sturgeon, the outgoing chair of our UMKC economics department says:  “UMKC economics – the folks who got it right; and probably will do so again.”  I love his use of “probably.”  It is very mid-Western, and very appropriate.

Considering Tennessee’s nostalgia for creationism led me to think about President Obama’s competitiveness council that developed the atrocity recently enacted as the JOBS Act.  That law is premised on one of those long falsified neoclassical dogmas, the theory that the nation that “wins” the regulatory “race to the bottom” gains a competitive advantage over other nations.  The reality is that regulatory races to the bottom hurt every nation that engages in the race, honest businesses, and consumers.  These races create the criminogenic environments that produce the epidemics of green slime.

If we really wanted to increase U.S. competiveness we could stop teaching our students economic “laws” that were falsified decades ago and stop taking policy advice from failed neoclassical theories and scholars.  In short, the single best thing we could do to increase our competitiveness is stop listening to the businessmen who dominate the President’s council on competitiveness.  They are firm believers in theoclassical economics dogma because it endorses the greatest desire of CEOs – immunity from regulation and the resultant de facto immunity from prosecution.

The other factor that would make the U.S. far more competitive is if we educated our children to develop a superior understanding of economics and two issues the Tennessee legislation identifies as “controversial” – evolution and global warming.  Those fields are two of the areas in which superior education is most essential and could provide the U.S. with the greatest competitive advantage.  So why doesn’t American business come out full force against the politicians in Tennessee and similar states that are giving the greatest possible aid and comfort to American businesses’ foreign rivals?  Why is the Chamber of Commerce leading the global climate change denial movement?  Put aside for a moment the tragic damage to the world and Americans that this unholy war on science will cause if it succeeds.  Focus instead on the fact that the Chamber’s efforts to prevent America from making countering climate change a priority will put American businesses at an immense competitive disadvantage in the development of cleaner energy products.  It should not surprise us that those leading the attacks on science act in a self-destructive manner.  Our economics and anti-science dogmas are imposing costs on our nation of staggering dimensions.  It is long past time for our society to put aside childish things and rejoin the reality-based world.

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