Montreal, August 15, 2012 • No 302


Jean-Filipe Bergeron is a blogger, music critic and budding columnist. He lives in Quebec.



The Anti-Scientific Method


by Jean-Filipe Bergeron


          Imagine, just for a moment, that you don't know anything about how water changes when the temperature rises or falls and you want to know more about it. You think of a theory: If you raise the water's temperature, it will become solid. I think you'll agree that this is pretty easy to test ‒ you get some water in a cauldron, and then gently put it in your fireplace. With a little jolt of excitement, you get to test your scientific theory by lighting the fire.


          To your surprise and disappointment, the water doesn't become solid. If anything, it becomes even less solid as a good chunk of it turns to a gaseous state. What would be the rational reaction to this unfolding of events? It would probably be along the lines of: "Well, this didn't work. I was wrong. Water doesn't become solid when heated; in fact, it does the exact opposite. Maybe, just maybe, if I do the opposite and make the water's temperature drop, it will become solid." You might then enthusiastically test this new theory.

          Now, what would you think of someone in the same situation who, after seeing the water turn into vapour when heated, instead decides to blow on the fire to turn up the heat even more, arguing that "it will become solid eventually!" Not only that, but he vigorously attacks anyone who suggests to him that maybe his theory isn't valid, and that doing the opposite of what he's doing might be worth a try. He even accuses the skeptics of not wanting him to get ice.

          To me, the second scenario is exactly how the average Big Government advocate acts. Let me explain.

          After World War II, the percentage of people living below the poverty level started dropping dramatically in the United States, on average by 1% every year. Just imagine what this means: If this had kept on, poverty in America would today be more or less nonexistent. Now enter President Johnson and his Great Society project. Within a few years, the poverty level stopped declining, and has either risen or stagnated ever since. Yet, do you hear any leftist say, "Okay, the welfare state doesn't work; we need to scrap it and try something else"? Of course not, all you hear is, “We need more money!” even though the budgets for the Great Society programs have never stopped increasing.

          You see, even if I'm willing to examine the theory that governmental programs could work, the way its advocates act is fundamentally anti-scientific. If the State makes a law or government program with a stated goal (reduce poverty, increase the safety of citizens, find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, etc.) and after a few years, the exact opposite has happened, its proponents have to at the very least admit the failure, assuming they really care about the stated goal, that is. Why does this never happen?

"Can I really say that I care about poverty if I condone programs that have repeatedly failed to alleviate the problem? Do I really care about sick people if I’m not even willing to examine the possibility that Obamacare might fail, or if I’m not even willing to admit that previous State interventions didn’t help, but in fact did the opposite?"

          Any libertarian can tell you exactly what will happen under Obamacare. Insurance companies are now forced to insure people who are already sick or at high risk. Not only that, but people now only have the choice between buying insurance or paying a fine. Now, if you have even the slightest notion of the cost of insurance in the United States, you know that the fine is lower than that cost. So what will the average uninsured American do? He or she will pay the fine until he or she gets sick and needs insurance, and then will go buy it from companies that can't refuse them anymore. This will increase the cost of insurance enormously. When this happens (and believe me, it will), will the people who supported this bill say, "Okay, so Obamacare didn't work; It was called the Affordable Care Act and yet care is now more expensive than ever; We need to scrap it and find another solution"? No. I guarantee they will see this as yet another proof that the “free market” doesn't work and demand even more government regulations while defending the previous ones, and viciously attack anyone who criticizes them.

          In all fairness, many politicians talk about "reforms" when discussing changes they want to bring to government programs. Healthcare reform, education reform, banking system reform, etc. While it is definitely an improvement over simply pushing for more money, they still almost never admit that the previous programs have failed. Which in turns leads to another truth: More often than you think, these so-called reforms are nothing but minor tweaks and additions to the current laws with vastly increased budgets.

          I could say the same about environmentalists. Did you hear anyone apologize or retract their previous proclamations of doom after the end of the whole “acid rain” scare? Did anyone ever say something like “Okay, we admit it; we overreacted about acid rain. It was really not as dangerous as we thought. Sorry about that. However, we have discovered that the Earth is warming up at a pretty alarming rate, and we have good evidence that human activity is responsible for that. We know we lost credibility with that previous scare story, but we really need to pull together or the consequences of ignoring this global warming could be very, very dire”?

          Of course they didn’t. The modus operandi of environmentalists is to jump from one issue to another as soon as one starts to lose steam. As we speak, global warming as an issue is starting to lose credibility, so you can be sure that in a few years or so they will have found yet another scare story to replace it.

          The people who truly care are the ones who care about the results, not the experiments. Can I really say that I care about poverty if I condone programs that have repeatedly failed to alleviate the problem? Do I really care about sick people if I’m not even willing to examine the possibility that Obamacare might fail, or if I’m not even willing to admit that previous State interventions didn’t help, but in fact did the opposite? Can I really say that I care about the environment if I support policies that according to all evidence have made things worse? Can I really say that I care about safety in airports if I continue to support the Transportation Security Administration after it has invaded the privacy of millions of people and yet failed to catch a single terrorist?

          What really matters are the actual results of government policies, not their stated intentions or goals. If statists want to regain any kind of credibility, they need to focus on that. Who knows? They might even become curious about free-market solutions to the social problems they claim to care so much about.