“97 percent of climate scientists agree that human behavior is warming the earth. That’s not question or a controversy; it’s a fact. And surely we need to teach students the difference. Indeed, they can’t participate constructively in the real controversies of our time — about climate change, and everything else — unless they learn to distinguish fact from opinion, and knowledge from belief.” So far we haven’t done a very good job at teaching our students these skills. Given the significant challenges we face in our modern world, and the overwhelming amount of information found on the Internet (much of which is garbage), it is essential that we teach our students the skills necessary to evaluate truth claims.
Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute (a conservative think tank), claims that “[m]any academics and intellectuals are biased against conservative viewpoints.” But Brooks’ claim is built on rhetorical trickery.
And it’s important to note that Brooks works for a political think tank that has no interest in diversity in personnel or ideas. The goal of the AEI is not the pursuit of knowledge or truth, but the promotion of their ideology.
Brooks uses the language of liberalism (“diversity” and “open-mindedness”) to portray conservatives as victims of liberal bias. To pull this off, he takes advantage of the progressive affinity for “diversity.” However, it soon becomes clear that Brooks is not talking about diversity of gender, race, sexual orientation, etc., he is referring to the diversity of ideas (something that is very important to academia). This sounds like a good thing, but what Brooks is asking for is the acceptance of certain ideas (his) in the academic world based on something other than merit.
The acquisition of knowledge in the academic world is the result of a brutal competition of ideas. Only those ideas that survive this process are generally accepted as knowledge, and then only provisionally. If new evidence comes in, we must revise what we know. Academia is committed to the pursuit of knowledge (something that AEI is not because they believe they already have the truth). The process has its flaws, but over time it brings us closer to the truth. So if Brooks wants his ideas accepted they have to the same rigorous process that all ideas are subjected to.
So, for example, in my own field of history the conservative claim that the Civil War was over states’ rights because the evidence does not support it. In science, biologists don’t reject creationism (or its newer form ID) because they are biased, but because the evidence doesn’t support it! Climate scientists claim that the climate is changing not because they have a liberal bias, but because the evidence supports this conclusion!
Not all ideas are equally valid! The ideas that become accepted as knowledge win through merit not through appeals to fairness. Open mindedness requires only that the idea be given a fair hearing. If an idea is to be accepted, it must stand up to the rigorous standards of logic and evidence. Truth is not about fairness, although there should be fairness (based on relevant qualifications rather than irrelevant factors such as race, gender, etc.) in who participates.