Reality: What Science and Libertarianism Have In Common


Calm Down! I'm a Libertarian!

Over at USA Today, Alex Berezow, editor of RealClearScience has a nice column in which he argues that libertarian philosophy tackles government policy the same way a researcher tackles an experiment. From the op/ed:

The scientific enterprise rests on simple premises: Scientists should have the freedom to investigate whatever they choose. The universe is ultimately knowable and logical. The business of science should be to promote reality, not ideology. This formula has proved successful.

Similarly, the seductive allure of libertarianism relies on its simple assumptions: People should be as free as possible. Our laws should reflect reality. Government policies should be analyzed using logic, not ideology. There are no grand appeals to shaping the world in America's image, no quixotic promotion of economic equality and no obsession over the moral character of the nation.

In a nutshell, scientists and libertarians deal with the world the way it is, rather than the way they want it to be. …

It is striking that the qualities that make for a good scientist are identical to those that make for a good libertarian.

I, of course, find Berezow's argument somewhat persuasive. Indeed, research by University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt and his colleagues find that libertarians score higher on a need for cognition scale (i.e., they engage in and enjoy effortful cognitive activities) than either liberals or conservatives do.

In addition, libertarians score much higher on systemizing (the drive to analyze the variables in a system, and to derive the underlying rules that govern the behavior of the system) than either liberals or conservatives do. On the other hand, libs and cons score higher on empathizing (the drive to identify another person's emotions and thoughts, and to respond to these with an appropriate emotion) than do libertarians. 

Mutual Admiration Society Disclosure: I note that Berezow very generously quotes me in the USA Today op/ed and and I am very grateful that he occasionally reprints some of my articles at RealClearScience.