Control. A troubling word. To control or be controlled, the battleground of fate and freedom.
Most of us don’t feel like we have much control. We are influenced and manipulated by forces outside of our control. Some of those forces are human and others not.
In science, control is a good thing. Science represents the human desire for control in a world not solely designed for human purposes. The world doesn’t care about the fate of humanity or if we puny walking apes understand the greater cosmos. But science dares to seek what the old gods denied humanity, knowledge and power. Take that, ye old gods!
A scientific control is a simple concept. It is so simple as to be almost boring. Few care about the controls of the study. It is the results that everyone gets excited about. But without effective controls, there are no useful results. For probing minds, the real story of science is in the controls. It is the greatest challenge of science. Without control of conditions, scientists have a hard time making headway.
This touches most sensitively upon human research. Humans can’t be controlled in the way animals can, for ethical reasons and for other reasons as well. Humans as social animals are complex, and so not easily studied. The best animal research puts human research to shame.
I noted this problem recently in relation to race realism. Many people would want to know more than we do know or presently know how to know. We humans want to know. It really pisses us off how ignorant we still are. But we are always certain that it is the other a-hole who is ignorant and clueless. Not us.
Science is ambitious. You have to give it credit for that. We humans love knowledge. What little knowledge we are able to gain we make much ado about. While what we don’t know or can’t know we’d rather ignore.
People like race realists don’t deal well with uncertainty and ambiguity. Most of the data from human research doesn’t lead to clear simple conclusions. The mouse study I mentioned at the link above shows how far science has to go. That study is better controlled than any study has ever been done in the entire history of human research. Yet it proved how much remains uncontrolled.
Even many scientists get duped by this state of affairs. No scientist wants to admit how near futile is the endeavor to pin humans down. A lot of medical research is of low quality, not simply because much of it involves humans, but for other reasons as well. Those scientists who have dedicated their entire lives to the human research fields don’t want to admit how shaky is the ground upon which all human studies are based. So, scientists will sometimes speak confidently about all kinds of things about which they can’t possibly know (e.g., the percentage of genetic vs environmental influence).
Science isn’t well suited for dealing with society-wide problems that includes science itself. The challenge with scientists studying humans is that the scientists are also humans, a specific demographic of humans with attendant biases they rarely can see. The trickiest part is how do scientists control for the problems scientists themselves bring to their own research.
This confusion offers wonderful fodder for those invested in the status qo. It is a fog behind which to hide their intentions and self-interests, conscious and unconscious. This is why race realist research is the perfect match for those not wanting to face uncomfortable issues straight on.
Race realism is based on an entrenched racial social order and on an centuries-old legacy of racism. Race was an idea designed specifically for the purpose of control, that is to say social control of one set of humans by another. It was a product of the Enlightenment when science took hold.
Racism and science have intertwined pasts. The early rhetoric of science was about controlling nature and controlling the human world, the rhetoric often being quite explicit in its violence and visions of power. Nature was anthropomorized often as a woman to be forced into submission, often with sexual connotations of the male virility of the scientific hero. And certain humans were portrayed as animals, from Africans to the Irish.
It is unsurprising that very little scientific research has sought to control for racism itself in studying human differences. Racism is taken as a given, even an inevitability of human nature and human society. Humans are different, the differences often framed as superior and inferior. It is an old quest to prove that the inferior races, ethnicities, and classes are deserving of their oppression and impoverishment.
Anyway, we simply don’t know how to control for racism, even if those in power who give most of the funding wanted to control for it. It has been a slow slog for researchers to begin to grasp how pervasive is racism in our society, the prejudices and biases, the unconscious motivations and the more overt forms found in institutions. Racism is everywhere. Scientists ultimately can’t control for racism because there is no control group that exists outside of racism to compare against.
The mercurial nature of racism allows for plausible deniability. No one has to claim it for it claims our entire society, hidden at the root like a grub.
In promoting a worldview of hyper-individualist self-control, the dominant social order wants to deny its own position of control. Those who have the most power would rather deny any responsibility and hence any blame. Shifting the focus to hypothetical racial genetics is just old bigotry taking new forms.
Control is the name of the game.