Subversive Science


Dov FoxFollow

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This Article introduces the phenomenon of subversive science, reveals its operation in modern American society, and analyzes its implications for law and policy amidst calls to defund or repress controversial lines of inquiry. Existing debates center on whether cutting-edge science casts doubt on abstract ideals that animate our legal system, from racial equality to criminal responsibility. This focus misses the deeper and more practical danger that lies in how citizens misperceive and misapply these ideals in election and trial decisions. What makes certain science “subversive” is its power to shake the public’s faith in those democratic cornerstones.

Emerging bodies of psychology research show that presenting voters with genomic studies of group differences makes them less willing to fund early education for the underprivileged. In a similar vein, brain imaging studies — that predict whether people will commit certain acts before they even intend to — can lead jurors to question free will and acquit guilty defendants. Neither scientific illiteracy nor cultural worldviews explains away these results, defying the orthodoxy that individuals conform their views on contested matters to their command of the facts or values that define their identities. Reframing the debate about subversive science means targeting the transmission of knowledge, rather than its production. I advance a range of systematic reforms to combat the alternative facts and cognitive bias through novel forms of engagement in congressional hearings, classroom lessons, and courtroom testimony.