Political correctness now a bullying tactic aimed at stifling legitimate debate

Science explains how the natural world works. PC views, however, are more aspirational, setting out how the world should be, according to their adherents

Most people can sympathise with the general motivation of protecting the disadvantaged that underlies political correctness (PC), because it harmonises with traditional concepts of decency and fair play.

However, PC has developed into a bullying tactic, aimed at shutting down all except PC views on various issues and stifling legitimate debate. PC obstructs the self-correcting nature of scientific inquiry as described by Nathan Cofnas in Foundations of Science – Science Is Not Always “Self-Correcting”. Many scientists undertaking research unacceptable to PC activists in areas such as global warming, evolutionary biology, human intelligence, gender studies and more are now subject to harassment.

Science explains how the natural world works. Scientists study aspects of the world not yet understood, review knowledge to-date, propose explanations (hypotheses) to the problem and test these hypotheses with experiments.

Hypotheses not supported by experiments are rejected, but if experiments support the hypothesis, further experiments are devised and tested. Hypotheses that continue to be supported by experiments are eventually accepted as true. But, scepticism is a hallmark of this scientific method. All scientific positions must remain open to challenge. This is the “self-correcting” nature of science that produced our present understanding of the world.


Global warming is constantly in the news. PC views it as entirely caused by human activities, and portrays scientists who offer scientific evidence that it can be partly attributed to natural causes – beyond the scope of human activities – as “climate-deniers” carrying out “bad science “. This attitude has gained such traction that scientists find it very difficult to publish scientific findings supporting any contribution to the subject other than human-induced emissions of warming gases.

We must respect the sceptical nature of the scientific method and the impressive credentials of some dissenting scientists

The Earth has warmed gradually since the mid-1800s, coinciding with large-scale industrial emissions of warming gases, principally CO². A strong majority of climate scientists have concluded that these warming gases entirely explain global warming – often called the “scientific consensus”. But, a small minority of scientists question this interpretation, pointing to other possible contributory factors, such as variations in the Sun’s heat output.

When scientists disagree on scientific interpretations, they must be allowed to argue the matter out among themselves. Non-scientific PC advocates cheering on the majority scientific side in this debate, declaring a “scientific consensus” and booing the minority scientific side, only muddy the waters and weaken the majority scientific side. It is worth asking, what does scientific consensus mean if all other positions are ruled out in advance?

Most scientists – myself included – and most of the general public accept the conclusions of the great majority of climate scientists. However, we must also respect the sceptical nature of the scientific method and the impressive credentials of some dissenting scientists, eg physicist Freeman Dyson (1923-2020), who questioned the climate-modelling used by most climate scientists, and James Lovelock (1919-2022), of Gaia fame. Also, we must not forget that strong scientific majorities are sometimes wrong – remember the “scientific consensus” that opposed Alfred Wegener’s (1880-1930) proposal of continental drift?

PC also distorts evolutionary science and intelligence studies, labelling studies indicating innate sex or racial differences between groups as “bad science“. PC judges the quality of such studies solely on the basis of the studies’ conclusions. Indeed, even raising the possibility that such differences could exist is judged to be immoral.

Science is based only on evidence and logic. No genuine scientific conclusion can be ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘sexist’, ‘racist’ etc – only true or false

Of course, I’m not saying that everything under the sun is appropriate material for scientific investigation. For example, such areas of research as developing weapons of mass destruction, or new methods of human torture, and more, would rule themselves out on ethical grounds.

Suppressing research that might reveal differences between human groups carries the high price of sacrificing access to valuable new knowledge. It is very likely there are important differences between male and female brains, but researchers are loath to investigate for fear of raising a PC storm. This retards progress in neuroscience.

Opposition to scientific studies of group differences aims to prevent discrimination against groups that are less well-endowed than others. This is a worthy aspiration and calls for sensitive approaches, but, as history shows, it is not very effectively achieved by suppressing investigations that might reveal talent rankings.

Science is based only on evidence and logic. No genuine scientific conclusion can be “good”, “bad”, “sexist”, “racist” etc – only true or false. The PC a priori rejection of scientific investigations on moral grounds is anti-scientific. Science describes the world as it is; PC describes the world as PC thinks it ought to be.

William Reville is an emeritus professor of biochemistry at UCC