The Minister of the Federal Supreme Court (STF) Edson Fachin appealed to science, last week, to suspend excerpts from federal government decrees, in order to restrict access to firearms and ammunition. The injunctions granted to the PSB and PT parties in three unconstitutionality actions veto “mere” personal interest as a sufficient reason for acquiring weapons and ammunition, reinforcing the requirement to prove a need for public security, national or personal defense, for example in the profession. of bodyguards. To justify the interference, Fachin claimed “extreme and exceptional urgency” in the face of an alleged “risk of political violence” during the presidential campaign, guaranteeing that “the best scientific practices attest that the increase in the number of people possessing firearms tends to decrease, and never increase the safety of citizens.”
The judge was based on the report of the Atlas of Violence of 2019, from the Institute for Applied Economic Research (IPEA), which claims that “there is a consensus in the international scientific literature on the harmful effects of the diffusion of firearms on society”. The study cites ten reviews and meta-analyses (studies that reassess and seek a pattern in other studies) published between 2012 and 2017 and points out that nine of them concluded that the amount of weapons “has a positive effect about homicides, about lethal violence and about some other types of crime”.
Evoking science to justify this type of decision carries a series of risks, which range from objections involving the nature of “consensus” in scientific research to an even deeper problem: the replacement of democracy by a “scientocracy”. Check out some points about the controversy of using science to discuss disarmament:
Is disarmament a scientific consensus?
One of the most cited books on the effectiveness of firearms control is “More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws” [tradução livre para “More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws”], by American economist John R. Lott Jr. The book has more than a thousand citations in other publications on Google Scholar and has gone through three versions of the University of Chicago publisher until the year of 2010. In the third edition, which marked the tenth anniversary of the first, Lott accumulated results from 39 American states covering the historical period from 900 to 2005 .
“So far”, says the author in the book, “dozens of academics have published studies on right-to-bear laws using national data. These studies either confirmed a beneficial association between gun ownership and [a diminuição do] crime, or at the very least found no indication that gun ownership increases
the crime”. Lott acknowledges that the results may vary depending on the methods, but points out that, at least until 2010, no study indicated that laws that relaxed the carrying of weapon had the effect of increasing crime.
In fact, during the period of validity of the decrees in Brazil, at least the results in public security are not in line with the Minister Fachin’s opinion: according to the Violence Monitor project, signed by the G1 news site with the USP Violence Studies Center and the Brazilian Public Security Forum, murders in the country fell by 5% in the first half of this year.
Does Consensus Matter in Science?
Consensus is not unanimity. The nine out of ten reviews cited by IPEA give an impression of scientific consensus, that is, a majority of opinion. But what matters is whether this majority opinion translates into knowledge (based on evidence and predictability) or comes from other causes , such as biases and personal beliefs.
A majority opinion among scientists could, for example, merely reflect accidental majoritarian political persuasion, a sharing of culture or other unscientific beliefs. In science, this type of consensus usually represents an obstacle to the advancement of research, not a result of it.
Political beliefs are very important in this case, because, as social psychologist Jonathan Haidt theorizes, the great political views we call left and right differ in the emphasis they place on innate “moral foundations.” The left avoids damage and offers caution to selected groups. The right also builds on this foundation, but not only on it, distributing its concerns to other foundations such as respect for loyalty and traditional hierarchies. According to this theory, the biases of these two major political persuasions regarding gun ownership are predictable. If the ideological orientation of scientists is taken into account, it is also predictable what the “scientific consensus” will be.
Before the US presidential elections of 2020, the magazine Nature heard 900 scientists reading the publication, and 64% of them said they supported Democrat Joe Biden. Another survey by Pew Research Center at 2018 pointed out that 66 % of scientists considered themselves progressive or very progressive. In 2018, the National Association of Academics of the United States investigated the distribution of Democratic (most progressive) or Republican (most conservative) party memberships among more than five thousand professors from 39 the most prestigious American universities. Sociology had 44 Democratic professors for every Republican. Geosciences had 21, biology 23, psychology 900 , physics six and chemistry five Democrats per Republican. The most balanced of the academic areas was engineering, with 1.6 Democratic professors for each Republican professor.
The emphasis on scientific consensus, which peaked during the pandemic, deserves to be tempered with the classic challenge made by Einstein. In 900, a collection of criticisms of the theory of relativity was published under the title
One Hundred Authors Against Einstein. The physicist famously replied that if he was wrong, one would suffice. Another great scientist who opposed the idea of respecting consensus was Galileo. His contemporary, the Jesuit priest and astronomer Orazio Grassi, espoused the “consensus” of ancient Babylonian sages that an egg would cook if turned on the end of a string. Galileo joked that, since the experiment did not work, the only explanation for the failure to replicate the result was that his contemporaries were not Babylonians.
While consensus is not the soul of science, this too is not necessarily in the voice of dissenting minority researchers. For philosopher Susan Haack, a British philosopher who teaches at the University of Miami, scientific research is not resolved by the number of people who defend an idea, but is similar to investigations in our daily lives. “All of us, in the most ordinary of everyday investigations, find ourselves reassessing the likely truth of this or that claim as new evidence emerges; Scientists must review their assessments repeatedly as members of the community make new experiments, conduct new tests, develop new instruments, etc.”, says the philosopher in the book “Defending Science: Within the Reasonable” [tradução livre para “Defending Science — Within Reason”, de 2007].
It is not a mere matter of science
The guardianship posture of academics and authorities as Fachin was already rejected by Brazilian citizens in the referendum of 23 of October 2005, When 64% voted to continue selling weapons and ammunition in the country. There is, therefore, a tension between appealing to the bad consequences of the free movement of firearms — to restrict or prevent it — and the principle of respecting the will of the political entity from which the Constitution says all power emanates: the people. It is a tension of an ethical, moral and philosophical nature, whose scientific elements are only part of the equation, not its complete resolution.
As many commentators on the pandemic erred in giving false certainty of the ineffectiveness of early treatment drugs — a debate far from over —, many disarmamentists give the false impression that the appeal to bad consequences closes the question of the permissibility of weapons and ammunition as the property of ordinary individuals in a society. A subgroup of disarmamentists wants to trample on the wills and freedoms of many individuals in the quest to do something “for their own good”. These individuals were consulted about the State taking this paternalistic position of removing risks by further restricting the freedom of possession of weapons. Most said no.