When someone makes an argument or does a study that has a policy implication you dislike, it’s natural to attack the argument or the study to show either that it’s wrong on its own terms or that it doesn’t support the policy inference.
(Of course, the argument might be right and the inference valid so far as it goes, but there might be reasons to pursue some different policy due to considerations the argument doesn’t address.)
It’s also natural to make the reverse inference: that someone who criticizes an argument or a study must oppose whatever policy the argument seems to support: that the critique is simply a trope of policy rhetoric.
If the critic is a politician or an advocate, that inference-to-motive is likely correct: criticism of arguments is part of the stuff of policy debate. But if the critic is an academic or a policy analyst, the inference-to-motive might be wrong.
I teach policy analysis for a living; blogging is an adjunct to that enterprise, as well as to my political activity. I have a bunch of strongly-held political beliefs and policy opinions, but I also have a strong commitment to rational discourse about public affairs. Like GBS’s imagined democratic citizen, I actually resent a fallacy as much as I do an insult.
So when a marijuana-legalization advocate says “Cannabis kills no one” and I respond by calling bullsh*t, it’s not because I hate the idea of marijuana legalization. And when a drug warrior says, “Marijuana use reduces IQ” and I point out that the underlying study only applies to very heavy and very persistent cannabis use starting in mid-adolescence – that there’s absolutely no evidence of IQ loss from the marijuana smoking of 90% or more of all marijuana smokers – it’s not because I want to see free commerce in marijuana.
I also know, from bitter experience, that passionate advocates find this completely impossible to believe. Projecting from their own behavior, they are convinced that no one makes an argument merely because he or she thinks that argument true. On this view, if you’re not engaged in rhetorical battle – offering all arguments, true or false, on one side and rejecting all arguments on the other – then you must be engaged in some low form of personal positioning for career advantage. And the claim that there is relatively dispassionate analysis, as distinguished from advocacy, strikes true-believing advocates as the ultimate in bad faith: if not deception, then self-deception.
So there are people who sincerely believe (and others who pretend to believe) that I’m a closet drug warrior pursuing a sadistic and authoritarian agenda, and merely pretending to be a careful analyst of the consequences of alternative policies in order to deceive he unwary into taking my arguments seriously. And there are people who believe that, in my heart of hearts, I’m a full-on legalizer, making occasional prohibitionist noises just to maintain my political currency and access to funding.
And there’s not a damned thing I can do about it, except to say that it ain’t so, and to argue with particular ferocity against false arguments offered in support of the policy positions I actually hold.
[This has a slightly different twist in straight politics. No sane person thinks that when I criticize particular attacks on conservatives it’s because I’m a closet conservative, but the accusation of disloyalty and careerism is always available to those who think that the dirtiest political rhetoric is always the most effective and that those who criticize their own side’s dirt are over-fastidious.]