I was chatting with a colleague the other day. She knows her science very well and she is no kind of moralistic posturer. Nevertheless she came up with the kind of knee jerk in the conversation with which most of us are familiar.
She was talking about some television redneck who apparently said, in a prominent outlet, that the lives of American Black people were not so bad.I recalled something I read years ago from a group at, I think, Ohio State University. (I may have this completely garbled.) Their finding, from skeletal remains, was that the US Black slave population was better fed and in apparent better health than northern factory workers. I pointed out that the redneck may not have been utterly nuts.
She looked at me in horror and said “would you want to be a slave?” I have no ambition to be or to have been a slave but that has nothing on earth to do with data about comparative health and nutrition of the populations in the discussion. She knew better of course, especially when I pointed out what a silly thing to say that that was. Even competent intelligent people like her have trouble keeping straight in their heads what ought to have been and what actually was. Are the human sciences, so called, forever condemned to putting up with this sort of reaction?
Imagine a biochemist, say, who told his colleagues that he had discovered a new mechanism of oncogenesis. They reacted in horror: “how would you like to have cancer?” We can’t imagine such a response from scientists yet in the human social and behavioral sciences it happens every day.