Scientific American evaluates the candidates on their answers to Sciencedebate 2012 and evaluates ideology-based denialism as a whole:

Today’s denial of inconvenient science comes from partisans on both ends of the political spectrum. Science denialism among Democrats tends to be motivated by unsupported suspicions of hidden dangers to health and the environment. Common examples include the belief that cell phones cause brain cancer (high school physics shows why this is impossible) or that vaccines cause autism (science has shown no link whatsoever). Republican science denialism tends to be motivated by antiregulatory fervor and fundamentalist concerns over control of the reproductive cycle. Examples are the conviction that global warming is a hoax (billions of measurements show it is a fact) or that we should “teach the controversy” to schoolchildren over whether life on the planet was shaped by evolution over millions of years or an intelligent designer over thousands of years (scientists agree evolution is real). Of these two forms of science denialism, the Republican version is more dangerous because the party has taken to attacking the validity of science itself as a basis for public policy when science disagrees with its ideology.

I agree. We’ve debated on this site the prevalence of denialism on the left vs. the right, but I think it’s a distraction from the central point which I think is being argued most effectively by Jonathan Haidt. That is, humans are not rational beings and most uses of reason are to rationalize positions that we arrived at by intuitive means. That means all ideology is going to strain your relationship with science. Humans tend to hold positions based on shortcuts, or heuristics, that lead them to what feels right, then they use reason to dig in to those positions. It is extremely difficult, and uncommon, for people to change their minds based on reason and evidence. So, any time you have political ideology as the source of people’s positions, you will encounter anti-science when those ideologies conflict with the science. Just like right-wingers have a big problem with climate change and evolution, left-wingers have a big problem with a kind of food religion, GMO and toxin paranoia, and other health and environmental denialism. I think the author here, Shawn Otto, has it exactly right.

His argument to tie the problem into encroaching authoritarianism might be more of a stretch:

By falsely equating knowledge with opinion, postmodernists and antiscience conservatives alike collapse our thinking back to a pre-Enlightenment era, leaving no common basis for public policy. Public discourse is reduced to endless warring opinions, none seen as more valid than another. Policy is determined by the loudest voices, reducing us to a world in which might makes right—the classic definition of authoritarianism.

I don’t know if authoritarianism is the destiny of a population that rejects science. Surely we are at greater risk of manipulation by those that control the message most effectively. More likely, we would be easily manipulated into supporting an oligarchy or plutocracy of those at the top of society who can manage media and politicians through money and influence, or at worst we might get a kakistocracy if the likes of the tea party come to power. Otto is right, however, when empiricism and facts are no longer important, the likelihood that the unqualified, the unprincipled, and the ignorant coming to power will increase.

Comments

  1. #1 TTT
    October 19, 2012

    Liberals are no more likely to believe in anti-vaxism than conservatives are. This is a hollow trope done just for the sake of false balance.

    Michelle Bachmann and Donald Trump are both anti-vaxers. And you can rest assured that so are many among the YEC and militia / New World Order conspiracy crowd.

  2. #2 Mark
    October 19, 2012

    Hey, I don’t want to get in this stupid fight about who is more denialist about what. The fact is, liberal and conservative, ideology draws people into anti-science positions. Bachmann got to it through anti-sex republican BS, and Jenny McCarthy got there through liberal anti-toxin paranoia and “other ways of knowing”/mommy-knowledge. I don’t care which end they come from and I’m not trying to seek “balance”. I’m arguing that ideology is the problem, not the specific end of the spectrum you’re on. Read some of my GMO or animal rights threads sometime, there is plenty of liberal denialism out there. It just isn’t as damaging.

    Chris Mooney has made the point in “the Republican Brain” that the two ends of the spectrum probably started out with about the same amount of crankery, but worsening the Republican side are exterior factors, like fox news and the right wing echo chamber that reinforce delusional beliefs about science while preventing contamination with legitimate scientific information. It’s entirely possible the only real reason for the difference is the liberals don’t have as effective an echo chamber on the left.

  3. [...] Today's denial of inconvenient science comes from partisans on both ends of the political spectrum. Science denialism among Democrats tends to be motivated by unsupported suspicions of hidden dangers to health and the …  [...]

  4. #4 Kagehi
    October 19, 2012

    You may be correct about the echo chamber effect, but.. there is a description often applied to certain liberal circles, “Herding cats.” The right, as part of their prime ideology, is one of authority figures. Nearly every attack against science, or atheism, or anything else that tends to be “left”, is based not on attacking the facts of the position, but the “person” that presented it. Its seen as better, or as important, to discredit the source, than it is to discredit the idea. The left tends to be far more random, and less tied to specific authorities. If one is undermined, there are still others. If X idea is discredited, then that doesn’t automatically discredit idea Y, which is nearly identical, etc. Often, even if the person behind an idea is shown to be totally wrong, the ideology survives. Authorities tend to be distrusted, and its not that one single person supports the idea for someone on the left to be convinced, its that ***lots*** of people agree with it, so, even if the ideology came from one person, and that person is totally discredited, the 10,000 people claiming it worked anyway are more important than who, or where, the idea came from.

    This makes attacks by the left one the right’s positions, or visa versa, an exercise in absurdity. Both sides attack the other based on what they value, more often than not. So, if the right is attacking, they target the core person they imagine is behind it, whether it be Darwin, or Dawkins, etc., attacking them on the basis of not being 100% right, or perfect, and therefor their ideas must all be suspect. The left.. more often than not will attack an idea based purely on how many people follow it. If its a lot of people, it must be true, or, alternatively, if a lot of people seem to be “conspiring” to hide something, it must be a real conspiracy.

    They have one echo chamber, we have thousands, but, each of those thousands contain vast numbers of “believers”, and that is way more important than *who* is in charge, what other things they believe (up to a certain point), or even, in some cases, holding to completely conflicting theories. As echo chambers go, the left isn’t “efficient”, simply because it is, essentially, three things – widely dispersed and scattered, semi-leaderless, and, finally, not having to conform to authority means you can be completely (more or less) rational about one thing, and completely bloody nuts about 50 others, and not be “outside” the echo chamber(s). You can’t be that random and even come close to the right wing’s echo chamber.

  5. #5 Obstreperous Applesauce
    October 20, 2012

    Lo, verily it is written, “What ideology lops apart, crank magnetism glops together.”

  6. #6 R.L. Schaefer
    Ca.
    October 21, 2012

    P.C.- B.S. Science Is Running Amok

    1. P.C. – B.S.S. ranted incessantly during the Gulf Spill that it would take more than a 100 years for the gulf to recover. Now, these same scientists are spending millions more tax dollars searching for traces of the spill.

    2. For decades enviro-wackos wanted to close off the deserts to mining, off-roading, road building and development. Now they say nothing when tens of thousands of acres are covered with whirling, bird killing monsters and glaring solar panels – beneath which nothing lives.

    3. Rachel Carson’s hysteria led to the deaths of millions of children as the result of the P.C. B.S.S. DDT ban. The death toll continues to this day. More lives have been saved than by any other chemical invention in human history.

    4. More birds have been killed by windmills than DDT ever killed – Not to mention the permanent habitat destruction or the fact the wind energy provides very little “net energy”. What little is extremely expensive.

    5. I note Obama has spoken of vaccines being linked to autism. Although there is no evidence. Why doesn’t the left call him out…. I also note our facile,” Huckster in Chief ” has no idea of when life begins – claiming that knowledge is above his pay grade.

    Really? Authentic science knows when life begins – However, P.C. – B.S. Science seems more than a little fuzzy on the issue.

  7. #7 Mark
    October 21, 2012

    P.C.- B.S. Science Is Running Amok

    1. P.C. – B.S.S. ranted incessantly during the Gulf Spill that it would take more than a 100 years for the gulf to recover. Now, these same scientists are spending millions more tax dollars searching for traces of the spill.

    Not an expert on this issue, but my understanding is that whole swaths of gulf are still not fishable, and oil balls are still washing up everywhere. Although I admit the damage does not appear to have been as bad as one would have expected, but again, not an expert.

    2. For decades enviro-wackos wanted to close off the deserts to mining, off-roading, road building and development. Now they say nothing when tens of thousands of acres are covered with whirling, bird killing monsters and glaring solar panels – beneath which nothing lives.

    First I’ve heard of solar panels as an environmental threat. If the worst windfarms do is kill some birds I think we’ll somehow manage to get over it. It’s not like the costs of other methods of fuel production aren’t rife with secondary costs like wars in the middle east, mine collapses, oil spills, etc.

    3. Rachel Carson’s hysteria led to the deaths of millions of children as the result of the P.C. B.S.S. DDT ban. The death toll continues to this day. More lives have been saved than by any other chemical invention in human history.

    This is a classic BS argument from the antienvironmental right. DDT was never banned and continues to be used around the world. It was banned in the US. More lives have been saved, further, by soap ala Lister.

    4. More birds have been killed by windmills than DDT ever killed – Not to mention the permanent habitat destruction or the fact the wind energy provides very little “net energy”. What little is extremely expensive.

    Prices are coming down on wind, with greater deployment, economic efficiency will improve. Current cost per watt of energy generated is not necessarily a valid criticism of the potential of the technology. It’s also important to note the hidden costs of oil and coal are also very high (wars, oil spills, environmental contamination, mining accidents, strip mining, etc).

    5. I note Obama has spoken of vaccines being linked to autism. Although there is no evidence. Why doesn’t the left call him out…. I also note our facile,”

    The only reference I can find to such a statement is here and from the video it appears Obama was quoted out of context. Certainly as a matter of policy the administration has not been anti-vaccine.

    Huckster in Chief ” has no idea of when life begins – claiming that knowledge is above his pay grade.

    Really? Authentic science knows when life begins – However, P.C. – B.S. Science seems more than a little fuzzy on the issue.

    Authentic science points out that the distinction is fundamentally unscientific. Life does not begin, it is continuous. The sperm is alive, the egg is alive, the combination of the two is also alive. At no point does life begin, it has been an uninterrupted continuous stream.

  8. [...] 2012/10/19: Denialism: Scientific American addresses denialism in politics – says it jeopardiz… [...]

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