Friday, January 27, 2012

Liberal Science Denial

MarkH makes the case we are letting liberals off the hook too easily:

. . . liberals are just as likely to to disbelieve science that challenges their ideology, only the issues where liberals tend to deny aren't quite as earth-shattering (although anti-vax is a serious public health problem) and not as much in the media spotlight. And recent cognitive studies on why people believe what they believe support the likelihood that all of us, liberal, conservative, or moderate, are poor rational actors in the evaluation of science. . . . 
For instance, I've found liberals are far more likely to be interested in "greening our vaccines" (note the liberal pull of the label "green"). There are conservative anti-vaxxers but they come to it ideologically as well from the "the guv'mint can't tell me to vaccinate" standpoint. Liberals are far more likely to buy into altie-med, to believe "toxins" cause all illness, to engage in "big pharma" conspiracy-mongering, to express paranoid delusions about GMO foods or irradiation, to espouse insane theories about food in general, or to believe Bush was behind 9/11.
 But commenter Rev. Enki sets him straight:
Here's a question: How many (relatively) liberal, serious presidential primary contenders (say, getting >10% of the primary votes in multiple states) for the past decades have been anti-vaccine? How many have been anti-GMO? How many have been HIV denialists? The primaries are generally considered to be significantly biased toward the liberal activists. The liberals among liberals. On the other side, how many serious conservative primary contenders have been anti-evolution? How many have been deniers of, or at least minimizers of global warming? How many have been anti-vaccine, for chrissakes? How many have outright declared, or at least intimated that the UN is considering taking over the world?
Exactly so. While in principle, liberals are just as capable of science denial as any conservative, in practice, denialism among US conservatives at this particular moment in history is mainstream, whilst liberal denialism is relegated to the fringes where it belongs.

If you keep looking and you look hard enough and long enough, you can find ample evidence for the irrationality of all humankind. The fear of nuclear power. Resistance to education reform (lately better) and so on. But denialism is a little more complex than that. It also incorporates a hostility towards the educated, an embrace of conspiracy theory and crackpots, and rage and hostility when confronted with the facts. It takes root and flourishes among those that see themselves as persecuted and threatened by powerful, sinister forces responsible for the lacuna between what they feel to be true and the actual evidence.

This is typically a minority outlook, for obvious reasons. But sometimes a larger political movement will either pander to that outlook or be captured by it outright, and that is what the American conservative movement is flirting with today.


  1. Bush being behind 9/11 is believed by quite a few Ron Paul followers also.

    To find an equivalent amount of extremism on the left, as we now have on the right, you would have to go back to the 1960s, but imagine that 100 activists like Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin were actually in congress, with several of them running for president.

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