Wednesday, October 05, 2011


"Ask him why he doesn't believe in science."

The left loves to point at right leaning people and claim they're anti-science. Democrats stand up and shout at Republicans for being stupid a-scientific cretins. Its sort of like in the Medieval period when someone denounced people for being un-Christian, or a Communist declared someone a counter revolutionary: you're bad for being different than I am.

A proof they usually offer these big three:
  • Opposition to Evolutionism
  • Opposition to embryonic stem cell research
  • Skepticism of human-caused global warming
Now I'll get to whether those things are so very anti scientific or wrong in a moment, but note for now that these examples all focus on one controversial position of scientists, rather than science its self.

Recently Alex Berezow, a doctor of microbiology and editor of Real Clear Science wrote a piece for USA Today which pointed out that Democrats and leftists tend to be fairly anti-science in their own way. Ronald Bailey summarizes at Reason:
Berezow argued that progressives tend to be more anti-vaccine, anti-biotechnology when it comes to food, anti-biomedical research involving tests on animals, and anti-nuclear power.
Berezow summarizes "In short, for every anti-science Republican that exists, there is at least one anti-science Democrat."

In terms of strict equivalency, he's right: and you can add in other things like peak oil, overpopulation hysteria, and so on to the list.

The problem here is that these aren't signs of being anti-science on either side. They show an opposition to some positions and ideas that many scientists adhere to, but usually the basis for their opposition is scientific in its self.

Take being anti-vaccine. Objectively this is a foolish position, but the people who hold it believe they are holding this position based on scientific fact. They think, based on a (now revealed to have been fraudulent) study that showed a correlation between vaccinations in children and autism. This isn't simply because they fear and hate science or vaccinations, but because they believe they have good scientific reason for their opposition.

Or take embryonic stem cell research. There's plenty of ethical concerns over this practice, but also practical science: you don't need to use embryonic stem cells. Not only can you harvest the same stem cells from placental tissue, but several scientists around the world have demonstrated that with treatment, adult stem cells can have the same properties. And when you stack on top of that the horrendous results that come from attempted treatments based on embryonic stem cell research, the conclusion isn't too hard to come to.

And, if you look closely at some positions, opposition is sometimes the most scientific approach, not the least. Take human-caused global warming. Even if all of the skewed data, doctored studies, hilariously failed computer modeling and hysteria is all true none of that even strongly supports the position that humans are causing the warming. The best, newest science is heading rapidly away from that idea.

But there's another level to this which isn't being discussed. Holding positions which contradict scientists doesn't make you anti-scientific. It could, but it probably just means you have specific reasons to doubt and contradict science on that single topic. Being anti science means opposing science as a concept and exercise, not specific conclusions of science.

Consider the question I quoted at the top from a woman (presumably not a plant) at a debate, trying to get her kid to ask if Perry didn't believe in science. That's like asking someone if they believe in art or believe in humans. You don't believe in science, its not a faith or a religion - or, at least, its not supposed to be. And that's the source of the debate here.

The problem here isn't that people think Republicans (for example) are so much opposed to science as they believe Republicans are heretics in a faith structure based on naturalism and science. The response of the left isn't to criticize specific positions a Republican or a Conservative has in the scientific realm so much as to consider it proof of a presupposed corruption of soul and mind.

In other words, they believe that evolution and embryonic stem cell research and all that is part of a properly constructed worldview, evidence of intelligence, enlightenment, and being part of their faith structure. Any deviation from that is evidence that you're a heretic, a non-believer, and hence not intelligent, not enlightened, and not one of them. And since they start with the position that any non-leftist is a soulless, bigoted, hateful, evil brute, then the slightest disagreement is proof you're all wrong.

Not that all people who use this slur are thinking it through that far. Most probably just find it a useful rock to throw, an insult that has greater impact than the thought that went into saying it. But even they are betraying a basic worldview.

The argument here isn't between the scientific and the anti-scientific, but between two clashing worldviews which give their expression in different skepticism or scientific concerns. The left is suspicious of economic progress and wealth, and the right is suspicious of anything which damages those things. Their worldview manifests its self in where they vary from scientific consensus.

Neither side is inherently more or less scientific, neither side is "anti-science" as such. Some positions they hold prompt an objective viewer to question their comprehension of science and technology (overpopulation, for example), but that doesn't make them opposed to science.

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