The Liberals’ War on Science

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Believe it or not—and I suspect most readers will not—there’s a liberal war on science. Say what?

We are well aware of the Republican war on science from the eponymous 2006 book (Basic Books) by Chris Mooney, and I have castigated conservatives myself in my 2006 book Why Darwin Matters (Henry Holt) for their erroneous belief that the theory of evolution leads to a breakdown of morality. A 2012 Gallup poll found that “58 percent of Republicans believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years,” compared with 41 percent of Democrats. A 2011 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 81 percent of Democrats but only 49 percent of Republicans believe that Earth is getting warmer. Many conservatives seem to grant early-stage embryos a moral standing that is higher than that of adults suffering from debilitating diseases potentially curable through stem cells. And most recently, Missouri Republican senatorial candidate Todd Akin gaffed on the ability of women’s bodies to avoid pregnancy in the event of a “legitimate rape.” It gets worse.

The left’s war on science begins with the stats cited above: 41 percent of Democrats are young Earth creationists, and 19 percent doubt that Earth is getting warmer. These numbers do not exactly bolster the common belief that liberals are the people of the science book. In addition, consider “cognitive creationists”—whom I define as those who accept the theory of evolution for the human body but not the brain. As Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker documents in his 2002 book The Blank Slate (Viking), belief in the mind as a tabula rasa shaped almost entirely by culture has been mostly the mantra of liberal intellectuals, who in the 1980s and 1990s led an all-out assault against evolutionary psychology via such Orwellian-named far-left groups as Science for the People, for proffering the now uncontroversial idea that human thought and behavior are at least partially the result of our evolutionary past.

Written By: Michael Shermer
continue to source article at scientificamerican.com

21 COMMENTS

  1. This is surely not news.

    Even President Obama has been called a ‘left wing Republican’ by some. That his how his politics look, if you compare them to the US politics of the ’80s.

    This is merely a symptom of the center-line of US politics having tracked so far right that looney-tunes-crazy now makes up more than half of the Republican party. I mean, Rick Santorum for President … really?

    The real questions are: What pushed US politics so far right – and what makes US politics so partisan?

    Last year Bill Maher, a political commentator and satirist of twenty years standing, noted that he could not remember a time when US politics was as partisan as it is now. It’s little wonder that Obama has to use political capital just to make the wheels of bipartisan politics work.

    Finally, and I think this may be a clue, climate change and GMOs in particular are subjects we nearly all learn about as adults. Where on Earth are these people getting their information?

    Politicians across the political spectrum – and not just in the US – appear to be far less fussy about accepting the arguments of specific groups than they used to be. Dogma, it seems, is alive and well in politics.

    Peace.

  2. I think that anyone that joins a group that has a set of standard, unchanging ideas, like a religion, or narrow political ideology, will come to a point where they either have to part ways with their ideology, or part way from good science. Sadly, too many folks choose, for one reason or another, to part ways with good science. It even happens to some scientists on some science topics, though, so we shouldn’t assume that political parties or political causes should be immune.

  3. Applause!!! Thank you for adressing the issue of smug liberalism and fascist Post-Modernism.

    I was wrote a grant proposal with a PoMo enthusiast, and it involved gender. “Gender/sex is a social construct, not a biological phenomenon.”

    “I can give you a series of injections to change your mind.”

    “Haha, how droll!”

    “No really, I have pills, gels, and injections. I can dose you until you grow a beard and think the Three Stooges are funny.” She declined my offer.

    We later worked on a paper involving race, which was a social construct. The horror of this occurred to me because the assertion diminishes the tragedy of genocide. Back when there were only a few permitted stem-cell lines, these stem cells all came from White people, meaning the research and discoveries would be less applicable to other races. This meant the BushII stem cell policy was racist… but not according to PoMo.

  4. ” Shermer is wrong. http://shar.es/CsnEc

    Perhaps in many particulars Michael is wrong, but no one has declared the peace in the science wars fought in the 90′s. Secular creationism is worse, in a way, than religious creationism because of where it is ensconced; academia. I always though liberals claimed two things they have no right claiming; the intellectual and moral high ground. When you are on that horse. all in your way get trampled.

    Take ideology out of the equation whatever the stripe.

  5. I think both you, and the author of the linked article miss Shermer’s point. To view just a single bloc of people as the sole source of a ‘War on Science’ is not correct. It’s not even which bloc may be the worst offender. I think the problem is the totality of ideologies trumping good science. I think that was Shermer’s main point. If so, I’d say he’s dead on.

    In reply to #4 by NoCrossNoCresce:

    Shermer is wrong. http://shar.es/CsnEc

  6. Is the Left’s hatred of science as dangerous as the Right’s? It is true that mistrust of science from the Left has large contingents at universities perhaps lending them some intellectual authority but no one knows anything about them or their goofy and wordy views.

    Attacks from the Left are isolated by their jargon whereas the attacks from the Right are made for public consumption it seems.

    This is at least true for postmodernism. One could make an argument for healing crystals and other like-minded fluffery being both a disease of the Left and made for public consumption. The fluffery crowd does not seem quite as purposefully organized as the Right though.

    The Left and the Right have the following critical commonality though: They are both heaving bullshit at us.

  7. There is lunacy everywhere in politics, but it clusters in some areas, and many types of lunacy are especially localized. Shermer draws attention to facts that need to be known, hated and somehow made untrue (i.e. people who are in the wrong need to change their minds). But he glosses over how important the left-right differences here are, and plays loose with a few facts. Being on the left is like being atheist in being a necessary but not sufficient condition for being rational; that’s an especially important point Shermer misses.

    The left’s war on science begins with the stats cited above: 41 percent of Democrats are young Earth creationists, and 19 percent doubt that Earth is getting warmer. These numbers do not exactly bolster the common belief that liberals are the people of the science book.

    In summary, neither party is anywhere near 100 % scientifically correct on either issue, but one party is substantially better than the other. Indeed, one party has its majority on the right side on each issue, while the other has a minority on the right side on each issue. For democracy, that distinction is crucial. To say both sides are engaging in a war against science may not deny this difference, but it certainly doesn’t help emphasise it. Unfortunately we don’t seem to have a word in English for something to wage that isn’t quite war, so we can’t use metaphors to emphasise the fact that one party is statistically better than the other. But the reason this makes the war metaphor dangerous is that political differences like that do need to be emphasised, just as it must be emphasised conservatives in the rest of the Western world, while still at odds with what their progressive colleagues want, are nowhere near as retrograde in their beliefs or policies as are Republicans. And, while America has the Tea Party, someone really should find out what the numbers are for them, too.

    consider “cognitive creationists”… [liberal intellectuals] led an all-out assault against evolutionary psychology

    Unlike the political example above, this one hasn’t been quantified. What percentage of the liberal intellectuals in each discipline behaved like this? Unfortunately, many disciplines are willing to fight science. However, it ought to be seen in those disciplines whether the left is as bad as, worse than, or better than the right. If this is one of those majority vs. minority things again, doing that is especially crucial. But some qualitative distinctions are worth making, too. We still have plenty of conservative intellectuals rejecting Darwinism altogether. I know because Jerry Coyne’s blog regularly takes apart so-called philosophers trying to take apart natural selection.

    There is more, and recent, antiscience fare from far-left progressives

    Well, here’s another distinction not to gloss over: it’s the far left, not the mainstream left, who are doing this; but the science problems of the right are genuinely mainstream.

    progressive liberals tend to be antinuclear because of the waste-disposal problem, anti–fossil fuels because of global warming, antihydroelectric because dams disrupt river ecosystems, and anti–wind power because of avian fatalities. The underlying current is “everything natural is good” and “everything unnatural is bad.”

    I don’t know if that’s fair. I’m sure these liberals agree to a man we need some electricity, and I also expect they each are OK with at least one method of generating it, if only as the least of N evils. There are also power generation methods that list doesn’t even mention; for example, it provides no evidence even some liberals are against solar power. And while solar power could do with being a lot more efficient (an issue on which they’re making rapid progress), there’s plenty of scope for using solar power in the US, e.g. by partially covering their deserts with it.

    the left’s sacred values seem fixated on the environment… [Maher asked] Hirshberg if he would rate Monsanto as a 10 (“evil”) or an 11 (“f—ing evil”)? The fact is that we’ve been genetically modifying organisms for 10,000 years through breeding and selection. It’s the only way to feed billions of people.

    I watch that show (although I’m not American). Maher thinks GM food should be allowed to happen, but that US food labelling ought to be as informative as European food labelling, include on the issue of whether food is GM. I’m not sure whether people’s attitudes to GM are sensible enough for that to make things better, but as a leftie I do find some anti-GM attitudes among my colleagues to be an embarrassment (but not one that makes me doubt the left is superior to the right). However, for the sake of keeping the facts straight, Maher’s critique of Monsanto in particular is not because they GM food, and I imagine he’s not alone. His problem is that Monsanto’s use of insect/herbicides (which they make along with plants that resist them, a great business model) is on the rise (because the pests evolve resistance), in particular 2,4-D (one of the two active agents in Agent Orange, which I 50-50), leading to a lot of health problems for the human consumer. It’s certainly true we shouldn’t assume the plants themselves are dangerous just because they have had a “new” gene added. That kind of misconception sadly does exist among some on the left, but not Maher.

    Surveys show that moderate liberals and conservatives embrace science roughly equally (varying across domains)

    I don’t know what “varying across domains” means, but I’d love to see the numbers breakdown for far- and moderate left- and right-wingers on each issue Shermer brings up. The claim that moderates are more reasonable could be false, though (apparently) the data says otherwise. Does anyone here know what the data are? I’d love to read them.

    This article was originally published with the title The Left’s War on Science.

    I wonder what left-liberal distinction inspired that. I wonder also why the terms are otherwise used pretty much interchangeably in the article.

  8. The problem is in American politics and media. (Foxists and faithists)
    Elsewhere liberals show much lower levels of fundamentalist antiscience-religinuttery, and even the European right has less of it.

  9. I’ve put a lot of thought into this question of why we’re heading so far right. And I think ironically, it’s a consequence of liberalism in the media and society.

    When moderate conservatives feel alienated, they go to the far right. The right wing has become a safe haven. The best way is to become more accepting of moderates.

    And I’m saying this as a conservative.

    In reply to #1 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

    This is surely not news.

    Even President Obama has been called a ‘left wing Republican’ by some. That his how his politics look, if you compare them to the US politics of the ’80s.

    This is merely a symptom of the center-line of US politics having tracked so far right that looney-tunes-crazy now makes up more than half of the Republican party. I mean, Rick Santorum for President … really?

    The real questions are: What pushed US politics so far right – and what makes US politics so partisan?

    Last year Bill Maher, a political commentator and satirist of twenty years standing, noted that he could not remember a time when US politics was as partisan as it is now. It’s little wonder that Obama has to use political capital just to make the wheels of bipartisan politics work.

    Finally, and I think this may be a clue, climate change and GMOs in particular are subjects we nearly all learn about as adults. Where on Earth are these people getting their information?

    Politicians across the political spectrum – and not just in the US – appear to be far less fussy about accepting the arguments of specific groups than they used to be. Dogma, it seems, is alive and well in politics.

    Peace.

  10. In reply to #9 by Alan4discussion:

    The problem is in American politics and media. (Foxists and faithists)
    Elsewhere liberals show much lower levels of fundamentalist antiscience-religinuttery, and even the European right has less of it.

    Yep so part of the issue here is the US definition of left or liberal is unrecognisable in the rest of the world.

    Michael

  11. In reply to #7 by Northampton:

    Is the Left’s hatred of science as dangerous as the Right’s? It is true that mistrust of science from the Left has large contingents at universities perhaps lending them some intellectual authority but no one knows anything about them or their goofy and wordy views.

    Basic ideological hegemony. At the very least, university students make more money, thus all of society panders to them. Media speaks their language. Social movements appeal to their base programming.

    Not a conspiracy theorist, but there is a history of education being used to modify limit the power of educated people, such as teaching passive-voice to women to prevent feminist propaganda and women’s influence on society. PoMo denies people a sense of entitlement to their own thoughts, and so it has a pacifying effect, and also makes papers easier to produce and grade. The vacuous formatting even allows for automatic Sokal hoax generators.

    The more paranoid part of me suspects MLA is a Straussian plot.

  12. This is a very good argument for forced reprogramming. All “jokes” aside, I guess the failure of democracy is the voter and the candidate. Can delusional people make an educated choice and are there enough educated candidates who are not delusional themselves?

  13. In reply to #3 by This Is Not A Meme:

    Back when there were only a few permitted stem-cell lines, these stem cells all came from White people, meaning the research and discoveries would be less applicable to other races. This meant the BushII stem cell policy was racist… but not according to PoMo.

    Wow! I would have thought that there would be an urgent need to get lines that are as distinct as possible.

  14. In reply to #14 by aquilacane:

    I guess the failure of democracy is the voter and the candidate.

    This is the only reason I can sympathize with a theocrat.

    Yes, it would be nice if there were a perfect leader and example, but their isn’t.
    It’s too bad that we don’t have a controlled scientific experiment to determine which form of government works best.

  15.  "58 percent of Republicans believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years, compared with 41 percent of Democrats
    

    All that means is that 58% of one political persuasion, and 41% of another are un-educated.

  16. In reply to #11 by mmurray:

    In reply to #9 by Alan4discussion:

    The problem is in American politics and media. (Foxists and faithists)
    Elsewhere liberals show much lower levels of fundamentalist antiscience-religinuttery, and even the European right has less of it.

    Yep so part of the issue here is the US definition of left or liberal is unrecognisable in the rest of the world.

    Michael

    When, and where will there be a good informative talk on this subject? It is brought up so often (by non Americans) that it’s mystique is driving me nuts!
    I hope things won’t get too choked in semantics, though. Clearly, the popular American usage of the word Liberal does actually conflate with the current American Democratic party and the term “left wing” as used by we Americans.

    I’d be happy if some of you east of the Atlantic could describe some key differences, ’cause frankly, I’m confused.

  17. In reply to #11 by mmurray:

    American’s allergy to science (and our wretched educational system) makes all Americans (regardless if they’re Liberals, Conservatives…) over-susceptible to pseudoscience and woo.

  18. Michael Shermer misses the point on GMOs, in fact, it appears he does not quite know what one is. GMOs are not the result of natural breeding programs based on careful breeding and hybridization. Miura bulls are not a GMOs. Triticale wheat is not a GMO. These are the product of careful breeding programs. Monsanto’s Roundup (glyphosate) ready corn is a GMO. It has had a non-corn gene grafted into it. This type of corn, now ubiquitous, is no longer a product from the environment in which life has been evolving on this planet for millions of years. Very big money has come to bear on what is left of a public health regulatory apparatus so the testing is at best cursory.

    What is clear though is that Monsanto’s Roundup is frequently used heavily on the bespoke GMO crops and is taken up in the product destined for consumption. There is mounting evidence Roundup is an endocrine disruptor and the research is ongoing.

    There seems to be more than a whiff of fundamentalism in Shermer’s point of view on this topic and a depth of analysis worthy of a mustachioed magician. This may be fit for what Scientific American has become, but it gives a very poor showing for what this website should be doing.

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