Liberals, Conservatives, and the Abuse of Science

Does ideology influence scientific discourse for both conservatives and liberals?  An article by Brandon Ferdig in today’s Star Tribune suggests that it might.

I won’t argue that both liberals and conservatives are not ideological and that ideology does not affect beliefs, but I don’t think you can argue that both sides “dig in” and refuse compromise equally.

First, for the record, I am no friend of today’s brand of conservativism.  I am not even diplomatic  — or nice — about it.  (I think they’re idiots and happy to say so.)  But I don’t think that means someone like me cannot call a spade a spade and argue from the facts.

We live in a world of discursive imbalance, especially when it come to facts.  When we start trying to find discursive parity by sharing the blame, we do a disservice to the truth. Finding balance in these debates is patronizing and pointless.

Let’s take a look at the examples in Brandon Ferdig’s article.  He points out that — in general — conservatives don’t trust the science behind evolution, climate change, and universal health care.  Liberals, on the other hand, tend not to like the science behind GMOs, the role of genetics in intelligence, and the importance of gender roles in marriage affecting the income gap.

Ok, if you’re like me, you had to pause for a second.  GMO?  Oh, yeah!  Genetically modified organisms!  Liberals (or progressives) are more lkely question the science that mostly says genetically modified foods are safe and no different than other food.  That seems to be the point.  Let’s be careful not to generalize, but go along with the comparison for the sake of following the argument here.

I am not aware of many people — on either the left or the right — raising torches and pitchforks over this one.  Even the issues that more plausibly  liberal “don’t like” such as scares about oil and food shortages are more Chicken Little moments than enduring tenet of liberalism.   Mainstream liberals don’t cling to these as litmus test issues.  The same cannot be said of conservatives.

However, whether you are a conservative or a liberal, reading the comparisons in Ferdig’s essay, you might have felt a little taken for granted as I did when I read liberals tend to not trust the science behind the safety of genetically modified foods.  He seems to be using generalizations to argue about generalizations.  For my part I am fine with the science telling me genetically modified foods are safe, and I think this is where the writer’s argument misses the point.  It isn’t so much that some people have a propensity to believe one set of facts and deny another as much as politics is a matter of how these differences are used discursively to influence politics.

Conservative leaders employ the politicization of science effectively, and more and more of the conservative constituency follow obediently.  This is bad news.

I simply do not see GMO science deniers on par with the climate change science deniers.  It doesn’t have the same political clout, not by a long shot.  Climate change denying influences policy arguments affecting everything from the environment to taxes to foreign policy.  GMOs?  Not so much.

When was the last time you saw liberals protesting Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy carrying signs mocking the science that supports the safety of genetically modified foods?  You don’t.

Conservatism has slipped off the cliff into…well, who knows what it is.  Smart people lead today’s conservative parties, they cannot they be as stubbornly misinformed and myopic as they seem.  But they are not beyond fostering stupidy and disinformation among the people they count on for support.   And this stupidity is dangerous; it goes beyond disrespecting science.  Take a look at civil rights, economy, national security, environment, education, jobs, and more.  Are we better today or worse?  Of course not, and one has to wonder why we are where we are.  Who could champion decline?  For what purpose?

Conservatives too often co-opt freedom in the name of fear.  Fostering misleading skepticism about science is one way to make this work.  We need to be more sophisticated and better-informed and stop pretending that both sides of the ideological political spectrum are equally at fault.   I simply don’t think you see a balance between left and right on this regard.  That’s the point that matters.


One thought on “Liberals, Conservatives, and the Abuse of Science

  1. Pingback: Logarchism » The Born Identity

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