This was previously published on New Plateaus.
Just looking at the names: Conservative and Liberal (or Progressive), it’s logical to assume that the first group is going to be more apt to resist change: change in policy, style, fashion, technology, tradition, religion, etc. Sometimes what we discovery via science is the trigger for such change. So it makes sense that, at times, conservatives might also be apt to deny certain findings.
Indeed, that’s the conventional wisdom.
It’s why books like this are written: “The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality” by Chris Mooney
However, when we enter politics, another wrinkle gets introduced: ideology—how one believes the world should be. And ideology seems to mean more today than in the recent past. People are more active and reactive, more jumpy and fearful of who gets elected or that bill getting passed or the Supreme Court deciding one way or another. In the realm of that emotion, it’s revealed that ideology creates enemies of science from all sides.
I recently saw this headline from Slate.com succinctly making this very point: “GMO Opponents Are the Climate Skeptics of the Left”
GMO refers to genetically modified foods. The headline attacks progressives who rally against such food despite little evidence that they are bad for us to eat. It compares GMO opponents to the conservative politically-minded who deny evidence of climate change.
There are all sorts of other examples.
Conservatives don’t like:
-the science behind evolution
-the science behind climate change
-the science behind man-made climate change
-the science showing the benefits of universal health care or any number of other government-funded programs
-the science showing the benefits of treatment over incarceration for addicts
-the science showing that homosexuality is not a choice (but then like the science showing how race and gender imprint certain behavioral attributes)
Liberals don’t like:
-the science behind the safety of genetically modified foods
-the science behind the impact one’s genes has on their intelligence, behavior, and personality—with the notable behavioral exception of sexual orientation.
-the science showing that the income gap between men and women is largely explained by gender roles in marriage
-new technology that allows humans to consume at the level we currently are (Stephen Levitt, author of Freakonomics postulates the theory that among this population there’s an urge to see humanity be punished for what we’ve done to the Earth.)
There are wrinkles within this wrinkle. It’s not exactly apples to apples, because liberals’ problems with science sometimes go the other way: misusing scientific data to promote a cause later revealed to be bogus. Such scares have historically involved climate change and the supposed ends of food, oil, forests, and minerals.
This piece from Reason.com introduces us to some of these wrinkles: Conservatives Don’t Care About Science. (Neither Do Liberals.)
Finally, one could go into economics. It’s not as hard a science, though, so I didn’t mention the shortcomings on both sides, ignorance of the data regarding growing the economy, job creation, fair taxation, and deficit spending.
Whether economics, the use of science for one’s own agenda, or good ‘ole science denial, I think it all boils down to what you’re most afraid of—afraid of change; afraid of being taken advantage of; afraid of others being exploited; afraid of being invaded—that dictates one’s acceptance of truth vs. one’s insistence that their ideology is the way of the world.
to new plateaus,
p.s. I previously wrote about evidence and evolution. This last time was about how hype influences truth as seen in the NFL referee debacle. Here, we looked at how ideology can skew the picture. I hoped you enjoyed this trio of articles : )
Read more on Ethics & Values.
Image credit: jurvetson/Flickr