The Anti-Science Left vs. the Anti-Science Right

Today, Chris Mooney takes on the idea that both liberals and conservatives are equally anti-science. He admits that some anti-science views are more common on the left than on the right, and he specifically mentions attitudes toward GM foods, nuclear power, vaccines, and the biological basis of human behavior. But since I think he buries the lead a bit, I want to put it front and center. Here’s the big difference between the two sides:

What’s striking about each of these cases is that on the left, you fail to see a mainstreaming of anti-science views. Indeed, the Obama administration is very pro-nuclear! And that’s typical: What you get on the left is a heck of a lot of dissension and pushback against those who are making scientifically questionable claims—and, as has clearly occurred in the vaccine case, the ultimate banishment of these bad ideas from intellectually serious company.

And what that means is that anti-science doesn’t shape policy in the same way on the left.

Exactly. There are certainly areas where lefty activists are at odds with the mainstream of scientific opinion. For the most part, though, there’s very little pandering to these groups. There are plenty of liberals who side with the science community and push back hard against the activists. You find very little of that on the right.

What’s even more important is that these views very seldom affect public policy until and unless they get widespread support from mainstream scientists. Last year, even a petition that did nothing more than ask the FDA to require labeling of GM foods—just about the mildest anti-GM position possible—was able to muster the support of less than a quarter of the Democratic caucus in Congress. For better or worse, this kind of stuff simply doesn’t get much political traction until the scientific community is on board with it.

There are other differences too, but this is the big one. Lots of people are going to disagree with the scientific consensus on lots of different subjects. But only one party has decided to turn it into a war.


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