• A criticism of Michael Shermer and the Scientific American: political left is NOT at war with science, unlike political right

    Among conservatives, admitting to being scientifically literate is political suicide.

    I love the Scientific American. It is absolutely my favorite magazine. And I owe it a lot for what I have learned over the years. But I do not like the idea of infallibility, and Scientific American does make errors, some of which I have pointed out in the past. This time, though, the error is more glaring, and it is made by none other than the skeptic I admire the most, Michael Shermer. The title of Shermer’s piece is “the liberals’ war on science”.

    The gist of the claim is that the political left is no better than political right, or, if anything, it is worse, when it comes to handling matters of science. Shermer starts by laying out the bad things on the right: denial of climate change and evolution. He then points out that creationism and climate science denial exist among Democrats as well. Here are the first two errors. First, The problem is not comparable among the Democrats to the Republicans by its scope: yes, it is pretty bad among the democrats, but it is not as dominant, as is the case for the Republicans. Unlike Republicans, Democrats at least pay lip service to climate change. Second, as everyone knows, “liberal” and “Democrat” are not synonymous. Creationism and climate change exist among Democrats but tend to be more dominant among the more conservative ones.

    Shermer then goes on to talk about denial of evolutionary psychology among the liberals. It is true, and it is unfortunate. Yet again, I don’t see popular liberal characters in the media attacking evolutionary psychology, or calling the teaching of evolutionary psychology “fascism”, like conservatives such as Bill O’Reilly do for evolution as a whole.

    Shermer then proceeds to tear up liberals, for more alleged misdeeds.

    On energy issues… 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.

    I don’t believe this is true. Concerning nuclear power, it does have very serious public safety problems, not necessarily limited to waste disposal (have we forgotten Fukushima already?). As for global warming, well, let’s just say action is long overdue. And as it pertains to renewables, despite whatever isolated incidents you can find of someone objecting to hydroelectric or wind power, liberals are often accused of having done too much when it comes to renewables, not too little.

    Shermer goes on:

    Whereas conservatives obsess over the purity and sanctity of sex, the left’s sacred values seem fixated on the environment, leading to an almost religious fervor over the purity and sanctity of air, water and especially food.

    Agains, the right and left are not comparable. Conservative condemnation of gay and premarital sex stems from the fact that it is against their religious doctrines, not that it harms anyone. Contaminants in air and water and food affect public health and safety. Should we bring back lead poisoning and asbestos, so we won’t be compared to the conservatives? But Shermer here brings up a disgraceful, yet not representative, example.

    Comedian Bill Maher, for example, on his HBO Real Time show on October 19, 2012, asked Stonyfield Farm CEO Gary Hirshberg if he would rate Monsanto as a 10 (“evil”) or an 11 (“f—ing evil”)?

    As it happens, Bill Maher’s views on issues such as vaccination and GM foods have made him controversial, even among liberals. Hence, it is not like Fox “News” where anti-science propaganda is pushed by about all the evening anochrs, hour after hour after hour.

    Shermer’s piece is based on a book, Science Left Behind, by Alex Berezow and Hank Campbell. Ye the book seems to have quite a bit of political slant:

    There are very few conservative scientists. One survey showed that only 6% of US scientists are Republicans, while 55% are Democrats. In the social sciences, the ratio can be as lopsided as 30 Democrats for every 1 Republican. Obviously, a discipline that is so ideologically skewed in one direction is going to produce research that reflects that internal bias…

    Also, teachers’ unions — which are allied with the Democratic Party — refuse to accept any reasonable reforms in education (such as merit-based pay and charter schools).

    So, more scientists are Democrats, and this seems to bother Mr Berezow. But whose fault is this? After many years of denying climate change, evolution, and defunding stem cell research by the right, can you blame scientists for tilting left? As for the teachers unions being allies with Democrats, while there may be problems with that, it is not exactly the same as Democrats actively using their political offices to subvert science as Republicans such as governor Jindal of Louisiana.

    Shermer’s piece, and the book, reminded me of a 2007 debate among republicans.

    So, why is it that while fringe ideas, like anti-vaccination nuttery or denial of evolutionary psychology, exist among liberals, that Democrats do not get asked what they think about such issues on stage, or they don’t see a reason to come out and proclaim that the do accept the science once they have discovered there is no way they are going to win, like Jon Huntsman? It is precisely because anti-science stances are fringe among liberals, whereas they are mainstream among conservatives.
    Shermer’s piece is an example of the fallacy of false equivalence.

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