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Conservative Science vs. Liberal Science

by Brian Dunning, Feb 03 2011

It's probably my own naïveté, but I'm constantly disappointed how so many science questions that I research turn out to be political questions.

I consistently find that the conservative attitude on many science questions tends to be “everything's fine” and the liberal attitude tends to be “the sky is falling”. And, of course, that's exactly what conservative and liberal mean: Conserve things the way they are, and change things liberally. I don't find that either viewpoint is especially more likely to represent the current science more than the other. Conservatives tend to be more accurate in their assessments of food production and medical science; liberals tend to better represent actual science in their perspectives on evolution and climate change. Some issues, such as the environment, are torn right down the middle, with extremists on both ends being about equally wrong, and the moderates being about equally right. Too many fans of science tend to express their fandom only when the science matches the ideology.

Why does this frustrate me so much? I guess it's because my true love is learning. I jump up and down like a giddy child when I learn something new in my research. Even obscure factoids that seem drearily mundane to many get my blood rushing. I love sharing that excitement with my listeners. And so often, when I try to share something that struck me simply as “cool”, the reaction is one of disgust because it conflicts with someone's political agenda.

Now I'm not trying to sound all superior and that I'm above petty squabbles — anyone who knows me personally knows a lot better than that! — but somehow I have managed to keep a separation between my opinions and my research. The topic I'm working on this week is one for which my personal feelings are pretty strong, but part of the reason I love doing Skeptoid is that for a few hours each day, all of that melts away. Find a surprising fact, and then verify it — falsify it if possible — and note all the other questions it raises. To me, that's Disneyland. (OK, so maybe I'm weird, but nevertheless.)

Neither am I foolish enough to think that science questions don't have very legitimate and real implications to policymakers. My perspective is that I prefer to leave that part of the debate to those who enjoy it. Of course I care about the implications and how they affect policy, but my particular role — at least, my particular preference — is to stay out of that mud hole and stick to the fun part of learning.

I think it's likely that most people whose opinions on certain science questions happen to match their political ideologies are likely wearing blinders to some degree (though they may be right in most cases, they're probably not in all). Certainly anyone who listens to my show and receives it with a curmudgeonly attitude is missing the spirit of wonder and learning that I felt when I was researching and writing it. Even if I'm completely wrong about everything, I'll guarantee that every show brings up something you didn't know or hadn't considered.

A worthy homework assignment for everyone might be to take a policy or a pseudoscience with which you disagree, and dive into it until you find something that's scientifically sound, that you didn't know, and that's interesting. They're everywhere, and they're thrilling.

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206 Responses to “Conservative Science vs. Liberal Science”

  1. Robo Sapien says:

    Well, you know what they say about opinions… or was that about assholes.. I’m so lost.

    • Speaking of “liberal science,” and of conservative bias, Shermer is a huge politics-driven #fail on his interpretation of Jonathan Haidt and “liberal academia” in Tuesday’s NYT. http://tinyurl.com/6xlyhcf

      (I’m kind of expecting him to blog about it here sometime later this week. Call this a pre-emptive shot.)

      • Robo Sapien says:

        So many labels, so little time. Although I’m too inept to comprehend 80% of what you wrote in that blog, I did find myself in agreement with the parts I did understand, particularly the part about your tweet to Shermer. I would have suggested polling OSU for “Who loves BEER?” and report back on what statistical anomalies he finds.

  2. Somite says:

    This is true only if you accept sources of information other than peer-reviewed journals or scientist’s blogs. If you stick with primary literature, like a good researcher should, this distinction dissolves.

    This false equivalency attempts usually scrape the barrel to show how libs and cons are after all the same. You mention conservatives are better at “food production and medicine”. You think the official conservative position on stem cells, abortion, end of life is rational at all? And we are talking about the position of elected conservative politicians; not just fringe groups which is what I think you are referring to in your post.

    Just to clarify anti-vaccination and homeopathy are not part of the liberal political agenda while defunding stem cell research is an official position of elected conservative politicians.

    The food production issue is more complex but again you see conservatives becoming irate at the suggestion that eating more fruits and vegetables and less cookies is better. Your suggestion that liberals have it wrong on food production may be due to an association with organic farming. Again, this is not a political issue for liberal politicians. However, I will say that in terms of health the research is clear that eating real foods rather than calorie dense, addiction promoting processed foods is better. For example:

    “J Diabetes Sci Technol. 2009 Jul 1;3(4):697-704.
    Effects of glycemic load on metabolic health and type 2 diabetes mellitus.
    Roberts CK, Liu S.

    Program on Genomics and Nutrition, Department of Epidemiology, University of California, Los Angeles, School of Public Health, Los Angeles, California 90095-1772, USA.
    Abstract
    A large body of epidemiologic evidence has demonstrated that the combination of a Western diet and lifestyle is primarily responsible for the increased metabolic disease risk, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM), and metabolic syndrome, noted in society today……”

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20144316

    “Western diet” is the equivalent of processed foods; whether your obstinate middle position wants to accept it or not.

    • Trimegistus says:

      Shorter version of Somite’s post: “MY blinders are TRUE!”

    • Patrick says:

      >conservatives becoming irate at the suggestion that eating more fruits and vegetables and less cookies is better.

      Say what? Where do you get this idea?

      • paul barry says:

        sorry somite

        this was a policy trying to limit sweets at school parties.Your link does not support your statement at all.

      • Somite says:

        If you read the entire article it centers around how conservatives are decrying efforts of all kinds to improve nutrition at schools.

      • Possum Holler says:

        Yeesh. To be against nanny statist attempts to compel the food choices of others is not the same as being against the choices trying to be forced on others. In other words, I agree that vegetables are better for me than Twinkies, but I do not agree that the decision belongs to anyone other than me. In other, other words, Somite totally misses the point. In other, other, other words, Trimegistus’retort about Somite’s perfectly true blinders is, well, perfectly true.

      • Gene S. says:

        No, that simply comes across as your spin of the article you cited.

        The article was about a school limiting cookies, sweets in classroom parties and reduce the number of holiday and birthday celebration.

        I’m also a bit surprised that no one commented on you claims of “eating real foods” and ”addiction promoting processed foods”.

        Such sound akin to terminology one hears in the defense of organic versus “factory” foods.

    • When I rad the first graf of Brian’s post, before I clicked the link, I expected something like the “Martyr’s back of hand to forehead graf” that he did write. I also expected him not to discuss how, in the DDT Skeptoid issue, HE politicized the issue himself by his choice of sources and framing.

      Brian, I do think that, on some mental level, you actually believe what you wrote. But, on another, whether more conscious or less conscious, “proof is in the pudding level,” I don’t.

      • Jim Shaver says:

        Uh, SocraticGadfly, don’t you mean the proof of the pudding is in the tasting?

      • I mixes my metaphors of pudding and consciousness levels the way I wants! I meant that whether the mental level is more or less conscious, there’s a “proof is in the pudding” level of of consciousness. And, the phrase as it is, is commonly used, without the expanded part about tasting.

      • David H. says:

        Sure, Gad, that is the common usage. But it makes no sense and annoys those of use who like for things to make sense. Here, “proof” means “test” (as in German “pruefen”); so, the “test is in the pudding” means nothing at all. “The proof of the pudding is in the eating” indicates that appearances can deceive; one must actually explore the issue/item/person to find out what’s really being presented.

        BTW (for Americans, here) I suspect that “pudding” refers not to some chocolately gloop but to Yorkshire pudding or something similar.

      • Orac says:

        Sure, Gad, that is the common usage. But it makes no sense and annoys those of use who like for things to make sense.

        More like it annoys annoying pedants.

      • CJG says:

        No comment to add to the conversation, I just get a kick out of SocraticGadfly commenting on Brians articles. Methinks he has a weird obesssion with Mr Dunning.

      • Nothing “weird” about applying actual skepticism to a quasi-skeptic at best …. and I’m not the only one who has made multiple comments to Dunning posts.

        To do a bit of intellectual judo, I could ask if you don’t have an obsession with following my comments on Dunning posts.

    • BKsea says:

      Somite, you seem to confuse science and policy here. Things like whether to legislate limits on sweets or ban stem cell research are questions of policy. You can completely agree on the science and still disagree on the appropriate policy.

      Bigger threats come from the use of junk science to support an idealogical standpoint. People who are AGW skeptics and anti-vaxxers fall more into these camps. I think Brian has done a reasonable job of identifying which camps are more likely to quote junk science in the different areas.

      However, Brian’s claim that “somehow I have managed to keep a separation between my opinions and my research” strikes me as incredibly naive. You may strive toward this, but I don’t believe it is honestly possible for anyone to make such a statement.

      • Somite says:

        Policy and science are different but the expectation is that the policy will follow the scientific findings for best results.

      • Deen says:

        You can completely agree on the science and still disagree on the appropriate policy.

        The real trouble comes when you start to use science to evaluate policy choices…

    • Tom says:

      Curious why you mention positions on abortion and “end of life”. Do you think they have anything to do with science?

      • tmac57 says:

        Questions on abortion have turned on whether or not a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks,and decisions to terminate life support can involve whether or not the person is considered brain dead,and without a chance of meaningful recovery (mental activity for ex).These are indeed scientific questions.(Not easy ones mind you.)

  3. tmac57 says:

    Brian,could you give us an example of a science issue that you accept as being correct,that conflicts with your political bias?

    • qbsmd says:

      That’s a good question for anyone. I don’t think I can answer it myself. I can admit more or less doubt on some factual issues related to political beliefs, but I can’t think of anything I accept as correct that conflicts with my politics. I think that would change my politics, maybe by definition.

    • I think that’s a very fair question, and I agree with qbsmd that it’s a hard one to answer.

      Certainly I bring ideological biases to the table, but whether they are political is another question. I tend to be immediately distrustful of alternative woo. I tend to be immediately suspicious of theories that conflict with established consensus. Sometimes it’s hard for me to get past those, but when I’m in the thick of research, I’m loving what I’m learning and those biases just aren’t on my mind. As much as anyone, I’d be excited to learn that any of these magically easy solutions are true.

      Politics just aren’t something I think about or care about. It’s an inadequate answer to your fine question, but I can’t think of any facts I’ve learned that I wanted to reject for political reasons. I’d say the closest thing is probably the racial differences in IQ (http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4235). Those are hard to swallow, but at the same time, the theories for explaining it are exciting.

      • tmac57 says:

        Agreed that it is a difficult question.I personally struggle with the nuclear energy question.I realize the urgent importance of a solid base energy supply that cuts down on CO2 output,but I have never been satisfied by the reassurances of the industry supporters that the waste disposal problem is manageable.One BP like release of radioactive waste into the environment could be truly catastrophic for centuries.
        I also have a great suspicion of the fossil fuel industry in how it is controlling the messages that the general population is getting concerning alternative energy.Expert after expert in that industry keep telling us that wind,solar,hydro,etc. are fine,but they will either, never replace fossil fuels,or it will always be 30 or 40 years before they contribute in any significant way to replacing them.Yet other experts say that even the less mature technology that we have NOW could replace all fossil fuels,but that it is only a matter of the will to act.
        Certainly my past political beliefs influence me on how I approach these quandaries,but since these are some of the most important questions of our time,I want to be on the side of scientific truth.I don’t care if my ‘gut’ reaction turns out to be wrong,I just want the outcome to be right.

      • tmac57 says:

        By ‘scientific truth’, I mean what the actual data says,not ‘truth’ in the sense of an absolute.(Just thought I would head off that criticism)

  4. Bob Mcbride says:

    I don’t agree with your premise that conservatives see everything as “fine” or liberals as saying that the “sky is falling”.

    • Somite says:

      Yeah. I don’t see that at all either. Conservatives are the ones always whining about gay marriage, abortion or Sharia law avoiding at all cost to actually be substantive.

      • paul barry says:

        do you think Sharia law is OK?

      • Beelzebud says:

        The point is that Sharia Law has no chance of ever becoming the law of the land, and to waste time making up bogus legislation to fight off the boogy man, is pointless.

        One funny side effect though. Outlaw Sharia, and you have to outlaw any type of Christian based laws from being installed. No more bullshit 10 Commandments issues if you pass something like this. This is one issue, where I just laugh, and step aside. Let them do it.

      • paul barry says:

        “Outlaw Sharia”. Who said anything about outlawing Sharia?

        Who is making up “bogus legislation to fight off the boogy man?”

        “no more bullshit … if you pass something like this..”

        Something like what?

        Beelzebud, what the hell are you talking about?

      • Beelzebud says:

        In Oklahoma they recently passed a state bill to ban Sharia Law.

      • Bob Mcbride says:

        What does Sharia Law have to do with this sub topic? At most you seem to suggest that liberals complain. Both sides have complaints which does not detract from my earlier comment.

    • And, this applies directly to science. Religious conservatives blame Katrina and other natural disasters on human sinfulness, not scientific causes.

    • Deen says:

      Yeah, I didn’t realize that Glenn Beck was being liberal when he keeps telling his viewers that “They” are destroying America.

    • Joel says:

      Often (conservative) opponents of a new regulation or tax will claim that the introduction of this new tax will cause the economy to crash and never recover. Personally, I think the market is a little stronger than that ;)

  5. Old Rockin' Dave says:

    Conservatives see everything as fine?
    How can that be when, according to them, the President is a Nazi socialist Muslim non-American and the New World Order is about to impose Sharia law, force us all into homosexual marriages, outlaw Christmas and force us all to have abortions while selling off our assets to China to pay off the national debt?

    • Jim Shaver says:

      Come now, Dave, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, isn’t it? Even the staunchest liberal socialist scum don’t expect the men to have abortions.

      • Old Rockin' Dave says:

        Of course they do. They will use their New World Order perverted feminist science to make men carry the babies and then force them to abort.

  6. Zerodash says:

    It’s nice to see that more people are willing to accept that not a single dogmatic political ideology has a monopoly on “good” science. Already I see in the comments that people are trying to deny this and pretend their chosen ideology somehow is the friggin’ authority on science.

    As far as I’m concerned, anybody who is actively striving at being an effective thinker would never self-apply or pigeon-hole themselves into any ideological dogma. Sadly, even the Skeptical community is full of people who not only self identify with a certain political “side”, but will throw logic out the window when they feel they have to defend it.

    Oh, and the whole debate over equivocation is fruitless. Deciding whether Left or Right wing antiscience is worse requires making a value judgment on unrelated topics. For instance, how do you compare the affronts of Conservative Young Earth Creationism with the Leftist anti-business slant of the anti-Vaccine movement? You can’t without making a value judgement based on purely emotional opinion.

    • Somite says:

      Easy. Jack Kingston, an elected GOP official denies evolution openly. No Democratic officials are anti-vaxxers.

      Don’t fall for the logical fallacy that a small group within a group represents the larger group.

      Also, GOP officials including ex President Bush cut federal funding off stem cell research.

      Can you find so egregious anti science examples in liberal elected officials?

      • Adam_Y says:

        If I’m not mistaken New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut all have passed laws protecting doctors who practice dangerous pseudoscience.

      • Somite says:

        I’d love to see a link to that and how it compares to other more conservative states.

      • paul barry says:

        somite moves the goalpoasts.

        It’s okay, somite, take a deep breath.

      • JJ says:

        “No Democratic officials are anti-vaxxers.”

        Hell of a bold statement, that. And a bare assertion to boot.

        “Democratic officials” includes members of every size of government in the US from neighborhoods to the White House. And you expect me to believe that not a single one at any level isn’t anti-vax?

        Whatever.

      • Deen says:

        No, but the fact remains that anti-vax liberals aren’t found in the most prominent national positions, while anti-evolutionists are.

      • Old Rockin' Dave says:

        There are plenty of anti-vaxers on the right. They see it as a civil liberties issue.

      • Dan says:

        Somite wrote: “No Democratic officials are anti-vaxxers.”

        That is untrue, Robert Kennedy Jr is a Democratic activist and an outspoken anti-vaxer. John Kerry and Chris Dodd have both said they think there is a link between vaccinations and autism. Joe Lieberman, who still caucuses with the Democrats, told parents to not let their children get vaccinated with thimerosal-containing shots because they cause autism. (See Amy Wallace’s story in Wired and Newsweek’s article Anatomy of a Scare).

        Sure, Republican officials like Dave Barton and Dan Weldon have been much more outspoken than most Democratic anti-vaxers (and there are plenty of other Republicans who also say they think vaccines cause autism, like John McCain), but there are certainly some influential Democratic politicians and activists pushing anti-vaccination conspiracy theories, so you are mistaken.

      • Dan says:

        Also, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa is part of the anti-vaccination movement, or at least he seriously flirts with it.

      • Orac says:

        No, as critical as I’ve been of Senator Harkin for foisting NCCAM upon the country, I have not seen any evidence that he is anti-vaccine. Similarly, other than RFK, Jr. (who is not a government official), the anti-vaccine comments from Chris Dodd and John Kerry appeared to me to be more out of cluelessness and ignorance about the science rather than a real belief, either that or wanting to appease anti-vaccine constituents. Ditto Lieberman (as much as I detest him) and John McCain. After all, even President Obama and Hillary Clinton pandered to the anti-vaccine movement during their campaigns:

        http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2008/04/hillary_clinton_and_barack_obama_descend.php

        On the other hand, Dan Burton is a died-in-the-wool antivaxer.

      • Dan says:

        Orac,

        I know Age of Autism considers Sen. Harkin an ally; they even post overviews of some of his senate committee discussions on vaccinations (perhaps they are completely fabricating his anti-vaccination position; I realize they aren’t trustworthy).

        I agree that Kerry, Dodd, McCain, and Lieberman are probably saying anti-vaccination stuff out of ignorance (or pandering), but that still shows that some senior senators are echoing anti-vaccination sentiments, which was my point, and disproves Somite’s assertion that there where zero anti-vac Democratic officials. Like I said, they aren’t as outspoken as Barton, but they are at least pretending to hold anti-vaxination positions, whether out of ignorance or not.

        By the way, I love your blog, and read Science-Based medicine everyday. I should be starting medical school next year, and your work has really inspired me. Thanks for what you do!

      • Somite says:

        I’m going to go with what Orac said.

      • Trimegistus says:

        MY blinders are TRUE!!!

    • Michael Morrisson says:

      I think Bill Maher said it best, “The Left has moved to the center, and the Right has moved into a nut house.” I can’t speak for anyone but myself of course, but I don’t think of science as a Left or Right issue. Both sides use science (Whether good or bad science) towards their own ends as that’s what politics is all about. The difference is, that there is no equivalence between the Right and the Left in matters of science. The right has, at all levels, decided that their guts outweigh whatever facts are presented to them. Just because their guts and the facts match up means nothing. The left has a broad spectrum of interactions with science, ranging from those who treat it like the right does, and those who treat it like it should be treated; a tool. For the most part, this leaves the vast majority of reasonable science opinions within the Left. It does not then follow that the Left is right about everything, or that their opinions are better because they are on the Left.

      As for Brian’s post; his equating of the Right and the Left on matters of science was secondary to his point. His point was to look past the rhetoric and learn for yourself. I whole-heartedly agree!

    • Gene S. says:

      “No Democratic officials are anti-vaxxers.”

      No, but some support them. Both Sen. Ted Kennedy and John Kerry supported and support Christian Science who are not only anti-vaccination but were responsible for outbreaks of diseases in their area(s).

      “Can you find so egregious anti science examples in liberal elected officials?”

      Yes since science is often more than not simply a political tool to some.

      We could go over how Head Start, a program that continues to fail years after year and study after study, keeps getting more funding. Why are the studies of their failures ignored?

      It has also been claimed that the White House suppressed scientific recommendations regarding the oil spill in the Gulf. How about the report recommending a moratorium over oil drilling that was altered after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed it?

      How about Neil deGrasse Tyson’s argument about funding? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x7Q8UvJ1wvk&feature=related

      I have yet to research it (busy with my own podcast) but he claims that traditionally Republicans spend more than Democrats on science in recent history. He also points out the fact that the recent ID trail in Dover was decided by a Bush appointed judge.

      • Max says:

        Regarding science funding, Republicans proposed letting the scientifically illiterate American public instead of the NSF decide which basic science projects to fund or cut.

        Make sure you’re sitting down for this one.
        http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/re/

        Reposting my sarcastic comment:
        This YouCut idea is sweeping the nation and empowering us simple folk. Why, just the other day I was getting my appendix removed, when my surgeon handed me the scalpel, and said, “You cut!” I felt so empowered!

  7. itzac says:

    I can see Brian’s point superficially. You don’t find many conservatives railing against science-based medicine and they tend to be more realistic about farming practices, if not dietary choices as Somite points out.

    But there are also important differences. Conservatives, in maintaining the status quo, often feel the need to stand in the way of scientific research they fear might change the status quo. The liberal willingness to embrace change might make them hungrier for discovery, but it also makes them more prone to accepting bad information. It both cases you can end up being wrong, but it’s a different kind of wrong.

    With regarding to tea partiers whining about the current state of affairs, their rhetoric is all about returning to some mythical golden age. They see the present state of affairs as a threat to their privilege, which is what they are trying to maintain.

    I also don’t really like the false dichotomy between left and right. I used it for shorthand above, but it’s not even a spectrum so much as a multi-variable configuration space. You can find people all over it, with clusters in interesting places, but the more rigorous you become in your thinking, the lonelier you will probably find your corner of it.

  8. Max says:

    Libertarian junk science is often driven by the denial industry, whose only purpose is to cut or stall regulation in order to increase profit. To predict their position on science issues, just follow the money. Those corporate shills and their useful idiots who deny Global Warming (for fossil fuel companies), typically also deny the hazard of secondhand smoke and other pollutants (for tobacco and chemical companies), deny the obesity epidemic (for fast food chains), etc. Vaccines are an interesting issue, because libertarians are pro-Big Pharma but anti-public health campaigns, so they’re not anti-vaccine, but they do deny the risk epidemics.
    Sometimes, they’re right. Cell phones probably don’t cause cancer. But that’s just luck. Their goal isn’t to be right, it’s to back the industry.

    • Max says:

      I meant to say, “deny the risk of epidemics.”

    • Joe R says:

      Max: “Libertarian junk science…”

      As a long time, card carrying, anal Libertarian, I’m not aware of this stuff. What does Libertarianism have to do with science?

  9. Bob Mcbride says:

    There is also a false equivelance made in Brians post. There is a group to the left that are science deniers but that group is much smaller than the deniers to the right.

    • I can’t agree with that. Take the top 2% most scientifically literate people out of the equation, and I think you’ll find that all remaining 98% of people have fundamentally wrong understanding of one or more sciences (in the U.S., anyway) — based on my personal observations.

      • tmac57 says:

        Of course there is a big difference between being misinformed,and being willfully ignorant of facts in order to suit your ideology,wouldn’t you agree?

      • Yes, I do agree. But some Christian Conservatives also do go out into the world with a chip on their shoulder looking for some “Darwinist” to pick a fight with; some Libertarian survivalists do go out only seeing things visible through their conspiracy theory colored glasses, and some Democrats go out actively hostile to anything that suggests Big Oil/Pharma/Corn/Etc. are not the root of all evil.

        I’m not making a generalization, I said “some”, and I personally know people who fit all of these extremist stereotypes.

      • Deen says:

        But for to judge whether a claim of equivalence is false or not, you can’t just look whether examples of the extremist stereo-types exist. You also have to take into account how much political influence these groups have. How many anti-business Democrats do you see in Congress, or running for national offices? Compared to the number of anti-socialism fear mongereres, for instance?

      • Somite says:

        Not to mention that the oil/pharma/corn industries don have to be closely regulated or we risk literal disasters. I would include the financial system in that list. Have you considered the possibility that liberals and democrats could be correct and the other wrongs.

        This is why you are acting pseudo skeptically. You are giving all parties equal treatment in spite of the facts. You are your own fox news.

      • Febo says:

        I have never understood the association of Alternative Medicine and Big Pharma conspiracies with the left. All of the the users of alternative medicine I know are extremely right-wing FOX News-worshiping types who have more money than brains. In my experience lefties are much more likely to subscribe to nutritional pseudoscience than alternative medicines or Big Pharma-phobia.

        I also know a lot of left-wing Christians who are evolution deniers and a lot of Conservative Christians who accept evolution.

        I’m not offering these anecdotes as evidence that my personal experiences are representative of reality, only that perhaps trying to associate any pseudoscience with any particular political position is pointless.

      • Max says:

        Amway sells supplements and has contributed millions of dollars to Republicans and conservative causes. MonaVie is based in Salt Lake City, Utah.

      • Orac says:

        I have never understood the association of Alternative Medicine and Big Pharma conspiracies with the left. All of the the users of alternative medicine I know are extremely right-wing FOX News-worshiping types who have more money than brains.

        I’ve always argued that alt-med is the woo that is truly bipartisan and spans all political ideologies. Whenever someone tries to link it with the left, my favorite example is to point out that the Nazis were very much into “volkish” medicine, a lot of which included alt-med such as homeopathy, naturopathy, herbalism, and various “natural” living woo. No, that’s not a Godwin. It’s simply an extreme example to demonstrate that you don’t have to be liberal or New Agey to be into alt-med.

      • Uhh, no.

        “Some” is a generalization, until you put estimated percentages on it.

        And, in a number of sub-streams on this thread, you’ve never addressed the organizational might/muscle/money that the Big Biz/Biz Libertarianism combo has that nobody on the left does.

  10. Alan says:

    There is one basic difference between “liberal” anti-science/rationality and “Conservative” (libertarian wackoism can usually be found in this half as well) anti-science/rationality —

    The first is found at the fringes of society and the Internet and are made of groups with limited political influence

    The second is found at the highest levels of government and society and often has significant political influence

    When you make the two come off as the “same” you completely ignore the fact that conservative “wackoism” is a far more serious and potentially dangerous thing than its liberal counterpart.

    Likewise, this false comparison plays into the conservative tactic of justifying their actions to subvert or ignore science by declaring that “liberals are bad too.” In a similar tactic libertarians use “both liberals and conservatives are wackos” to promote their own brand of wackoism (usually in economics, which in turn tends to line up with conservative views).

    In other words, we shouldn’t be fooled — at this time and place the greatest threat to science and knowledge comes BY FAR from the Right (including libertarian economics) because in their case such ignorance is being pushed at the highest levels of their ideological movement. By comparison, while in sheer numbers of people both sides of the ideological spectrum might be much the same, liberal anti-science has far less direct influence on our government’s scientific and economic policies.

    Maybe fifty years from now the situation will be reversed, but right now conservative/libertarian anti-science is far and away the greater threat. Let’s not give it “cover” by pretending that somehow both sides are just the same.

    • JJ says:

      “The first is found at the fringes of society and the Internet and are made of groups with limited political influence”

      …which is why vaccination rates are declining in relatively wealthy districts that consistently elect & self-identify as Democrats (see: Sonoma County).

      That’s a sign of ‘limited influence?’

      • Somite says:

        Yes. Specially when compared with a president that cuts funding for stem cell research.

      • JJ says:

        The point remains – even if legislative policy doesn’t show the influence that anti-science has on “the Left” there are other metrics that do.

        Plus, there ARE examples of policy moves by “the Left” that demonstrate the influence of anti-science, like the the so-called “health care choice” concept.

        I make no claims of equivalence between “the Right” and “the Left” in this respect, nor does it appear that Brian does.

        I’m not interested in the low-hanging fruit. I’d rather be critical of the ideology I am invested in (“the Left”) as I am more likely to throw my political weight (votes & campaign donations) behind them.

      • Max says:

        The Health Freedom Protection Act was introduced by Ron Paul (R-TX), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Dan Burton (R-IN), Walter Jones (R-NC), Rob Bishop (R-UT), John J. Duncan (R-TN), Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), Jeff Miller (R-FL), Butch Otter (R-ID) and Tom Tancredo (R-CO). One Democrat, nine Republicans.

        “Health freedom” is reminiscent of “academic freedom”, the euphemism for teaching Intelligent Design in science class.

      • Gene S. says:

        Wow. So you base your condemnation of a proposed bill on its name being similar to one that is objectionable and the fact that it was introduced by 1 Democrat and 9 Republicans.

        I really like the Skeptoid podcasts and all the work Brain does. I find them to be rational, reasonable if not just explanatory from his point of view.

        Sad to see so much irrational and simplistically polarized comments being made here.

        Perhaps this is where Brian get many of his topic ideas from.

      • Max says:

        Gene S.,

        JJ said the “health care choice” concept is a policy move by the Left, so I showed that “health freedom” was a policy move by the Right.

        While skeptics knock DSHEA for being too lenient on snake oil salesmen, allowing them to make vague unsubstantiated claims on labels, the Health Freedom Protection Act says DSHEA is too restrictive, and that snake oil salesmen should be allowed to advertise that their snake oil cures diseases.

        So they try to lower safety standards under the banner of “health freedom”, using the same tactic as Creationists who try to lower educational standards under the banner of “academic freedom.”

      • Gene S. says:

        If your claims are true, then detail your argument with some substance rather than a simplistic equivocation(s).

      • Deen says:

        Never mind the anti-vaccination attitudes that are religiously motivated. Or the distrust of CDC and FDA that is motivated by anti-goverment sentiments.

        Also, the pro-vaccine movement tends to be liberal too. What does that tell you?

      • Somite says:

        Excellent point!

  11. Max says:

    Reposting my comment from the Skeptoid DDT episode:

    The big picture is that Brian often debunks scaremongering (see any episode filed under Health or Environment), but I don’t recall him mentioning the denial industry’s doubt-mongering with the purpose of increasing corporate profits by stalling regulation.
    This episode presented yet another opportunity to debunk both scaremongering and JunkScience’s doubt-mongering, but instead Brian portrayed JunkScience as being more reasonable and better informed than the real experts.
    The real experts say that the spraying of DDT should be “greatly reduced.”

    • Yep. And Brian continues the false equivalence, rather than honestly addressing the muscle/might/money of the Corporate Right.

      • Jay Cox says:

        The number of words required to “honestly” address the muscle/might/money of the many clusters of political orientations would fill encyclopedias, and if you take out the “honestly” criterion, the words would fill bookstores. Generating those words would require a lot of Goddamned Work. The point of this article (nor other recent articles of his that I’m aware of) certainly wasn’t to address that. And frankly, I don’t want or care for him to address that, except for specific circumstances where the facts are clearly recognizable.

        I really don’t see any way to approach politics but to regard all sides as equivalent even though you know they really aren’t in particular circumstances. “The Left” and “The Right” are completely generalized group names anyway and arguing about the qualities of such vague terms is pointless and rather idiotic. It’s so easy to “move the goalposts” with regard to the two vague terms, and in reality, “The Left” and “The Right” will undergo so much daily change that to accurately and honestly that the goalposts (“goalposts” here I mean in terms of what is generally believed within the groups, how strongly, etc) will move on their own.

        I don’t want discussion about vaguely defined nonsense. I want concrete facts. And I want to know if the facts I believe are justified. I don’t see justification (to the degree I require) happening when we start to include politics in any significant form. It’s hard enough convincing people of the (in)validity of certain things without introducing the affects of a political bias. I don’t see how Brian’s opinion is significantly different in this regard, and I think it’s a proper position to take.

      • Jay Cox says:

        To clear up some nonsense in my post:

        “… ‘The Left’ and ‘The Right’ will undergo so much daily change that to accurately and honestly that the goalposts (‘goalposts’ here I mean in terms of what is generally believed within the groups, how strongly, etc) will move on their own.”

        Should be:

        “… ‘The Left’ and ‘The Right’ will undergo so much daily change to accurately and honestly describe that the goalposts (By ‘goalposts’ here I mean in terms of what is generally believed within the groups, how strongly, etc.) will move on their own.”

        Yeah, I got distracted by my own parenthetical. Serves me right, I suppose.

  12. tmac57 says:

    I use to believe a lot of weird things back when I was young and naive.Now that I am old and naive,I see things much better ;)

  13. I’m loving this discussion. Keep it coming!

  14. Synesius says:

    Since most conservatives view liberals as well meaning but foolish, while most liberals openly denounce their opponents as stupid, ignorant, irrational, mean-spirited, selfish, greedy, racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, bigoted and intolerant, is it any wonder that the ideologically-uncommitted tend to view the liberal viewpoint with suspicion? When the purported remedies for the purported climate crisis dovetail so neatly with a leftist political/religious agenda, is it any wonder that so many in the general public suspect left-leaning academics might have checked their BS detectors at the university door? If liberal scientists wish to be persuasive, they might temper the name-calling. Calling skeptics “deniers” brands the caller as a religious nut.

    • Febo says:

      Okay, from now on Evolution Deniers will be “Natural Selection Skeptics”, Flat-Earthers will be “Copernicus Skeptics”, Anti-Vaxers will be “Healthy Children Skeptics”, and Organic Food Proponents will be “Efficient Agriculture Skeptics”.

      • Synesius says:

        Cool! It’s a start. But instead of “Natural Selection Skeptics” how about “People Who Agree There is Abundant Evidence That Evolution Happens But Who Aren’t Totally Convinced That It’s the ONLY Thing That Happens?” I’ve yet to find a compelling explanation for why we aren’t all cyanobacteria, for instance. Likewise on the others, and, for the record, the anti-vaccination hysteria stems from bogus but peer-reviewed science, not religious looniness.

        One of the most amusing things about the liberal/conservative divide is the assertion, by liberals, that they alone take a “nuanced” approach to issues. I’ve never encountered a more dogmatic lot than the current crop of liberals.

    • Beelzebud says:

      I didn’t know they could build strawmen that high!

  15. Max says:

    The conservative front group trying to screw up medical care is The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS). Ron Paul is one of its 3000 members. Is there a liberal equivalent to this?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Association_of_American_Physicians_and_Surgeons

    The organization opposes mandatory vaccination, universal health care and government intervention in healthcare.
    AAPS also opposes mandated evidence-based medicine and practice guidelines, criticizing them as a usurpation of physician autonomy and a fascist merger of state and corporate power where the biggest stakeholder is the pharmaceutical industry. Other procedures that AAPS opposes include abortion and over-the-counter access to emergency contraception. AAPS also opposes electronic medical records as well as any “direct or de facto supervision or control over the practice of medicine by federal officers or employees.”
    The AAPS website published an editorial implying that Barack Obama was using NLP, “a covert form of hypnosis”, in his presidential campaign.

    Articles and commentaries published in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons have argued a number of non-mainstream or scientifically discredited claims, including:

    -That the FDA and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are unconstitutional.
    -That “humanists” have conspired to replace the “creation religion of Jehovah” with evolution.
    -That human activity has not contributed to climate change, and that global warming will be beneficial.
    -That HIV does not cause AIDS.
    -That the “gay male lifestyle” shortens life expectancy by 20 years.
    -That there’s a link between abortion and breast cancer.
    -That vaccination is harmful.
    -That illegal immigrants caused a sudden increase in leprosy cases.

    • CountryGirl says:

      And you think the increase in leprosy is because of AGW???

      • Max says:

        I think there’s no sudden increase in leprosy.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Association_of_American_Physicians_and_Surgeons#Leprosy_errors

        In the article, Cosman claimed that “Suddenly, in the past 3 years America has more than 7,000 cases of leprosy” because of illegal aliens.
        However, publicly available statistics show that the 7,000 cases of leprosy occurred during the past 30 years, not the past 3 as Cosman claimed.

      • CountryGirl says:

        And this article says the opposite.
        http://community.kmtr.com/forums/thread/1590970.aspx

      • Somite says:

        This article is from the worldnetdaily. You need a reference from a peer-reviewed journal or CDC.

      • John Greg says:

        CountryGirl, you’re really just a frightened fear-mongering looney-toons bigot at heart, aren’t you.

        That worldnetdaily article you linked to has about as much credibility as some piece of celebrity gossip from the Daily Mail.

        Fail.

      • Beelzebud says:

        Why not just link to the worldnetdaily article, and save us the time of having to click through?

        See this is a nice illustration. In Right-Wing World there is a plague of leprosy right now, being caused by those darned illegal immigrants.

        Here in reality? Not so much…

      • On a previous blog post here, CountryGirl cited FreeRepublic then (dubiously) claimed not to know what a Freeper was. She’s a Grade A loon.

      • CountryGirl says:

        First an appeal to authority then an ad hominem attack. Anyone willing to make it a trifecta of fallicies?

        Somite you may believe that only a peer-reviewed journal or CDC can be correct but they have had their share of frauds.

        John Greg: WTF? Do you eat with that mouth?

        Fly: I still don’t know what a freeper is. Obviously they scare you so it must be bad.

      • Country Girl, it’s called “teh Google.” Look it up. (Before Palin Xn-Sharia outlaws teh Internets.

      • Beelzebud says:

        It’s not ad hominem is the article is actually bullshit though… Worldnetdaily isn’t a trustworthy source of information, and even a small amount of research will reveal that their article is completely full of shit. There is no debate here, or gray area, or anything. It’s just made up bullshit. Plain and simple.

      • Max says:

        The WND article quotes a Republican representative repeating the false claim from the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons. He probably heard Lou Dobbs reporting on it. So it spread like a rumor, and biased right-wingers didn’t care to fact-check it. That’s why you should be skeptical when reading biased sources like WND.

        Here’s the graph of leprosy cases, plain and clear.
        http://hrsa.gov/hansens/30yeartrend.htm

      • Somite says:

        This “appeal to authority” argument when presented with references has been burning in the back of my mind for a while. Second to fear this conservative relativism is the most powerful tool of right wing war on science.

        So let’s clarify when it is appropriate to call an “appeal to authority”; it is appropriate only when edicts are proclaimed in the absence of data. Think on the structure of a peer-reviewed reference: abstract – intro – methods – results – discussion. It is not an appeal to authority if your reference follows this structure and it has undergone peer review by experts in the field.

        The worldnetdaily is only discussion while the CDC and epidemiology journals contain all elements of a reference. At least this is how I structure my learning and understanding.

    • The conservative front group trying to screw up medical care is The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS). Ron Paul is one of its 3000 members. Is there a liberal equivalent to this?

      Yes, the Bravewell Collaborative, by far the world’s largest and wealthiest “medical” lobbying group and funding agency for alternative medicine. Here’s a SBM blog on them: http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=350

      Color me biased if you wish (obviously you do), but any attempt to characterize the supplementary/complementary/alternative medicine (SCAM) fad as a primarily conservative movement is more than a little laughable. Visit Northern California, the world HQ of alternative woo, and tell me how many Republicans you counted.

      I will go to the anti-evolution Bible Belt and tell you how many Democrats I counted.

      I welcome your continued attempts to convince me that your magical political party is immune to woo.

      • tas121790 says:

        The alt med crowd isn’t as liberal as creationism is conservative. I would agree that alt med meccas like Seattle and Portland are very liberal cities. Alt med is also very popular across the country though, chiropractics is essentially everywhere. You can find Homeopathic “medicine” practically everywhere. And from my knowledge the only anti vaxxer in congress is Dan Burton R-IN. Its just the liberals might tend to blame big pharma and conservatives might tend to blame big government,thats the real difference.

      • Orrin Hatch. Supplements industry headquartered in Utah. Conservative, big business reason to support alt-med, Brian.

        Boy, that was like shooting fish in a barrel.

        Only, the fish probably will refuse to admit it’s been shot.

      • Somite says:

        I’m sure you can find somewhere some Satanist conservatives but that doesn’t make satanism the conservative position. You can only adscribe a position to a political movement once elected politicians are enacting those positions or publicly support them. In this thread we have seen many examples of conservative anti-scientific oficial positions but only one (and that was a collaboration with a conservative) for one democratic candidate (who is hardly a liberal). I think your obstinate middle ground position is untenable if you face the facts.

      • JJ says:

        “You can only adscribe a position to a political movement once elected politicians are enacting those positions or publicly support them.”

        This is straight wrong.

        Reworded, this states that political movements that don’t end up in power have no positions.

        This also ignores that there are a LOT of shades of grey in political identity. It’s a clever dodge that allows you to pick and choose who you use to label “the movement”.

        When faced with an example of the federal level you play “no true Scotsman”. What happens when someone presents you with a state-level Democrat?

        Who’s being obstinate again?

      • Somite says:

        I include “publicly support them”.

      • JJ says:

        “I include “publicly support them”.”

        Hillary Clinton, in 2008: “We don’t know what, if any, kind of link there is between vaccines and autism”

      • JJ says:

        “You can only adscribe a position to a political movement once elected politicians [...] publicly support them.”

        With “enacting those positions” removed. You were still tied to “elected officials”. If you would like to rephrase then please feel free.

        You really do need to rephrase it as it is downright foolish to assume that only the high-ranking Democrats YOU choose can define the positions of the associated political movement.

    • Orac says:

      Truly, the AAPS is a right wing bin of loons. It promotes the idea that shaken baby syndrome is a misdiagnosis for vaccine injury, HIV/AIDS denialism, anti-vaccine views, the view that abortion causes breast cancer (it doesn’t), that illegal immigrants are the source of disease and contamination:

      http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=99

      The AAPS also thinks that Medicare is a socialist plot and opposes any form of government regulation of health care.

  16. tmac57 says:

    While I personally think that the ‘Right’ has recently done more harm on the anti-science front,let me point out that Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA),has been a thorn in the side of such skeptics as Dr. Novella, and Orac to name a couple,for his support for NCCAM woo:
    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2009/03/senator_tom_harkin.php
    To quote Sen. Harkin about the creation of NCCAM:

    One of the purposes of this center was to investigate and validate alternative approaches. Quite frankly, I must say publicly that it has fallen short. It think quite frankly that in this center and in the office previously before it, most of its focus has been on disproving things rather than seeking out and approving.

    Huh?!!

  17. Somite says:

    This is a good example of a democrat abusing science and related to health. Still nowhere near as bad as the previously cited conservative anti-science examples.

    • tmac57 says:

      I agree,I just wanted to point out that anti-science Dems do exist,even if they are not the biggest problem.We should oppose anti-science politicians no matter where they reside on the political spectrum.

    • Trimegistus says:

      THEIR BLINDERS ARE WORSE THAN MY BLINDERS!!!!

  18. BillG says:

    For many, all of this is noise. The majority (50%+) of citizens are oblivious to science or politics – consumed in the daily grind followed by football and entertainment tonight. Until one becomes jolted in reality: my property taxes are to high; oneself or a loved one becomes diagnosed with cancer, apathy turns to activism. Thus, we cherry pick facts to which effects us most personally.

  19. Gene S. says:

    Sad to see so many trying to politicize science. Again, to some, including politicians, many here, and several left-leaning icons and actors, science is something to be ignored or used when and how they see fit.

    One example of the left’s “war on vaccination” to use the dramatic title.
    http://thestatsblog.wordpress.com/2009/10/20/anti-vaccination-a-left-wing-disease/

    “To hear his enemies talk, you might think Paul Offit is the most hated man in America. A pediatrician in Philadelphia, he is the coinventor of a rotavirus vaccine that could save tens of thousands of lives every year. Yet environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. slams Offit as a ‘biostitute’ who whores for the pharmaceutical industry. Actor Jim Carrey calls him a profiteer and distills the doctor’s attitude toward childhood vaccination down to this chilling mantra: ‘Grab ‘em and stab ‘em.’ Recently, Carrey and his girlfriend, Jenny McCarthy, went on CNN’s Larry King Live and singled out Offit’s vaccine, RotaTeq, as one of many unnecessary vaccines, all administered, they said, for just one reason: ‘Greed.’”

    That type of left-wing, simple minded ideology is sad but a fact of not only some in this forum but in public opinion and politics as well.

    Again from the posting:

    “It doesn’t matter that RotaTeq protects children against the Rotavirus, whose symptoms of severe diarrhoea lead to some half-a-million deaths per year, there is simply no reasoning against the anti-vax movement’s belief that big pharma is evil. So while many Democratic politicians would be appalled if asked to denounce evolution as a tool of “big science,” they appear happy to minister to the idea that vaccination is not scientific.”

    ““There are anti-vaccine Web sites, Facebook groups, email alerts, and lobbying organizations. Politicians ignore the movement at their peril, and, unlike in the debates over creationism and global warming, Democrats have proved just as likely as Republicans to share misinformation and fuel anxiety.

    US senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Chris Dodd of Connecticut have both curried favor with constituents by trumpeting the notion that vaccines cause autism. And Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a scion of the most famous Democratic family of all, authored a deeply flawed 2005 Rolling Stone piece called “Deadly Immunity.” In it, he accused the government of protecting drug companies from litigation by concealing evidence that mercury in vaccines may have caused autism in thousands of kids. The article was roundly discredited for, among other things, overestimating the amount of mercury in childhood vaccines by more than 100-fold, causing Rolling Stone to issue not one but a prolonged series of corrections and clarifications. But that did little to unring the bell.”

    Democrats have also supported organizations like http://www.nvic.org

    An article linked form this one that is also a good read is http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2009/10/the_anti-vaccine_war_on_science_an_epide.php

  20. Erik Jensen says:

    I am a science educator and one measure of conservative vs. liberal anti-science is the level of philosophical resistance of my students to science in the classroom. Here is my unscientific assessment based on personal experience and that of my colleagues:

    Geology educators routinely deal with creationists who deny plate tectonics, the age of the earth, and the age of its rocks. Biology educators must constantly defend evolution against stale attacks from these same students. Astronomy educators take flack for the big bang. Yes, some nursing students are into Reiki or are skeptical of vaccinations, but they don’t cause pointless disruptions and they learn to practice the evidence-based medicine we teach. Yes, a few biology students are skeptical of GMOs, but they sincerely want to learn good science. Yes, some astronomy students are there because they thought they signed up for astrology, but they are usually able to handle the cognitive dissonance their learning creates.

    Basically, if a science faculty member is venting about a willfully ignorant student, it is almost always a conservative one. I think the key difference here is that conservative philosophy is generally associated with the idea that the Truth is already known and is based on authority. Anything that contradicts the Truth must be false. This is contrary to science which is based on evidence and is always subject to change.

    • Deen says:

      This is contrary to science which is based on evidence and is always subject to change.

      And which of the two ideologies is more willing to embrace change?

    • Possum Holler says:

      “Yes, some nursing students are into Reiki or are skeptical of vaccinations, but they don’t cause pointless disruptions and they learn to practice the evidence-based medicine we teach.”

      Entertain the possibility that it is not better when students pocket and keep their assorted anti-science biases instead of speaking up and owning their assorted anti-science biases. The former retain them, the latter might conceivably learn something new if the educator does not tire of them and give up.

      “Basically, if a science faculty member is venting about a willfully ignorant student, it is almost always a conservative one.”

      Do university faculties tend towards liberalism or conservatism? If they tend towards one side, would students from the other side prove more irritating to them? And do they tend to see more favorably those like the aforementioned nursing students who keep their anti-science beliefs post grad, but learned not to irritate the educator by defending them during class? This is better? It sounds like it is preferable to at least one educator the preferred willfully ignorant students are those who keep their ignorance to themselves. It *is* better… but for whom?

      I teach as well, but I cannot see any appreciable difference in willful ignorance along ideological lines. For every student who complains that ain’t whut his preacher told him about how and why comes wealth to a person (it takes God’s blessing), I get another who believes wealth is finite and that if A has any, it came only at the expense of B, C, and D. It is my choice to try and untangle these notions, inculcated in students from birth by parents at almost every instance, as it ought to be for any educator. I suspect that the educator who finds such a lopsided conservative prevalence of willful ignorance has only outlined his own biases.

  21. tas121790 says:

    Nearly all of republicans in congress think global warming isn’t happening or isn’t human caused, thats completely against the established science (96% of climatologists accept the evidence of human caused GW)
    *If anyone know of a Republican that accepts the evidence of Human caused climate change, please tell me.

    I really cant think of any unscientific position thats supposedly “left” that is a part of the party fabric on the left like GW denial or creationism is on the right . Sure there are many on the left that support woo woo medicine. Tom Harkin and Bernie Sanders are probably the biggest supporters of the money waster NCCAM. But alt med or even GM Crop ‘skepticism’ is not a very important issue for most on the left.

    Now we should call out any anti science position regardless of left or right. But I don’t think we should get involved in false equivalency. We shouldn’t say “the left is just as anti science as the right” just for the sake of being equal, because its simply not true.

  22. My overall, generalizing take is that anti-science from the right is most often driven by Big Biz interests that have the money and organization to bring to the table that anti-science movements from the further left just don’t have.

    For instance, to bring this back AGAIN to Dunning’s unapologetic DDT Skeptoid episode, there simply is no left-wing slush fund funding a left-wing equivalent of Milloy.

    And, Brian, until you address that, I remain skeptical … of you.

  23. Trimegistus says:

    Well, now we know. Liberals can be skeptical about everything except their own opinions. Other people’s religious beliefs can be attacked, but not Obamacare.

    Skeptics? It is to laugh. This is just another flavor of fanaticism.

    • tmac57 says:

      What flavor of fanaticism do you prefer?

      • Max says:

        My guess is the one that resorts to fear mongering about death panels and calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme.

      • tmac57 says:

        You can’t beat the classics!

      • paul barry says:

        ha ha

        Social Security isn’t a Ponzi scheme. It’s a money maker for sure!

        way to go guys.

        Maybe Brian’s next discussion should be Economics 101

      • Beelzebud says:

        For Social Security to be a “Ponzi scam” that would mean at some point America would quit being a country a cash out.

        Anyone who fancies themselves a critical thinker, and thinks SSI is a Ponzi scam, isn’t even a thinker let alone critical thinker.

      • Max says:

        FYI, SSI stands for Supplemental Security Income, not Social Security.

        paul barry,

        Social Security is not a Ponzi scheme precisely because it’s NOT a money maker.

    • WTF? I was skeptical about “Obamacare” rather than real national healthcare, from the start.

      • Febo says:

        Yeah, bringing up “Obamacare” is kind of pointless, since no one likes it… the right hates it because it’s socialism, and the left hates it because it isn’t socialism.

      • paul barry says:

        to beelzebud and max

        thanks guys, you were fish in a barrel.

  24. feralboy12 says:

    As a resident of liberal Eugene, OR, for 30 years, I’ve spent a lot of my life surrounded by new age woo, alternative medicine, supplement eaters and so forth. They might be silly, they may call me a “pharma shill,” “closed-minded,” or “Mr. Spock,” but no one here has ever insisted that my views made me inherently immoral or less than a full U.S. citizen.
    Nor do they insist that there is nothing to worry about because a giant magical being is protecting us all.
    I’d rather live with the liberal woo; it tends to be less threatening to my civil rights.

    • CountryGirl says:

      As a fellow resident of Eugene my concern is how much the “woo” costs the taxpayer and more importantly the amount of harm it does to people who are ill but think echinacea (or some other “natural” herb) will protect them.

  25. Beelzebud says:

    You’re using a false equivalence to make your point.

    Let’s try to look at this objectively.

    Are there anti-science people on both sides? Absolutely. Is it an equal phenomenon? Let’s take a look.

    On The Left we have Tom Harkin, who is known to support many crack pot alternative medicine ideas. We have RFK JR., who at one time was firmly in the anti-vaccination camp. One is a congressman, that has no real power in the party, and the other example isn’t even in any elected office, and has been shunned by many people on the left for his anti-science stances. As far as “The Left” as a whole, I don’t see widespread agreement on the anti-vaccination issue. We see no legislative push to end vaccines. The people who believe in the crackpot theories don’t seem to have much power within the Democratic party, or even for liberals in general.

    On The Right… Well honestly, where do we begin? Let’s start at the top. During the 2008 Presidential election, the Republican candidates were asked if they believed in evolution. All but one said evolution wasn’t true, and that they believed in creationism. John McCain openly mocked scientific research as part of his campaign platform (remember the planetarium in chicago, or the genetic research on flies).

    On The Right we have seen them push for creationism to be taught in public schools. We have seen them try to slander and scorn the theory of evolution. You don’t see this coming from The Left. The last Republican president proclaimed that in regards to the theory of evolution: The jury is still out. The same president banned federal funding of stem cell research, based on religious reasons alone, and counter to the science. The Right has made it part of their mainstream platform to openly reject scientific knowledge. Everything from climate research, to genetic research, biology, astronomy, etc, etc, the list goes on and on. They’ll say things like smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer, or DDT is safe, or climate change is a “hoax”, or any number of things to support their economic ideology. These things aren’t being promoted by the fringes of the right, they’re promoted by the leaders of the conservative movement. Tides go in, tides go out, as Bill O’Rielly might say…

    Are there nutballs on The Left? Yes. However they are marginalized, and not embraced by the mainstream. Show me an equivalent viewpoint on the left that is promoted and embraced by the mainstream.

    On The Right, the nuts are running the asylum. It’s a false equivalence.

    • JJ says:

      You know what’s false? That questioning both “the Left” and “the Right” at the same time implies equating them exactly.

      There’s a pedestal that “the Left” puts itself on, swearing up and down that any crackpot idea will be marginalized & quashed.

      Yet somehow there is no shortage of blind anti-corporate biases and there’s a LOT of related anti-reality biases that come along for the ride.

      And this thread has MANY examples of these, including examples from the HIGHEST levels of Democrats. The anti-science on “the Left” is more devious, less blatant.

      • Beelzebud says:

        So join the discussion and give some examples…

      • JJ says:

        Already posted examples from this thread:

        Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Chris Dodd, RFK Jr., Tom Harkin.

        Some fairly heavy hitters there.

        Also, try this on for size.

        http://thomas.loc.gov

        You can search for certain terms (like thimerosal) in proposed & passed bills. From last year’s Congress:

        HR2617 – “Mercury-Free Vaccines Act of 2009″ introduced by a Democrat, cosponsored by 4 Ds and 3 Rs.

        From the year before:

        HR3043 – A 2008 Appropriations Bill explicitly denies funding to avian influenza vaccines that contain thimerosal for children under 3 years old.

        From what I can tell that text was introduced in the original bill, never saw amendment and was passed into law containing that text.

        TAKE OFF YOUR BLINDERS ALREADY.

      • Beelzebud says:

        Yeah and is that bill the party platform of the Democratic party? Yet I can give you a list of crap that the Republicans actively still support.

        You basically covered a topic I already acknowledged. So one one side we have 1 woo-topic with a handful of supporters, and on the other side we have a systemic anti-science platform that is supported from the top down. Yep, that sure is equivalence.

      • JJ says:

        Any chance we can move the goalposts some more?

        In this thread we’ve gone from (paraphrasing):

        There are no antivax Democrat executives (not by you)

        to

        The Left does a better job policing their fringes and they have no opportunity to implement their beliefs into policy (by you)

        to

        well that’s just one woo-topic with a handful of supporters. It doesn’t matter that the example bill lived it’s entire life with woo-text in it and passed into law without a single peep from a D, when the D’s controlled both halves of the legislative body. (by you)

        Not to mention that you missed this (by me):

        “You know what’s false? That questioning both “the Left” and “the Right” at the same time implies equating them exactly.”

        Next…

        “You basically covered a topic I already acknowledged.”

        …is backpedaling and is false. Your ‘acknowledgment’ was saying a few people with little to no influence hold these beliefs.

        I’m showing you that there is an active misinformed movement based on the mercury scare line. I listed two bills. There are MANY more, like a non-binding “statement” bill with *31* cosponsors.

        And that’s *just* searching for Thimerosal.

        I’m not trying to show equivalence. I’m just telling you that your pedestal is bulls**t.

      • Beelzebud says:

        And at the end of the day the anti-vaxx view still isn’t held as a party platform, and isn’t embraced by the mainstream at all, and yet Republicans are still pushing for creationism to be taught in schools, denying scientific facts regarding climate change, pollution, medical research, biology, etc. etc. etc.

        When every Democratic candidate for president says they think vaccines are bad, and make that idea part of their policy platform, then we’ll have some equivalence.

  26. tmac57 says:

    ‘GOP Senate Candidates Oppose Climate Science And Policy’

    http://wonkroom.thinkprogress.org/gop-senate-deniers/#fl

    Remarkably, of the dozens of Republicans vying for the 37 Senate seats in the 2010 election, no one supports climate action, after climate advocate Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE) lost his primary to Christine O’Donnell. Even former climate advocates Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) now toe the science-doubting party line.

    And don’t even get me started on James Inhofe!!!

  27. Edgaras says:

    That’s why it is nice to be neither liberal nor conservative. Both of these ideologies are simply flawed, but yet they are mainstream, so people think, that they have to choose between them. Most of us are educated in public state aproved schools…

    Anyway. Nice post, Brian.

  28. Somite says:

    I think it’s clear. Consideration the discussion a good summary is that anti-scientific examples can be found in members of all parties. However, it is a political platform of republicans and libertarians.

    I just listened to the excellent Science Friday where a conservative climatologist was discussing how his party leadership figures were in denial of the basic science. He was asked by Ira if he could remain a conservative. His response was that he could not vote for someone that was an evolution or climate change denier because it was evidence of a lack in the ability to process basic information. If we would just apply this litmus test to politicians, the GOP would not be able to operate.

  29. Chris Howard says:

    So, basically we’re all biased by our political, philosophical, and religious beliefs, from time to time? Okay. From a scientific perspective, it seems like, we’ve got that, pretty much, covered. From a legislative position, yeah, it’s screwy. Some of that comes about simply because the decisions that need to be made, can’t wait for scientific consensus. Some of it is denial. Some of it is, simple ignorance. Of course we can chalk some up to, good old fashioned, corruption.
    The scientific community can only do two things, with regard to politics, 1) provide policy makers with the data, and a good interpretation of said data 2) Provide clarification, and possible outcomes of said data.
    How a legislator chooses to interpret, and act on the evidence is up to them. Usually attaching a cost/benefit analysis helps motivate them. ;-)

    • Somite says:

      I don’t think the fact that you are a policymake should give you license to simply deny the evidence or arrive at the opposite conclusion.

      • Chris Howard says:

        I agree 100%, but for a variety of reasons, policy makers do just that, and those of us in the sciences can only present them with the data. Do they have an ethical responsibility to do the best they can, with the best evidence at their disposal? Yes, I believe so. I’m not so sure that humility, and the ability to change ones mind, given the evidence, have ever been the hallmark of politicians. In fact, I think from a political perspective, changing ones mind would be seen as weak, waffling, lacking strong belief. Again, I don’t believe that’s right, or an excuse, but politicians think of relection, not necessarily about what’s right.

  30. Wayward son says:

    I think that part of the reason that anti-science is found more in the platform of the Republicans than in the Democrats is that the Democrats are more a centrist party than a party of the left. In Canada the Democrats would probably most closely fit with our Conservative Party (which is our most right wing party). I am a left-winger (even by Canadian standards) but over the last 15 years I have left both of our left-wing parties (The NDP and the Green Party) due to anti-science positions that they held/hold. (For instance the Green Party wanted – and I assume still does want – the government to fund all manner of alternative medicines, and the NDP ran a prominent anti-vaxer in British Columbia during the last Federal election). Our right wing Conservative government has a lot of anti-science members (including the Science Minister who is a chiropractor and doesn’t accept evolution).

    • Unfortunately, Wayward, the Green Party here in the U.S. is the same. (Alt-med support was/is part of the official party platform.) That’s why, though I have voted Green in the last two presidential elections, I won’t officially join it or support it. (And, there’s no Socialist party in Texas on the ballot.)

  31. Chris Howard says:

    Not that any of this matters. Don’t you know we’re on the cusp of a great AWAKENING?! No, wait! I can prove it! This video says so: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lA6IEBbQy5w

  32. Possum Holler says:

    This thread, as are most efforts to discuss the issue, is rife with false equivalencies, as is identified by many posters throughout. However, the worst false equivalency goes remarked, and that is the fact that a given politician’s position on *policy* is not necessarily reflective of his or her beliefs on the issue the policy seeks to address.

    A gross example: while I tentatively accept the general scientific finding on climate change, I would vehemently oppose a resulting policy to immediately suspend and forbid the use of all coal burning electricity generators. For me and for politicians, it is a finely drawn line between which policies merit my support and which do not. But if I refuse to support a given policy, it says absolutely nothing about how I feel about the underlying issue the poloicy seeks to address, i.e., you cannot accurately measure a politician’s actual beliefs by his or her stand on prospective policies.

    A secondary consideration is whether and how often a politician selects or introduces policies based not on his or her own personal beliefs on the issue being addressed, but on how that policy helps their reelection chances and/or their wallets. Gee, is there any evidence of humans supporting woo because there is money or other gains to be made from it?

    For what it’s worth (and I suspect it is little to most in these sorts of debates) I think it’s an absolute fool’s errand to paint one side of the political aisle as more woo infected than the other. Both sides have long full histories of it. It’s like supporters of the Gestapo arguing with supporters of the SS over which is the more evil. Gestapo wins at 96% evil over the paltry 93.5% of the SS! Yay! We win!

    • Max says:

      “Gee, is there any evidence of humans supporting woo because there is money or other gains to be made from it?”

      Of course, this was addressed above.
      If a Republican politician denies Global Warming because he’s bought by ExxonMobil and because his Republican base denies Global Warming, then that still means Republicans deny Global Warming.

      • Possum Holler says:

        Exactly. Now all you need to do is prove that all Republicans and all Democrats vote as a single monolithic block and you’re home free in your assertion.

        Oh, and don’t forget to prove that when a Republican or a member of his or her base opposes global warming, it is because they deny the science itself, not the specific policy being offered to address it.

        Then again, perhaps it is easier to lump everyone together and to assign motivational subtleties in whichever way fails to knock your blinders askew.

      • Max says:

        I think on most polarizing issues you’ll find over 80% of Republicans voting one way, and over 80% of Democrats voting the other way.

        As far as global warming denial, House Republicans appointed deniers to committee chairs.
        http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/house_republicans_appoint_climate_change_deniers_to_committee_chairs/

        If Republicans accept that humans are causing global warming, and that it will leave the planet in a worse state for our children, then voters will start asking why they oppose efforts to curtail it.

      • Dan A. says:

        So the prehistoric humans also caused global warming did they? So that’s why they left Africa!
        But I don’t think that republicans are necessarily against the idea of climate change, but how the democrats are proposing to bring about a safer planet for our children.
        And have democrats ever not been influenced by money? i think you are attacking the select few in congress, rather than the ideals of “republicanism”.

      • Going beyond Max, on several of these issues, you’ll find the GOPers **more united** than Dems. Climate change denialism and anything related to it. Again, because of the money/might/muscle of organized rich wingers.

  33. Max says:

    One of the front groups defending the industry when it comes to food and pollution is the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH). They’re more sophisticated than, say Steven Milloy’s JunkScience, but are still biased and disingenuous.
    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2010/05/disingenuous_responses_to_straightforwar.php

    Brian cited the ACSH in the Skeptoid episode on organic food, long before the DDT episode where he cited JunkScience. Also, the Skeptoid episode on on the safety of plastic bottles cited the American Chemistry Council, which in turn cited another front group, the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI). They’re all on SourceWatch.

    The ACSH website lists its enemies: the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

    I consider all of them biased, sort of like expert witnesses in a civil trial, but I think Brian considers ACSH to represent the scientific consensus. He’s never cited CSPI or even the Union of Concerned Scientists as far as I can tell.

    ACSH seems to court skeptics more. Their website links to skeptical websites like Quackwatch and Skeptic Magazine, but also to astroturf groups like the Center for Consumer Freedom and of course JunkScience.com.
    Their list of science advisors includes Steven Novella, Michael Shermer, Stephen Barrett, Paul Offit, etc. They have some common ground in opposing alternative medicine and supporting vaccination. Dr. Novella insisted that he advises ACSH and not vice-versa, but they may need his name on the list more than they need his advice.

    • Max says:

      What I don’t get is why all these pro-industry groups and think tanks push DDT, when its only remaining manufacturer is some state-owned Indian company. Are they trying to restart DDT production in the U.S., or is it part of a general campaign to demonize environmentalists and praise pesticides?

    • Max, I swear you must have Skeptoid issues/episodes memorized. Last couple of posts Brian has made here, you’ve basically “owned” him!

    • Somite says:

      I really wish i hadn’t read the connection between this group of skeptics and the ACSH. I can understand being mistaken or innocent bias but this is evidence of an agenda. It explains the undue criticism of organic farming in the face of what nutritional science says about processed foods, the DDT debacle and the weird libertarian posts.

    • Beelzebud says:

      Wow… Any reaction to this from the guys that run this site? Are you going to address this issue at all, or just pretend no one noticed?

      This is pretty damning stuff, and pretty much just blew away any shred of credibility the people that run this site have.

      • John Greg says:

        As much as I respect the so-called skeptical movement, I have noticed that the standard response when “exposed” in hypocrisy, dishonesty, or even a basic honest mistake, the heavy-hitters of the skeptical community just seal their lips and go shtum: “No comment”. And that alone, that one single childish disengenuous act, has really seriously curtailed the trust and respect I once felt for most of the heavy hitters of the community. And I wonder if they have any awareness at all how dangerous that somewhat mendacious approach is to the critical role that the skeptical community plays in society. If one adopts the tools of the enemy one inevitably shoots oneself in the foot and simply destroys essential credibility.

        For me it all began with Shermer’s insane — contextually speaking — propaganda for Libertarianism (I finally bought the bullet and with some regret simply stopped buying his magazine — you have to follow the money), and has grown with such things as the outrageous spin and deceitful fabrications regarding such things as legitimate organic farming, pesticides, etc.

      • Beelzebud says:

        Yep and you notice that this was met with 100% silence. This isn’t how you build a trustworthy movement.

      • John Greg says:

        Indeed.

        I find it most distressing to observe how many leaders (so-called) of the skeptical movement (so-called), are proving to be little more than shills for the own enhancement, and more importantly, utterly incapable of saying “I’m sorry, I was in error; I made a mistake.” It is really, really disappointing.

    • Max says:

      Quackwatch lists ACSH as one of “highly recommended sites,” which it may be when it addresses quackery or vaccinations, but not when it defends the safety of industrial toxins.
      http://www.quackwatch.com/12Web/webindex.html

      • tmac57 says:

        I wasn’t even aware of this organization until now.I just took a look at their site,and pretty quickly found some rather incautious advice about consuming fish with mercury.They rightly point out that the FDA recommends eating more fish,and that it has benefits,but they completely leave out the FDA’s cautions on consuming mercury containing fish.They don’t even list the ones that have the highest levels,and say:

        Based on the FDA’s limits on trace mercury exposure, a woman of average weight can safely consume 21 cans of light tuna every week for the rest of her life before risking even theoretical health effects.

        This site smells more like an advocacy site rather than one concerned with getting the science right.

    • JJ says:

      I’m skeptical of the EWG and you should be too.

      Then there’s what Orac said:

      “To say that there is “simply no evidence” that the use of pesticides can cause human disease at typical exposures is not only simply not true but it’s so wrong that it immediately knocks my assessment of Dr. Ross’ credibility down several notches just on the basis of the pure burning stupid of that statement alone.”

      Gosh Orac, it’s almost like people slightly overstate their position when they debate on the Internets. Or use terms like ‘burning stupid’ when they don’t even understand that they’re talking about different (but related) topics.

      Next time maybe him and Dr Ross could try actually talking about the same thing. I’ve always thought that skeptics are good at picking up on complexity/nuance but in this case something was missed.

      Orac lists studies about occupational exposure and the related regional exposure. Dr Ross wasn’t talking about that.

      So who’s right? Gee, maybe BOTH of them? Maybe occupational and the related regional contamination is a concern (the evidence is mounting at least). And maybe, just maybe, there is no harm from exposure at typical consumer supermarket exposure (the evidence there ISN’T mounting).

      These statements are not even at odds.

      Finally, this talk like a large segment of the skeptical movement has been compromised and their silence is totally damning? It’s sad, you know, that such thinking isn’t limited to places like the HuffPo. As though a weak string of insinuations and a couple hours of silence is worth, well…anything?

      • Max says:

        I am skeptical of the EWG as well as ACSH. I said I consider all of them biased, though I’m still glad that there are groups testing the water for industrial pollutants.
        But skeptics appear to have a closer relationship with the ACSH than with the EWG or CSPI or UCS (Union of Concerned Scientists).

  34. Dan Kennan says:

    –just pretend no one noticed?–

    Unfortunately that’s exactly what they will do, and it will work. They are the heavy-hitters in the skeptical blogosphere, so if they don’t respond, there is not controversy and no issue.

  35. Chris Howard says:

    Wow! Check out Dr. Shermers tweets, on Liberal bias in Social Science dept. at universities! Is it a case of, if you don’t like what the data, blame the faculty? Would Libertarians and Republicans be any less bias? Is there a biase, that can be proved, or is it just a claim at this point? If there’s a problem with the data, why not point to it, rather than an alleged liberal bias?

    • Max says:

      He’s just saying that liberals ridiculously outnumber conservatives in universities, especially in the fields of social science and psychology, which I would add, are arguably more susceptible to this sort of bias than, say, physics and chemistry.

      • Chris Howard says:

        I’d argue that any of the “soft” sciences are more prone to bias, of any sort, conservative or liberal. Culture tends to color our interpretation of data, so what? I mean really, if there is point that needs to be made, don’t pussyfoot around the issue with inference, man-up, and show the evidence of liberal bias is social science, or just admit that it’s just “pissin’ and moanin’ “

      • Max says:

        I was going to say political bias, but the liberal/conservative spectrum is more than just political.

        Jonathan Haidt gave some examples of liberal bias in his presentation that Shermer linked to.
        http://www.authorstream.com/Presentation/jhaidt-819710-haidt-postpartisan-social-psychology/

        1. Harvard’s reaction to Larry Summers’ suggestion that women are underrepresented in science because of lower variance in aptitude.
        2. Rejecting the concept of “culture of poverty” because it blames the victim.
        3. Stephen Jay Gould’s insistence that people couldn’t evolve significantly in the last 50,000 years.

      • Chris Howard says:

        Now that’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout.
        To be fair to my University’s Sociology and Psychology, as well as their Anthropology dept., they all do a great job of presenting both sides, or more. Most of the texts we use present multiple sides. The Culture of Poverty is a prime example, as is Summer’s. I don’t know if the biology department discusses Gould?
        I’m pretty sure that most of my professors, in the social sciences, are indeed, liberal; but I have detected little if any bias, on their part. Of course I’m pretty liberal myself, so it’s admittedly easier to overlook things that already jive with my worldview… still, I think it’s more a matter of professionalism. I know plenty of liberal professors who do an excellent job of presenting two, or more, sides of an issue. So I don’t see where ideological orientation plays into it, unless it can be shown to be a problem. I did have a conservative industrial psychology professor, who constantly blamed everything on liberals. That’s the rub. I don’t care if they’re liberal, moderate, or conservative, as long as they can give me the information I need, and the critical thinking tools to come to my own conclusions, then there’s no problem.

    • Somite says:

      The other possibility is that more educated and intelligent people generally arrive at the conclusion that being liberal is more “correct” and beneficial to society. It is entirely possible that being conservative or libertarian is wrong in terms of achieving the best outcomes for society.

      • Max says:

        Jonathan Haidt pointed out that whenever men outnumber women by a much smaller margin, liberal social scientists assume there’s discrimination or a hostile work environment.

        Another possibility is that conservatives go into more lucrative fields like management or engineering.

        Another possibility is that there’s a self-perpetuating cycle of liberals teaching the next generation to be liberal. Again, that’s much more likely in social science than in physics.

        But whatever the cause is, when conservatives are underrepresented by a factor of 100, that’s a problem. And I’m not talking about Creationists here.

      • Somite says:

        Gender inequality could be do to sexism which would be reprehensible in modern western societies. However, incorrect conclusions are expected to be underrepresented in fields of inquiry. Substitute for creationists among biologists for a more appropriate comparison.

      • Max says:

        You think conservative ideas in social science are that unscientific compared to liberal ideas?

      • Somite says:

        I think the current conservative movement is not interested in testing their ideas or be based on reality. It is not surprising that academics that value reality would not label themselves as conservative.

        There is probably research that evaluates financial or social conservative propositions but it is well done and peer reviewed there is no point in labeling it liberal or conservative.

      • Max says:

        Social psychologists do research comparing conservatives and liberals, and guess who always comes out looking better. I remember a study that found that conservatives are happier… because they’re less bothered by social injustice.
        If these studies are all done by liberals and peer reviewed by liberal peers, that makes them suspect.

      • Chris Howard says:

        Max, a study is suspect if the underlying logic is faulty, or methodology poor, or data interpretation is flawed. So to say that a study is suspect because it was “Liberals who done it”, kind of strikes me as a knee-jerk reaction, a bias, if you will, no?

      • Joshua B. says:

        This statement pretty much summarizes a very common ignorant attitude. I have saved it for reference so that I can quote it in the future.

        We have beliefs about factual questions. Those beliefs are either true or false. Also, we have value judgments. Those are our attitudes about what is good or bad.

        Note that these are two entirely separate things. Two people can agree entirely on the facts of any matter, and yet have different value judgments about whether the state of affairs they both understand equally well is good or bad.

        With that understood, let us consider proposition P: “more educated and intelligent people generally arrive at the conclusion that being liberal is more ‘correct’ and beneficial to society.”

        Basically, “being liberal” is having a set of values that we shall label ‘V.’

        (In reality, there are a spectrum of values and picking out a single, concrete ‘V’ would be something of an average, but let us gloss over that.)

        What is “correct and beneficial?” Acquiring whatever one deems is good is “correct and beneficial.” What determines that one deems is good? One’s values.

        Thus proposition P reduces to “more educated and intelligent people generally arrive at the conclusion that having values V tends to result in outcomes valued in V.”

        Let us consider the related proposition P’: “being conservative or libertarian is wrong in terms of achieving the best outcomes for society.”

        What are the “best” outcomes for society? Again that is a value judgment. If we narrow our domain of discourse to just “popular political cliques in the 21st century United States” then we can consider “conservative or libertarian” as not-V.

        (As an aside, the Liberal Party in Australia is their right-wing party, and the “liberal” parties in central Europe tend to be their center-right parties, so I use the term in quotes throughout.)

        Thus P’ reduces to “having not-V values is wrong in terms of achieving outcomes for society valued in V.”

        In conclusion, all that statements like this actually say is that “liberal people are more liberal and non-liberal people are less liberal.”

        Unfortunately people who say and think things like this are abused of the thought that they are making a non-tautologous claim, and that their little value system, out of all of the thousands upon thousands of possible value systems they could have had depending on the accident of the time and place of their birth, is the “right” one.

        Note that this self-fulfillment applies to values and value judgments, but not to factual questions. Regardless of whether you think it is good or bad, objects in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an outside force, living cells will produce polypeptide chains, atoms will form covalent bonds, etc. etc.

        Thus while there are “liberal” values and “conservative” values, there is not “liberal” truth and “conservative” truth, but just truth. Since science is a process that eventually leads to the truth, there is not a “liberal” science and a “conservative” science, but science.

        It may be the case that if you add up all the beliefs of all those who self-identify as “liberal” and all of the beliefs of those who self-identify as “conservative,” the “liberals” will total up more true beliefs than “conservatives.” That’s nice. I personally don’t care, because I am not a thoughtless clique-proponent, and I have no dog in the fight.

        This does not entail that “liberal” values are right and those values that differ from them are wrong. (Or, to put it in more concrete terms, that because “liberals” have more true beliefs in regard to evolution that the “liberal” attitude toward abortion is “right.”)

        Anyway, one of the major reasons I enjoy Brian Dunning is that, even though he messes up from time to time, he at least tries to be apolitical and mostly does a pretty good job. Thanks from a first time commenter, Brian! (Oh, and keep covering all that cool, creepy, mysterious stuff. That’s fun.)

    • Max says:

      So here are a couple problems with Jonathan Haidt’s unscientific experiments.

      First, he googled “liberal social psychologist” and got thousands of hits, compared to 3 hits for “conservative social psychologist”.
      So I googled “liberal social psychologist” and got 2,880 results. The only problem is when you go to the next page, you find that there are really only 16 results. Google is funny that way. Maybe I just created the 17th hit.

      Second, he polled his audience at a conference about their political leanings, and after going through liberals, centrists, and libertarians, he was left with 3 conservatives. I bet if he had started with conservatives, he would’ve seen more hands go up.
      He should try doing a real survey next time.

      • Max says:

        Bing gave no hits for “conservative social psychologist” and about 5 or so hits for “liberal social psychologist”, not counting redundant hits or pages talking about Jonathan Haidt.

      • Somite says:

        Also on google “creationist biologist” and “flat earth geologist”.

  36. Dan A. says:

    Considering how thick this blog is with “bias”, i think i am going to add my own…all democrats are spendthrifts, and want to buy anything that sounds good…hey guys, ive got an all-new “anti-climate change” spray, and its only a trillion dollars!…
    Gay marriage is an oxymoron, and abortion is murder.
    but of course a poor democrat salivating over money wouldnt understand that…*sarcasm*
    until some of you can stop complaing and over generalizing republicans, or logic for that matter, then you’ll see more opposition…until then, dont expect people to meddle in childish arguments

  37. BC says:

    I think there are plenty of people who go against their political bias. I also think many kinds of conservative bias are more widespread among conservatives. For example, questioning global warming or evolution is common not only among the far-right, but also the moderate right. On the other hand, I think the anti-vaccination movement or organic food movement is more common to the far-left and not the moderate left.

  38. arjun says:

    A great deal of the anti-science character of conservatives in general could be eliminated just by separating the fundie sector from the rest. Does any one here disagree that fundamentalist religion (particularly for the big three based on the OT) and science don’t mix?

    BTW, it has been my observation (admitedly based on a small sample consisting of relatives, friends and acquaintences) that conservatives are more likely to reject sound nutrional advice in favor of a diet high in red meat, white flour and sugar. On the other hand, liberals tend to go too far in the other direction, insisting on all organic food, chasing after ridiculous fads such as the acai berry and taking useless supplements. My own foible, i guess, would be blueberries. I never ate them before popular nutrition sites began touting their benefits, but on the other hand, they are not particularly expensive and i really like the taste, so why not?

  39. Dan A. says:

    Questioning anything that is a new idea, such as climate change, should be done.
    Don’t Nazis believe in some form of evolution, social darwinism, and they are far-right?
    I think usually science and fundamentalist religions dont mix, because those religions rely on the bible, which was written by who-knows thousands of years ago.

  40. Ben says:

    Liberals think they are better educated and even better IQ ed.That`s why they prefer the easy academic reliable or state employe career.In buisiness one can prosper without the high IQ.Liberals believe in the endless “progress” in everything for everybody that the science will provide.Sober conservatives sometimes show weakness of believers: Theory of relativity they confuse with the moral relativity and oppose both.The hand-made climate chang frighten them principially like the babilonian tower.Be it ridiculously if not so sad.Liberal`s main weakness is the impotence to explain rationally their believes.

  41. Ben says:

    I see you boys are great humorists-sceptics,you may be now discussing some new anecdote.