Back in January, Michael Shermer–the skeptic extraordinaire–wrote a column for Scientific American in which he accused liberals of matching conservatives in their opposition to scientific truth.
Mother Jones‘ Chris Mooney has now written a response to Shermer in which he disputes Shermer’s claim that liberals are just as bad as conservatives when it comes science. Now, while I greatly respect Mr. Shermer and I agree with him most of the time, I have to agree with Mooney on this: Shermer is wrong.
Certainly there are issues on which many liberals take a stance contrary to established science (e.g. genetically modified food, nuclear power). However, as Mooney points out, these liberal positions have had relatively little impact on public policy or legislation compared to conservative anti-science efforts.
When conservatives are bad on science–denying global warming, denying evolution, misunderstanding how the female body works–they are really bad. One need look no further than the conservative assault on science education:
For nearly 100 years, conservatives have been trying to banish the teaching of evolution from schools and replace it with creationism (also known as “creation science” or “intelligent design”)–the theory that God created the Earth several thousand years after the dog was domesticated, that all humans are descended from Adam and Eve, and that magic–rather than natural selection–is responsible for the variety of living species on this planet.
And the worst part is that they occasionally succeed!
(Now, as an anarchist it goes without saying that I’m no fan of government-run, tax-funded education. However, I believe that as long as kids are forced to sit in government classrooms, they should be learning scientific fact, and not some 2,000 year old superstition.)
Nothing liberals have done compares to the conservative campaign to undermine evolutionary science. If there is a “war on science” it’s being fought almost entirely by the right.
As a libertarian, Mr. Shermer may feel obligated to attack conservatives and liberals equally, possibly for fear of being accused of being one or the other. I would fully understand if that’s the case. However, attempting to attack both left and right equally usually means exaggerating or downplaying one side’s misdeeds.
In this case, Mr. Shermer is trying to argue that liberals are just as guilty as conservatives of rejecting science they don’t like. But they’re not, and saying so doesn’t make me a liberal, it just makes me an intellectually honest libertarian.
And as long as I’m being intellectually honest–what about libertarians who reject scientific fact? There are a number of so-called libertarians who embrace 9/11 conspiracy theories, creationism, AIDs denialism and other nonsense–and LewRockwell.com has played host to many of them.
Clearly, the presence of anti-science nutjobs in a movement does not discredit the entire movement. Libertarians and conservatives can be very wrong about science but very right about other things, and liberals can be right about science but wrong about other things.
As much as I dislike liberals, I will give them credit when they take the pro-freedom or pro-reason side of an issue, particularly when conservatives take the anti-freedom or anti-reason side.
Science–and especially science education–is an area in which liberals are on the side of reason, and that is to be commended.