Science and ideology

Kevin Drum responds to my observation that “there is now almost no academic discipline whose conclusions can be considered acceptable to orthodox Republicans” with the point that this kind of thing is not confined to the political right.

I agree entirely – you only have to look at the “Nature-Nurture” wars to see a situation where large numbers of people on both sides have made up their minds what the answer should be before they bother to do any research. However, I disagree with Kevin’s assessment that

More and more, over the past decade, it strikes me that partisans on both the left and the right have increased their skepticism toward scientific results that clash with their ideology.

In my view, the position on the left has generally improved over the past decade. For example, the kind of economic ‘impossibilism’ as in “Demand the Impossible” that was prevalent right through the 60s and 70s has now disappeared almost completely – it’s the left that now worries about where the money will come from.

Anti-science trends like postmodernism and New Age philosophy, which were once seen as leftwing, have now made their peace with capitalism. New Age crystal fans represent a market like any other and the postmodernist idea that reality is socially constructed naturally appealed to the professionals in the business of reality-construction, the advertising and PR industries.

As environmentalism has become part of mainstream public policy, the need for a solid scientific basis has reasserted itself over the emotional ‘deep ecology’ that prevailed a decade or two ago. Meanwhile the opponents of environmentalism are reduced to relying on people like Steve Milloy who claim that the results of standard scientific research, endorsed by bodies like the National Academy of Sciences, are Junk Science, and that the real stuff is being done in rightwing thinktanks. (Quick Google exercise – what’s the shortest link from Steve Milloy to Stephen Moore?)

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