When Liberals Ignore Science
How do we deal with the false perception that liberals are more inclined to trust science than conservatives?
The New York Times claims that the vaccine controversy we're all talking about raises important questions about "how to approach matters that have largely been settled among scientists but are not widely accepted by conservatives."
Well, here's another question: How do we deal with the false perception that liberals are more inclined to trust science than conservatives? Also, how do we approach the media's fondness for focusing on the unscientific views of some conservatives but ignoring the irrational—and oftentimes more consequential—beliefs of their fellow liberals?
Though outing GOP candidates as skeptics of science may confirm the secular liberal's own sense of intellectual superiority, it usually has nothing to do with policy. However, if you walk around believing that pesticides are killing your children or that fracking will ignite your drinking water or if you hyperventilate about the threat of the ocean's consuming your city, you have a viewpoint that not only conflicts with science but undermines progress. So how do we approach matters that have been settled among scientists but are not widely accepted by liberals?
Take vaccines. There is little proof that conservatives are any less inclined to vaccinate their children than anyone else. If we're interested in politicizing the controversy, though, there is a good case to be made for the opposite.
For starters, polls show that millennials (most of whom lean liberal) are far more skeptical about vaccines than older Americans. You'll notice that laws with easier loophole exemptions from vaccination are most often found in blue states, where we also find the most outbreaks. You may also notice that leading anti-vaxxers, such as Robert F. Kennedy Jr., are writing in the mainstream Rolling Stone, not National Review. As The New York Times itself already reported, half the children attending schools in Marin County, California, go unvaccinated by their enlightened parents. Unvaccinated children are clustered all over liberal counties in California. None of this is particularly surprising. Modern environmentalism perpetuates myths about the inorganic world and the evils of big pharma. Its adherents are just as likely to be in conflict with settled science as anyone else.
The perception that one political group is less science-savvy than another is predominately driven by the unwillingness of many conservatives to accept alarmism about global warming and the policies purportedly meant to mitigate it. But when it comes to climate change, volumes could be written about the ill-conceived, unscientific, over-the-top predictions made by activists and politicians. We could start with our own Malthusian science czar, John Holdren, who once predicted that climate change would cause the deaths of a billion people by 2020 and that sea levels would rise by 13 feet. In 2009, James Hansen, one of the nation's most respected climate scientists, told President Barack Obama that we have "only four years left to save the earth." In 1988, he predicted parts of Manhattan would be underwater by 2008. If you don't like high-speed rail, California Gov. Jerry Brown will let you know that Los Angeles International Airport is going to be underwater. And so on and on and on.
Undermining the future of genetically modifying crops—a process that, in one form or another, humans have been engaged in for about 10,000 years—probably hurts society (the poor, in particular) more than any global warming denial ever could. Across the world, almost every respected scientific organization that's taken a look at independent studies has found that GMOs are just as safe as any other food. There is no discernable health difference between conventional food and organic food. There is a difference, though, in productivity, in environmental impact and in the ability of the world's poor to enjoy more healthful high-caloric diets for a lot less money.
Yet while Republicans are evenly divided on whether genetically modified foods are unsafe, Democrats believe so by a 26-point margin. Liberals across the United States—New York, California, Oregon and Massachusetts recently—have been pushing for labeling foods to create the perception that something is wrong with them. Science disagrees.
Hydraulic fracturing is as safe as any other means of extracting fossil fuels. It creates hundreds of thousands of jobs. It provides cheaper energy for millions of Americans. It has less of an environmental impact than other processes. It means less dependency on foreign oil. It helped the economy work its way out of a recession. So 62 percent of Republicans support science, and 59 percent of Democrats oppose it. Numerous scientific studies—one funded by the National Science Foundation, which debunked the purported link between groundwater pollution and fracking—have assured us that there's nothing to fear.
It doesn't end there. What are we to make of people who mock religion as imaginary but believe an astrological sign should determine whom you date or are concerned that they will be whisked away in a flying saucer? According to a HuffPost/YouGov poll, 48 percent of adults in the United States believe that alien spacecraft are observing our planet right now. Among those who do believe extraterrestrials are hanging around, 69 percent are Democrats. Democrats are also significantly likelier than Republicans to believe in fortunetelling and about twice as likely to believe in astrology. I won't even get into 9/11 truthers.
For many conservatives, resolving issues of faith and science can be tricky. What excuse do Democrats have? Maybe someone at The New York Times can find out.