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Science Denial: From Right to Left

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7/19/2016 11:45:32 PM
Posted: 1 year ago
Conservatives have often been branded as science deniers based on their rejection of certain scientific discoveries. The discoveries in question are no secret: evolution, cosmology (especially as it relates to the age of the universe), and more recently - human caused climate change. That conservatives have an increased propensity to deny said theories is attested to not only by anecdotal evidence but also by surveys, polls, etc. My aim here is not to exonerate conservatives nor to mitigate the charges leveled against them. Rather, I would like to reframe the issue from a non-partisan standpoint and begin by arguing that liberals, the self-proclaimed agents of science and reason, are just as guilty.

For example, in the 1970s when E.O. Wilson began publishing and lecturing on sociobiology (what we today might call "evolutionary psychology") he was met with bellicose opposition from mostly liberals who viewed the implications of sociobiology as deeply disconcerting. Notice the similarities between the conservative's denial of Darwinian evolution and the liberal's denial of sociobiology. In both cases, the theory is interpreted (rightly or wrongly) as being subversive towards some set of cherished beliefs, and then not only rejected but also vilified and demonized. Or, to consider another example: just like people who deny their children medical intervention for religious reasons tend to be on the far right, those on the left are more likely to criticize and reject western medicine in favor of "alternative treatments" & "natural remedies" that have little to no scientific support. Both behaviors can result and have resulted in tangible harm. Finally, I have friends in the social sciences who lament the fact that certain questions, theories and avenues of research have been deemed off-limits (by liberals) on account of being offensive or politically incorrect.

I would conclude by arguing that science denial is not merely a characteristic of the right, rather it is a characteristic of people on both ends on the political spectrum who prioritize values, ideological commitment and group loyalty over a genuine desire to uncover the true workings of nature.