Last week’s post on Atheism as a sacred belief showed how atheists can be as dogmatic as anyone. The central insight is anything we care passionately about can become sacralized, and immune to reason. Even atheism. Since I’m a ra-ra science fan, science works that way for me. For example I love this “it works bitches” xkcd comic, and related t-shirt pictured above (only $19.99!). Not surprisingly, I can’t help but feel science denialism is a kind of sacrilege. I’ve already done a post on how science denialism does NOT exclusively come from the right. But this time wanted to dig a bit deeper, exploring the pitfalls of having a deep faith in science, as well as listing common anti-science beliefs.
Let’s start with this great quote every science proselytizer should know:
Science communication was once considered primarily a unidirectional conveyance of information, based on the assumption that if scientists and other experts could convey their knowledge to the public, typically through “data dumps,” society’s problems could be solved (i.e., if you knew what I know, you would believe what I believe). This perspective, “the science deficit model of the public”, is explored in a body of communications literature. We know it does not work.
Exactly. Love the pompous phrase “the science deficit model of the public.” With just a few more mandatory science classes all those stupid people will bow down to scientists. Naive on human nature to the point of being unscientific. Where unscientific is of course the ultimate science nerd insult. Anyway, if the public doesn’t care about a topic, naturally they’ll defer to scientific authority. For example the radius of the Earth is 3959 miles. Meh. But if the public does care, any conflict with sacred values results in science (or any other authority) losing. Lording facts over people won’t change minds. That takes reaching out with emotional connection to people on the other side.
What are some sacred values which might conflict with science? For liberals, it’s racial equality, environmentalism, and oppression of the poor. These are great values. But like any values lead to blind spots. For conservatives, it’s religion, social order, and market freedom. Again great values, though resulting in different blind spots. With that context, on to the list.
Commonly denied scientific views:
- Evolution is true. A shopworn case. Republicans are more religious so have less belief in evolution, with 68% disbelief as opposed to 40% democratic disbelief. So starting with an easy one.
- Race and IQ. Did a recent post on this. Think some common science fallacies on both sides, though strong liberal values on racial equality naturally get highly engaged on this topic.
- Vaccines are safe. The scare on vaccines is roughly split right and left. This one borders on conspiracy theory territory as much as being anti-science.
- GMOs are safe. The science is clear that GMOs are safe. Anti-GMO views are slightly stronger on the left than right, but held on both sides. What’s sad is children’s lives could be saved if GMO opposition was less pronounced. In particular I like this progressive calling anti-GMO people “GMO Truthers.”
- Fracking is good for the environment. Yes, fracking has bad sides, but on balance it’s good for the environment. Anti-fracking is a mostly left leaning cause. I think the issue for the left here is a utopian desire for perfectly clean power, as opposed to what is tactically helpful in the next few decades.
- Nuclear power is good for the environment. Similar to fracking with 62% republicans favoring nukes but only 45% democrats. Nuclear power saves lives since it reduces lung disease caused by coal particulates. And it’s great for the environment. I think the pushback here is driven by overhyping the spectacular and unlikely dangers of nuclear power, which I’ve written about before.
- Climate change. The poster child for science denial on the right. Completely fair. The right is the primary problem. With that said, what’s less appreciated is climate change has become a sacred environmental value on the left as well. So we’ve reached the point where the left proposes ever more utopian solutions, and the right reacts by going deeper into denial. Sacred fighting sacred. Pure craziness! I’m in the Bjorn Lomborg school on this one: climate change is real (denied on the right), but we need to use science and economics to evaluate tradeoffs on solutions (denied on the left).
Of course we know the list above won’t change minds. There’s no information here you can’t find all over the web. So what’s the takeaway? Well if you are among the science faithful like me, the takeaway is to avoid thinking your love of science eliminates your biases. You just have different ones. For example I was shocked, shocked I tell you, to discover that doing well on the SAT in high school doesn’t automatically make you a decent or even pleasant adult. And as for Star Trek, well, let’s just say it’s mediocre at best. Sorry. And if you are not a science nerd, and dis-believe something above, pause before you react. Consider whether your sacred values may, on rare occasions, partially distort your view.