April 06, 2012

Liberals can be anti-science too; #ChrisMooney barks up wrong tree

Good answer by Kevin Drum to Chris Mooney on Mooney's new book claims insinuating that modern Republicans' anti-science stance is somehow "de novo" and possibly in part genetic. In part, Drum that liberals used to oppose (and some still do) things like ev psych (and not just its overblown claims, the more supported ones). Remember Gould and Lewonton vigorously attacking E.O. Wilson? Remember the pitcher of water dumped on his head?

And, Steve Gould and Richard Lewontin weren't the stereotyped fringe left-liberal antivaxxers. Beyond this on the left, and global warming on the right and evolution on the religious right, politics motivates other science rejection. A lot of conservatives and libertarians refuse to discuss science-based behavioral economics. Other liberals, along the line of Drum, as well as religious conservatives, may reject more and more claims of cognitive science and neuroscience, the closer they come to making broad pronouncements about human consciousness.

This is why, in some ways, Mooney is barking up the wrong tree. Liberals and conservatives both engage in motivated reasoning. How and why do they differ in the degree and intensity of this, and what does this show about group psychology, and about how certain old, long-evolved traits have been co-opted what we call conservatism.

In short, he's approaching this issue a bit like a Gnu Atheist approaches religion; he should instead be taking a Scott Atran approach. Rather than "pulling a Chris Mooney," he should study how the practice in general has evolved.

Update, April 6: Mooney responds, on Drum's MJ blog. He gets it half right, his response, but no more. On the "liberals" issue, he says:
Kevin cites the “science wars,” noting that they emerged from the academic left. Yes, but what a classically liberal way of challenging science, replete with incomprehensible jargon (“deconstruction”), layer upon layer of nuance and complexity, and more than a whiff of “hey, over here” attention seeking.
The “science wars” were liberal in another way, too—faddish. Temporary. Fleeting. They didn’t last, we moved on to other things. Meanwhile, conservatives are going on a century of active anti-evolutionism in the United States, and climate change denial is now also decades old.
Similarly, I don’t think liberals are nearly as opposed to “sociobiology” or “evolutionary psychology” as they once were, because again, liberals change and shift their views more easily. I, as a liberal, find such explanations essential.
Chris, you're still half-wrong on the "liberals" section. Folks like Gould/Lewontin did NOT engage in "academic jargon" when they attacked the likes of E.O. Wilson. And, "alt-med" science wars continue today without going full-on into antivaxxer territory. As for the "evolution of stances" issue, why can't conservatives do that?
As for conservatives  bashing stem-cell research, I haven't seen that as rejecting the science itself, just the moral issue results. And Mooney never addresses the issue of why climate change denial is so much more virulent among U.S. conservatives.

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