Conservatives versus Science

Sometimes the most important news isn’t breaking, isn’t something you learn about in 140 characters or between baby photos on fB (God love ’em), but a reality that you become acquainted with over time, are in danger of forgetting – or worse – forgiving as some kind of difference of opinion. WMD in Iraq, for example, a lie that we used to justify the murder of many, many innocent people. The reason that we couldn’t find the WMD in Iraq was because they didn’t have any. QED.

Another example, Republicans, at all levels, construct a distrust of science when they don’t like its conclusions. This is the reason there is still a debate about climate change.

The research is by Gordon Gauchat of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and published in the prestigious American Sociological Review. In the study, Gauchat uses a vast body of General Social Survey data to test three competing theses about the relationship between science and the U.S. public:

1) the cultural ascendancy thesis or “deficit model” view, according to which better education and engagement with science lead all boats to rise, and citizens across the board become more trusting of scientists and their expertise;

2) the alienation thesis, according to which modernity brings on distrust and disillusionment with science (call it the “spoiled brat” thesis if you’d like); and

3) the politicization thesis—my thesis—according to which some cultural groups, aka conservatives, have a unique fallout with science for reasons tied up with the nature of modern American conservatism, such as its ideology, the growth of its think tank infrastructure, and so on.

Then you have this Pew Report from 2008.

Someone had sent me a 2008 Pew report documenting the intense partisan divide in the U.S. over the reality of global warming.. It’s a divide that, maddeningly for scientists, has shown a paradoxical tendency to widen even as the basic facts about global warming have become more firmly established.

Those facts are these: Humans, since the Industrial Revolution, have been burning more and more fossil fuels to power their societies, and this has led to a steady accumulation of greenhouse gases, and especially carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere. At this point, very simple physics takes over, and you are pretty much doomed, by what scientists refer to as the “radiative” properties of carbon dioxide molecules (which trap infrared heat radiation that would otherwise escape to space), to have a warming planet. Since about 1995, scientists have not only confirmed that this warming is taking place, but have also grown confident that it has, like the gun in a murder mystery, our fingerprint on it. Natural fluctuations, although they exist, can’t explain what we’re seeing. The only reasonable verdict is that humans did it, in the atmosphere, with their cars and their smokestacks.

Basically, you can read all you want and see that intransigence on this issue is one-sided, systematic, on-going and most of all, deliberate. But based on nothing but not liking the results of what we have done, plus a fear of losing something they have decided to destroy anyway? It’s incoherent as ideology and contemptible as policy. Subservient politicians need to pay a price for this willingness to just blow the whole thing up.