KSJ Tracker March 6, 2013

The Liberals' war on science? Don't believe it, says Chris Mooney

Chris Mooney

Chris Mooney, the adept chronicler of the Republican brain and fierce avenger of science denialism wherever he finds it, is unhappy. The reason? A persistent "bad idea that circulates and recirculates with such frequency that once in a while, you just have to dust off your mallet" and give it a whack.

"I'm talking about the idea that when it comes to misusing or abusing science, both sides do it—a pox on both their houses—and the left is really just as bad as the right," he writes at Mother Jones. The idea's latest incarnation, the one that caught Mooney's eye, is a piece by Michael Shermer that appeared in Scientific American recently under the headline, "The Liberals' War on Science."

Shermer begins by recapping the scientific misconceptions and distortions of Republicans, referring to Mooney's 2006 book on the subject.  He then goes on to note that a significant minority of Democrats are creationists and 19 percent "doubt that the Earth is getting warmer." I don't get that last one; if that means 81 percent of Democrats accept the facts on global warming, that's quite a difference from Republicans, among whom, Shermer writes, only 49 percent think the Earth is getting warmer.

But I'm interested in Mooney's critique here, not mine. "Considerably fewer Democrats than Republicans get the facts wrong on these issues," Mooney writes. Further, he writes, conservatives, not liberals, "are going around trying to force these wrongheaded views on children in schools." Mooney agrees with Shermer that childhood vaccines don't cause autism and that genetically modified foods are not dangerous, but it's not entirely clear to me that these are views that belong exclusively to Democrats. Misconceptions about autism and vaccines are spread across the political spectrum, I would think (no data here, just a hunch). 

Mooney's original is more articulate than my recap, and I suggest you check it out. It's a short piece, but it makes some important points. Declaring that both sides equally make a mess of science has the whiff or objectivity or fairness about it. As Mooney argues, however, it happens to be wrong.

-Paul Raeburn

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