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Month: September 2012

Progressive thinking and the rise of the anti-science left.

Progressive thinking and the rise of the anti-science left.

When Chris Mooney’s (no relation) book, The Republican War on Science appeared in 2005, the liberal/left applauded. Mooney set out his case about what a menace Republicans were to science. He was right, but I remember thinking at the time, that’s all well and good, but I see much of the same anti-science mindset on the left side of the aisle.

I thought to myself, someone should write a book about the anti-science mindset of many in the progressive/liberal/left community. Someone just did. It’s Science Left Behind: Feel-Good Fallacies and the Rise of the Anti-Scientific Left.

The result is a no-nonsense, sometimes brutal and sometimes funny book that progressives should read, but won’t. It was written by Hank Campbell and Alex B. Berezow. Campbell is a science writer and founder and editor of Science 2.0. Berezow is editor of RealClearScience and has a Ph.D in microbiology.

In the introduction, the authors go out of their way to make sure that readers will not take this book as an attack on all progressives, nor a defense of the right. They are taking aim at what they call the kooky left. After reading this book, I believe they underestimate how the kooky left’s ideas have drifted into mainstream liberal/left.

The right is not more anti-science than the left; it just has terrible public relations. Progressives have mastered the feel-good fallacies, and they’ve become so proficient at it that they are able to convince and sometimes bully the scientific community into playing along

Science Left Behind takes aim at progressives’ technophobic tendencies, anti-corporate bias and obsession with relativism at the expense of empirical proof. 

The book doesn’t dismiss all of the the pet issues of the left. They present a good case of why, for example, even though solar power is a good idea, the progressive approach to it is flawed and based more on emotion than good science; that their approach to science is based more on their worldview than the facts and evidence.

They do however, reserve special scorn for the anti-vaccine, alternative health and anti-GMO activists who they feel are not just misguided, but down right dangerous in their beliefs.

There are not many things in life that shake our faith in the intelligence of humanity more than the anti-vaccination campaign. The movement is predicated upon outright lies, and it poses a deadly threat.

One of the misguided beliefs I found interesting was the idea of water conservation. They use the humorous example of low-flush toilets and such helpful hints such as turn off the water when brushing your teeth. The amount of water we use as teeth brushing poopers only uses up 12% of the water supply. Thermoelectric power accounts for 49% and irrigation is in second place at 31%.

I have to admit, I hate low flow shower heads; so much so that I am a green outlaw. When I bought my new shower head I popped the gasket out that makes it a low flow. I now have a full flow shower head and man is it sweet.

Another, “Who knew?” moment is the impact wind farms have on birds. Wind turbines kill anywhere between 100,000 and 300,000 birds each year. That sounds like a shitload unto you realize that each year in New York City alone, 90,000 birds fly into windows and die. Nationally the toll is from 100 million to 1 billion. Power lines and cars kill another 200-250 million. But wait, there’s more. Each year domestic and wild cats kill another 500 million.

Jesus H. Christ in a chicken basket, all those birds die every year and yet they’re still all over the place. If they weren’t killed I don’t believe it would be a stretch to say that we would be welcoming our new avian overlords.

The above are just a few examples of what they cover in this book. But the bird issue is just one of the examples of how progressives can be for something and against it at the same time.

While progressives champion alternative energy, they are the biggest obstacles to implementing those alternatives. The book gives examples of a few instances of that mindset. They want alternative energy, but balk whenever anyone tries to build a solar plant or wind farm citing environmental concerns. They don’t get the concept that any form of energy, renewable or not will have an environmental impact.

I recently wrote about this in a post called Environmentalists oppose renewable energy they support. I must give credit to the authors because it was their book that gave me the idea to look into it.

What gives this book credibility is the authors did their homework. The book is heavily footnoted and they do make their case, for the most part, using facts and evidence. That is not to say you can’t quibble with their take on some things.

Fracking and the Keystone Pipeline, are two instances, I didn’t necessarily disagree with them, but think they are a little too sure about the safety of both. I understand the idea of risk/benefit, but I think they need to be a little more skeptical. While no major league catastrophes have occurred, there have been incidents that do raise questions.

The authors correctly point out that fracking has been around since the 1940s, but new methods and technology have been invented that some say might pose a threat to water supplies. In trying to find out the real facts about fracking, I wound up being more confused.

Because of this, I very might very well earn the wrath of the authors as believing in the precautionary principle which they claim too often impedes progress when no clear risk has been shown. I’ll cop to that in this case, but that’s only because I don’t have all the relevant facts to make a decision one way or the other.

While the authors say to trust in science, they qualify it by saying you shouldn’t blindly accept it. They suggest critical thinking. That’s a quandary. Most of us don’t have the background in science to know what questions to ask when reading about a study or issue. We only have science journalists to rely on and according to Campbell and Berezow, they suck too.

They see the current state of science journalism as dismal. They call it churnalism, simply rehashing press releases and not asking the right questions. They also take issue with science journalists seeing themselves as defenders of science, which riles them to no end.  In their view they are more political cheerleaders than journalists. Unfortunately that results in them giving progressive anti-science nonsense a free ride.

So, what happens when progressives are called out on their anti-science nonsense?  The progressive critics trot out creationism and climate change as the reason the right is more anti-science.

Is this true? I decided to see for myself. I found the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. In a poll done in April of this year they found that just over half of Republicans believe climate change action should be a priority. In a surprise result, 84% of Republicans believe clean energy should be a priority.

A poll on the website Audacious Epigone, cited in the book, found that in general, Republicans and Democrats are roughly equal in science knowledge.

As to the creationism argument, that is surprising as well. In a Gallup Poll in May, they found while 49% 59% of Republicans believe in it, an astonishing 41% of Democrats believe it too.

In conclusion, (he said, not having a decent transition here) this book is an honest, non-partisan look at the anti-science mind of many progressives, which despite its strident tone, exposes the fallacies of the left, just as the title says. Ah, who am I kidding? It’s a Sherman’s March against the misguided, idiotic, anti-science thinking that plagues too many progressives.

The right-to-know doesn’t help if you don’t understand what you know.

The right-to-know doesn’t help if you don’t understand what you know.

There isn’t a day that goes by without some anti-gmo nonsense hitting my mailbox. Here’s the latest. This one is by Wendy Vincent, a writer for the Guilford Patch website:  Walmart and Monsanto: Joining Forces: The retail giant, Walmart, will soon start stocking their shelves with un-labeled, pesticide-laced GMO corn made by Monsanto. 

Huh? What? Monsanto has gone into the corn-growing business? No, they haven’t. Does Vincent not understand this or is she being disingenuous and going for the old reliable Everybody Panic!  

It’s like saying, Joe Blow Markets has joined forces with Burpee to sell eggplants made by Burpee. What Vincent means to say is that Walmart will be selling sweet corn grown by farmers from seeds they bought from Monsanto.

Vincent doesn’t miss the chance to include the scary phrase, pesticide-laced. What is the pesticide? Bt, Bacillus thuringiensis. Bt is a natural pesticide that is widely used in… organic farming.

But wait, Vincent isn’t done with her nonsense, “These toxins are lethal to certain insects. Bt is registered with the EPA as a pesticide. As such, it technically makes the corn itself a pesticide.” I guess by her logic that makes the soil a pesticide since that’s where Bt comes from. Bt is a naturally occurring protein, yes protein, and it is present in many non-gmo and organic foods we eat. It is very weak and breaks down in highly acidic environments like the human digestive system.

It only affects insects and no reputable study has ever found any potential harm to humans and animals.

Of course, as is the case with these articles it is now on dozens of anti-gmo sites and blogs. It’s one of the major flaws these activists have. You rarely see any original reporting or even the questioning of any claim. It’s all regurgitation. It’s like a digital form of Telephone. One site picks up on it and adds to it and then the next and before you know it, Monsanto is using technology invented by Nazi scientists in a secret base in Antarctica. (of course, I exaggerate)

The anti-gmo crowd insist that we have the right to know what is in our food. Hell, even when they do know they don’t know.

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