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the big tent of the anti-science crowd

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A column in today’s USA Today (I know, I know) got me thinking about a common subject at TRC, science and politics and the science denial-ism of the contemporary Republican party. I write and harp much on today’s GOP for simply ignoring science. Evolution is not something that you can disagree with. It’s science. C’mon, you Republicans, acknowledge facts! These are such things as are common at TRC.

But it is unfair to simply paint the GOP as anti-science, and pretend that the Democrats marry themselves faithfully to scientific knowledge. Which is the point of Alex Berezow’s column, “GOP might be anti-science, but so are Democrats.” The title pretty much tells you the story. Berezow details that, yes, the GOP is anti-science on the three hot-button election cycle science issues: climate change, evolution, and stem-cell research. Here is Berezow on these issues:

“The GOP should never cave to the conservatives within the party who deny evolution and global warming. There is simply no excuse for that. Expressing moral concerns over embryonic stem cell research is legitimate, but it is best to leave regulatory policy to stem cell biologists and bioethicists. Experts should be making those decisions, not politicians.”

Agreed. Then, correctly, Berezow points out that science is not comprised of only these three issues. The Democrats, he argues, are just as likely to join the anti-science denial-ism regarding pet issues of their party. But Berezow selects an unfortunate choice of three issues to mirror the Republicans.  Two make the point well: Nuclear Energy and GMO foods. The third issue does not hold up. And all three fall away when held to a national party platform.

It’s true that many Dems ignore the basic science on Nukes and GM foods. Nuclear Power, by the numbers, is clean and safe. That’s just the case, whether the environmental crowd of the 60s and 70s, who are now the aged-elites of the movement, wish it or not. It is reasonable to question waste issues, and nuclear has profound implications for long term human planning (long-term here being 1000-10000 years, a difficult time-frame for making policy), but the science behind nuclear is, largely, at odds with the anti-nuke folks.

As for GM foods, I don’t have much to say. I recognize why some oppose it, and I acknowledge that, as far as food safety, hunger, and poverty are concerned, GM foods offer an actual solution to a terrible problem. That said, if we lose true wild rice in Minnesota and only are left with strains of GM wild rice that have been created in a  lab and grown in SE Asia, that’s a real, physical loss. But again, these are moral issues, such as those attached to stem-cells research, and not scientific ones.

All of this gets to the final issue that Berezow uses to prove that Democrats are anti-science: the anti-vaccination movement. Here’s the author on anti-vax:

“The most extreme example is the anti-vaccination movement, which has gained new but incomplete attention in the controversy among Republican presidential candidates over the HPV vaccine. Empowered by those who believe the myth that only “natural things” are good for you, anti-vaccine activists routinely share common ground with organic food consumers. In fact, a public health official once noted that rates of vaccine non-compliance tend to be higher in places where Whole Foods is popular — and 89% of Whole Foods stores are located in counties that favored Barack Obama in 2008.”

The anti-vax movement is not a Democratic movement. Saying the Democratic Party is anti-vax like the Republican Party is anti-climate change is utterly and completely false. It is a disgraceful equivalency. Opposition to climate change in the GOP is an accepted party platform, almost a requirement to prove the bona-fides of one’s conservatism today. Democrats who oppose vaccinations are crazy.

That’s because anti-vax Americans are not just anti-science, but anti-reality. They may prefer to vote Democratic on election day, but the Democratic Party as a political party is in no way linked to the blatant anti-science, ignorant position of anti-vaxers. It is not a political position of the National Democratic Party. Some individuals in the party have sympathized, or even cashed in on support from the anti-vax crowd. That shouldn’t be denied, ignored, or accepted. But it does not demosntrate that the Democratic Party is equally anti-science as the Republican Party.

The Democratic Party, by and large, does not carry party platforms that oppose science. They just don’t. Many Democrats in the house and senate oppose nuclear, oppose GM Foods, may even oppose vaccinations for unfounded fears of autism. There are also many who do not accept climate science, or question evolution. But just as many hold opposite points of view regarding each of these science-based issues. And by not opposing these issues, they are not breaking from the party fold. They are not outliers in a party that requires fidelity to anti-scientific positions. This is the difference.

Maybe this represents an optimistic picture of the Democratic Party. They are a political party after all, and speaking too highly of a political party, either party, leaves a sour taste in one’s mouth. But there is a false equivalency, in my opinion, in comparing the anti-science Republican Party to anti-science democrats.

There are, of course, anti-science folks everywhere. Everyone, in some element of their mind, holds views that do not follow the scientific majority on many issues. In pointing this out, Berezow is correct. Democrats and Republicans alike pick and choose the science that serves political interest. But portraying the Democrats as a Party to be as anti-science as the GOP as a Party does not hold up to scrutiny. Because the GOP as a Party holds anti-science views. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, makes room for the anti-science democrats within the party.


Written by Christopher ZF

September 21, 2011 at 11:28

Posted in anti-vax, food, Politics, Science