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Monday, June 23, 2008

The Right's war on science? Lots of ink spilled there, but how about the Left's war on science?

Yuval Levin, senior editor at The New Atlantis, has some fun with the loud red shriekies who believe science is being hijacked whenever it doesn't conform to a left-wing agenda:

... beneath these grave accusations, it turns out, are some remarkably flimsy grievances, most of which seem to amount to political disputes about policy questions in which science plays a role. Ethical disagreements over the destruction of embryos for research are described instead as a conflict between science and ignorant theology. Differing judgments about the proper role of government in sex education in schools are painted as a quarrel between objective public health and medieval prudishness. A dispute about the prudential wisdom of a variety of energy policy alternatives is depicted as a clash of simple scientific facts against willful ignorance and greed. And the countless minor personnel and policy decisions that always shape the day-to-day operations of the federal executive branch are pored over in an effort to reveal a nefarious pattern of retrograde anti-rational obscurantism. The president’s science advisor, it seems, now has an office located a little further from the Oval Office than his predecessors had, and a member of a Food and Drug Administration advisory board once wrote a book about his religious conversion.
But, of course, at a Stalinist tribunal, those would all be firing squad offences, wouldn't they?

Anyway, Levin argues in "Science and the Left" (Winter 2008) that the reality is much more complex. He argues, for example, that while leftism and science used to be at home with each other, environmentalism has challenged that because environmentalism is a deeply conservative trend:

There is no question that for some, especially in Europe, the obsession with climate change is a way to avoid thinking about serious geopolitical problems, particularly the threat of radical Islam. Rather than marshalling modernity to defend itself, this obsession allows Western elites to persist in a silly and feckless pseudo-moralism. Instead of looking to America for leadership and protection, it allows them to blame America for its strength and its confidence. And for some on the left, too, the obsession is a way to stir up the kind of crisis atmosphere necessary for some pet causes and ideas to become politically plausible. But whatever the reason, environmentalism, and with it a worldview deeply at odds with that behind the scientific enterprise, has come to play a pivotal role in the thinking of the left.

So far, the American left has managed mostly to ignore this difficulty, and to treat environmentalism as a cause of the party of science. An ongoing dispute about the basic facts and figures of global warming has made this easier by putting science and environmentalism on the same side for a time. But as that argument subsides, and attention turns to the causes of environmental degradation and to possible solutions, the fissure between science and environmentalism will be harder to ignore. An American environmentalism newly empowered by a decades-long debate that put it front and center on the agenda of the cultural and political left may come to resemble the European Green movement, which shares many of the attitudes of American progressives, but which does not view itself by any means as a party of science. Indeed, the Greens in Europe have been at the leading edge of nearly every contemporary effort to curb the power and the reach of science, most notably biotechnology—from bans on human cloning to prohibitions against genetically modified foods. But in America, the left has yet to confront this glaring complication in its claim to the mantle of the party of science. Science, it turns out, is behind much of what troubles and worries the left.
And much more to think about.

Like many people, I have noticed the growing incoherence of the ideological left on many science-related issues, ranging from the claim that stem cells taken from human embryos are absolutely essential to medical treatments (exploded) to the claim that there are no inherent differences between men and women (exploded) to freaking out over the possibility that the universe and life forms show evidence of intelligent design (they do, and you'll just have to get used to it, Lefty. That's not something you can legislate out of existence).

While you're here, find out WHY there is an intelligent design controversy ...

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