Finding an article on a secular science site that criticizes the left and defends the right is so rare, it’s news.
On New Scientist today, Alex Berezow and Hank Campbell blasted political leftists for their “war on reason” with “lefty nonsense” that pretends to be scientifically-based but is not. The caption reads, “Conservatives rightly get a bad rap for anti-science policies. But progressives can be just as bad, say Alex Berezow and Hank Campbell.”
As an example, the two describe a Congressional “green” initiative to keep plastic and styrofoam utensils out of the Capitol and replace them with biodegradable ones. It sounded good; it felt good; but it ended up more wasteful and harmful to the environment than before. This led to their key paragraph:
Conservatives’ sins against science — objections to stem cell research, denial of climate science, opposition to evolution and the rest — are widely reported and well known. But conservatives don’t have a monopoly on unscientific policies. Progressives are just as bad, if not worse. Their ideology is riddled with anti-scientific feel-good fallacies designed to win hearts, not minds. Just like biodegradeable spoons, their policies often crumble in the face of reality and leave behind a big mess. Worse, anyone who questions them is condemned as anti-science.
This paragraph makes it clear that they are not embracing or defending conservatism – just calling out anti-science (as they conceive it) on both sides. “We have all heard about the Republican war on science; we want to draw attention to the progressive war on reason.” This statement, though, begs the question whether science and reason are separable.
Berezow, editor of RealClearScience.com, is clearly anti-creationist but also anti-nonsense from any political stripe. Campbell is his co-author of a book whose title is self-explanatory: Science Left Behind: Feel-good fallacies and the rise of the anti-scientific left. While not letting conservatives off the hook for their “sins against science” (as perceived by Berezow and Campbell), they feel the charges need to be fairly distributed on both sides of the political spectrum. While claiming only a “lunatic fringe” among progressives is guilty, the guilt is pressing:
We contend that there is a disturbing and largely unreported trend among influential progressive activists who misinterpret, misrepresent and abuse science to advance their ideological and political agendas.
Of all of today’s political philosophies, progressivism stands as the most pressing problem for science. Progressives, not conservatives, are the ones most likely to replace scientific research with unscientific ideology.
Strong words coming from a news site that typically takes the progressive position as a given. “Conservatives who endorse unscientific ideas are blasted by the scientific community, yet progressives who do the same get a free pass,” they ended. “It is important the problem be recognised, and that free pass revoked.”
Update 2/05/13: New Scientist admitted to a leftist bias. Commenting on Berezow and Campbell’s rebuke, they agreed it is right to “Challenge unscientific thinking, whatever its source.” They considered whether the left gets a free pass by scientists and reporters. Their conclusion was a call to freedom:
Is there any substance to that suspicion? We should go to every possible length to ensure there isn’t. Unreason of any hue is dangerous; any suggestion of bias only makes it harder to overcome. Science and liberalism are natural allies, but only in the literal sense of liberalism as the pursuit of freedom. That means freedom of thought, freedom of speech and, above all, freedom from ideology — wherever on the political spectrum it comes from.
Trying to explain the bias, they said, “The suspicion must be that this is because scientists themselves lean towards the left, as does the media that covers them.” Then in parentheses, they added, “(Both friends and critics of New Scientist tell us we lean in that direction.)”
Freedom from ideology? Good luck. Everyone has a world view, whether carefully thought out or not. We’d like the editors of New Scientist to explain “unreason” in Darwinian terms.
Refreshing as the main article is, it doesn’t even come close to levelling the playing field. First of all, Berezow and Campbell adopt, without question, the leftist talking points that anti-evolutionism is unscientific, that global warming theory is scientific, and that no one has a scientific right to question “stem cell science” (presumably the destruction of human embryos, an ethical question, not an issue of science). They already condemned conservatives before examining irrational ideas from progressives. They essentially tarred and feathered all conservatives before pointing out that just a few leftists on the “lunatic fringe” are just as bad or worse. Is this the best New Scientist can say? It’s too little too late. (Understand that it’s not because Republicans or conservatives actually are anti-science that gives them the bad rap; the leftists who control the media, education, labor and scientific societies hate conservatives for everything they stand for, scientific or not.)
Berezow and Campbell did well to distinguish liberalism from progressivism:
Liberalism, as defined by John Locke, means the pursuit of liberty. By that definition progressives are not liberal. Though they claim common cause with liberals (and most of them are Democrats because very few progressives are Republican), today’s progressive movement is actually socially authoritarian.
Unlike conservative authoritarians, however, they are not concerned with banning “immoral” things like sex, drugs and rock and roll. They instead seek dominion over issues such as food, the environment and education. And they claim that their policies are based on science, even when they are not.
This distinction is correct and rarely recognized. If Berezow and Campbell wish to promote liberalism of the Locke version, though, then let them promote academic freedom and freedom of inquiry – including freedom to criticize evolution, global warming and stem cell research, without pre-judging it as anti-science in a socially authoritarian way.
Berezow and Campbell appear to employ a simplistic philosophy of science known as positivism or scientism, which can be described as, “anything the scientific institutions describe as scientific is scientific; anyone from outside who disagrees is a nut.” While we appreciate them calling out progressives for their “sins against science,” we suggest they define their terms in context of the idol they trust, Darwin. Define sin, define science, and define reason in evolving, aimless, purposeless terms of natural selection. We contend they cannot. Their appeal to reason is coming from their soul, not their body; from their conscience, not some imagined evolutionary past. They are acting “like theists” in spite of themselves.
Nevertheless, thanks to New Scientist and these men for the partial recognition of a huge problem. We wish them well on their journey toward a non–self-refuting rational foundation.
Conservatives rightly get a bad rap for anti-science policies. But progressives can be just as bad