• A criticism of Michael Shermer and the Scientific American: political left is NOT at war with science, unlike political right

    Among conservatives, admitting to being scientifically literate is political suicide.

    I love the Scientific American. It is absolutely my favorite magazine. And I owe it a lot for what I have learned over the years. But I do not like the idea of infallibility, and Scientific American does make errors, some of which I have pointed out in the past. This time, though, the error is more glaring, and it is made by none other than the skeptic I admire the most, Michael Shermer. The title of Shermer’s piece is “the liberals’ war on science”.

    The gist of the claim is that the political left is no better than political right, or, if anything, it is worse, when it comes to handling matters of science. Shermer starts by laying out the bad things on the right: denial of climate change and evolution. He then points out that creationism and climate science denial exist among Democrats as well. Here are the first two errors. First, The problem is not comparable among the Democrats to the Republicans by its scope: yes, it is pretty bad among the democrats, but it is not as dominant, as is the case for the Republicans. Unlike Republicans, Democrats at least pay lip service to climate change. Second, as everyone knows, “liberal” and “Democrat” are not synonymous. Creationism and climate change exist among Democrats but tend to be more dominant among the more conservative ones.

    Shermer then goes on to talk about denial of evolutionary psychology among the liberals. It is true, and it is unfortunate. Yet again, I don’t see popular liberal characters in the media attacking evolutionary psychology, or calling the teaching of evolutionary psychology “fascism”, like conservatives such as Bill O’Reilly do for evolution as a whole.

    Shermer then proceeds to tear up liberals, for more alleged misdeeds.

    On energy issues… progressive liberals tend to be antinuclear because of the waste-disposal problem, anti–fossil fuels because of global warming, antihydroelectric because dams disrupt river ecosystems, and anti–wind power because of avian fatalities.

    I don’t believe this is true. Concerning nuclear power, it does have very serious public safety problems, not necessarily limited to waste disposal (have we forgotten Fukushima already?). As for global warming, well, let’s just say action is long overdue. And as it pertains to renewables, despite whatever isolated incidents you can find of someone objecting to hydroelectric or wind power, liberals are often accused of having done too much when it comes to renewables, not too little.

    Shermer goes on:

    Whereas conservatives obsess over the purity and sanctity of sex, the left’s sacred values seem fixated on the environment, leading to an almost religious fervor over the purity and sanctity of air, water and especially food.

    Agains, the right and left are not comparable. Conservative condemnation of gay and premarital sex stems from the fact that it is against their religious doctrines, not that it harms anyone. Contaminants in air and water and food affect public health and safety. Should we bring back lead poisoning and asbestos, so we won’t be compared to the conservatives? But Shermer here brings up a disgraceful, yet not representative, example.

    Comedian Bill Maher, for example, on his HBO Real Time show on October 19, 2012, asked Stonyfield Farm CEO Gary Hirshberg if he would rate Monsanto as a 10 (“evil”) or an 11 (“f—ing evil”)?

    As it happens, Bill Maher’s views on issues such as vaccination and GM foods have made him controversial, even among liberals. Hence, it is not like Fox “News” where anti-science propaganda is pushed by about all the evening anochrs, hour after hour after hour.

    Shermer’s piece is based on a book, Science Left Behind, by Alex Berezow and Hank Campbell. Ye the book seems to have quite a bit of political slant:

    There are very few conservative scientists. One survey showed that only 6% of US scientists are Republicans, while 55% are Democrats. In the social sciences, the ratio can be as lopsided as 30 Democrats for every 1 Republican. Obviously, a discipline that is so ideologically skewed in one direction is going to produce research that reflects that internal bias…

    Also, teachers’ unions — which are allied with the Democratic Party — refuse to accept any reasonable reforms in education (such as merit-based pay and charter schools).

    So, more scientists are Democrats, and this seems to bother Mr Berezow. But whose fault is this? After many years of denying climate change, evolution, and defunding stem cell research by the right, can you blame scientists for tilting left? As for the teachers unions being allies with Democrats, while there may be problems with that, it is not exactly the same as Democrats actively using their political offices to subvert science as Republicans such as governor Jindal of Louisiana.

    Shermer’s piece, and the book, reminded me of a 2007 debate among republicans.

    So, why is it that while fringe ideas, like anti-vaccination nuttery or denial of evolutionary psychology, exist among liberals, that Democrats do not get asked what they think about such issues on stage, or they don’t see a reason to come out and proclaim that the do accept the science once they have discovered there is no way they are going to win, like Jon Huntsman? It is precisely because anti-science stances are fringe among liberals, whereas they are mainstream among conservatives.
    Shermer’s piece is an example of the fallacy of false equivalence.

    Category: Uncategorized

    Article by: No Such Thing As Blasphemy

    I was raised in the Islamic world. By accident of history, the plague that is entanglement of religion and government affects most Muslim majority nations a lot worse the many Christian majority (or post-Christian majority) nations. Hence, I am quite familiar with this plague. I started doubting the faith I was raised in during my teen years. After becoming familiar with the works of enlightenment philosophers, I identified myself as a deist. But it was not until a long time later, after I learned about evolutionary science, that I came to identify myself as an atheist. And only then, I came to know the religious right in the US. No need to say, that made me much more passionate about what I believe in and what I stand for. Read more...
    • Reading this, all I could think was “this is written by exactly the kind of person Michael Shermer was talking about”

      You seem to have a lot of personal viewpoints on things, and use those to justify why Shermer is wrong, mostly as Shermer appears to be attacking your sacred cows.

      As Neil De Grasse Tyson pointed out so beautifully, while you might say the American right are all crazy anti-science nutters – the reality is that Republicans in government spend more on real science than Democrats do.

      So, neither right or left (or Republican or Democrat) are immune from quackery, nor are they all totally infected with it.

      If you are a liberal, vegan, anti-nuclear, anti-big-pharma, pro organic, anti Monsanto hippy – then yes Shermer was probably talking about you.

      While all of those positions have some validity, they also have major problems with being upheld by good science.

      • NoCrossNoCrescent

        I am not quite sure how you concluded that those are all my views. Where did I say I was vegan, anti-big pharma, or pro-organic for example? As for anti-nuclear, well, the issue is not black and white, but are you familiar with Chenobyl, Fukushima Daiichi, and Fermi 1?And my whole point is that Shermer’s stereotype is inaccurate, as opposed to the creationist climate change denying republican, which has much more truth to it. As for spending-well absolute numbers don’t count as much,and Bush didn’t have to deal with a plague called the Tea Party. It is better compare it with military spending, and see who proportionally spends more on what.

        • Even that reply bled far right liberal views like a sieve 🙂 The “if you are” comment wasn’t directed at “you” but at the reader of my comment – to take it as “you” requires you see aspects of yourself in it.

          You may be playing devil’s advocate, but all those views are fairly well towards the crazy end of the left spectrum

          His stereotype hit the nail firmly on the head. Science denial applies to “nuclear power is bad” as much as it does to “the earth is 6000 years old” – whether you personally see the foolishness of such positions, there are *plenty* of liberals who see no problem with “vaccinations are bad”, “nuclear power kills people”, “organic food is better for you” – despite all those positions being strongly anti-scientific consensus

          (personally, most would call me a liberal, were we to use such labels outside the US – I just prefer my liberalism with a healthy dose of science thrown in)

          • NoCrossNoCrescent

            Well no, one else else has commented here, so it was in fact directed at me. And again, it seems to me you are knocking down a straw man. If you want to know why Shermer is wrong, watch MSNBC, Current TV, or PBS, and you don’t see any of those views that you named endorsed. Unlike climate change denial, which is on Fox “News” all the time.

            • It was in fact directed at the reader of the comment – I presume others read them? Or are you and I the only people you ever expect to read your blog?

              But thanks for dismissing my explanation of who I was intending the comment for – obviously you would know, and obviously I would lie about the intent of it.

              The straw man has been setup by you. You critiqued Shermer, set up numerous straw men, and don’t like being called on it.

              If your best defence is “MSNBC don’t espouse crazy liberal views” you are on even weaker grounding. Perhaps you don’t see it as you are too close to it? You probably *are* the kind of person he was referring to.

              That was my last comment, enjoy.

            • NoCrossNoCrescent

              Hm. Interesting. Was I the one talking about organic loving big pharma hating anti nuclear vegans? Where did that straw man come from?
              And why shouldn’t I mention MSNBC and other liberal networks? Fox peddle anti-science nuttery. Liberal TV networks don’t. Doesn’t this count as evidence that there is no equivalence between the two?
              Nice of you to stop by.

            • “Nice of you to stop by.”
              I think Jak makes reasonable arguments. I would not burn that bridge.

          • Vic

            [[ Science denial applies to”nuclear power is bad” as much as it does to “the earth is 6000 years old” ]]

            Slight disagree. These two statements are not in the same category.

            Whether the age of the earth is 6000 yerars old is, due to the time frame you used in your example, answered by science with a simple yes or no.

            Whether nuclear power is bad is not a scientific question.

            A negative or a positive stance toward nuclear energy is not, by itself scientific or unscientific. A stance can be based on facts or on myths about nuclear energy, and these can to be distinguished by science, but not the stance itself.

            Example: “If we look at the current energy consumption of the US, nuclear energy is a neccessary technology to use.”

            Here, you can argue with science and the operating life of power plants and power output and cost analysis etc. but only thanks to the condition given via the “current energy consumption”.

            If somebody said “I am afraid of the risks of nuclear energy” you cannot cry “scientific denial!”. Only if it was followed by “therefore we should deconstruct nuvlear power plants at once” you could argue that it were probably impractical.

            However, if your point was merely that one’s opinion should be formed on a scientific basis, I’d very much agree.

            • ThePrussian

              Well, I agree with you on that. But, to coin a phrase, I’m worried that that’s a bug rather than a feature. That is, it is subtle errors and cases of unreason that can be more dangerous than the obvious and crass. To take an example, being worried about nuclear power is not anti-science, but fabricating evidence, the way that Helen Caldicott does, is.

              On the other hand, one might say that this still allows people to corret things in the face of better evidence.

            • Vic

              Good point. I also think that subtle errors are very problematic. Not only are they difficult to catch, via “pyramidic citations”, bad sceince journalism and even just well-meaning folk these errors can enter the mainstream and become a new urban myth.

              And once a myth is established it will take a lot of work and time to undo.

              One example that comes to mind is the “Pending Ice Age” as described in this survey:
              http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/pdf/10.1175/2008BAMS2370.1

              But I’m sure there are many other examples.

              I consider myself on the fence with regard to nuclear power and I freely admit that is partly due to “Pascal’s nuclear wager”. You mentioned that Fukushima only took one life and so far theincrease of cysts and bodily growths among the local population seem not cancerous in nature, but I’ll wait how the issue of contaminated soil etc. will turn out.

              I’m not pessimistic, I just honestly admit I don’t know how it will affect that area in Japan, where, unlike in the Sowiet Union where they could just mobilize a small army and throw out all residents in a 30km radius around Chernobyl, they have to deal with it more openly and democratically.

              But while I’m not really a big fan, from a layman’s perspective, it seems like there have been some tremendous technological developments over the last decades.

              So, in my opinion, if the general public could just agree not to build nuclear plants on tectonic fold lines

              http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/energy/blogs/nuclear-power-and-earthquake-zones-overlap-in-the-us

              and upgrade / replace some of the older reactors

              http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=228&t=21

              I think we have a technology with great potential here.

          • Reginald Selkirk

            Jak Charlton: Science denial applies to “nuclear power is bad” as much as it does to “the earth is 6000 years old”

            I agree with Vic, only more vehemently. You are wrong about this. Young Earth Creationism, along with climate change denial and anti-vax clearly oppose scientific findings. Opposition to nuclear power need not deny any scientific findings, it could merely be a result of viewing the risks vs. benefits differently.
            I hope you would not deny that nuclear waste disposal is a long-term risk which has not been adequately dealt with. I hope you would not deny, post-Fukushima and post-Chernobyl, that existing nuclear plants are not completely safe, and not as safe as we were promised. Citing studies of past mortality does not negate the possibility of rare events.

            • If you truly understood Chernobyl and Fukushima and the dangers of nuclear power, you would realise that your position (and Vic’s is very strongly anti-science)

              The problem is, you (and I) are *not* qualified to make that judgement, nor to analyse the “evidence” or statistics

              And no, fence sitting (as in, “it’s bad until I’m convinced it is good”) is not a justifiable rational position. Holding no opinion is, as is holding an opinion based on weight of evidence

              Just because it is easy to say “OMG nuclear fallout caused mutations”, does not mean that (even were that statement true) that the statement has been qualified in relation to context (at a basic level, compare it with coal fired power stations)

              So, while the weight of scientific consensus is pro-nuclear and thinks nuclear is safe – yes, saying “well it might be dangerous so until I have received overwhelming evidence it is safe, I’ll deny it” is pretty much equivalent to “well until you can disprove my God convincingly, I’ll continue to believe”

            • Vic

              Two points:
              1) Just for the sake of accuracy: Contrary to what you describe, “fence sitting” is a position of neutrality or indecision. If scientific evidence heavily supports one side of the issue, indecision can still be regarded as unscientific. But it’s not “nay, until proven otherwise”.

              2) Let’s assume for the sake of argument that nuclear power is 100% safe.

              Does that mean that the rational position is now solely pro-nuclear?

              A car with a combustion engine is a relatively safe, comfortable, affordable and fast means of transportation. An airplane is statistically safer and much faster. A bicycle is much slower than both, but cheaper. My shoes are slower once more, but even cheaper.

              Which one do I use when going on holidays? Which one to go to work, if my workplace is across the street?

              If, of these options, I choose the car to go on holidays and my feet to to to work, I am not anti-science, neither anti-airplane nor anti-bicycle.

              Your claim of “scientific denial” would only be valid if you made a convincing empirical case for nuclear power in a specific sitatuation. In that context, a anti-nuclear stance could be called irrational, since certainly the best option is desirable.

              In general, it depends on the given problem and the influencing factors whether a certain means of energy production is a viable, economic etc. solution. And the burden of proof lies on the proponents of these different options. To remain skeptical of the proposals is not anti-scientific.

      • Well said, Jak.

    • Hittman

      Sounds like Mr. Shermer hit a nerve. Specifically, one of yours.

      Based on my ongoing conversations with lefties, I think his characterizations are bang-on.

      • NoCrossNoCrescent

        Nice ad hominem attack. Come back when you have more substance.

      • DavidGaliel

        What, exactly, is a “leftie”?

        • a leftie; leftist; someone on the left, politically; a democrat; liberal; progressive; socialist; communist; any or each of these

          • josh

            So it’s a great coverall term for a disparate group of people who may or may not have anything in common with each other for any particular issue. Which is the problem with Shermer’s piece: the views he critiques aren’t typical of any general ‘left’. They seem to belong to a radical environmentalist, anarcho-communist, hippie wiccan creationist ur-feminist luddite clan that I suspect exists only in his head.

          • DavidGaliel

            That’s what I thought – the Fox News definition.

            Let’s use that bizarre grouping to define the “right”, by simply listing their political opposites:

            an authoritarian; conservative; regressive; capitalist; fascist; any or each of these.

            Do you think that is a helpful way to think about the Right?

            If not, perhaps you should rethink your definition of “left” – it’s just as nonsensical and mushy.

            Or, perhaps you should let go of narrow, binary thinking and the need to label the “Other” according to labels invented by others, stop blindly following a dogmatic ideology defined mostly by what you are against – and start thinking independently about the most rational, evidence-based policy on each individual issue, no matter what some pinhead labels it.

    • DavidGaliel

      You seem unaware of Shermer’s own irrational libertarian bias. It sometimes overwhelms his usual skepticism and critical thinking. It’s like Sam Harris re: guns: emotional stake and confirmation bias clearly in evidence.

      • I thought Harris took the emotional bias OUT of the issue.

        • DavidGaliel

          His cherry-picking of data on this particular issue and his unquestioned acceptance of data supporting his position on this particular issue, even when it comes from dubious sources, is not in keeping with his rigor in other areas.

          Sadly, he has shown this sloppiness before, for example in his uncritical embrace of Eastern philosophies based almost entirely on subjective personal, perceived experiences.

          • ThePrussian

            Fascinating bunch of accusations with nil evidence. Again, quite typical.

            • SirWilhelm

              Accusations? Where do I make accusations?

            • ThePrussian

              Not you; that was for DG, and was there a while back. Meantime, if you want MY accusations against you, look at the first subthread here.

          • Lee Hughes

            Indeed, he loves to embrace quackery. For example, he states

            “There may even be credible evidence for reincarnation”. ( End of Faith P. 242)

            The footnote for this religious assertion takes one to books that
            Harris finds compelling such as “20 Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation” which includes colourful tales of past-life regressions and children who speak dead languages. And, even more good news in store for mind readers and psychics: “There also seems to be a body of data attesting to the reality of psychic phenomena, much of which has been ignored by mainstream science.” (p. 41)

            Practitioners of ESP are in luck too because Harris knows just what it means to enjoy mental powers of telepathy as he states in this interview with Salon

            http://www.salon.com/2006/07/07/harris_24/

            • SirWilhelm

              Why do you believe you have to belong to a religion, or be religious, to believe in reincarnation? There is evidence, outside of religious texts, that reincarnation is real, whether the person that becomes aware of it, is religious, or not. Obviously, the evidence for reincarnation is not up to “scientific” standards, because souls, or spirits, are not observable, directly. But, if you leave the prejudices of science and religion out of your observations, you may be able to come to an objective conclusion.

            • NoCrossNoCrescent

              Lol. Priceless. Thank you for the laughs!

            • Lee Hughes

              Sweet Enola Gay!!!!! See, this is the problem with Sam Harris: his new age nonsense rubs off on other people.

            • SirWilhelm

              One person’s nonsense, is another person’s beliefs.

            • NoCrossNoCrescent

              News for you buddy: when your beliefs contradict reality, they are called delusions.

            • SirWilhelm

              You’re welcome. Sorry you’re too prejudiced to understand.

            • NoCrossNoCrescent

              Ah, right. Anyone who disagrees with you is “prejudiced”. Nice.

      • ThePrussian

        Deep and sober analysis, backed up with facts, fully up to your usual standard.

        • DavidGaliel

          Infantile, emotional, personal attacks on other commenters, fully up to your usual standard.

          • ThePrussian

            Not so nice to be on the receiving end, isn’t it?

            Anyone who doesn’t go along with your Weltanschauung is “dogmatic” and “biased”. This form of argument is just too puerile for words.

            • DavidGaliel

              The irony of the use of “puerile” by a blogger whose responses include “being howwid or waycis”, “noisy moron”, “Sweetie,save it”, “Now run off home, there’s a good boy”, “howwid and mean” and whose opening salvo to substantive challenge was “Just accept the following: I know what I am talking about. You don’t. You know little to nothing of the rest of the world, so please do not pretend otherwise”, is wonderful.

              Truly, the inclusion of your blog on this site elevates it and demonstrates that its commitment to “skepticism” is not just lip-service.

            • ThePrussian

              Such as what? When have you, ever, provided a single substantive fact or engaged with facts that I’ve brought to the table? I’m sorry if your precious feelings are hurt when I sink to your level, but until you provide something of substance I’ll treat you the way you deserve.

      • hellosnackbar

        Libertarian bias?that’s almost oxymoronic.
        I agree very much with Shermer his critical thinking is usually spot on.
        The world is very energy dependent and the evidence for AGW is very convincing.
        Since we are dependent upon science and engineering for our existential and economic progress then it is logical that Thorium power stations and solar energy capture should be items of serious research.
        And hopefully JCraig Venter’s research into the production of energy rich hydrocarbons from his manipulation of photosynthesising organisms will succeed.
        In terms of politicians HL Mencken’s statement that “Politicians are people who sit on the fence with an ear to the ground on both sides” is a penetrating statement of fact.
        The main downside of non empirical religious belief is that”dogma trumps common sense”

        • DavidGaliel

          Can you clarify your meaning? How is “libertarian bias” “almost oxymoronic”?

        • SirWilhelm

          I’m still surprised someone as intelligent as you believes the evidence for AGW “is very convincing”. But then, you still believe in the Big Bang, Black Holes, and Evolution, don’t you?

          • NoCrossNoCrescent

            Yeah, sirwilhelm is a wholesale enemy of science.

            • SirWilhelm

              I wasn’t talking to you. I happen to know hellosnackbar, and have had many discussions with him in the past. Do you BELIEVE in the Big Bang, Black Holes, and Evolution? If you do, I’m willing to discuss your beliefs with you.

            • NoCrossNoCrescent

              Do you BELIEVE the moon goes around the Earth?

    • Ingemar Oseth

      As an old-timer I have watched with bemused amazement as the general term “liberal” has been increasingly conflated with persons who identify themselves as Democrats.

      This generalization is an error since the attitudes and beliefs of most Americans, among them Democrats, fall within a standard deviation of the center of the political spectrum. Mr. Shermer appears to be be among those making this error. Because he is a smart man I have to wonder if his error in this regard is not an intentional construct designed to increase the shock value of his article. Regardless, the enormity of the error renders the entirety of his article essentially useless.

      • Vic

        Agreed. “Liberal”, at least in the US, has been adopted as a word which encompasses a myriad of different views, which mostly have one thing in common: not a position held by republicans. No matter the origin on the political spectrum.

        And for some reason, people seem to just let it slide. Worse, they begin to use the word in the same fashion themselves and thus contribute to the inflation of meaning.

        It did not really add clarity to political conversation, which tends to be a convoluted business anyway.

      • ThePrussian

        It does bother me. I’m a classical liberal, and it vexes me to see the term being annexed in the US by those who believe in state power. Though I’d submit that Shermer is using the same standard shorthand.

      • SirWilhelm

        Leftists have taken over the tem “liberal”, the same way they have taken over both parties, the Dems and Repubs. They have disguised themselves somewhat by calling themselves Progressives, but, that disguise has already worn thin.

        • NoCrossNoCrescent

          Lol. Even more insanity.

    • http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/2011/20110729_BabyLauren.pdf
      “A facile explanation would focus on the ‘merchants of doubt’ who have managed to confuse the public about the reality of human-made climate change. The merchants play a role, to be sure, a sordid one, but they are not the main obstacle to solution of human-made climate change.
      The bigger problem is that people who accept the reality of climate change are not proposing actions that would work.”

    • http://news.stanford.edu/pr/2012/pr-richter-climate-qanda-122711.html
      “For nuclear, I call this a problem of technology hazards – perception versus reality. My book gives some data on years of life lost per billion kilowatt-hour generated based on the primary energy source. Fossil fuels are all terrible, though coal is much worse than gas. Nuclear is really good, much less years of life lost than even solar photovoltaic. The analysis I give in the book includes Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. It doesn’t include Fukushima, but if it did the analysis wouldn’t change.”

      http://gcep.stanford.edu/pdfs/bTzhgdNEg5xnCbry-3SZEw/BurtonRichter_web.pdf
      Electricity
      Years of Life Lost per TWh
      Wind: 2.7
      Nuclear: 25
      Gas: 42
      PV: 58
      Coal: 305
      Oil: 359
      Source: Krewitt et. al., “Risk Analysis”
      Vol. 18, No 4 (1998)

      http://isne.bau.edu.jo/isne-09/presentations/OMOTO-2.pdf
      see page 27

      • I started to type this as a response and then thought “fuck it I cannot be bothered to go look up the science as it will just be denied in this thread”

        Thanks for finding it

        If you think nuclear power is bad… you must be really blind to everything else.

      • ThePrussian

        Very well done. Thanks for the source; I’ll have to take it a look.

    • ThePrussian
    • Mr Dumpling

      Shermer also conflates liberal with left wing.

      • SirWilhelm

        What’s the difference?

    • Carl

      I would have to agree with Michael on this one I do see a lot of anti-science on the left as well especially anti-vacination and anti-GMO food. I also see a lot of woo woo belief from the left such as organic food and other alternative beliefs that impend on science progress. Science is neither left or right it is unbiased something the left and right tend to forget do to ideological bias.

      • Reginald Selkirk

        I do see a lot of anti-science on the left as well especially anti-vacination and…

        Yes, there is anti-vax sentiment on the left, but not as much as on the right:

        Anti-Vaccination Has a Slight Rightwing Trend

    • Reginald Selkirk

      Shermer digs deep to come up with anti-science sentiment on the left, and comes up with not very much. but this is certainly not the most questionable thing he has written. He used his Scientific American column of August 19, 2007, “Rational Atheism, to drop this bomb:

      “Rational atheism values the truths of science and the power of reason,
      but the principle of freedom stands above both science and religion.”

      Say what? Freedom is nice and all, but to place scientific truth as subservient to any political ideology? I have serious reservations about that.

    • DavidGaliel

      Clearly, we should combat irrational, antiscientific and pseudoscientific claims wherever they appear, and clearly we should champion evidence-based policymaking regardless of the source.

      Just as clearly, the desperation on the part of those whose political biases are non-democratic to push a false-equivalence is neither evidence-based nor rational.

      • ThePrussian

        Unless they are the irrational, anti-scientific, anti-democratic ideas you approve of, in which case we should ignore them. Fixed that for you.

        • DavidGaliel

          You presume to know, a priori, my position on all sorts of things I have not written about. That presumption is characteristic of belief-based, dogmatic thinkers, who tend to divide everyone and everything simplistically into binary categories of Us vs Them, Right vs Wrong, etc. Your consistent, frequent use of the broadest, fuzziest terms as if they are rigid, homogenous categories further reveals this kind of fallacious thinking.

          You are a blogger here. I respond to, and make judgments about, your opinions, based on how you express them here publicly. Unlike you, I respond to your actual writings, not to some imaginary bugaboo in my head.

          The more you persist in responding to even the most impersonal and specific comments by others with personal insults and attacks on credibility and arguments from authority, the more you validate my original opinion.

          Nonetheless, I am always eager to be proven wrong, and would welcome a substantive response on your part that addresses the actual intended critique of a commenter, rather than your obsessive need to find a weakness, or invent a straw man if needed, in order to “defeat” a critic and “crush” all dissent.

    • Your premise is wrong. Shermer never says that the left is as bad or worse than the right; he makes it quite clear that overall, we’re much better – but that we still have our share of problems, which is undeniable.

      • Reginald Selkirk

        Shermer does not say that the left is equally bad, but his list of issues is not very well thought out.
        Many of the positions he discussed were not “anti-science” in the same way that Creationism and climate change denial are anti-science; and some of the problems he mentioned, such as anti-vax, are not exclusively or even pre-dominantly positions of the left.

        • Reginald Selkirk

          Shermer: On energy issues, for example, the authors contend that progressive
          liberals tend to be antinuclear because of the waste-disposal problem,
          anti–fossil fuels because of global warming, antihydroelectric because dams disrupt river ecosystems, and anti–wind power because of avian fatalities.

          Well lookie there: actual reasons for opposing those technologies are listed. You might argue about values, or cost, or risk/benefit ratios, but there is no science denial in that. Shermer should have pointed that out, instead of just folding this into his poorly considered list.

          • The problem is that the facts on those “problems” unambiguously show them to be anything but.

            • josh

              Global warming is a real problem caused by fossil fuel use, Shermer himself agrees this is an example of right-wing denial.

      • NoCrossNoCrescent

        Shermer uncritically quote this from the book “Science Left Behind”: ” “if it is true that conservatives have declared a war on science, then progressives have declared Armageddon.” So no, I don’t think my premise is wrong.

        • His quote of the book is relevant on to specific examples he gives. At no point does he endorse the book wholesale or outline his thesis in the way you’ve recklessly mischaracterized it.

    • SirWilhelm

      Conservatives are open minded enough to recognize how dogmatic much of science has become, and therefore, how un-scientific. No one is allowed to question Big Bang, Black Hole, or Evolution theory. Or, the gods of science like Einstein and Darwin. One of the key elements of the scientific method is falsification, which should allow any theory to be challenged by evidence, especially that obtained through observation. Yet, many scientists with such evidence, encounter ridicule, derision, denial of funding, and access to equipment and facilites. Instead, the “scientific” faithful develop ad hoc explanations to save their precious theories, even when their own observations, don’t agree with them. The worst part, is that they are in bed with politicians now, from whom they get most of their funding, these days, and the politicians get support from the scientists for their pet projects, like global warming, so they can re-distribute more of the tax payer’s money to their cronies. If the problem was just one of philosophies and theories, it wouldn’t matter so much, but like everything else in today’s world, it’s really all about the money.

      • NoCrossNoCrescent

        This comment pretty much proves my point. Levels of hostility against science among conservatives have reached such a delusional scope that we see people like “sirwilhelm” would take us galloping back to the 16th century. Science denialism among liberals, while it exists, it nowhere nearly as bad.

        • SirWilhelm

          Maybe not the 16th century, but Kepler and Newton are from the 17th century, aren’t they? Where would we be without Newton’s formulas, eh? And Darwin’s book was published in 1859, isn’t that a long time for a scientific theory to hold up, especially one that’s been challenged as much as Evolution has? I’m not denying the scientific method is an important tool, and science has made many great contributions. I am saying that much of science has become dogmatic, and no longer operates by the very method it claims to. I wish to see science reformed, and the method restored so it functions the way it should, if possible. I don’t see that as “science denialism”. I see it as the reformation of science necessitated by human corruption, which infects all human institutions, eventually.

          • NoCrossNoCrescent

            Ordinarily I would call you a hypocrite. The gas that you put in your car cones from the works of geologists and evolution is part and parcel of it. You don’t like Einstein and Big Bang theory, but without the theory of general relativity (from which Big Bang derives) you would have no air bags in your car. You are way toO delusional to even call a hypocrite. And, of course you don’t see that as science denialism, people with delusions, like you, by definition, are unaware of their delusions.

            • SirWilhelm

              Abiotic oil theory is challenging fossil fuel theory. That’s a new one on me, what do air bags have to do with general relativity? Read this before you decide I am delusional about Einstein and the Big Bang:

              http://www.sjcrothers.plasmaresources.com/

            • NoCrossNoCrescent

              Oh boy. What a rich collection of batshit conspiracy theories. Where did you get that crap? Oh, and abiotic oil. Not even relevant. Oil geology still depends heavily on plate tectonics, with is deeply intertwined with evolution.
              And if you want to know what general relativity has to do with air bags, google “accelerometer”.

        • ThePrussian

          He rather does, doesn’t he? We seem to be getting our respective theses proved in the comments section.

          As to SirWilhelm, it is a very poor conservative who pooh-poohs the highest glory of his civilization.

    • thereISgrandeur

      Valid point. Shermer would have held better ground had he only pointed out that there existed such a thing as anti-science liberals or democrats. Yet, he did not. He took the fence approach and condemned the whole of the group by centering on the eccentrics. To suggest that Conservative Republicanism is an equally beneficial party to science is blatantly ignorant of every Republican debate for the last half-century.

      Yes, I agree with Shermer that there is a strong-willed group within the category that is fanatical. I do, however, disagree with this author’s inclination that anti-vaccination isn’t an issue that deserves serious concern. Overall, Shermer was misleading and his bias leaned in the direction of the very people he debates and refutes.

      For Jak Charlton,

      Neil DeGrasse Tyson is a considerably intelligent astrophysicist, I really like the guy. I even find him inspiring. But, once he steps outside that realm and into history,politics,economics,and philosophy, he is significantly without merit. Just because you can account for inflation and supplement that
      figure with the equivalence of the cost of the moon missions, which were based on the cold war, and then reference to the
      particular party seated in the oval office does not imply that
      Republicans spend more money on science.

      And calling the author a hippie? How unbecoming of you, how incredibly satisfied I was to see such a childish remark resting beneath that glob of utterances. You had the audacity to insult, but not the subtle art of properly spelling it. I do agree that Eco-obsessed people are ridiculous and even annoying, ignorant fanatics. But, they aren’t trying to replace every textbook and governmental document with the 400 year old translation of a 1500 year old holy book. To come to the conclusion that the same people who want to see nothing less than the destruction of Academics are better for science as a whole is flat out wrong, incorrect, uniformed, and unbelievably ignorant.

    • Unreal X

      With GM, two different issues get confused. There’s a difference between *being against the technology as such* and *not trusting that technology in the hands of groups like Monsanto*. These two objections are not *necessarily* the same thing.

      If I have a fear with nuclear, its that the technology is inherently *authoritarian*, in that because it can be dangerous you need a strong authoritarian state to protect it for security reasons. People all too easily ignore the possible *political implications* of technology, instead making the uncritical assumption that technology = progress *in every single possible circumstance* and that if you’re against any new tech, it’s because you’re a Luddite. When in fact *in some cases* there are legitimate objections to new technology.

    • SocraticGadfly

      SciAm has other problems. It’s become more pop-science/science-lite than, say, Discover. It had a big ethical issue a couple of years ago when it printed a special section about electric cars that was entirely sponsored by GM, and that claimed the hybrid Chevy Volt was an electric car. It’s gone downhill a lot in the past decade.

    • Josh

      “Shermer then goes on to talk about denial of evolutionary psychology among the liberals. It is true, and it is unfortunate.”

      How is it unfortunate? I’d be surprised if liberals were truly less scientific than evpsych.

      Also, how is moral opposition to nuclear power/support for the environment related to science in any way at all? Half the points Shermer makes have nothing whatsoever to do with accepting or rejecting professional consensus on scientific claims.

    • Who are the ones going out their way to prevent biotechnology and claim “chemicals” are dangerous? Oh yeah-liberals. The left has MANY pseudoscience “causes”. You are biased because of your leftism. I expect better on a skeptic site.

    • James Bowen

      Fukushima was much ado about little. It is hard to think of a more irrational bunch than the anti-nuclear crowd. Shermer was on to something here. Look up industrial disasters in a World Almanac and you will find that the casualty rates for the nuclear industry are fewer in number and far smaller than that for other industries. Even Chernobyl pales in comparison to the chlorine gas leak in Blophal, India in 1984.

      When a jet airliner crashes and kills all 250 people on board, we don’t hear calls to end commercial air travel. Why is nuclear held to such ridiculously high standards when a clear-eyed evaluation of the risks reveals that they are no more dangerous (if anything less dangerous) than those associated with other industries which are vital to our technological way of life and standard of living.

    • Chris

      I don’t think evolutionary psychology is in quite the same category as, say , global warming or natural selection itself. Some pretty inflated claims have been made for it that require thought. This isn’t to deny it outright: but it’s still open to some very different interpretations.