Monday, April 02, 2012

Conservatives and Science

Are Republicans really anti-science? A new book by Chris Moody claims that Republicans are anti-science and deny reality and uses brain scans and other testing to prove its point.

I will admit off the bat that I am not going to spend $14.27 (Kindle edition) to be insulted. Instead I'm going to look at some recent controversies and see how the two sides react.

I will concede evolution to Moody. A lot of creationists seem to be conservatives and there just isn't any hard science to back up creationism.

Climate change is a different matter. A liberal says, "Last month set heat records across much of the US. We have to close coal-fired power plants now!" A conservative says, "The world temperature record as maintained by three separate institutions, all staffed with warming true-believers, says that the warming stopped fifteen years ago. What's the rush?" Which is really looking at science and which is simply reacting to a scare?

Stem-cell research is far more complicated than most liberals let on. No one opposes adult stem cell research and most of the breakthroughs have involved adult stem cells. There is no trouble getting funding for adult stem cell research. The issue is with embryonic stem cells - ones made from a fetus. When this first came up, very little progress had been made so little private money was available for research. Scientists wanted the government to fund it, promising quick and startling breakthroughs. President Clinton passed on providing research money. President Bush did approve government financing but, because of ethical considerations, only on stem cell lines already in existence. This limitation only applied to government money but, because there was so little private money, the world acted as if Bush had ended funding for stem cell research instead of being the first to approve it.

President Obama made a show of lifting Bush's limits on funding. Still, no breakthroughs have been made and other, more ethical, sources of embryonic stem cells have been discovered in the meantime.

The debate comes down to the question of the ethics of fertilizing a human egg cell, producing a unique human being, only to tear it apart before it can develop. This is an outgrowth of the abortion debate in which liberals claim that a fetus is a non-human clump of cells until it is born and conservatives claim is a complete human being while it is still microscopic. Both sides have valid points and declaring the conservative side to be anti-science is pure arrogance.

Childhood Vaccines - A lot of people are convinced that mercury in childhood vaccines causes autism and most of these people are leading liberals. Think RFK jr.

Cervical Cancer Vaccines - this is the exception. Liberals want it administered around puberty, just in case girls become sexually active at age 13 or 14. Conservatives are appalled at a policy that seems to encourage underage sex and want the vaccine given when women are more sexually mature. The exception is Michelle Bachman who confused a story about a normal childhood vaccine with the vaccine for cervical cancer.

Genetically Modified Food - conservatives this that this is the answer to world hunger. Liberals want it banned.

Fracking - conservatives see this as the route to making the US the world's leading supplier of gas and oil. Liberals want it banned.

BPA - this chemical is used to coat cans to prevent the contents from reacting with the metal in the cans. It is also found in many plastic drinking containers. Conservatives point to studies done by the EPA showing that it is harmless in the limited exposure that humans receive. Liberals point to animal studies with mega-doses and want it banned.

Animal testing - conservatives think that this advances knowledge and saves lives. Liberal want it banned on ethical reasons.

High Voltage Power Lines - conservatives thing that these are harmless. Liberals worry that they cause health problems in children.

I could go on but the pattern is clear. Something new is introduced that will help people. Conservatives generally are for it and liberals are against it. Liberals are easy to panic while conservatives are more likely to ask for proof for claims that products are harmful. The one exception (not counting evolution) is stem cell research and even this is more of a political argument than a scientific one.

On a related note, studies have shown that conservatives rank actions according to six different sets of values while liberals only use three of those values. That means that conservatives are often actin in ways that are totally incomprehensible to liberals. Instead of making the liberals wonder what is wrong with their value system, it enforces their sense of superiority (we are smarter because we act rationally and conservatives do not). That is the point of Moody's book, to boost liberal's conviction that they are morally superior because there is something fundamentally wrong with conservatives.

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