so whose anti-science is really worse?

May 8, 2012

Over at Bad Astronomy, Phil Plait is irked by the counterpoint that anti-science attitudes permeate the Left just as they do the Right, calling it false equivalence. Certainly it’s not like liberals have no unscientific views and the bedrocks of anti-vaccination sentiment reliably tend to be highly educated liberal towns, and yes they have a thing for quantum woo and post-modernist pretentions but could you really compare them to the organized and deliberate efforts of creationists and religious fundamentalists on the warpath? After all, it’s not like there are groups of people in white flowing robes attending meetings in liberal districts to deride school boards for the blasphemy of teaching their children "the left-brain arrogance of science" instead of "the story of how they were created by Mother Earth as spiritual manifestations" from whatever dimension is all the rage nowadays, so the conservative fundamentalists must be worse, right? Well, no, not exactly. Comparing the anti-scientific attitudes of different cultures isn’t really all that straightforward and there isn’t a simple mitigating factor to use as a trump card in declaring the greater or lesser evil. And in this case, the issue is primarily about focus.

Generally, most skeptical blogs follow the same trend as many scientists when they approach liberals and see them as more or less natural allies in spreading facts and education. After all, conservatives often add an inordinate amount of animosity to anything that contradicts their dogma and will immediately start bashing all the groups they loathe in response. But just because the left doesn’t object to teaching good science doesn’t mean that its anti-scientific attitudes aren’t a problem or that they can be downplayed when talking about anti- scientific movements. Just like religious fundamentalists have creationism, New Age converts have a theistic evolution narrative that muddles quantum mechanics and a hodgepodge of scientific jargon into pointless ruminations on the nature of the human soul. They will also follow self-aggrandizing notions of determinism which argue that humans are a predetermined outcome of evolution, and whatever they’ll need to add to the idea to make it work, they will. At the turn of the past century, they added heavy doses of Occultism, mysticism, and spiritualism. In the middle of the century, they layered on conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory, based on either real world events, their ruminations on Occultism, or a bizarre mix of both. Nowadays, there’s a vast and diverse range of conspiracies, ancient astronauts, pseudoscientific profundities, and plain old woo that’s been repackaged for new generations as some great illumination into the secrets of the universe.

While the religious fundamentalist will pound the Bible with his homeschooled kids and teach them that they are to devote their lives to a deity that created them and requires their submission and that they are treat every fact contrary to this premise as inherently false and evil, New Age disciples will tell their kids that science is a materialistic, left-brained, arrogant pursuit of truth without the use of meditation that falls pray to conspiracies by bizarre secret societies, and that they’re spiritual beings who can get in tune with nature. In either case, we have anti-scientific attitudes preaching that science leads to nihilism and that the only true path to knowledge lies elsewhere. Yes, sure, the New Age followers of post-modernist woomeisters who fill up HuffPo with their best impressions of The Dude when it comes to scientific literacy (because you know man, gravity is like your opinion and anyway, it’s not like we know what gravity was meant to teach us) aren’t trying to change the law to get quantum woo into the classroom, but they are certainly not friends and allies of scientific education. They just view science as a starting point for their brand of beliefs. Get someone educated enough about quantum physics and biology and they’ll be able to "get it" when you talk to them about the alien visitors and life being a holographic projection of your past consciousnesses, just like any New Age bestseller will lay out for you.

But despite the long standing dedication to warping science into justifications for their personal beliefs, New Agers lack the kind of focus you get from a single, dogmatic, and very zealously religious following which is a lot less forgiving about making it up as you go along and demands far more conformity in beliefs. The right is much better organized and unified in its efforts, something you’ll hear from every blogger covering their war on facts they don’t want to hear and findings they don’t want taught. If you were surrounded by two dogs, with one barking, snarling, and foaming at the mouth, and the other circling behind you more or less quietly, you’ll pay a lot more attention to the threatening beast right in front of you, as you probably should. However, you shouldn’t assume that the dog behind you won’t bite you when you’re not looking or that its jaws can’t put you in world of hurt just because it’s not actively threatening you right now. And so while the homogenous vocal right lets out war cry after war cry, a lot of science bloggers fail to highlight the far more calm, but very virulent anti-scientific rumblings from the subdued and more heterogeneous left, Phil included. For me, it’s very hard to say that the right is more anti-scientific than the left because as creationists support a pro-pseudoscience bill, rabid anti- vaccinationists are pushing for exemptions from immunizations while citing conspiracy theories…

[ illustration by Yang Xueguo ]

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  • PhilR

    “[New agers] aren’t trying to change the law to get quantum woo into the classroom…” No, just into the hospitals and health services. I would argue that the anti-vax and alt med movement, have wrought greater harm to society ( at least in recent years) than any other pseudo-science. Maybe right wing resistance to environmental regulation perhaps.

  • venqax

    They are probably equally bad, in the end. But, as a right-winger on most things it is refreshing to see the left called out when it has a foot planted firmly in the irrational camp, too. The fact that the garbage from the left is often insulated from criticism is evidence that the institutions who should be patrolling both sides of the crazy fence have strong biases that maybe argue left-wing anti-rationalism is more insidiously toxic than that borne of the right.

    Creationism taught as science is bad all the way around. And so are social “improvement” (engineering) schemes dreamed up by so-called progressives in drum circles and “social activist” groups that have absolutely no footing in empirical reality. The latter, though, are already deeply ingrained in the public education system and have managed it without much of blinking eye. Creationists are having to wage a very public fight for their form of indoctrination to be allowed in the door. Examples of this include the demonization of scientific research that supports un-PC notions about the import and demographic distribution of intelligence,, empirically bankrupt anti-Western and anti-European “theories like Afrocentrism and “Native American” fawning, gender differences, discussion of social implications of tolerance/intolerance of sexual practices , etc.

  • Paul451

    The anti-science Right is worse because they control the political and media arms of the mainstream Right.

    The influence of new.age waffle in the Huff Post is a tiny fraction of the influence of Fox News and the rest of the global Murdoch empire, along with other anti-science lobby groups like the Discovery Institute (anti-evolution and anti-science in general). And the science-polluting influence of lobbyists from industry.

    The views of neo-Nazis in my country are clearly worse than the views of, say the conservative branch of Australian Catholic church, but I worry more about those rightwing Catholics than I do about rightwing Nazis because the conservative Catholics have vastly more power/influence.

  • Greg Fish

    There’s certainly a case to be made, and it was, that anti-science form the left in the medical field is pretty awful since we’re being asked to use placebo medicine to like a quack’s pocket, upping the cost of medical insurance which in the U.S. is already at unsustainable levels. And the vitamin and supplement industry has it own set of lobbyists who are every bit as bad as lobbyists from Big Oil and Big Finance.

  • Paul451

    “Also bad” != “As bad”. That’s why the equivalence is false.

    (This is not to say that the left can’t become as bad, or haven’t been worse. Conservatives were once the voice of sanity compared to the left. And again, you can find examples of those old conservatives being complete and utter dicks, but again “also bad” is not the same as “equally as bad”.)

  • venqax

    The anti-science Right is worse because they control the political and media arms of the mainstream Right.

    But the media arms of the Right comprise Fox News, CBN, and Rush Limbaugh. The media arms of the Left are everything else in the media. Everything. News, television infotainment, movies, magazines, reality TV. If the media arms of the Right have any potency, how did Barack Obama get elected president? How, with the current state of things, could he be a good call for re-election? The anti-science threat from the Left isn’t just herbal medicine. It’s all the propaganda that is already built-in to public education and discourse that isn’t even noticed by the average person unless he’s conservative. Evidence of this is the evolution vs. creationism issue itself. It gets a tremendous amount of attention in the so-called mainstream (read Leftist) media precisely because it is offensive to their sensibilities. It is invariably negative attention. And it should be, IMO. But, in balance, where is the negative focus on the liberal anti-science causes? Nowhere. The media are probably the biggest part of that problem, not reporters or commentators on it. It is precisely because the Left’s anti-science is so insidious and ingrained that it is perhaps the bigger threat.

  • Greg Fish

    If the media arms of the Right have any potency, how did Barack Obama get elected president?

    Because the voters had it with the right screwing up wars and doing nothing about the economy. The GOP messed up repeatedly when in near total power. It’s not some big conspiracy that they lost. The Republicans have lost they way. They listen to the crazy, ideologically insane fringe and then ascribe their inability to score points with voters in not such an obsessive state of mind to some vast left wing media conspiracy.

    Sure, it’s really easy to blame it on the liberals and keep getting fawning Tea Partiers’ money and voted flowing in. To actually right one’s ship and truly govern is difficult and requires them to make choices a lot of the Tea Tinfoil crowd wouldn’t forgive because their require acknowledging reality rather than their persona fantasies. And very sadly, the Republicans chose the easy way.

    How, with the current state of things, could he be a good call for re-election?

    But Romney is? A multi-millionaire who makes any elitist tendencies Obama could’ve ever had seem like a poor person’s pretension of grandeur by comparison? Were any of the clowns in the three ring circus that was the Republican primary this year a good pick for a presidency?

    It’s all the propaganda that is already built-in to public education and discourse that isn’t even noticed by the average person unless he’s conservative.

    So if people teach something that goes against your personal ideology then it’s just an insidious propaganda effort? You know, funny thing is that leftists tend to say the exact same thing you just did but attribute it to right wing propaganda. In fact both ideological strains feel persecuted and biased against, it’s their martyrdom complex in play. You’ll declare that the majority of the media is liberal while liberals will declare that most of it to be conservative. Though over the last few years, the conservative trend has been to retreat into their ideological bubbles and see liberal bias in everything, down to the left wing of their Thanksgiving turkey.

    Evidence of this is the evolution vs. creationism issue. It gets a tremendous amount of attention in the… media precisely because it is offensive to their sensibilities.

    That’s a load of absolute crap and you know it. It gets a tremendous amount of media coverage because creationists strive for media coverage and they sure as hell cannot win on the scientific front. So they start the controversies for publicity. That’s their goal, their primary, loudly stated intention and has been from the beginning. Now you sound paranoid and woefully uninformed on the issue more than anything else.

  • Paul451

    venqax,
    I’m curious if you remembered that the US economy crashed under the previous president, not Obama? Taking the global economy down with it. The largest collapse in GDP since the Great Depression.

    I’m sure you remember it now that I’ve mentioned it, but be honest, were you remembering it while you wrote that? Because I suspect there’s a kind of subconscious mental block with many conservatives (reinforced by the media you consume) that the economy collapsed since Obama became president. You remember it when people bring it up, but then immediately tune it out and go back to acting as if Obama caused the crash.

    Likewise, you think that the US public debt was caused by Obama. Subconsciously forgetting the size of the debt blow-out under Bush before the economy collapsed. Likewise forgetting “too big to fail” was the Bush bailouts.

    And I’ll really mess with you: I don’t come from the US, and I can tell you that from an international perspective, Obama is not a left-wing president. He’s Centre-Right. The US doesn’t have a mainstream left-wing. There’s a tiny far-left fringe, like the Greens, the Centre-Right Democrats, the Republicans which are a mix of Right and Far-Right, and then the Far-Right fringe like the Tea Party. That’s it. No centrists, nor centre-left.

  • venqax

    Because the voters had it with the right screwing up wars and doing nothing about the economy.

    But that doesn’t address my point. If conservatives controlled this mythical “Right-wing mainstream (not my term) media” then Obama would probably not have been elected the first time, and even if he were, anyone running against him this time would have an easy walk—a la Hoover against FDR in 1932. No president has ever been reelected before with economic (and social) indicators so bad, and that have deteriorated so much during his term. Only a liberal media can portray Obama—and liberal ideas more generally—as at least “well intended”, no matter how miserably and repeatedly they fail. People generally believe what they are told, though hate to admit it.

    because their require acknowledging reality rather than their persona fantasies. And very sadly, the Republicans chose the easy way.

    This is unfortunately, true. But the Democrats vis-à-vis the Occupy crowd is probably doing even worse in the realm of fantasy and a lack of comprehension of reality. Pick your poison. All I’m saying is that the conservative brand gets the ugly warning labels, while the liberal brands get the bright, kid-friendly packaging. Your original question, if I recall, was Who is worse? Not who is bad and who is good. The Tea Party does demand drastic restructuring of the tax system. In that case, it is by not listening to them that the GOP is slinking down the easy path.

    “How, with the current state of things, could he be a good call for re-election? But Romney is?

    See above. Under OTBE circumstances with stats like his anybody who could get a major party nomination could beat Obama. Has nothing to do with Romney. Obama wouldn’t even be renominated by the Dems if it weren’t for his media shield. As for the Republican field this time around, it was par for any party in every presidential election in last 20 years. In case you’ve missed it, we don’t exactly live in an Age of Heroes.

    So if people teach something that goes against your personal ideology then it’s just an insidious propaganda effort?

    Where did I say that? I am against BS being taught in place of science or reason. Thought you were, too. I oppose pushing creationism, “unconventional” medicine, and anti-Western agendas all for the same reason. They are mental crap that doesn’t meet the standards of rational acceptance and doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously. What is your “personal ideology”?

    You know, funny thing is that leftists tend to say the exact same thing you just did but attribute it to right wing propaganda.

    Well of course they do. But just like IDers and creationists, all the empirical data show otherswise. This isn’t news, BTW. I don’t think it’s funny though. I find it worrisome.

    That’s a load of absolute crap and you know it. [Creationism] gets a tremendous amount of media coverage because creationists strive for media coverage and they sure as hell cannot win on the scientific front.

    Of course they seek attention. But the only attention they do get from mainstream media is negative. Still, better than nothing, so they’ll seek it. I’m only saying that the reason they get the attention, as opposed to being ignored by the media as many other conservative POVs are, is because the media love to hate them and are genuinely upset by them. I don’t know what issue you think I’m uninformed on. I have to keep track of social-political issues, it’s a large part of my job.

    I’m curious if you remembered that the US economy crashed under the previous president, not Obama?

    I do. And I blame Bush for much of that. I’m also aware that Obama has done almost exactly the wrong things since, and has made the very bad situation much worse. Perhaps unsalvageably so. I don’t say Obama caused the crash. But I do say he lit it on fire and started shooting the survivors. Do you really want to compare the size of the debt debacle in terms of Bush vs. Obama? Obama certainly doesn’t. He has managed to make W teh profligate look like a penny-pincher. W should thank him for that, at least.

    Obama is not a left-wing president. He’s Centre-Right. The US doesn’t have a mainstream left-wing.

    But the Left-Right that is relevant here is its American definition. We don’t have a European-style left or right. Thank God for that. You guys (if you’re in Europe) are in a worse mess than we are. And it’s thanks to your pursuit of “genuine” leftist policies, most obviously your enormous govt sectors and unsustainable welfare states. The same failed track, not coincidentally, that the American left wants to follow here. Obama is a the most left-wing president the US has ever had. That is all that matters. By our standards, he’s out on the wing tip. It doesn’t matter how much worse it could be if some irrelevant spectrum were applied. Even the old Soviet Politburo had a right and left wing, after all.

  • Greg Fish

    So in other words, Obama sucks, anyone should beat him, and the fact that the GOP can’t muster anything to actually change things for the better because they won’t be able to blame everything bad on Obama means there’s a liberal media conspiracy. Gotcha. Makes perfect sense.

  • Paul451

    “If conservatives controlled this mythical “Right-wing mainstream (not my term) media”

    Ah, I see where you misread what I wrote. I was referring the media arm of the “Mainstream (ie, general) right-wing”. I forgot how much the term “Mainstream Media” is repeated to you guys on the Right, over and over and over, to the point where you never hear the term “Mainstream” in any other context. Read it again, I was referring to the Murdoch empire, and its ilk; I wasn’t saying that the “Mainstream Media” is controlled by the Right, I’m saying the “Mainstream Right” has their own politically influential media arm.

    “You guys (if you’re in Europe) are in a worse mess than we are. And it’s thanks to your pursuit of “genuine” leftist policies, most obviously your enormous govt sectors and unsustainable welfare states. The same failed track, not coincidentally, that the American left wants to follow here.”

    Australia. Feel free to check out our economic performance during the global financial crisis compared to yours.

    Strong welfare. Universal healthcare (which also costs half as much as US healthcare. Half.) And a tightly regulated banking sector (which is what saved us from the GFC). Ooooh, socialism, unclean unclean.

    But even in Europe, Germany has a vastly larger welfare state than Spain, Germany was in deficit and blowing out its budget when the GFC hit, Spain was in surplus and paying off its (much lower) debt. And yet Spain is in a crisis, while Germany is motoring along happily. Likewise, many northern Euro states have much more welfare spending than Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland. Only Greece has both high pre-GFC debt and a financial crisis (And even that crisis seems to be more about a bursting German investment bubble in Greece, rather than Greek welfare.)

    Reality doesn’t conform to some right-wing morality tale (or left-wing). Nor does it match any of the crap you’ve been told by the right-wing commentators.

    “Obama is a the most left-wing president the US has ever had.”

    This has been drummed into you, over and over and over and over. Obama the socialist. Obama the socialist. Obama the socialist. Because… “People generally believe what they are told, though hate to admit it.”

  • Greg Fish

    This has been drummed into you, over and over and over and over. Obama the socialist. Obama the socialist. Obama the socialist.

    … which is kind of funny because if anything, Carter is the most left wing president in recent U.S. history and by today’s Republican standards, Roosevelt would have been considered a communist because he was famous not only for being a badass, but for creating numerous regulatory bodies to deal with business abuses and busting up a lot of monopolies to help consumers. And should I even mention FDR’s New Deal? How about Lincoln? He was pro-abolition, an idea even more radical and liberal at the time than support for gay marriage is today!

    The idea that Obama is some sort of super liberal president the likes of which America has never seen before is absurd if you bother to look through a high school American history textbook…

  • http://robwright88@gmail.com venqax

    Who are you and what have you done with the smart, articulate greg fish who writes this blog and to whom I thought I was commenting? Is he really an intellectually lopsided team or a group ID or something? Did you really read what I wrote? Anyway, I took the initial question as to whose anti-science is worse at face value and as an honest one. I said I think both are bad, but since the Left’s tends to be insidious and the Right’s superficial, the former is probably worse on balance. I never implied that Obama’s tenure is anything more or less than an exampleof what a left-biased media can help to enable. Empirically speaking, and as a scientist this should be relevant to you, no incumbent president has ever been reelected with economic (and some other) indicators as bad as Obama’s are and that have deteriorated so much during their tenure. That is simply a fact. Whether blaming him for various nameable ills is fair or even accurate or not is, politically speaking, irrelevant. I, (like you, I think?) am an academic. Whether the media turn out to be a relevant variable in “breaking” this rule of reelection is point for social science inquiry. Indications are that it is a very powerful variable. Politics is my area, so there is where I concentrate my attention for the most part. You seemed to be unusually clear-headed and unencumbered with “progressive” bilge compared to those generally who’ve been overeducated beyond the bounds of appropriate common sense, which is why your blog caught my attention. I would include myself in that group, incidentally. My colleagues are among the most incapable of objectivity of all the “scholars”, much to all our loss. Hard science I would like to leave to hard scientists. Unfortunately, many of them don’t recognize those same boundaries of knowledge.

  • Greg Fish

    Who are you and what have you done with the smart, articulate greg fish who writes this blog and to whom I thought I was commenting?

    You know, funny story. Once upon a time I disagreed with a long time reader who was very, very left wing and tended to like my posts on physics and AI on the subject of war and Wikileaks. He was all for Assange’s leaks and I, as you may well be aware, think the guy is a self-serving blowhard being used as a pawn and that his leaks weren’t in the spirit of free speech and debate but in the interest of his pocketbook and cultivated martyr status. And yes, I told him that I thought leaving Afghanistan to the Talibs was a horrible, terrible, no good idea. He also wondered what happened to the Greg Fish he used to know and read on a regular basis.

    We all have our disagreements on certain issues because we all think differently. Do I think that Obama is a great president? No, not at all. He righted the course of how we pursue and dismantle terrorist groups but his domestic policies have been a series of band aids that fail to address the real issues and create true reform. Instead of simply rushing Obamacare into action, he should’ve focused on promoting lifestyle changes since Americans’ bad habits are by far the number one reason healthcare is so damn expensive, number two being fraud, and three profiteering through loopholes and very deceitful marketing. Yes, the Republicans block everything he tries to do, kicking and screaming at every idea, but it’s his failure to offer real reforms.

    But I digress. The point is that we have a different way to look at politics and we have a divergent opinion. Is it really such a big deal? Will all the posts you enjoyed in the past now somehow hold less appeal to you because you know we disagree about political issues? I would certainly hope not.

    I, (like you, I think?) am an academic.

    Actually, I’m only a part time academic. I did research as a grad student and continue this research in my spare time. My day job is that of IT consultant. You know how that old joke goes, those who can, do, those who can’t, teach, and those who can’t do and can’t teach, consult. And those who can’t do, teach, or consult, theorize. Hiyoo! But let’s get back to your bigger point here…

    I think both [anti-sciences] are bad, but since the Left’s tends to be insidious and the Right’s superficial, the former is probably worse on balance.

    I don’t know about that. The Left certainly does its damage as I described in two posts on the subject, but the Right is like a steamroller which tries to silence scientists who will not adhere to their worldview thought censorship, dismissal of their work, or a very organized smear campaign often invoking religion and patriotism. It demands wrong, ill-intentioned, and unreasonable laws, and makes every fight personal. By contrast, a leftist set on promoting New Age claptrap is more haughty and condescending. Rarely do we see the Left erupt with outright vitriol and threats in cases other than vaccination or alternative medicine; those tend to really bring out the crazy and furious.

  • http://robwright88@gmail.com venqax

    I don’t see anyone paying attention mistaking you for a right-winger. And I don’t take you for an extreme leftist, either. I see you as a hard sci and tech guy, not a political scientist. And, it’s your take on comp tech stuff, about which I claim no knowledge whatsoever, that I find very engaging. And where the spheres of science and policy directly intersect— as with the present question– my antennae really straighten up. You are raising an overwhelmingly important issue, I think, that gets addressed far too little by anyone on the policy front. But when I get something like this, it makes wonder to whom I’m talking:

    So in other words, Obama sucks, anyone should beat him, and the fact that the GOP can’t muster anything to actually change things for the better because they won’t be able to blame everything bad on Obama means there’s a liberal media conspiracy.

    Really? What I said was that it really doesn’t matter if Obama sucks or not. Historically, and controlling for well-established variable, yes, pretty much anyone (“mainstream” enough to get the D or R nomination) would beat him. I didn’t say “should”, but would. I allowed for the fact that politically, it doesn’t matter if the bad state of things is in reality his fault or not. Executive incumbents pay the price of bad times and reap the rewards of good ones, largely divorced from their policies. True, we evidently have very different assessments of Obama’s performance, but I am not proposing that any objective evaluation of his tenure is relevant to the reelection issue. It obviously wasn’t a factor in his initial election, when he had no incumbency to cite.

    So, to the liberal media question. A conspiracy? No, there is no evidence of that. But a “cultural” bias in the media—which is quite a different thing—yes, there is plenty of evidence for that conclusion. Just as a quick, superficial example, it is not news, nor has it been contested, that the large majority of (usually between 80 and 90 percent, depending largely on how journalist is defined) journalists are Democrats. Similarly large portions consider themselves liberal or progressive as opposed to conservative. That compared to around 20 percent of the general population. Whether that is a good thing or a bad one may be a matter of opinion. But to maintain that it is irrelevant to what the media produce is not a sustainable proposition. And to further argue that news media are not relevant to the formation of public opinion is not sustainable, either. Of course it is not the only independent variable in the equation, and no one says it is. But it is a powerful one.

    The Leftist anti-science I find most disturbing is not the New Agers that you adduce, but the reverse of the Right’s. While the Right denies the validity of science to support non-rational ideas like creationism and the young earth, the Left cynically uses science by claiming it give imprimatur to non-rational Leftist beliefs when it doesn’t. Both are bad. I think the latter is in ways worse because it 1) hidden, and 2) done with the complicity of the scientific community, not in spite of it. A lot of Leftist anti-science comes from within science itself. Because of this, Leftist anti-science doesn’t get the criticism and condemnation that Rightist anti-science does. The common belief is that science supports the agenda of the Left generally, while the agenda of the Right is at odds with it. That generalization is simply not true.

  • Greg Fish

    Executive incumbents pay the price of bad times and reap the rewards of good ones, largely divorced from their policies.

    Typically this is true because a vote for the challenger in bad times is often not a show of support for the opposition as it is a punitive vote against the incumbent. But what an otherwise straightforward conclusion like this ignores is that most surveys find that the voters are livid with both parties and their support for them on the economy flip flops by several percentage points between polls. What that basically says is that the public is not happy with the economy under Obama but they’re also holding Republicans on the hook for economic woes and don’t think they’d do any better, or that they’ll institute new policies that will harm them even more to appease the Tea Party.

    Under these conditions, the parties are pretty much even on the economic front. There is a lot of talk about improving the job market but one party is ineffective and the other proposes policies interpreted either as callous or totally tone deaf. Swing voters rarely go in and pull the level on a schedule. They did this in 2010 to show Democrats that if they’re serious about improving the economy they better do it now, but not in numbers that amount to a majority, and all they got was more gridlock and partisan sniping. It’s just not a simple matter of out with the old, in with the new when there’s trouble. These elections the sentiment seems to be “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

    Just as a quick, superficial example, it is not news, nor has it been contested, that the large majority of […] journalists are Democrats.

    Funny enough, I’ve only seen the stats you cite in a study by a political scientist whose paper tried its damnest to paint all media as having a liberal bias by considering what was one of the most right-leaning governments at the time as being the political center and finding the Drudge Report, which screams partisan propaganda in 32 point font, a perfect paragon of centricity and objectivity. And even then his study found that any bias the media had to the left was easily matched by Fox News’ rightward lean. The studies he cited asked only certain reporters from papers primarily considered liberal, it wasn’t a comprehensive study of the media by any stretch of the imagination and done about a decade or so before that 2002 study was even concieved.

    The fact that the studies might be cited on right wing blogs, where the typical operating assumption is that media agencies are all overwhelmingly liberal, without question is not proof that the stats are really reliable. You’re also making absolutely no distinction between intra-party ideologies. Within the GOP you have businesspeople whose main worry is taxes and regulation on one extreme, and religious zealots who demand that Republicans turn America into a theocracy, convinced that liberals abort babies for the sheer fun of it and have gay orgies while they’re at church at the other. And on one end of the Democratic party you have rich celebrities worried about social causes, and the borderline honest to goodness socialists who want all businesses nationalized since to them, capitalism is the same thing as slavery.

    Your number about partisan affiliations is also wrong. Not only are you using statistics originally gathered in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but according to the latest polls, about 32% of the population affiliated with the Democratic party, not 20% as you say. It should also be noted that the 38% of independents tend to lean towards progressive stances on many social and economic issues, leaning by 7% in favor of gay marriage and supporting Roe v. Wade, and finding fault in the growing income disparity between senior executives and typical workers, though for different reasons than a Marxist could offer. I personally think the income disparity is a huge problem because it reflects how poorly companies bungle executive compensation and how often they pay millions for failure or guarantee so much money that the executives have no skin in the game.

    A lot of Leftist anti-science comes from within science itself.

    While I agree with your analysis about why left wing anti-science is so sneaky since in my post I pretty much wrote something rather similar, this is an assertion with I cannot agree. What part of quantum woo or spiritualistic babble comes from science? It’s the abuse of science and the mangling of real scientific ideas into a pseudoscientific word salad that’s employed by New Agers. This is the same thing as when creationists take papers out of context, dishonestly quote-mine them, then cite them as scientific, peer- reviewed evidence that evolution or the Big Bang, or a 4.5 billion year old Earth have to be atheist propaganda because they’re impossible. The scientific community regularly mocks and ridicules New Agers, it’s skeptical bloggers and science writers who often drop the ball on just saying “look folks, creationists are anti-science zealots, true, but I have to tell you, so are all those New Agers.”

  • venqax

    Typically this is true because a vote for the challenger in bad times is often not a show of support for the opposition as it is a punitive vote against the incumbent.

    Yes, but there is nothing new about this. Most voters often vote “negatively”, that is against a candidate that they especially don’t like, rather than with enthusiasm for the one they vote in favor of. The model is that OTBE, it is independents and non-partisans who go anti-incumbent in situations like we have now.

    But what an otherwise straightforward conclusion like this ignores is that most surveys find that the voters are livid with both parties … [GOP] policies that will harm them even more to appease the Tea Party.

    But again, this not new. For the past 25 years, at least, voters have been angry and unsatisfied with both parties. I don’t agree with your assessment of what most Tea Party sympatizers’ really wanting being bad policy, but it doesn’t matter when the mandate is for “change” (sound familiar?).

    They did this in 2010… and all they got was more gridlock and partisan sniping.

    If you have one party in the White House and the opposition in full or half control of the Congress, then gridlock is what you would expect. And they will most likely get it again this time. So that fear really can’t be a significant motivator at the macro level. The institutional goal of the GOP in 2010 was simply to stop more of the Obama agenda from being implemented, a la Obamacare. I don’t think “Tea Partiers” expected any positive change in their direction with Obama still president. Why would they? What is new this time is the demographics and geography of the Electoral College. Obama can afford to lose hordes of support, yet still win the needed EC votes. That is unprecedented at least in modern times. Just as an example, in 1990, California was a swing state. It elected Pete Wilson governor. It is certainly not even close to a swing state anymore. No, CA is not the whole country, but it is an illustrative example of what has happened in a lot of big states. That is maybe even more important than the media bias. I guess you simply aren’t going to believe the media bias thing, but it has been repeated in study after study, and I don’t think the basic notion of at least who the media are is disputed any longer. Look at UCLA’s in 2005 for a quick example of something more recent. See the Harvard Shorenstein Center’s study and the Washington Post’s (hardly bastions of the Right) own ombudsman’s conclusions for info relative to pro-Obama bias specifically. Maybe convincing non-conservatives that there is liberal media bias is like convincing white people there is still discrimination. They don’t see it, so they simply don’t think it’s there. Some simple easy-to-grab stats include the facts that in 2008 the employees of ABC, NBC and CBS gave 10 times as much money to Democratic candidates as to Republican ones. A 2004 Pew Research Center study of journalists and media executives put the ratio of self-identified liberals to conservatives at nearly 5 to 1. A 2007 Pew Research Center study found the ratio of 4 to 1, liberals to conservatives among journalists and news executives. A 2001 Kaiser Family Foundation poll found media professionals were nearly 7 times likelier to be Democrats rather than Republicans.

    Your number about partisan affiliations is also wrong.

    No, the 20% figure I cited was the part of the populace that call themselves liberal, not Democrats. That’s been consistent for many years. A lot more are Democrats, but not all of those, for strange and complex reasons, consider themselves to be liberals. The public perceives the bias, too. In a 2009 Gallup Poll even a small plurality of Democrats described the press as liberally biased (21%) rather than having a conservative bias (20%). I would agree that Fox News tilts right, but are you really going to say that “matches” the lean of ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, PBS, NPR and al-Jezeera (just sayin’)?
    Back in 1996 Freedom Forum, which is non-partisan, found that in presidential elections Washington correspondents vote about 93-7 for the Democrat. That is no small edge. This includes large majorities of journalists for candidates like Mondale, who didn’t even reach 40% of the popular vote. Fast-forward to 2008, John Tierney at NYT found similar numbers. In his “unscientific poll” of his colleagues, he found that Washington correspondents preferred Obama over McCain by a ratio of 92-8… 92%.

    What part of quantum woo or spiritualistic babble comes from science? It’s the abuse of science and the mangling of real scientific ideas into a pseudoscientific word salad that’s employed by New Agers.

    I agree. Neo-pagan nonsense doesn’t come from science any more than creationism does. But, as I said, that isn’t the left anti-science I find most vexing. I’m talking about social science, for example, which constantly finds support for the most empirically unsupportable social and economic engineering schemes. Or the 99% of the scientific establishment that will immediately pounce liked Brown Shirts on any indication that genetics are significantly powerful vis-à-vis environment when it comes to things like intelligence, criminal propensity, or plain old success in many endeavors. Don’t even get close to issues involving race— including the very notion that it is a concept with some objective validity. There it is the scientists themselves who are polluting science. Not anti-rational religious extremists.

    …it’s skeptical bloggers and science writers who often drop the ball on just saying “look folks, creationists are anti-science zealots, true, but I have to tell you, so are all those New Agers.”

    I agree.

  • Greg Fish

    I don’t agree with your assessment of what most Tea Party sympatizers’ really wanting being bad policy…

    An ideological purge of education isn’t bad policy? Shutting down research they refuse to try to understand isn’t bad policy? Calling getting less than 95% of their wish list an unfair compromise isn’t bad policy? Holding the government hostage while having a temper tantrum, then justifying holding a gun to the government’s head in a game of political brinksmanship as a noble deed isn’t bad policy?

    Maybe convincing non-conservatives that there is liberal media bias is like convincing white people there is still discrimination.

    There are so many conservatives screaming bias when they hear something they just don’t like that it’s become a case of the boy who cried wolf. Conservatives don’t want to hear that Obama did something well or that liberals had a good idea. In their world, it’s just not possible because liberals are always naive and stupid and can’t come up with anything of merit. You can throw out whatever numbers you want but without citation or some sort of updated study, you’re not going to convince anyone who isn’t ready to get on board with you right away. You finally did produce some statistics but you didn’t give us any links so we can go straight to the report as I did in my rebuttal.

    No, the 20% figure I cited was the part of the populace that call themselves liberal, not Democrats. That’s been consistent for many years.

    You’re using the term as an indictment, almost like an admission of guilt. Aha! They’re liberals! They’re biased! If you would’ve taken another look at my rebuttal, you would’ve noticed that no matter what they call themselves, some 60% of the population tends to ascribe to liberal ideas such as support for gay marriage, are pro-choice, and criticize income inequality. Maybe the media seems liberally biased not because there are all those liberals infesting it, but because Americans lean a lot closer to the left than you believe and the media tries to reflect their views rather than brainwash them?

    Or the 99% of the scientific establishment that will immediately pounce liked Brown Shirts on any indication that genetics are significantly powerful vis-à-vis environment when it comes to things like intelligence, criminal propensity, or plain old success…

    -15 for the Godwin. Come on, really? The reason why scientists pounce on this notion is because it’s an incredibly naive and simplistic view of how genetics work. I’ve written several posts on why eugenics experiments based on these ideas failed terribly and a scientist worth his salt will point out that we have no idea which genes are involved or influence intelligence and behavior, or if they’re really as important as the environment when it comes to the real world. What you’re espousing was considered junk science by the 1970s so you’re about 40 years out of date with biology.

  • venqax

    An ideological purge of education isn’t bad policy? Shutting down research they refuse to try to understand isn’t bad policy?

    Oh, brother. Just when you think you’re making headway. J/k. But you do seem to labor under a misconception that people vote based mainly on some rational criteria. In fact, peoples’ voting behavior is much more emotionally based. Again, remember Hope and Change? The former garnering recogntion for managing the immense challenge of being even more amorphous and vague than the latter?
    I don’t know what Tea Party goals that purge education or attack research you’re talking about. Though education, both higher and lower could no doubt use a purging—which is a big part of my point– I don’t know what the Tea Party’s criteria for it would be. The closest thing to an official agenda from any supposed Tea Party organization, the Contract From America, is all aimed at smaller, cheaper govt. and originalist constitutional ideas. Like real estate’s top three are loctation, location, and location, the Tea Party emphasizes smaller govt, less govt, and smaller govt. that does less. If anything, I get the idea that they don’t care about anything but money, and I know some activists. Ron Paul has tried to sew onto to it the Libertarian foreign policy agenda of disengagement, but the Tea Party says nothing about foreign policy except stop spending money on it. I think perhaps you are confounding the Tea Party with specific politicians and other movements that may overlap it somewhat, like the Libertarian Party. A common mistake encouraged, dare I say it, by the media. Did you know that self-ID’ed Tea Partiers are almost ¼ non-white (just like the population at large) and around 20% folks who voted for Obama in 08? That doesn’t get reported a lot, either. Those numbers come from CBS/NYT polls, not Fox. If you go to an actual TP event, you’ll probably be surprised that it isn’t simply a gathering of old, white hicks with no edumication.

    Holding the government hostage while having temper tantrums, then justifying holding a gun to the government’s head…

    Forcing an agenda in one way or another is what all groups do when they can. Certainly Leftist groups have done it a lot in the past 70 years. At least the TP are actually voters, as opposed to courts or politicians ignoring the people. Gridlock is how the Constitution sets things up. It is what is supposed to happen when sides can’t agree and control different branches. The idea is that a govt doing nothing is preferable to a govt doing bad things. A very American idea, actually. What would be good policy? Ignoring the wishes of a group of voters large enough and organized enough to put a number of politicians in office sufficient to “hold things hostage”?

    There are so many conservatives screaming bias when they hear something they just don’t like…

    But I’m not those conservatives and that is not what I am saying. Blaming Obama for everything is no more justified than those who blamed a/o still blame Bush for everything (like Obama does, for one).

    You finally did produce some statistics but you didn’t give us any links so we can go straight to the report as I did in my rebuttal.

    I cited the pollsters—no bunch of amateurs or conservatives—and the years of the polls. What do you want for a buck fifty on a post? APA? Here’s the thing: There are 2 ways of looking at the claim of media bias. One way is to poll members of the media about their political views. That has been done many, many times over the past 30 years or more and the results have been consistent that they are much more liberal, Democratic, left-leaning, whatever label you want, than the general population is. The data say that DC journos, e.g., voted for Obama at more than a 9 to 1 ratio. And no one disputes those figures. Maybe you don’t believe it, but then you have a problem with denial of empirical evidence, which I would think you would be critical of. There are no data, none, that show reporters overall to be mainly conservative, or Republican, or that say 8 or 9 out of 10 of them voted for Bush, or Dole, or McCain. Now, to infer from those data that the media’s coverage is therefore liberally biased is admittedly a different thing. Journalists like to claim that despite their own biases, they are even-handed in their reportage of news (which is absurd on its face). So the other way to test the question is through content analysis of actual reporting. Again, that has been done many, many times by many organizations including universities. And again, they have found liberal bias in media coverage. Not as much, admittedly, as a simple poll of party and voting behavior would imply (north of 90%), but present nonetheless. Somewhat ironically, the most obvious victim of this bias in 08 was not McCain, but Clinton. Because her supporters were other leftists, their cries of bias in favor of Obama were actually taken seriously and investigated almost honestly by the media itself. They also pretty well reduced the idea that reporters are neutral in their coverage to the “laughable” category, beyond the cries of those right-wing wackos who’d claimed it for years. If you don’t believe it, there is nothing I can say to convince you. Just like the guy here who thinks socialism actually works and has the warped lenses of Party-issued glasses to see it wherever there is “free” medicine. I am sure you have confronted this yourself: The sky is blue—(see Dinglebum, et al, “Primary Colors in Nature”).

    …some 70% of the population tends to ascribe to liberal ideas such as support for gay marriage, are pro-choice…

    I don’t know where you are getting those numbers, but they are very wrong. Both gay marriage and pro-/anti-abortion positions come out very evenly divided in every poll. Hence the intransigence of the issues. No poll has ever shown more than 50ish percent in favor of gay marriage, and that is with qualifiers. If anything close to 70% were true, it would be even harder to explain why 30 or so states have passed either statutes or constitutional amendments in the past few years specifically banning gay marriage. Every time it’s been put to a direct referendum—the most telling kind of poll—it’s been rejected. Even in deep blue California. And large majorities, in some polls near 80%, favor restrictions on abortion. Abortion-on- demand a la undiluted Roe v Wade commands only about 20% support. The longtime adage that America is a center-right country overall holds most all the time.

    The reason why scientists pounce on this notion is because it’s an incredibly naive and simplistic view of how genetics work.

    What view of how genetics work? The view is simply that it works at all. It is not naïve, simplistic, outdated, or unsupported to say that genes influence behavior and intelligence. Of course they do. Exactly how they do so—and the fact that we don’t know — is precisely why the question should be being vigorously investigated. Science, or more so the academic scientific establishment, won’t even allow those questions to be asked. And it bars them for reasons that are entirely political, not scientific. And you are right, I shouldn’t have invoked Brown Shirts, I should have said Rotfront. Lol.