The method of liars, cowards, bullies, and hypocrites, is ever and always to block the road of inquiry. I see in the news that a Missouri State Senator wishes to obstruct the completion of a Ph.D. candidate’s dissertation, a study of the effects of how the state’s 72-hour wait period on abortions actually effects women. It of course goes without saying that the senator creating this obstruction is a Republican, which is to say, a conservative. Conservatives have never been shy about suppressing academic speech (political correctness is not an exclusively liberal problem), and others before me have written about the “Republican war on science.” This latter has been objected to on the grounds that liberals are as likely to hold anti-scientific views as conservatives. I’ll address this in a moment.
The question to ask right here is: if truth is on your side, why would you demand that research be terminated before it is even published? The liars, the cowards, the bullies, and the hypocrites, will all proclaim that the results are nothing more than mere propaganda. But how would they know that? Where is their research to show as much? The answer, of course, is that they have no research; their conclusions are nothing more than vicious ideology which they have imposed upon the world by force, rejecting out of hand any form of inquiry. Perhaps the dissertation, once finished, will be flawed in some respects. Such flaws, by the bye, need not in any way undermine that dissertation’s qualities as a piece of research. All research is, in some very real sense, flawed, because no line of inquiry – insofar as it is rational – can ever be the final word on a subject. Inquiry advances our state of knowledge by enabling us to ask better questions. And herein lies the objection of the liars, cowards, bullies, and hypocrites: they don’t want better questions, because they refuse to permit any questions at all.
With regard to the “liberals do it too” (LDIT) defense, it is certainly the case that many persons of left leaning political persuasions entertain a great deal of truly childish notions. But exactly what is the breakout of such ideas, between various groups? I have seen some who voiced the LDIT position hold up then candidate Barack Obama’s 2008 anti-vaccine “position.” But, while Obama did understate the scientific evidence in favor of vaccines, he hardly demanded that emails from vaccine researchers be handed over in a witch-hunt designed to manufacture collusion between researchers and vaccine manufacturers. The second fallacy, beyond this equivocation, is the kind of argument from ignorance that takes it for granted that certain claims are “obviously” more common amongst liberals. In connection with the first point, recall that, for a very long time, everybody “just knew” that anti-vaccine nonsense was an “overwhelmingly liberal” position in its orientation. Until, of course, somebody actually bothered to collect and analyze the data, and that assumption was demonstrated to be false. The truth is, we know very little about how anti-scientific attitudes break out amongst political orientations at large. The third aspect of the LDIT fallacy is that conservatives are not content to entertain anti-scientific ideas, they insist on entrenching these ideas in enforced public policy, and they exploit positions in government to force such entrenchment. THAT is arguably the real difference, the actual “war” on science.
Before continuing, one disturbing example needs to be mentioned, and that is the shameful attacks on Dr. Kevin Folta. Folta has long been engaged in scientific outreach programs, that is to say, on programs that base their claims on actual science, rather than propaganda and ideology. Folta’s university (NOT Folta himself!) received a $25,000.00 grant to support this outreach process through a minimum once-a-month trip for one year, covering travel, food, and the provision of a projector that Folta could use during his talks. Folta himself received no remuneration of any kind. Yet when anti-GMO dogmatists learned of this arrangement, they immediately went on the warpath against both Folta and his university, even going so far as making anonymous death threats. Compare this with the mindless love-fest these same ranting ideologues frequently heap upon Vananda Shiva. Describing many of Shiva’s statements as “dubious” arguably stretches the limits of euphemism. Unlike Folta, whose only remuneration was his university pay, Shiva receives $40,000.00 for every speaking engagement! (And this is above and beyond the money that must be spent to pay for her travel.) This money goes directly into Shiva’s pocket. But Folta is damned for presenting actual science, with no more recompense than a projector and a few sandwiches, while Shiva is made shockingly wealthy for spoon-feeding fatuous tripe to the willfully credulous.
Now, it is certainly believable that the overwhelming majority of people who swallow the anti-GMO nonsense are well to the left on the political spectrum. This is because anti-GMO and anti-corporate sentiments are so tightly bound that the people themselves make no effort to distinguish or understand them. (Thus, GMO crops get blamed for trends toward monoculture. But these trends are exclusively the product of business and marketing practices of corporations like Monsanto, which would be taking place regardless of the seeds being sold.) Of course, we don’t actually know that this is the case, because no one has bothered to do the necessary studies. This example usefully exemplifies the difference between conservative and liberal anti-scientific movements. What distinguishes the conservatives, and what justifies Mooney’s phrase of a “war on science,” is not the level of ignorance or vituperative personal attack, but the comprehensive nature of the conservative attacks, and their insistence on building their ideology into public policy.
The fact that so many conservatives in federal and state government espouse grossly anti-scientific nonsense – creationism, climate science denialism – is itself suggestive (but not demonstrative) of the broader base of anti-scientific attitudes among conservatives than liberals: after all, somebody had to elect them.
These elected conservatives have seldom hesitated to use their positions in government to harass scientists, and legislate by law and by force that certain types of inquiries will not be pursued. So we have the example of the Attorney General of Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli leveraging his political position in an attempt to silence climate scientists. We have the example of almost every single Republican in both the House and the Senate fighting tooth, claw, and nail to shut down the EPA’s efforts to rein in green house gas emissions. We see the CDC forbidden for a number of years from gathering data on death and injury due to firearms. At the state levels we see doctors forbidden from even talking about such things, while legislators and boards of education spew nonsense about “teaching the controversy,” when there is no scientific controversy to be taught. (Note, however, how anti-GMO ideologues who carry on about labeling foods, are functionally indistinguishable from creationists who blather about “teaching the controversy.” They both manufacture a false equivalence between their ideology and genuinely scientific facts, and then demand that they be treated as standing on the same footing. But foods are supposed to be labeled because of the actual relevance of the items listed, not the ideological propaganda of anti-scientific dogmatists. By trying to force GMO labeling, a false equivalence is legislated which cannot be justified by an appeal to scientific facts.)
Which brings us back to the “good” State Senator from Missouri. His attitude, in effect is that, “We must not, under any circumstances, permit a study to be performed about the actual effects of our ideologically driven legislation on actual people. Our ex cathedra declarations have already told us what the “truth” is, so why should we be so de classé as to permit real logic, principles, evidence, or facts, to interfere with our kerygmas?”
If you are really worried about bias in the research, then the corrective is more research, not the elimination of all research. But the liars, cowards, bullies, and hypocrites, already know this, which is why they fight against it with such unbridled fervor.