Mooney takes issue with Shermer’s claim


Uh oh – batten down the hatches. Board up the windows, hide all the knives, tie down everything loose. Michael Shermer tweets

Chris Mooney takes issue with my claim that there’s a liberal war on science: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/03/theres-no-such-thing-liberal-war-science …

So in a few minutes there will be a 5000 word piece up at eSkeptic, right? Ripping Mooney a new orifice and calling him a Nazi McCarthyite witch-hunting inquisitor? Right? Because it’s not permitted to take issue with a claim of Michael Shermer’s?

A small sample:

Shermer’s article ends with a statement that, as far as I can tell, is just incorrect: “Surveys show that moderate liberals and conservatives embrace science roughly equally,” he writes. I’m not sure where he gets this, but for a direct rebuttal let me point you to a recent study in the American Sociological Review by Gordon Gauchat, which finds that unlike liberals or moderates, conservatives have lost trust in science rather precipitously over the past several decades.

None of this should be surprising. As I argued on The Agenda, it’s no accident that conservatives have more problems with science than do liberals. It’s part of their personality and who they are. We know, from decades of psychological research, that conservatives are less open to new ideas and experiences, and have a higher need for cognitive closure—the desire to have fixed beliefs and certainties that are unchanging. So of course they find a dynamic force like science, which excels at upsetting the applecart, to be threatening. That oft cited statistic about only 6 percent of American Association for the Advancement of Science members being Republicans—get over it already. It’s not remotely surprising.

That’s a small sample. The whole piece is about Shermer and his wrongness! Most of my column that criticized Shermer’s sexist claim was about something else, not Shermer and his wrongness (or his sexist claim) at all. So that means Shermer will write about 20,000 words calling Mooney a Nazi etcetera, right?

Or not. Any bets? I’m betting he won’t. Why? Because Mooney wrote a best-seller, and he writes for major media, and he’s a guy. Shermer sees him as an equal. I’m betting he won’t respond that way to someone he sees as an equal. I think he felt free to respond to me the way he did because I don’t have anywhere near the clout that Mooney has, so responding to me that way seemed safe. I don’t mean I think he thought about it in those words, but I think he felt comfortable writing about me the way he did, and I strongly suspect he would not feel comfortable writing about Mooney that way, and I think those are the reasons. Mooney is an insider and a colleague, and I’m not, so calling Mooney ludicrously hyperbolic names would be awkward while calling me them would not. Mooney is a guy, and I’m not, so calling Mooney ludicrously hyperbolic names would be awkward while calling me them would not. I don’t know that; it’s an interpretation; but we know I’m factually correct about at least one part of it: Shermer did call me those ludicrously hyperbolic names.

Comments

  1. says

    Mooney vs. Shermer?

    My tribalism is failing me. Don’t know if I should be rooting against the accommodationist or the libertarian.

    guess I’m just going to have to side with reality, which seems to be for once on Mooney’s side

    :-p

  2. Ulysses says

    Mooney is going back to where he was when he wrote “The Republican War on Science”.

  3. says

    Witch hunt! Nazi persecution! Oh wait, that’s only when feminists criticize you for saying sexist things. Otherwise it’s just criticism.

  4. mutt50 says

    I tried reading Shermer’s book, “The mind of the market”. I managed to get to the part where he let’s George Will, who he describes as a “savvy social commentator”, explain the economics of Wal Mart, before I tossed it.
    Shermer is another conservative who is ashamed of how conservatives act, and has labeled himself a “libertarian” . Which is what phoney. reactionaries call themselves when they are embarrassed at who they are.

  5. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    Oreskes and Conway, authors of Merchants of Doubt, have a different explanation for right-wing anti-science, which they see as a phenomenon of the last few decades; in 1968, Nixon got the votes of:

    of 31 percent of physicists, 42 percent of biologists, 52 percent of geologists, and 62 percent of agricultural scientists (compared with 43.4 percent of the popular vote)

    .
    Basically, over the decades since then, scientific findings have increasingly undermined free-market ideology, by showing that regulation is necessary to protect the public and the environment: hence, the right has turned against science, and so scientists have turned against the right.

    I suspect Shermer’s SciAm article is part of a trend we’ll see a lot more of: a drive by the “libertarian” right to deny the truth that it is indeed on the right that anti-science has real power. A recent book, Science Left Behind by Alex Berezow and Hank Campbell, makes similar claims. Berezow claims to be politically neutral, saying he bats “for Team Science” but described Barack Obama as “far-left” and a “progressive” (this is Berezow’s hate-word, and revealingly, he places “progressives” opposite “libertarians” on a simplistic two-dimensional chart of political positions) when puffing his book at the American Enterprise Institute. IOW, he’s a shameless, barefaced liar.

    There’s an instructive parallel between these claims, and those of the slymepitters that FtB is just as bad as the Slymepit when it comes to abuse and harrassment. Yes, there are anti-science elements on the left, just as as few on the feminist side have said things they shouldn’t have in the course of the Deep Rift. But in both cases, a false equivalence is being drawn: on one side, the problem is systemic, meets little criticism from those on the “same side”, and involves the large-scale, persistent, deliberate harrassment of specific individuals; on the other, it is sporadic, regularly criticised by those on the same side, and involves very little such harrassment.

  6. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    Follow-up to #8. One of Berezow’s claims is that “when someone on the far left, when President Barack Obama says that vaccines might cause autism, that was ignored”. The video linked to doesn’t go as far as when he apparently details this, but it’s a reference to an event in the 2008 campaign, described here by The Washington Post. As can be seen there, while Obama could certainly be criticised for what he said in response to a question from the audience:
    1) At the time, as the Post says: “The U.S. Court of Federal Claims has set aside a trust fund of $2.5 billion to compensate children suffering from autism if it can be demonstrated that their condition is caused by vaccines for measles, mumps, and rubella, usually administered between the ages of one and two.” Moreover, although it was certainly the mainstream scientific view that there was almost certainly no link, the CDC was still funding research into the possibility of a link. So there was at least some excuse.
    2) McCain had already made a stronger statement to the same effect (Obama said “the science is inconclusive, but we have to research it. We can’t afford to junk our vaccine system, we have to figure out what’s happening.”; McCain, that: “there’s strong evidence that indicates it’s got to do with a preservative in vaccines.”).
    3) Clearly, it was not ignored by the “MSM”, since it was discussed in The Washington Post.
    Again, exactly the kind of systematic distortion and selective complaints we see from the ‘pitters.

  7. Pieter B, FCD says

    I’ve seen very little evidence to refute Jamy Ian Swiss’ statement that “Libertarianism is a pseudoscience.

  8. says

    KG #8:

    There’s an instructive parallel between these claims, and those of the slymepitters that FtB is just as bad as the Slymepit when it comes to abuse and harrassment. Yes, there are anti-science elements on the left, just as as few on the feminist side have said things they shouldn’t have in the course of the Deep Rift. But in both cases, a false equivalence is being drawn: on one side, the problem is systemic, meets little criticism from those on the “same side”, and involves the large-scale, persistent, deliberate harrassment of specific individuals; on the other, it is sporadic, regularly criticised by those on the same side, and involves very little such harrassment.

    Unfortunately, no matter how many similarities we see between the pitizens and “libertarian” Right, we’ll likely never ditch them because a lot of big names will throw up their hands wailing about purges and tribalism and crap, because we have to protect the rich white guys like Shermer for being called out as the political woomeisters they are.

  9. bad Jim says

    Shermer’s response to Mooney is going to be different from his response to Benson because the issues are different. There’s something about sexism that makes a lot of men respond at a very emotional level. There’s of course the response that “I’m not a bad guy!” (and that may be 90% of it), but there’s a common conviction that certain fields of endeavor belong to men, and that existing social arrangements, from academia to professional conferences and trade shows, are simply facts of life to be tolerated and “boys will be boys”.

    The controversy over the remarks by Larry Summers that advanced math and physics were exclusively for men showed me how reflexively sexist my fellow liberals could be (and how ineffective I am as an advocate for feminism), and subsequent controversies over social events further emphasized how unaware even thinkers I otherwise respect can be about the sexual implications of their behavior.

    Pointing out someone’s racism tends to provoke a somewhat similar response, except that the reciprocal gambit “it’s racist to call me racist” is less often employed in the sexual arena. For some reason it’s more acceptable for whites to call blacks racist than for men to call women sexist.

    Sexism is a minefield. Here there be tygers. People feel hurt if you suggest they’re wrong. In contrast, pointing out that conservatives are fearful uptight conformists by nature isn’t going to upset the people who read about science, since they pretty much by definition don’t belong to that tribe.

  10. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    For some reason it’s more acceptable for whites to call blacks racist than for men to call women sexist. – bad Jim

    I disagree with this point. Practically every MRA who turns up at Pharyngula, for example, does exactly that.

  11. chrislawson says

    There is pseudoscience everywhere. On the left, on the right, in the middle, inside august scientific bodies, and even amongst Nobel Prize winning scientists (Pauling on vitamin C! Tinbergen on autism! Montagnier on teleporting DNA! Mullis on HIV!).

    The problem that Shermer doesn’t seem to acknowledge is that the anti-scientific forces on the right of politics are more dangerous (the potential fallout from global warming denial makes mindless anti-GM activism look like a quaint hobby), more politically powerful (there are large, influential interest groups pushing for creationism to be taught in public schools; I don’t see anything remotely equivalent from the left), and more politically repressive (so the left is more like to want to take away guns — but the right is against contraception, abortion, equal voting access for all ethnic groups, gay marriage, fair electoral boundaries, unionisation, pornography which of course they get to define, sex education, secularism, stem cell research, climate research, the right of maliciously-convicted prisoners to sue those who put them in jail, support for rape victims, Miranda rights, Project Innocence, and so and and so on).

    One would think that a true dyed-in-the-wool libertarian would look at what the two major parties stand for and decide that the Democrats’ gun-control philosophy, even though they dislike it, is vastly superior to the numerous severe curtailments of personal liberty that the Republicans want to foist on the American people. But I think mutt50 is right. Libertarians aren’t really interested in personal liberty. They’re arch-conservatives who don’t like being called Republican but mostly end up voting for them anyway.

  12. bad Jim says

    Nick Gotts, you’re right, though misandry isn’t a household word, and it moreover may be the case that most men are unapologetically sexist. Still, I’ve had discussions about Elevatorgate with one or two guys who deny that they’re sexist but defend Tosh’s rape jokes and propositioning people they’ve just met.

    It would be surprising if I was right, since nobody admits to being racist and hardly anybody claims to be feminist.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>