The New York Times claims that this insane “presidential vaccine controversy” we’re all taking about raises important questions about “how to approach matters that have been settled among scientists but are not widely accepted by conservatives.”
Well, here’s another question: How do we deal with the false perception that liberals are more inclined to trust science than conservatives? Or, how do we approach the media’s fondness for focusing on the unscientific views of some conservatives but ignoring the irrational—and oftentimes, more consequential—beliefs of their fellow liberals?
It’s no big deal for us to ask Republican evolution skeptics to raise their hands or force a bogus Senate vote to try and shame Republicans, yet no reporter would ever think to ask a pro-choice politician if they believe life begins at conception. Sometimes denialism matters and sometimes it doesn’t.
Though outing a GOP candidate as a skeptic of science may confirm the secular liberal’s own sense of intellectual superiority, it usually has nothing to do with policy. Then again, if you walk around believing that pesticides are killing your children or that fracking will ignite your drinking water or if you hyperventilate about the threat of the ocean consuming your city, you have a viewpoint that not only conflicts with science but undermines progress. So how do we approach matters that have been settled among scientists but are not widely accepted by liberals?
There is little proof that conservatives are any less inclined to vaccinate their children than anyone else. If we’re interested in politicizing the controversy, though, there is a good case to be made for the opposite.
For starters, polls show that millennials (most of which lean liberal) are far more skeptical about vaccines than older Americans. You’ll notice that laws with easier loophole exemptions from vaccination are most often found in blue states, where we also find the most outbreaks. You might also notice that leading anti-vaxers like RFK Jr. are writing in the mainstream Rolling Stone, not National Review. As New York Times itself already reported, half of the children attending schools in Marin County go unvaccinated by their enlightened parents. And here’s Jason Millman at the Washington Post digging deeper:
The communities where anti-vaxxers cluster are also among the most liberal. Marin County, San Francsico County and Alameda County all voted overwhelmingly for Obama in 2008. In Marin, 78 percent of the vote went to Obama. In San Francisco, it was 84 percent. And in Alameda, it was 79 percent. That’s all higher than what Obama got in his own home county of Cook County, Illinois. Here, too, Sacramento is an exception. Only 58 percent of the county went for Obama in 2008.
Anecdotally speaking, when I followed this issue in Colorado years back, it always seemed to me that the most vociferous anti-vax parents were from the organic hotbed of Boulder rather than God-fearing Colorado Springs—although neither place was innocent. In an interview with Science magazine, Seth Mnookin, author of “The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear,” a book exploring the scare over the vaccine-autism link, was asked whether the perception that “vaccine refusal is especially common among affluent, well-educated, politically liberal parents” was true. He answered:
It’s dangerous to make broad generalizations about a group, but anecdotally and from the overall data that’s been collected it seems to be people who are very actively involved in every possible decision regarding their children’s lives.
None of this is particularly surprising. Modern environmentalism perpetuates myths about the inorganic world and the evils of Big Pharma. It’s adherents are just as likely to be in conflict with settled science as anyone else.
Global Warming Alarmism
The perception that one political group is less science-savvy than another is predominately driven by the unwillingness of many conservatives to accept global-warming alarmism and the policies purportedly meant to mitigate it. But when it comes to climate change, volumes could be written about the ill-conceived, unscientific, over-the-top predictions made by activists and politicians.
We could start with our own Malthusian Science Czar, who once predicted that climate change would cause the deaths of a billion people by 2020 and that sea levels would rise by 13 feet. In 2009, James Hansen, one of nation’s most respected climate scientists, told President Obama that we have “only four years left to save the earth.” In 1988, he predicted parts of Manhattan would be underwater by 2008. If you don’t like high-speed rail, Jerry Brown will let you know that LAX Airport is going to be underwater. And so on and on and on. What we most often hear from science-loving environmentalists is nothing more than speculation.
If there weren’t some kind of left-wing ideological endgame propelling this tendentious guesswork and scaremongering about a relatively small changes in earth’s climate, it would be laughed out of any serious debate. Yet, in the contemporary world, there is no consequence for being a professional Chicken Little. In fact, the media puts you on Team Science.
Genetically Modified Foods
Undermining the future of genetically modified crops—a process, that in one form or another, humans have been engaged in for around 10,000 years —probably hurts society (the poor, in particular) more than any global warming denial ever could. Across the world, almost every respected scientific organization that’s taken a look at independent studies has found that GMOs are just as safe as any other food. There is no discernable health difference between conventional or organic food. There is a difference, though, in productivity, in environment impact and the in ability of the world’s poor to enjoy healthier, high-caloric diets for a lot less money.
Yet, while Republicans are evenly divided on whether genetically modified foods are unsafe, Democrats believe so by a 26-point margin. Liberals across the United States—New York, California, Oregon, and Massachusetts recently—have been pushing for labeling foods to create the perception that something is wrong with it. Science disagrees. Reporters at some of the country’s biggest newspapers might wonder how Democrats will approach this matter that has been settled among scientists.
Hydraulic fracturing is as safe as any other means of extracting fossil fuels. It creates hundreds of thousands of jobs. It provides cheaper energy for millions of Americans. It has less of an environmental impact than other processes. It means less dependency on foreign oil. It helped the economy work its way out of a recession. So 62 percent of Republicans support science and 59 percent of Democrats oppose it. Even though numerous scientific studies— one funded by the National Science Foundation that debunked the purported link between groundwater pollution and fracking—have assured us that there’s nothing to fear.
We don’t need to get into the catalogue of preposterous studies that have been uncritically thrown around by Nanny State liberals over the past few decades—including debunked scaremongering about obesity and second-hand smoke. The same goes for all brands of localism, organic farming, irrational fears about DDT and trade—all positions that undermine progress. Let’s chalk this up to an innate impulse most people have to bolster their worldview. Believe whatever makes you feel good.
Then again, what are we to make of people who mock religion as imaginary but believe a sun sign should determine whom you date or are concerned that they will be wisked away in a flying saucer?
According to a Huff Post/YouGov poll, 48 percent of adults in the United States believe that alien spacecrafts are observing our planet right now. Among those who do believe extraterrestrials are hanging around, 69 percent are Democrats, a far higher number than Republicans. Democrats were also significantly more likely than Republicans to believe in fortune telling, and about twice as likely to believe in the astrology. I won’t even get into 9/11 truthers.
For many conservatives, resolving issues of faith and science can be tricky. What excuse do Democrats have? Maybe someone at the New York Times can find out.