29 September 2010

lifted from the comments

So on my both-parties-are-anti-science post, Jim left the following comment. I started responding, but then decided It would be easier to just respond up here.
I fully agree with this, and after having read Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt I was ready for this specific result to come down the pike.

But isn't at least very slightly different that Team Red is denying several decades of empirical environmental science with potentially catastrophic repercussions and Team Blue is ignoring slightly less than a handful of actuarial charts with a potential harm of a few thousand deaths each year?

I'm not trying to be snarky here; I've just barely dipped my toes into statistics, regressions and econometrics. Not nearly enough to comment with anything resembling authority.
First of all, I was really looking forward to reading Traffic when it came out, and then I got it from the library, and then I had to return it before I got a chance to read it, and then I never got around to checking it out again. So sad.

Anyway, here's my actual response:

I don't think I would make this traffic analysis the linchpin of my "Democrats also ignore science" argument, but's it's a nice bite-sized piece.

If I absolutely had to put one of the two major parties in charge of science policy, I'd probably even chose the Democrats.  That's mostly because of the difference in rhetoric though.  Democrats seem to ignore science despite what they claim to think, while the Republicans seem to really revel in ignoring it.

So yes, I think there's a difference between this issue and the GOP's position on climate change. But what about all the other issues?

I'll add in anti-evolution foolishness for the Red Team, but in the Blue Team's column I'd add opposition to GM agriculture, opposition to genetic screening and testing of humans in various forms, the brouhaha last year from women's groups about mammograms, the similar stink from similar groups in the 90's about breast implants, the ends-justify-the-means exaggerations when it comes to second- and even third-hand smoking, similar exaggerations regarding trans-fat and salt and other dietary issues, campaigns against plastic bags, anti-trade policies,* and so on. Then there are things that aren't really partisan positions but I have a sort of vague notion of being associated with liberals, like anti-vaccine and anti-germ theory positions, and sundry flakiness about autism.**

(I feel like I could put together a similarly lengthy list of nonsense for people on the right, but I don't feel like I need to convince anyone that they aren't consistently science-friendly.)

Put it all together and I contend you have two parties both of which are pretty hostile to science when they feel it suits them.

* This last one is assuming we consider economics a science, which I think on this issue at least we can since there's such strong agreement in the profession for freer trade.

** I don't have any evidence supporting by view that more people on the left support these positions than do people on the right, but I'd love to see some numbers either way. I can tell you Bill Mahar believes both of the first two, but that's only a single data point.


  1. Yeah. Team Blue is teh suxors. I'd forgotten about all the smoking and trans-fat stuff.

    I suppose that given the general voting blocs of the two parties, I equate Team Red with a loathing of science and Team Blue with an ignorance of science. They manifest similarly in policy, but in attitudes I think they are very different.

    And of course, our elite law-makers with their highly trained staffers from elite universities are probably less loathing and/or ignorant than their respective voting blocs, so the parties under scrutiny escape no condemnation.

    Thanks for the response.

  2. I hadn't thought of a distinction between loathing and ignorance, but I like that idea. I'd have to mull it over a bit more.