Got facts? The boring, ignorant, anti-liberal, science-communication-environment polluting “who is more anti-science” game

I haven’t really been paying that much attention but I gather that some attention-seeking talking head—or maybe multiple of them—have decided that their own best available current strategy for getting people to pay attention to them instead of some other attention-seeking, know-nothing talking head who also has nothing important to say is to recycle the evidence-free assertion that the “left” is anti-science b/c of “its” supposed view that vaccines cause autism.

I guess the sheer tedium of shooting down such nonsense is too self-indulgent a reason not to keep shooting down such views given how much harm this sad feature of our political discourse can inflict.

It’s important to clear such bullshit from the pathways of collective opinion formation first, b/c our society really does need an accurate understanding of why perceptions of risk and similar beliefs about policy-relevant facts sometimes (but very very infrequently) become entangled in antagonistic cultural meanings, and second, b/c the false assertion that one or another cultural group is “unreasoning,” “anti-science” etc. is almost certainly one of the mechanisms by which such entanglements get perpetuated.


No, it’s not the case that that “liberals” are more likely to be anti-vaccine than “conservatives.”

And guess what? People on the “right” are  not meaningfully “anti-vaccine” either, as you can see (if you can’t see that in the figure, what does that mean?).

And –despite the boring boring boring “growing anti-science sensibility” trope to the contrary– there’s no meaningful correlation between either climate-change skepticism or disbelief in evolution and the perception that childhood vaccines endanger public health!

So next time you want to “sound smart” without knowing anything, please don’t make that claim either.  Becaues the truth– in case that really matters to you & isn’t something you just say you care about for effect–is that there is widspread cultural consensus in the US that universal vaccination is a very valuable thing.

Also, while we are on the topic: No, there’s no meaningful correlation between holding “liberal”—or “conservative”—views and being concerned about GM food risks!  In fact, the vast majority of ordinary people don’t have any particular opinion on GM foods whatsoever!

And in case you were even thinking of going there, don’t:

There’s no meaningful correlation between believing raw milk is healthy and conventional political outlooks in the general population!

Same for risks of high-voltage power lines and cellphones (and flouridation of water and medical x-rays, etc.), so if you think holding forth on those w/o knowing anything will make you sound smart, just don’t. Okay?

Yes, there are small groups of people who believe absurd, unscientific things about vaccines, GM foods, pasteurization of milk & all these other things.

If you are genuinely worried about people spreading misinformation about consequential matters– & you should be on vaccines, GM foods etc.– great! By all means call them out on it!

Just don’t say that that what weird unrepresentative groups are doing is evidence of a “creeping anti-science” sensibility in the public or of the hostility toward science of large communities of Americans who hold completely ordinary political or cultural outlooks.

We live in a nation with 3.2×10^8 people—so you can find large, in absolute terms, numbers of people who believe anything (e.g., that “contrails” are some sort of mind-controlling gas being sprayed by the CIA etc.).

People who believe those weird-ass things might have similar views on politics (I have no idea, frankly, whether people who are anti-vax hold similar political outlooks).

But it is a logical fallacy to infer that therefore all other people who hold those views on politics generally believe in whatever weird things these small fringe groups believe in.

But the illogic of the talking heads who play the “the other side is anti-science!” game bothers me less than two other things.

The first is their conviction that their casual impressions (I doubt they are even first-hand; they likely consist in reading of what other empirically uninformed bull shitters are saying) support empirical characterizations about public opinion.

Just because things “feel” a certain way to you based on your very limited, very skewed exposure to public opinion doesn’t mean that that’s the truth.

The second is the contribution of these know-it-all-know-nothings are making to poisoning our science communication environment.

Ordinary members of the public, of all cultural and political outlooks in the US, are extraordinarily PRO-science.

If you don’t believe this, you are misinformed, likely as a result of the sad vulnerability of people of all cultural and political outlooks to believe that people who don’t agree with them on (admittedly important!) questions about how to live are “stupid,” “closed-mined” etc.

And by dragging science into your illiberal status competition with people whose cultural identity is different from yours, you are making it harder for all of us to converge on the best available evidence on matters that are critical to our collective decisinomaking.

So please just shut up already.

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