March 1, 2013

The political left can be anti-science, too

Political conservatives are often thought of as anti-science (e.g., global warming denial, creationism), but this fascinating interview with author Alex Berezow indicates that liberals and progressives can have their own anti-scientific streak, too.

[A]mong the political leadership, you’ll see more anti-science Republicans in high-profile positions than Democrats. However—and this is a very big “however”— there can be influential ideologies that don’t come from Washington. Look at the anti-vaccine movement. You see it on both ends of the political spectrum: Libertarians say the government shouldn’t be able to force anyone to vaccinate; others, like Michele Bachmann, think vaccines can cause mental disability; and people on the far Left who prefer homeopathic medicine object because vaccines are unnatural. High-profile non-politicians on the Left endorsed this, too, notably Bill Maher and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who wrote pieces in Rolling Stone and Salon excoriating the pro-vaccine movement, saying vaccines cause autism. Maher’s not a politician, but he’s a very influential leader in progressive culture.

Also:

I would love to see a poll that examines whether liberals or progressives are more likely to use alternative medicine. It’s interesting because Western medicine has a pretty solid, proven track record. We do evidence-based medicine, we find disease, we use Koch’s postulates, we see what causes the disease and we create a vaccine. That’s how small pox was eliminated. Alternative medicine practitioners aren’t interested in evidence. They’re more interested in how the person feels after treatment. They’ll say that Western medicine offers one way of looking at a problem, but there’s also acupuncture, and hot rocks and herbal tea, or crystal pyramids. That’s an example of what we mean by “scientific relativism.” We see that as very dangerous.

There’s also some good stuff in there about the ethics of certain scientific experiments and advances, such as genome sequencing.