Progressivism's War on Science

By Leef, George | Regulation, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Progressivism's War on Science


Leef, George, Regulation


Science Left Behind: Feel-Good Fallacies and the Rise of the Anti-Scientific Left By Alex B. Berezow and Hank Campbell 303 pages; Public Affairs, 2012

One of the more familiar tropes of American politics is that the Left embraces science while the Right is at best ignorant about science or even hostile to it. Reporters hungry for a "gotcha" moment like to badger Republicans with questions on science, hoping for an easy story, as when, following the 2012 election, one asked Sen. Marco Rubio (R, Fla.) how old he thought the earth was. (Rubio dodged.)

In Science Left Behind, authors Alex Berezow (holder of a doctorate in microbiology and editor of the website RealClearScience) and Hank Campbell (founder and editor of Science 2.0, an independent science communication community) take a hard look at that trope and argue that the Left-especially its green and "progressive" elements-is even more ignorant of or hostile to science than the Right is. Because those powerful elements of the leftist coalition are so prone to anti-scientific notions, they often push for and get laws and regulations that do a great deal of harm.

To support their thesis, the authors contend that the "progressive" Left (and it's getting hard to find leftists who dare to dissent from that part of their clan) has adopted four myths:

* Everything natural is good.

* Everything unnatural is bad.

* Unchecked science and progress will destroy us.

* Scientific knowledge is merely relative-just another opinion or worldview.

Throughout the book, Berezow and Campbell show repeatedly that those beliefs drive leftists to take positions for or against ideas without regard to clear scientific evidence that they will make many people worse off.

Food phobia | Food is one area where the progressive opposition to science (and actual progress) has been the most pronounced. They are infatuated with "organic" food (and pay more for it) even though it is no healthier and may be less safe than ordinary produce. That is only a costly personal choice driven by the "everything natural is good" myth, but the authors note that because organic farming is less efficient, it requires more cultivated acreage to get the same yield. Going "organic" isn't saving the planet.

Far more damaging, though, is the effect of the second myth on food issues. Opposition to anything these progressives perceive as "unnatural" leads them to obstruct scientific advances such as irradiation (which does a much better job of killing harmful pathogens in food than the most careful washing) and genetically modified (GM) crops. Progressives have blocked irradiation on the baseless ground that radiation is always bad for people, never mind that once the pests have been zapped, there is no effect on human consumers. They do their utmost to block or delay the use of GM crops with silly slogans such as, "We'll create Frankenfoods!" Berezow and Campbell show how absurd those fears are. Increasingly precise genetic modification, which has been used on a hit-or-miss basis for thousands of years as farmers have tried to breed better plants, could lead to greatly improved crops, such as "golden rice" that has the Vitamin A needed by many poor people around the globe. The progressives have used their political clout to put up regulatory obstacles to GM crops.

Energy anxiety | When it comes to energy, progressive anti-science ideas are equally harmful. They have thrown up one ill-conceived roadblock after another in opposing nuclear power (it's not "natural" to make energy by splitting atoms), to hydroelectric power (dams are inconvenient for fish), drilling for oil (can't touch the "pristine" Arctic National Wildlife Refuge even though no one goes to that desolate littoral and hardly anything lives there), natural gas (progressives have pushed dubious horror stories about "fracking"), and even wind power (which kills birds). …

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