To me this is a broader issue. This is an issue of another social
force, albeit small -- the left, working to question and undermine
through various issues, the foundation of a reason based society.
From the other end of the political spectrum, various books like
Chris Mooney's The Republican War on Science followed how the
ideology of the corporate and Christian right sectors, lead their
treatment of the facts. Their ends determined how they would deal
with the evidence available to them. This is what is contrary to an
evidence-based politics...an "anti-evidence" politics if you will.
That's what leads various observers and scientists to decry the
right. Some even say that the FAR Christian right wants to lead us
to a pre-enlightenment era of feudal theocracy. OK, you all know
this, but I also see something similar from the other side.
I think some left wingers are also practitioners of an anti-evidence
politics. In sum, they are the anti-science left. I've run across
them in various venues in my travels in environmental justice work
that I've been involved in since the late 80's. Just as for the
right, their ideology leads their treatment of the evidence available.
Anything that even appears to stand against what they value or
contradicts their positions is to be opposed or at least open to
question. Anything that opposes or questions their adversaries has
legitimacy (ie. acupuncture, anti HIV folks vs. medical
establishment). They'll hang their hat on the most flaky practices
or positions with the the most meager, poor quality supporting
evidence as long as it stands in opposition to their adversaries.
To me, this is as bad as the right wing anti-science forces. I think
that they, from the other end, chip away at the enlightenment
foundation of our society right along with corporatists and
Christians on the other end.
I think a way to get to the bottom line to ask these guys, does
evidence lead ideology or does ideology lead evidence?
I'll give you folks an example of this kind of test that my thesis
advisor (another red diaper baby) gave me during graduate school. He
knew I was a progressive and had worked on civil and human rights in
the Latino community in NYC, he also knew I was an early proponent
of environmental justice even when the name wasn't coined. So he
asked me what if researchers had completed a study and found that
white people were of superior intelligence to people of color, would
I believe the conclusions? What if the study was rock solid,
completely water tight. Then I went through a series of questions
and caveats and he replied yes this study took that into account.
Ultimately, the idea was that all possible criticisms from all
corners (people of color, civil libertarians etc.) were taken into
account and controlled for. Would I believe it? I said, well if all
these possible concerns and questions were taken into account and
controlled for, I'd have to believe that all white people are of
superior intelligence to all people of color. He said, OK you will
be a good scientist. I took that to mean that if the evidence stood
contrary to one of my most treasured beliefs, and I still believed in
it, then evidence led ideology.
I think that many members of the left would fail this test. If they
do, they are of the anti-science left. I don't know what that makes
them, but I know I don't agree with them. Further, people with these
views, and WBAI and KPFA are chock full of them, can adversely
affect many people especially on health related matters. Not as many
as the right can thankfully!
I would have to ask, what is to be done about the anti-science left?
Jose Morales Ph.D.