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Reinforcing an Anti-Science Narrative

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorSeptember 14, 2011 7:34 PM


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Last month, when Jon Huntsman criticized his fellow Republican Presidential candidates for spreading malarky about evolution and climate change, conservatives, by and large, looked away. So it is a curious thing that many commentators on the Right are now jumping all over Michelle Bachmann for her "dangerous flirtation" with the anti-vaccine crowd. Orac has a theory:

What is it about attacking vaccines that causes many of them [conservatives], even ones with ideas that are otherwise truly loony, to recoil in horror?...I think I know. Whether it's true or not, anti-vaccine views tend to be associated in the public mind with New Agey, liberal types. Although I frequently point out that anti-vaccine views actually span the political spectrum (look up General Bert Stubblebine III and Rima Laibow if you don't believe me), there is at least a grain of truth to this perception in that vaccine resistance does appear to be high in West Coast and East Coast enclaves brimming with affluent people with liberal political leanings, places like the Bay Area, Seattle, parts of New York City and the like. Even though there are strains of anti-vaccine belief among some of the more Libertarian elements of the conservative movement, echoing nicely with "health freedom" beliefs, it hasn't stuck, and conservatives do not view themselves as "anti-vaccine," unlike those "loony Jenny McCarthy types." As a consequence, I think it actually shocked many Republicans to hear anti-vaccine views so baldly stated right in the middle of a Republican debate by one of its major candidats for president. To those of us who are aware of the principle of crank magnetism, which states that people who support one form of pseudoscience tend to be credulous enough to believe in other forms of pseudoscience, it is no surprise that Bachmann has apparently come out as being anti-vaccine. To Republicans, crank magnetism is fine about evolution and global climate change, but should that crank magnetism drift into areas that are perceived as being "liberal" pseudoscience, watch out! That's what Michelle Bachmann did on Monday and Tuesday, drifted away from "conservative" ideological pseudoscience into what is perceived, again rightly or wrongly, as "liberal" pseudoscience, and that's why she's paying the price. Questioning evolution or AGW? Hey, that's skepticism! Anti-vaccine views? Hey, that's liberal crazy talk!

He might be on to something. Additionally, I bet that Republican leaders are becoming increasingly worried about the anti-science views of its leading Presidential candidates. There is a narrative taking shape in the public's mind, which gets reinforced every time a high profile Republican is dismissive of evolution, climate change and now, vaccines.

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