The Sciences

Are Liberals Science Deniers? Now is a Good Time to Find Out

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyMar 14, 2011 9:11 PM


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My latest DeSmogBlog piece is about the unfolding nuclear power debate, and how it fits into the context of arguments about the left, the right, and science. This is something that has been on my mind for some time:

When I and other demonstrated, during the George W. Bush years, that political conservatives had grown very strongly anti-science, we often heard what I would call the “nuclear counterargument.” The point was made that, hey, during the 1960s and 1970s, it was the political left that attacked science illegitimately—particularly around nuclear power. Here’s a typical example of the charge, from the George C. Marshall Institute book Politicizing Science: The Alchemy of Policymaking (2003):

Similarly, in reviewing my book The Republican War on Science, sci-fi author David Brin offered a counterpoint: “Take for example the ill-considered leftwing concordance to rigidly oppose to nuclear power, a faulty liberal reflex that ignores real potential to reduce carbon emissions and help bridge the next few decades while we develop sustainable technologies.”

But as I go on to argue at DeSmogBlog, I don't think liberals are necessarily anti-nuke today--much less inclined to misuse science toward that end. So I propose that with the dramatic new focus on this issue, we are about to find out: Does the left misuse science as much as the right, and is nuclear power a good example of that? My guess is no--but I'm very willing to be proven wrong. You can read the full DeSmogBlog piece here.

To attack the nuclear power industry, [activists] needed ammunition, and it was readily found. They only had to go through the nuclear power risk analysis literature and pick out some of the imagined accident scenarios with the number of deaths expected from them. Of course, they ignored the very tiny probabilities of occurrence attached to these scenarios, and they never considered the fact that alternate technologies were causing far more deaths. Quoting from the published scientific analyses gave the environmentalists credibility and even made them seem like technical experts. (Bernard L. Cohen, “Nuclear Power,” p. 146)

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