The Sciences

Are Liberals Too Condescending?

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyFeb 8, 2010 1:48 PM

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Over the weekend, everybody was emailing me this Washington Post Outlook article, which critiques my first book in the context of arguing that liberals are sneeringly dismissive of the conservative intellect, and guilty of "intellectual condescension":

This liberal vision emphasizes the dissemination of ideologically driven views from sympathetic media such as the Fox News Channel. For example, Chris Mooney's book "The Republican War on Science" argues that policy debates in the scientific arena are distorted by conservatives who disregard evidence and reflect the biases of industry-backed Republican politicians or of evangelicals aimlessly shielding the world from modernity. In this interpretation, conservative arguments are invariably false and deployed only cynically. Evidence of the costs of cap-and-trade carbon rationing is waved away as corporate propaganda; arguments against health-care reform are written off as hype orchestrated by insurance companies.

Let me go on the record as saying that I am no fan whatsoever of intellectual condescension. I think there is way too much of it on my side of the aisle. So I should be at least somewhat sympathetic with this author, one Gerard Alexander of the University of Virginia. But here's the problem. He gets my book's arguments almost entirely wrong. First, I don't argue that conservatives "disregard evidence." The problem is that they make up their own evidence, using their own "scientists" to do so. They then use this pseudo-expertise to disregard expertise and consensus--a very different thing. Second, I never argued conservatives were arguing "cynically." It was obvious they believed what they said on matters of science. After all, they had their pseudoexperts to bank on. Finally, I clearly distinguished between distorting the facts of science on the one hand, and making economic, moral, and policy arguments on the other. So a sentence like Alexander's last one completely misses the boat: "Evidence of the costs of cap-and-trade carbon rationing is waved away as corporate propaganda; arguments against health-care reform are written off as hype orchestrated by insurance companies." This stuff has nothing to do with the arguments of The Republican War on Science. If there is ever a case for being intellectually condescending--and I'm not sure that there is--perhaps it's to someone who critiques you while getting your arguments wrong.

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