Conservative science and liberal science

June 13, 2011 | By | 1 Reply More

At American Prospect, Chris Mooney has a lot to say about the diverse ways liberals and conservatives react to expertise and science.   It’s a good, thoughtful read, that includes this discussion of linguist George Lakoff’s explanation:

[T]he Berkeley cognitive linguist George Lakoff, views this as a central factor in our fights over science and expertise. In an interview for this article, Lakoff suggested that left-right divides over science have their roots in the cognitive structures and metaphors that, he argues, drive our political schisms in general. Conservatives don’t dislike science or expertise inherently, Lakoff says–but for them, these are not the chief source of authority. Instead, conservatives have a moral system based on a “strict father” model of the family, which is then exported to various other realms of society–the market, the government. All are meant to be governed in a ruggedly individualistic, free-market way–where you either succeed or you don’t, based on your own mettle. In this context, science and expertise can be very good for supporting some views–the science of drilling, the science of nuclear power–but they can also be an unruly guest at the party. Scientific evidence “has a possible effect over the market, foreign policy, religion, all kinds of things,” Lakoff says. “So they can’t have that.”

Liberals, to Lakoff, are just different. Science, social science, and research in general support an Enlightenment ethic–finding the best facts so as to improve the world and society and thus advance liberals’ own moral system, which is based on a caring and “nurturant” parent-run family. “So there is a reason in the moral system to like science in general,” Lakoff says. Here also arises a chief liberal weakness, probably amplified by an academic training: constantly trying to use factual and reasoned arguments to make the world better and being amazed to find that even though these arguments are sound, well researched, and supported, they are disregarded or even actively attacked. Too often liberals–we–fail to see how our very credentials, and the habits of argument they impart, set the stage for the postmodern world just as soon as our unending factual dance with conservatives begins.

Another focus of the article is on the divergent perception, understanding and reaction to global warming.   This post-fact phenomenon is especially salient among those who are confident that they know the facts:

Democrats and Republicans who think they know a lot about the issue are completely polarized, with Republicans quite confident the science is wrong. Precisely the same occurs on nonscientific but factually contested issues, such as the myth that the health-care reform bill empowered government “death panels.” According to research by political scientist Brendan Nyhan of the University of Michigan, Republicans who thought they knew more about the Obama health-care plan were “paradoxically more likely to endorse the misperception than those who did not.”

And speaking of climate change denial, here come more lies, courtesy of the Koch brothers.


Category: Politics, Science, scientific method

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Tige Gibson says:

    Bifurcation. Especially annoying considering there are more than three possibilities.

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