Liberal pseudoscience

You have to wonder about American liberals, as represented by the Democratic party. Their foreign policy difference from Republicans is that they claim to be even better at slaughtering Muslims and erasing civil liberties. Their economic difference is that their version of neoliberalism tilts more toward certain Wall Street factions and Silicon Valley, rather than other Wall Street factions and extractive industries.

I will admit, however, that liberals in power have been more reluctant to attack science. I doubt this is for any principled reason—mainstream science has become the establishment view in much of education, and no liberal would ever dream of criticizing anything established. Nonetheless, there is a real contrast here with those American right-wingers who have lost contact with reality, acting as a prime constituency for anything from conspiracy theories to global warming denial to creationism.

Still, I don’t entirely trust liberal support for science either. American liberal circles have long had a soft spot for their own variety of pseudosciences. They just happen to be the more Newagey sort rather than the Religious Right variety.

Here’s an interesting recent example. Mario Beauregard is that very rare creature, a dualist neuroscientist.  This has naturally associated him with the intelligent design movement, which more usually goes together with hard right politics. (See his book The Spiritual Brain, written with ID hack Denyse O’Leary—it’s a weird, weird thing.) But lately, he’s written a new book, which apparently takes a more Newagey angle on his dualism, using Near Death Experiences as alleged evidence of nonmaterial souls. So a few years ago, when he was doing an intelligent design version of dualism, he was celebrated in right wing circles and web sites. (I ran into him first through the Discovery Institute.) And now, he’s doing much the same thing, but with a Newagey coloration, so I ran into him on a prominent liberal site, Salon.

So yes, we’ve had a “Republican war on science.” But maybe it’s just a historical accident that we haven’t had a Democratic war on science. After all, it’s mainly an accident that our post-9/11 war on Muslims and civil liberties was initiated by Republicans and later intensified by Democrats in power. It could have easily been the other way around.

I don’t want to say there’s no difference. Our conservative-identified pseudosciences are global warming denialism and creationism. Our liberal-identified pseudosciences are alternative medicine and progressive evolution. And that is a difference—if I were forced to choose between sets of religion-linked bullshit beliefs, I would in fact choose the liberal ones. They seem less harmful. But they’re still bullshit.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05962018593312392087 Leo

    What about postmodernism? Isn't that the on the liberal side and a war on science?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07521391745343783288 Geoff

    Simply identifying the existence of various groups is not particularly useful without discussing how prevalent they are and how they translate their beliefs into political (or economic) action. Otherwise you risk implying a vague equivalence, which may not be justified.


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