The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The right-wing science counter-revolution

Writing for New Republic, Ari Shulman presents a nuanced and well-thought analysis of the apparent right-wing hostility to science. It's not science per se they object to; rather, they object to what they perceive to be left-wing science:

The panel of experts that Covid skeptics have arrayed provides a case in point. Where mainstream opinion quickly converged on flattening the curve, Boris Johnson sang the praises of a herd immunity strategy, an idea that continues to hold sway among many skeptics in the United States. The Trumpian right’s treatment of masks as a symbol of tyranny claimed to garner credence from public health authority, as journalist Alex Berenson cited the initial divided view on the mask question as a telling lack of evidence. Likewise, where polite opinion early in the pandemic had held that the virus isn’t as bad as flu, Trumpian skeptics echoed that refrain as all-but-proven science, just as they’ve also sought to downplay the pandemic’s high fatality rate, theorizing vast numbers of undetected, asymptomatic cases—which would mean that society is already close to acquiring herd immunity.

Each of these views was backed by elaborate interpretations of the evidence, and propounded by a cadre of scientists and self-appointed epidemiologists. And these figures, in turn, gained rapid celebrity on the right as brave truth-tellers to a hysterical orthodoxy.

It is tempting for anyone who’s tried to adapt to the shifting expert consensus on Covid-19 to defend, at least in broad strokes, the “Republican war on science” narrative by arguing that the emerging cohort of counter-experts on the right are simply cranks. But most of these figures are genuine experts, albeit not all in the fields on which they opine. More to the point, they all adeptly borrow from the methodologies and rationalist rhetoric of scientific inquiry.

The product of these dynamics has not been, as we are often told, a Republican rejection of science itself—of its methodologies, its hunger for knowledge of the world, its desire for mastery over nature, its admiration for the excellence on display in rational inquiry. Rather, it has been the adoption of an outsider’s stance to the current scientific establishment—to its particular institutions, and to the pronouncements of its expert class.

In these corrosive, shallow, interminable debates about science, what is most sorely missing is any talk of judgment. It is impossible to understand how experts arrive at their advice, or how leaders use it wisely, apart from the exercise of judgment. Though we might think this point is obvious, it is belied by the common image of science as a neutral, even godlike encounter with eternal, capital-T Truth.

The whole essay is worth the time.

Add comment

Loading