Anti-science vs. epistemic closure in climate science denial
I’ve finally decided I can’t claim to write about science and politics without actually writing about science and politics. People want to make generalizations about Democrats and Republicans. Since some of those generalizations involve science, it’s incumbent upon me to say something. I’ve shied away from this sort of analysis because, despite occasional excursions, I do try to avoid politics here. When the need has cropped up, I’ve focused more on refuting arguments than commenting on either party.
It’s true that Perry “hasn’t criticized the scientific method, or sent the Texas Rangers to chase out from the state anyone in a white lab coat.” But no one thinks Perry is opposed to science as such.
Well if Perry hasn’t criticized the scientific method and if he actually welcomes research and technology, what does it even mean to be anti-science? When even liberal stalwarts like David Roberts have to hedge their rhetoric and admit Republicans aren’t against science as such, it’s proof enough that the term is poorly thought out and shouldn’t be used.
Sloppy terminology aside, there does seem to be something here. According to Pew,two-thirds of Republicans either deny warming or attribute it to natural variation. Only 21% of the most conservative believe humans cause climate change. The corresponding numbers for Democrats are 33% and 74%.
It’s not really shocking so many people find these numbers concerning. The question is what exactly we should be concerned about. The anti-science crowd sees these poll results and infer that Republicans deny the evidence. That’s one possibility. Another is that they were not exposed to the evidence in the first place. A lack of exposure rather than outright hostility could also explain the outcome. It’s easy to reject climate science if Joe Bastardi is your only news source and you never hear about the IPCC. If Julian Sanchez’s “epistemic closure” thesis is true, Republicans’ don’t have an aversion to data per se. It’s that a closed information loop prevents contrary facts from ever surfacing at all.
These are two very different accounts for the same phenomenon and it’s the sort of debate I would love to see the blogosphere take up. Why exactly do Republicans reject climate science? I suspect it’s some combination of motivated reasoning, a general identification of this issue with Democrats in an era of increased partisanship, and epistemic closure. Even if anyone could ever define it, anti-science would add nothing. It’s unfortunate to see David Roberts use such a careless term when I know he understands these topics better than I do.
Unfortunate, but not surprising. By neglecting to acknowledge and respond to the fact that Republicans do deny global warming and it is a big deal, I’ve left the space open for those happy to use bad arguments for political gain (nothing wrong with that by the way!). Hopefully this post is a stab in the right direction.
So if you want to bash Republicans for rejecting climate science, and if you care about precise language, don’t call them anti-science. It might not have as nice of a ring to it, but epistemic closure is more coherent, better defined, and probably much closer to the truth.