The four ways distrust of science has infected political agendas

Posted

July 31, 2017 12:18:09

Florida recently passed a law which “authorises county residents to challenge use or adoption of instructional materials” in schools. It’s been described as “anti-science” by individual scientists and USA’s National Centre for Science Education.

From climate change to vaccination, genetic modification and energy security, anti-science is used as a critical phrase implying a person or group is rejecting science outright.

But it’s not that simple.

All shades of political positions are routinely ambivalent about science. Neither the right or left arms of politics are consistent supporters or attackers of science.

If there is no one definition of anti-science that works across all settings, why does it matter that we know anti-science means different things to different people?

The reason is that science remains a key resource in arguing for social and political change or non-change.

Knowing what counts as anti-science for distinct groups can help illuminate what people take to be the proper grounds for social and political decision-making.

Left, right, populist, elitist

First up, I’ll define some broad terms.

To be politically “left” is to be concerned about social and economic equality, sometimes cultural equality too, and usually a state big enough to protect the less fortunate and less powerful.

To be “right” is to be concerned about individual autonomy and a state small enough to let markets and personal responsibility decide fates rather than central planners.

To be “populist” involves being anti-elite, anti-pluralist (the “us vs them” view of civic relations), tending toward conspiracy…

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