Science denialism politics – vaccines, GMOs, evolution, climate change

science denialism politics

On an episode of his HBO political talk show, Real Time with Bill Maher, Maher repeated his contention that the Republican Party, more generally the right wing of the American political spectrum, is the party of science denialism politics.

I am no fan of Bill Maher, because, in fact, he himself is is a science denier. Maher hits some of the top 10 list of science denialism: he’s an anti-vaccine crackpot, he’s pro-alternative medicine, he’s on the verge of AIDS denialism, and, to top it off, he hates GMO foods.

In other words, Maher, a leftist by any stretch of the meaning, embraces science denialism politics in a way that would probably inspire your local climate change or evolution denier on the right.

HBO’s other political news-ish program, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, features British comedian Oliver, who is pro-science on every issue I’ve heard, including scientific research and vaccines.

Neil deGrasse Tyson was a guest on Maher’s episode, and contradicted him regarding the claim that Republicans hold the monopoly on junk science:

Don’t be too high and mighty there, because there are certain aspects of science denials that are squarely in the liberal left.

I like to generalize about the politics of science denialism politics – I and many others have claimed that the anti-GMO crowd is nothing more than the left’s version of climate change deniers. But some people have taken umbrage with Tyson’s comments, and believe that science denialism cannot be correlated with political beliefs.

One caveat about this article – it is primarily focused on American politics. In many countries, both the left and right accept the consensus on scientific principles like evolution and vaccines. Only in America is science denialism the default position, crossing party boundaries.

Let’s take a look at left vs. right ideas about science, and how each embrace science denialism and pseudoscience. It’s quite a bit more complicated than you can imagine.

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Deplorable Donald Trump – creating anti-vaccination Republicans

deplorable Donald Trump

Deplorable Donald Trump, for those who are living in a log cabin off the grid, is a wealthy (according to him) white guy running for President of the United States. Deplorable does not begin to define all that Trump embodies – ignorance of the constitution, sexism, racism, misogyny, white privilege, xenophobia, and institutionalized lying. And since this is a pro-science website, Trump’s anti-science beliefs fall far below the low bar I set for your average Republican.

But his anti-vaccine rants are particularly loathsome. As I’ve written before, Trump is completely wrong about vaccines by claiming that the “massive combined inoculations to small children is the cause for big increase in autism.” Wrong Donald Trump, there is no scientific evidence that vaccines are related to autism. It’s hard to choose which of his hatreds are most dangerous, but I would nominate his anti-vaccine stance, because vaccines prevent diseases which can harm children, and protecting children has got to be society’s most important goal.

A little less than 2 years ago, a Huffington Post/YouGov poll found only a modest ideological divide between Democrats and Republicans regarding the science of vaccines – in fact, the difference was 1 percentage point, or essentially, vaccine support was the same between adherents of both political parties.

Unfortunately, the basket of deplorables hang on to every word uttered by the King of Deplorables himself, so one has to wonder if that difference has grown at all over the past couple of years as a result of Trump’s ignorant statements about vaccines. Lucky for us, we’ve got some data.

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Bernie Sanders views biotechnology – aligned with Republicans

Bernie Sanders views biotechnology

I admit that I judge politicians on their science credibility. And I’m rather black and white about it – politicians don’t get to pick and choose what science they “believe” or not. How Bernie Sanders views biotechnology seems irresponsible. And that it’s aligned with Republican anti-science viewpoints is unacceptable.

I’ve written previously about Sanders’ nascent anti-science views, especially with complementary and alternative medicine, which isn’t medicine. Although I haven’t written about it specifically, Sanders is in favor of GMO labelling, which is part of the pseudoscience surrounding GMOs. Let’s be clear, the overwhelming scientific consensus about GMOs is that they are safe for human consumption and the environment. To real science, denying GMO safety (and it’s related labeling laws) is no different than denying climate change.

For me, the litmus tests for science in our politicians are evolution, climate change, GMOs, vaccines, and cloning/stem cell research. There are a few other science policy issues that are abeyond the scope of this website – fracking (limited science available at this time) and nuclear power. I haven’t the time or the desire to review the consensus on either, but for many people they are also litmus tests for science credibility of politicians – and not in the way you think it would be.

Recently, a journalist took a look at how Bernie Sanders views biotechnology – especially in comparison to Hillary Clinton. And Sanders comes up short in this key area of science. In fact, he has previously aligned himself with right wing Republicans on some scientific issues, something that should cause any pro-science progressive some pause.

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Bernie Sanders embraces alternative medicine – UPDATED

Bernie Sanders embraces alternative medicine and pseudoscience.

For regular readers of this blog, you know that I’m a progressive plus being a strong supporter of scientific evidence. I don’t spend a lot of time writing about politics, though I am a strong critic of the left when it comes to science. And it’s time call out a presidential candidate, who is not Donald Trump –  Bernie Sanders embraces alternative medicine which is not good for health care.

Senator Sanders is a self-proclaimed “socialist” or social democrat, although I doubt he would compare economically to real socialists or social democrats in Europe. His brother, a Green Party politician in the UK, probably would make a real socialist. He fits the crunchy liberalism of the state he represents, Vermont. These are generally the progressives I criticize the most – generally anti-vaccine, anti-GMO and pro-alternative medicine.

Sanders has promoted GMO labeling, a policy that will lead to increased food costs for those who least deserve to pay more for food.  For those of us who look only at science based evidence for claims, there is little difference between climate change deniers and GMO deniers.

Even though there is absolutely no evidence (unless cherry picking is your thing) that GMO foods are a health risk, individuals like Sanders push that trope to probably pander to his most liberal supporters. Or maybe Sanders embraces pseudoscience, because that’s his core belief. I’m beginning to wonder.

Continue reading “Bernie Sanders embraces alternative medicine – UPDATED”

GMO refusers and vaccine deniers cross–call Big Pharma and Monsanto

growing-vaccine-banana

There is a feeling among many scientific skeptics that the anti-GMO and the antivaccine broadly intersect. Unfortunately for simple generalizations, that assumption is not supported by rational political analysis. In fact, it’s much more complicated than that.

Those of us who are on the political left want to believe that it’s only the right wing (Republicans in the USA, but other countries have their political parties of the same general sentiment) that are science deniers.

One of the memes that I use is that those liberals who deny vaccines or think that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are dangerous, really aren’t all that much different than climate change deniers, who deny basic science, cherry pick only the data that supports an a priori conclusion, or ignore the consequences of their beliefs. But it appears that the vaccine and GMO deniers are cut from different political cloths.

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Forget polls–psychics call election for Obama

Unless you live in Antarctica and the satellite downlink is not working, in which case you probably aren’t reading this article anyways, there is an election in the United States between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. And unless you’re completely unaware of the news, you would hear that the election is close. 

Major election analysts, those with long track records in statistical analyses in election polls, are not seeing a close election, and as we get closer to the election date, the errors are becoming smaller, and the confidence in the predictions are getting stronger. Here are the three best:

  • Nate Silver, Five Thirty Eight–As of October 25, 2012, Obama has a 74.4% chance of winning, and leads the Electoral College (an antiquated way that the United States actually elects its Presidents), 295-243. 
  • Princeton Election Consortium–As of October 26, 2012, Obama has an 88% chance of winning, and leads the Electoral College, 297-241.
  • Votamatic–As of October 26, 2012, Obama has a >95% chance of winning, and leads the Electoral College, 332-206.

In other words, from a statistical standpoint, and because of the unusual way that the United States elects its president, the President is almost guaranteed to be reelected, barring some strange statistical anomaly or world event that dramatically changes the election scene.

But why use mathematics, when we have psychics and their pseudoscience to help us out, especially since the pollsters have “been universally negligent in addressing the fact that on November 6 at precisely 7:04 PM EST, Mercury goes into retrograde.” The Atlantic, doing yeoman’s service to the political world, has polled psychics to determine their predictions for the upcoming elections.

Now you would suppose that most psychics are New Age liberals, so there would be some bias in this polling. But The Atlantic believes that “they would act in the interest of establishing a record of accuracy, as opposed to saying what they hope happens. Letting personal political leanings interfere with the veracity of their professional analyses also must go against the code of the trade.” Obviously, this is a serious business.

Some of my favorite predictions:

  • “Mitt Romney will not win his home state of Massachusetts.” Well, that was a tough one. If that’s all I would need to do to become a psychic, I’m changing my career.
  • “It might even look like [Romney] will or could win. He may even lead in the poles. But on the day of the election Obama has enough of an astrological edge to beat out Romney.” Is that “poles” or “polls.” You never know. So, this prediction has enough fungibility, that whoever wins, it won’t matter, the psychic will claim that they predicted it. 
  • “In a survey of 172 psychics at Psychic Source71.5 percent saw Obama.” So there’s a poll of psychics. I wonder if Nate Silver incorporated that into his research. 

Well there you have it. Ignore the real scientific polling. The psychics are calling the election. And of course, since Obama is probably going to win based on real evidence, they’re all going to claim that they called it well in advance. Then you can call them up and find out how to win the lottery. Or if you’re going to meet the love of your life. Or when the world is going to end. Don’t waste your money. Please.

 

Americans believe that dinosaurs lived with humans

Shocking news once again–a new Gallup poll claims that the rate of acceptance of evolution in the United States is “essentially unchanged” over the past few years. The recent poll from Gallup asked “which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin an development of human beings:”

  • 32% of the respondents accepted “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process,” 
  • 15% accepted “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process,” and 
  • 46% accepted “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.”

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Washington allocates money for whooping cough outbreak

As discussed previously, the state of Washington is experience a relatively large outbreak of whooping cough (Bordetella pertussis), with 1,132 cases of whooping cough so far in 2012, which the state reports as over 10 times higher than what was reported in 2011.  The epidemic has caused the hospitalization of 20 children under the age of one.  Washington Governor Christine Gregoire released cash from an emergency fund last week to be spent on efforts to contain the epidemic. Gregoire has made $90,000 available to strengthen the public awareness campaign about the need to vaccinate against the highly infectious disease that is also known as pertussis. The state’s Department of Health projects that it will spend approximately $200,000 on the campaign. The state has also sought and received approval to use federal funds to purchase 27,000 doses of pertussis vaccines that will be available for the uninsured.

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Creationism legislation–Indiana update

The right wing push to subvert the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution has been put on hold in Indiana.  According to the Indianapolis Star, Indiana’s creation science bill is dead .  This is good news.  Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, an Indianapolis Republican, moved the bill to the rules committee, a procedural step that all but assures it will not make it to a vote this year.  According to Bosma, “I didn’t disagree with the concept of the bill, but I hesitate to micromanage local curricula. Secondarily, I didn’t think it was prudent to buy a lawsuit the state could ill afford at this point.”  A pragmatic Republican is rare these days, since it really should be up to the school district to teach science in the best way possible (which is completely ignoring the religion of creationism).  And there will be lawsuits which the state would lose. Continue reading “Creationism legislation–Indiana update”

Indiana creationism bill passes Senate–Intelligent Democrats creatively amend it

This is part of a long multi-part series on the Republican state legislatures in the USA pushing religious teaching into public schools in clear violation of the US Constitution’s Establishment Clause. I’ve discussed Indiana here, here and here, so this is a small update with a bit of intelligent design (of the bill) by some Democrats. Indiana Democrats are a feisty group, and the science deniers must be annoyed by them. Continue reading “Indiana creationism bill passes Senate–Intelligent Democrats creatively amend it”