Articles

When (Anti-Vax) Politics Intrudes

Over the last decade there has been a needed discussion about the relationship between politics and science. This has mostly been spawned by the perceived “Republican War on Science,” at the center of which is the global warming debate. In reality, both ends of the political spectrum (as evidenced, for example, by the Huffington Post) tend to trump science with ideology. That is the nature of politics. But at least the issue has been raised.

Briefly, defenders of science have pointed out that science should inform politics, not the other way around. Ideologues should not be allowed to put their thumb on the scale of science in order to get the result their ideology demands. Further, the optimal policy emerges from an honest assessment of the relevant science. Values still come into play for many issues, so science alone is not enough, but the science has to be right.

Within medicine this issue often involves the regulation of the standard of care and public health policy. An example of the former is the law passed last year is Connecticut that essentially exempts professionals who treat “chronic Lyme disease” from the standard of care – the department of health cannot act against their license for treating this controversial condition with unproven therapies.Rather than allowing experts to determine the standard of care, which is an ever moving target, this law locks into place a very controversial, and in my opinion dubious, practice.

Another issue that frequently is caught between politics and science is vaccinations – and just such a conflict is heating up in Florida. Penn Bullock and Brandon K. Thorp report in the Miami News Times that a wealthy chiropractor, Gary Kompothecras, is using his political connections, earned by generous campaign contributions, to promote his apparent anti-vaccine agenda. Kompothecras has two children with autism and he blames thimerosal in vaccines for their condition. Readers of SBM know that thimerosal (which contains ethyl mercury) has not been connected to autism. The scientific evidence overwhelmingly shows that vaccines are not to blame. Most notably with regard to thimerosal specifically, this preservative was removed from most childhood vaccines over 8 years ago in the US, and autism rates have not plummeted as proponents of the thimerosal hypothesis predicted. Yet some, like Kompothecras, still cling to this discredited notion.

A year ago Kompothecras (who calls himself the “rainmaker” – a reference to his political connections) was pushing for a law that would have weakened Florida’s vaccine requirement for public school. Such measures are always sold as parent choice or health freedom, but they are really just anti-vaccine. The bill, which is still languishing, would outlaw certain vaccines with thimerosal and would allow parents to space out and delay vaccines.

This is a good example of the disconnect between science and politics – there is no evidence that delaying or spacing out vaccines has any health benefit, but it does leave children vulnerable to preventable diseases for longer. So delaying vaccines has risk but no benefit.

This is therefore an example of one man who is using political connections to push for legislation that is not based upon science and runs contrary to the consensus of expert opinion.
Kompothecras is now at it again, using political pressure to “bully” the Florida department of health into releasing confidential vaccine records. Kompothecras is a friend and contributor to governor Charlie Crist, and was appointed to the governor’s task force on autism (a scary thought in itself). He wants the DOH to give this confidential information to the infamous father and son team of Mark and David Geier.

We have written extensively about them as well – most significantly their recent trial of lupron (a chemical castrating agent) and chelation therapy (a risky procedure) for autism. The Geiers have been publishing research alleging to show a connection between vaccines and autism, but their results are at odds with other researchers and seem highly flawed and dubious on review. Bullock and Thorpe summarize their career thusly:

Since Mark Geier embraced the autism theory, his appearances in federal courts have led judges to label his testimonies “intellectually dishonest” and “not reliable.” The Institute of Medicine has called his work “uninterpretable.” The American Academy of Pediatrics said one of his studies exhibited “numerous conceptual and scientific flaws, omissions of fact, inaccuracies, and misstatements.”

Now, I am always in favor of transparency of information. As we learned with climate gate, keeping data from those who you perceive to have an anti-scientific agenda can backfire. But confidential medical records are not temperature data. There is an issue of confidentiality that needs to be dealt with. Medical information can be released for legitimate research that is in the public interest – but there’s the rub.

The Geiers have a dubious scientific history of misinterpreting data, apparently to serve an anti-vaccine agenda and to support their lucrative practice of treating alleged mercury poisoning. No one has a right to perform medical research, or a right to privileged medical information. You have to earn the privilege of access by being an ethical and legitimate researcher. In my opinion, the Geiers do not meet these criteria.

Apparently the Florida DOH agrees, but the normal process of assessing the legitimacy of requests for information is being subverted by political pressure from a wealthy and connected chiropractor with an apparent anti-vaccine agenda.

This is a bit of a no-win scenario for the DOH – whether or not they release the data it can be used for anti-vaccine propaganda purposes. Perhaps one compromise would be to release the data to an independent panel of researchers with no conflicts of interest to do an independent and transparent analysis.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, this example of using political pressure to subvert science is not isolated. In many states there are laws to subvert the vaccine program, or to protect dubious practitioners from being held to the standard of care.

The bigger issue is that “alternative medicine” is an industry that has learned to use the political process to advance their interests over that of the consumer and the public health.

Posted in: Public Health, Science and Medicine, Vaccines

Leave a Comment (50) ↓

50 thoughts on “When (Anti-Vax) Politics Intrudes

  1. zed says:

    Great post!

    Just a nit-picky note, in the fifth paragraph the sentence “Such measures are always sold as parent choice or health freedom, but they are really just anti-vaccine.” is there twice.

  2. Dawn says:

    The Florida article also has some very good quotes from Dr Gorski. I’ll say here what I said on LBRB: if I was a Florida parent and my child’s SEALED medical records were released to the Geiers, and I found out about it, I’d be in a lawyer’s office for HIPAA violations before you could blink.

  3. Cynthia says:

    Where does HIPAA come into play with all of this? If the health data are de-identified then there might be some controversy, but if it is possible to identify actual patients — whether outright or through a triangulation process — then sharing these data would be illegal on a Federal level. Forget the FL DOH.

  4. Dawn says:

    Oops…my bad. My comment wasn’t on LBRB. Guess I left on FB…that’s what happens sometimes when you follow too many things.

  5. David Gorski says:

    @Cynthia

    The Geiers have been busted before for trying to reconstruct patient-identifiable data from the Vaccine Safety Datalink:

    http://www.casewatch.org/fdawarning/rsch/geier.shtml
    http://www.casewatch.org/fdawarning/rsch/geierk.shtml

  6. tuck says:

    Your description of the Connecticut law is not quite accurate.

    The law is here:
    http://cga.ct.gov/2009/ACT/PA/2009PA-00128-R00HB-06200-PA.htm

    It does not exempt physicians from the “standard of care”, it allows them to pursue one particular treatment, that is quite controversial, granted.

    The standard of care for Lyme seems to be: 30 days of antibiotics, and if you still have any symptoms, it’s your imagination.

    Patients, not surprisingly, are often unwilling to accept this, and are left to pursue whatever other options they have available.

  7. daedalus2u says:

    I left messages at LBRB and the Miami New Times, that people who are Florida residents and who don’t like the idea of the Geiers trolling through their or their children’s vaccine records should tell their elected officials. (hint, that should be everyone who lives in Florida).

    I don’t know what legitimate research could be done with this data. I suspect not much. The idea that vaccines can cause autism has essentially zero prior plausibility. There is no data so far that increases that prior plausibility above near zero. The most characteristic aspect of autism is features of neuroanatomy that are fixed during the first trimester in utero. Vaccinations years later can’t change that neuroanatomy.

    There is essentially zero plausibility that vaccines have anything to do with autism. There are tens of thousands of things that are more likely and which have not been researched in the slightest bit.

  8. Chris says:

    The SGU should interview Penn Bullock and Brandon Thorp, it would be very interesting. Especially since one works for the JREF.

  9. Scott says:

    Where does HIPAA come into play with all of this? If the health data are de-identified then there might be some controversy, but if it is possible to identify actual patients — whether outright or through a triangulation process — then sharing these data would be illegal on a Federal level. Forget the FL DOH.

    “Possible to identify actual patients?” They’re asking for the patients’ SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBERS. From the link in the main post:

    But unlike the CDC files, the data the Geiers seek for their Florida study contains patients’ addresses and social security numbers.

  10. Jann Bellamy says:

    “The bigger issue is that ‘alternative medicine’ is an industry that has learned to use the political process to advance their interests over that of the consumer and the public health.”
    Well said. Without politicians in their pockets, or at least in their enthrallment, “alt med” practitioners would never have gotten this far.

    I’ve spent pretty much all day complaining about Dr. Gary, the Griers, and their “research” to anyone who might be able to get rid of them. Gov. Charlie Crist is fighting for his political life as a candidate in the Florida U.S. Senate race so I can’t imagine he is pleased with this publicity, which may get him to call off the dogs. The story is on Health News Florida now, so it will reach a wider audience. http://www.healthnewsflorida.org

    The “alternative” vaccination schedule died in committee in the 2010 Legislature but it may come up again in 2011. We have a group watching out for it and ready to oppose it.

  11. outotdoubt says:

    No matter how many times we prove them wrong people will keep listening. The only way to win is to educate the public, but they only want to hear about the dangerous, exciting, and scary stuff. Throw in some big government conspiracy and you’ve got an audience for life. Sad.

  12. jgod3090 says:

    It is stories like this that make me thankful that the anti-vaxxers in Australia are considered nutbags by the general population with only a very small following (That i know of). i have dealt with a number of people who believe in all manner of woo (unfortunately my mother included) and even they think the AVN are certifiable.

  13. cervantes says:

    Fine post but it’s too bad you felt the need to inject false balance by claiming that anti-science ideology characterizes “both ends of the political spectrum.” The Huffington Post problem is real, but it’s pseudo-scientific New Age healing mumbo jumbo is largely disconnected from its politics. It’s just an idiosyncrasy of Ariana, basically, and it is in no way typical of progressive politics or any associated movements. Similarly, RJK Jr. is just a sad individual case and indeed his employer, the NRDC, is in general a strong advocate of sound science.

    The ideological right is at its very core anti-science, and is behind most of the important political and policy attacks on science of recent decades — creationism, global warming denial, denial of the harm caused by tobacco, and on and on. The left has no comparable sins whatsoever.

    The anti-vax wackos are not associated with any particular position on the political spectrum — Jenny McCarthy is generally quite conservative.

    So that is really false balance, the same sort of reflex that corporate journalists are justly criticized for. I hope you will retract it.

  14. Chris says:

    Cervantes, you are being naive. Anti-science has no political affiliation.

    I have seen the anti-vaccine and anti-medicine rhetoric on both sides of the political spectrum long before the Huff-Po. It ranges from the right-wing “health freedom” advocates to the crunchy granola “natural” movement (that includes the type that set university labs on fire because they disapprove of genetic engineering or tests on animals).

  15. Chris says:

    Cervantes, have you never heard of Mothering Magazine and its forum: the sMothering Commune?

  16. cervantes says:

    No Chris, I never have heard of it — which just goes to show that whatever it is, it is not an important institution on the left or anywhere else.

  17. cervantes says:

    “There’s a certain laziness that creeps up too, which you can hear in phrases from the commentariat like “extremists on both sides”. No attempt to actually examine centre and margin and compare them across parties; instead, this sorry act of positioning, in which the political centre is associated with truth, common sense and realism. This is a very common prejudice in political journalism.”

    From Climate Progress.

  18. daedalus2u says:

    As I read it, Dr Novella wasn’t trying to inject false balance, rather he was demonstrating that politics are not a reliable indicator of anti-science ideology by giving examples from the right and left.

    You have to look at the science, looking at the politics tells you nothing about the science.

  19. cervantes says:

    Well, what I’m saying D2u is that isn’t exactly true. Looking at the politics doesn’t definitively answer the question, but it gives you a pretty strong indication. Right and left are absolutely not equally at fault. That just isn’t true. If HuffPo hadn’t come along he’d basically have nothing to point at. (Okay, Tom Harkin is a Democrat but that’s just an irrelevant fact about him. His wackiness is in no way associated with the Democratic party.)

  20. cervantes says:

    Actual quote: “both ends of the political spectrum (as evidenced, for example, by the Huffington Post) tend to trump science with ideology.”

    No, the progressive, or left end, does not “tend” to trump science with ideology. When it happens, it’s an anomaly — and in fact Ariana’s fondness for woo has nothing to do with her otherwise progressive politics, it’s just an odd additional fact. And it’s highly atypical.

    However, global warming denial, creationism, etc. are 100% associated with the political right and in fact, 100% of Republican Senators are global warming deniers, for example.

    So that quotation is false and again, it should be retracted.

  21. I’m going to agree with Cervantes. To me, the article revolves around this statement

    “Further, the optimal policy emerges from an honest assessment of the relevant science. Values still come into play for many issues, so science alone is not enough, but the science has to be right.

    Within medicine this issue often involves the regulation of the standard of care and public health policy.”

    Which suggests to me this is a discussion of political policy and whether science is appropriately informing that policy…not a discussion of the number of scientific myths that individuals that self-identify as left or right might believe. Also not a discussion of the number of scientific myths that left or right journalistic outlets might cover. The correct parallell in that regard might be Huffpo to Fox.

    So, to say that both the left and right are equal in regards to trying to change the science so that they may advance a political agenda based on ideology I would have to see examples of political legislation and policy on the left that equals those on the right. And you are going to need a lot of examples to show equality, because the above stated global warming, creationism in schools as well as reproductive health, choice and disease prevention are some pretty big areas where the right has veered from the science in their policy or tried to present “alternative” science arguments.

    So, yup I think the Huffpo example is false balance.

  22. To the extent that a group appeals for popular support by declaring itself “anti-elitist” and defines “elitest” as “educated,” it will be anti-science. This attitude is defining of much of the right. I don’t think of it as being defining of the left.

    I used to read Mothering magazine all the time but I don’t follow the message boards. It promotes self-sufficiency and biological essentialism, neither of which are particularly lefty ideals. I never got the impression that it was particularly pro trade union.

  23. A dating site on the meanings of left and right:

    http://blog.okcupid.com/index.php/the-democrats-are-doomed-or-how-a-big-tent-can-be-too-big/

    Remember that Hitler was (sort of) a vegetarian. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_Hitler's_vegetarianism

    Many people associate vegetarianism with leftiness (commitment to community extending to animals). It can be just as often associated with an apolitical desire for ritual purity. To the extent that the goal is cleansing and health for the self, vegetarianism and woo are not markers for proletarian sympathies.

  24. Chris says:

    So is protecting HIPAA a lefty or righty stance?

  25. jre says:

    Now, I am always in favor of transparency of information. As we learned with climate gate, keeping data from those who you perceive to have an anti-scientific agenda can backfire.

    I’m with you on transparency. But I’m curious — what data were kept from whom?

  26. cervantes says:

    What does vegetarianism have to do with anything we’re discussing here? But since you bring it up, there are very good arguments from the perspective of personal health, and environmental protection, for eating much less meat than the typical American does. That isn’t “ideology trumping science,” it’s a perfectly defensible position.

    If by HIPAA you are referring specifically to the patient confidentiality requirements (in reality the act has much broader effect) then no, I don’t think there’s any particular relationship to the political spectrum but again, what is the relevance here? What does that have to do with ideology trumping science?

    You folks have lost me.

  27. Sullivan says:

    A couple of comments. Sorry if this has already been mentioned:

    Gary Kompothecras has filed with the vaccine injury compensation program for two children. His family stands to benefit financially should the Geiers write a paper and get it admitted as evidence.

    Second, the Senate Bill on vaccines that supposedly had some influence from Mr. Kompothecras–that bill started out as an access to services bill for families with young children suspected of being autistic. The original form of the Senate bill was scrapped in favor of a bill banning thimerosal containing vaccines (use, manufacture, transportation…) in Florida.

    http://leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk/2010/09/florida-access-to-service-bill-morphed-into-vaccine-bill/

  28. Chris says:

    But the request by Geiers is a direct violation of HIPAA, and is exactly what Kompothecras is pressuring the Florida Dept. of Health to do.

    HIPAA has much more relevance to the subject than righty or lefty politics. The Geiers are notorious for screwing with databases to get identifying information of the patients. And this is exactly what they are trying to get (which Kathleen Seidel has just published a long post today at her Neurodiversity blog).

    HIPAA violations were part of the discussion on Orac’s Respectful Insolence blog. I thought you might have been aware of that.

    Also, if you want to make anti-science a righty position, does this mean that the Earth Liberation Front who torched a botanist lab because they thought was using genetic engineering are right wing libertarians? The “L” in ELF was for “Liberation”. (note they weren’t terribly bright, he was using the standard cross breeding that humans have used to manipulate plants for thousands of years, and they also destroyed some very rare seeds in a seed vault).

  29. Chris
    “So is protecting HIPAA a lefty or righty stance?”

    Don’t know, HIPPA was a Republican sponser bill, signed by Clinton that generally seems to be thought of as the Republican offering to pacify voters who wanted health care reform.

    In the Florida example, I wouldn’t think the main problem is ideology. The right does not seem committed to the false idea that mercury causes autism (that I know of). It’s a matter of a political donor using his monetary influence to effect health care policy and the politician letting him.

  30. Chris says:

    I seem to be uber-moderated today, even though I am avoiding links. The HIPAA discussion is at Respectful Insolence.

  31. Chris says:

    Oh, the guy wants Florida’s DOH to violate HIPAA for the Geiers.

  32. daedalus2u says:

    cervantes, let me repeat what I said, looking at the politics tells you nothing about the science.

    That you can give examples where there is a correlation between a particular political ideology and good science still tells you nothing about the science from the politics.

    Correlation does not equal causation. That one type of politics happens to correlate with one type of scientific belief is an artifact, an anecdote. Looking at politics tells you nothing about the science. You have to look at the science to find out something about the science. I appreciate that if you don’t understand the science, then you want short-cuts, things that do correlate with the science, what I am telling you, and what Dr Novella was telling us, is that such correlations are specious and have no probative value.

    Dr Novella was making a scientific statement, you are making a political statement.

  33. Chris says:

    Kathleen Seidel has written about this. A couple of quotes that might clear things up (with some bolding added):

    Dr. Kompothecras is principal of Physicians’ Group LLC, which refers accident victims to a network of physicians and personal injury lawyers, and operates a string of medical clinics throughout the state of Florida. Father to three children, two of whom are autistic, Dr. Kompothecras is an influential fundraiser for Florida Governor and Senate candidate Charlie Crist.

    and

    The Miami New Times now reports that Dr. Kompothecras has escalated his efforts to insinuate proponents of vaccine causation of autism into the development of autism and vaccine policy in Florida, through a proposed study to be conducted by Dr. Mark Geier and David Geier of Florida state vaccine records. Presumably, the Florida study would be similar to their study of Vaccine Safety Datalink records, which was halted in 2004 due to violations of study protocol, including attempts to conduct unapproved analyses and remove unauthorized material from the CDC’s Research Data Center.

  34. daedalus2u this seems to be the quote in question

    “Over the last decade there has been a needed discussion about the relationship between politics and science. This has mostly been spawned by the perceived “Republican War on Science,” at the center of which is the global warming debate. In reality, both ends of the political spectrum (as evidenced, for example, by the Huffington Post) tend to trump science with ideology. That is the nature of politics. But at least the issue has been raised.”

    I’m still trying to figure out how HuffPo’s health section is evidence of the left’s willingness to trump science with ideology in political policy. Where’s the policy?

  35. Chris says:

    How is HuffPo involved with a guy trying to buy legislation in Florida to help his “vaccine causes autism” agenda?

  36. jre says:

    As to the (a)symmetry of science denialism on Left vs. Right, I think I’m on team cervantes. The Right has pulled out such a lead on this one that the Left is a 40-to-1 shot to take the Wacky Stakes.

    For some interesting reading, see this post by John Quiggin and the subsequent commentary over at CT.

  37. Chris says:

    Though on the vaccine issue, it is pretty much the same number on each side of the fence.

    If you want to deal with anti-science when it comes to things like GMO crops, AIDS denialism (remember Maggiore and the death of her unvaxed daughter?) and medical testing on animals, then it goes to the left.

    Good grief, my super conservative GOP step-mother was into New Age crud like astrology and wishing for better health (before “The Secret”)!

    There is anti-science crazy everywhere.

    It still has nothing to do with a rich guy using his influence to change legislation to his agenda, and trying to force a public agency to release data in violation of HIPAA.

  38. jre says:

    Sure. Here’s what I had to say about the political complexion of anti-vaxers:

    One subgroup of antivaccinationists seem to come by their beliefs through a combination of mysticism and paranoia, and may land on either extreme of the political spectrum. But programmatic antivaccinationists are almost exclusively batshit libertarian-right-wingers. See, for example, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, which proclaims that “Since its founding in 1943, the AAPS has been the only national organization consistently supporting the principles of the free market in medical practice.” and serves as the publication of last resort for fringe anti-vaccine figures such as the Geiers. At the point where extreme left and right meet to form a perfect circle, this last article was cited approvingly by Dwight Meredith (of the Koufax Awards), who was able to find something good in Andrew Schlafly’s journal, so long as it said something bad about vaccines. So sweet is the call of the loon.

    There is something about vaccines that enables wackaloons of all orientations and persuasions to set aside their differences.

  39. I’ve discussed right and left wing politics and woo a couple of times on SBM:

    Naturopathy and Liberal Politics: Strange Bedfellows

    (See the comment by skeptyk below that post)

    The Ethics of “CAM” Trials: Gonzo (Part II)

    I agree with Cervantes that there doesn’t seem to be a distinctly ideological left wing basis for pushing woo, which there certainly has been on the right, with its anti-fluoride, anti-vax, anti-FDA, pro-Laetrile, etc. stands. What’s surprising, however, is how many otherwise “good” liberals have swallowed the Kool Aid in recent years.

  40. What? you mean the organic, cane sugar sweetened, beet juice colored, free-trade Kool-Aid? I didn’t know that was on the market.

    jokes Michele as she wonders whether she is a good liberal or a bad one.

    :)

  41. I stand by my characterization – there is a general tendency for ideology to trump actual science and evidence, regardless of which end of the spectrum one’s ideology is on.

    Here is a recent study which demonstrates this:
    http://www.physorg.com/news203680322.html

    Politicians in particular will make whatever argument backs their political/ideological position. They tend to work backwards from ideology, rather than taking whatever position is favored by science.

    I never said this was exactly symmetrical – just that it is the tendency regardless of ideology. Sure, because of creationism and global warming science denial has been prominent on the right. But there is just as much of a tendency to ignore science in favor of ideology when it comes to things like organic farming, recycling, the real risks of environmental exposures, etc.

    I find it interesting that cervantes dismisses all examples as irrelevant exceptions. They are not exceptions – they are data. That is a prime example of confirmation bias at work.

  42. um, organic farming, recycling and questioning the real risks of environmental exposures vs creationism in science class, abstinence education as HIV prevention in Africa and global warming denialism*. I would say that lack of symmetry might otherwise be called a false balance.

    I’m sorry to be critical on this one Dr. Novella, I do appreciate the heads up on the issue, but I think the same thing could have been accomplished without the obligatory “neither party is perfect” approach.

    *rhymes with nihilism

  43. cervantes says:

    Excuse me, I did not dismiss “all examples as irrelevant exceptions.” That is a total mischaracterization of what I said. I said that Huffington’s embrace of mystic healing is essentially unrelated to her broad political ideology, which is a specific characterization of the only specific example Novella gave; also that it is not in any way characteristic of the political left. Therefore it is, in fact, irrelevant and failed to make your point.

    I did not say that people on the left never let ideology trump science; I said they do not “tend” to do so, certainly not nearly to the extent the political right does because many right wing positions in fact consist of denial of science. It is their very essence.

    That is not true of the left, you are introducing false balance, and I am not guilty of confirmation bias, I am making an argument from evidence. Which Dr. Novella most decidedly is not.

  44. Neither of you addressed the link I provided. It provides evidence that people in general, regardless of their ideology, tend to follow their ideology over evidence. That was my point. The differences you point to are irrelevant to my point.

    And I think that certain unscientific ideological positions are inherent to the left – such as reverence for things “natural” and a belief in the mutability of human nature, almost a denial of human nature (read The Blank Slate for a detailed treatment of this). RFK jr’s ideology that corporations are evil and that many problems are environmental is certainly a politically left ideology. (He is not an anomaly.)

    In any case – this was not the point or focus of my article, just a quick background. That is why I did not go into detail, and only gave a quick example.

    Cervantes – you wrote: “No, the progressive, or left end, does not “tend” to trump science with ideology. When it happens, it’s an anomaly”

    You are dismissing counter-examples as anomalies. That is the crux of confirmation bias. They are not anomalies – they are data.

    To be clear, by point is that people tend to trump science with ideology, regardless of their ideology, and you have said nothing to counter that point. If you want to quibble about which ideologies are worse, go ahead, that was never the point of this article.

  45. “people tend to trump science with ideology, regardless of their ideology”

    Yes. We can all see that.

    The left wants science-based medicine available to everyone regardless of their ability to pay. That is an inherently lefty position and not anti-science. (It may be anti-finance if we start asking questions about what gets paid for, how and by who.)

    The left is also fearful of the power and influence of capital, and calls on collective action by those without capital as a counter-force. This is also inherently lefty. It may manifest as anti-science or as reasonable skepticism.

    The right denies the needs for standards. Business and families need to be able to operate without interference from government; individuals are entitled to nothing beyond the freedom to work. Because both of these positions are prescriptions subject to testing (are these policies actually more effective in generating a functioning society than any other approaches?) the right fears testing. Science can give us standards and is to be feared. The right is inherently anti-science.

    These are the parts of ideology that are inherently left and right.

    Individuals who identify as left and right may also have intuitive feelings they identify as true and moral that they add on to their political analysis.

    From BenK commenting on a Marginal Revolution thread:
    There seem to be two different inherent views of morality. One view, which could be considered impoverished or could be considered refined, rests on two formal bases – harm/care and equality. The other, which is sometimes viewed negatively by people in the first group, has five bases, including those two, plus a moral basis with regard to loyalty, another regarding authority, and a third regarding purity.

    The much-feared leftist “intellectual elites” use the harm/care and equality two-legged stool. Being on the left requires no more.

    Individuals on both the left and right may use a five-legged stool. When they do, lefties may add the three legs of (say) identity politics, respect for education and fear of the chemicals produced by capitalists. Only the last one leads to anti-science.

    The right will add three legs to their stool with respect for authoritarian leaders, patriotisim and sexual purity. Two of these legs lead to anti-science.

    So it’s definitely true, a lefty can be anti-science. But the left road doesn’t take you there as directly as the right one does.

    And consistent with what jre mentioned above, the woo-iest people I know are libertarian. (No, not a representative sample.)

  46. Chris says:

    So it’s definitely true, a lefty can be anti-science. But the left road doesn’t take you there as directly as the right one does.

    I guess it depends on where you live. I see them on both sides of the fence, especially living near a large research university. This where we actively see people trying to shut down research labs (protesting at the Medical School Open House), including the one that ELF burned down about five blocks away.

    I guess now “ELF” stands for Earth Libertarian Force.

    The crunchies around here are the ones pushing to drink raw milk and to not vaccinate (which is why an entire family with eight kids got measles a couple of years ago).

    One of my favorite lefty stands was about thirty years ago when I was in college. I saw televised testimony from one environmental group that the region’s power needs would not be increased if all the aluminum smelting plants in the state were forced to shut down. Since the major exporter in this state is an aircraft manufacturer that did not go over very well. Though, in retrospect with most of the jobs gone the need for electricity would have gone down.

  47. Chris says:

    (just thought I mention, the newest article does not allow comments, I believe that is a mistake)

    Oh, and I still think it is wrong from a rich dude to try an influence the state government with his own agenda. That includes both sides of the fence.

  48. # Steven Novellaon 01 Oct 2010 at 9:26 am

    “Neither of you addressed the link I provided. It provides evidence that people in general, regardless of their ideology, tend to follow their ideology over evidence. That was my point. The differences you point to are irrelevant to my point.”

    I didn’t address the link, because I’m not disputing it’s content. I’m disputing a representation that I read in your original post of both left and right as somewhat inseperable in their approach to ideology, science and policy. It seems to me that’s a mis-characterization caused by the attempt to seem politically neutral.

    But regarding your link, If that was your point, I think it would have been much better made if you had left out the left/right reference all together, which ultimately distracts with the question of the degree to which each party trumps science with ideology in policy decisions, and focused on a statement of “commitment to an ideology can sometime (or often…damn modifiers) trump science. Then back it up with a couple of examples that include policy decisions regardless of political affiliation.

    “If you want to quibble about which ideologies are worse, go ahead, that was never the point of this article.”

    The article is talking about the actions of an elected official with party affiliations and funding. I think the level of regard or disregard for science in that party is relevant. I actually try to chose my elected official based in part on how well they support good science research funding, good science in schools, good science for environmental decisions. I thought that was ultimately what this article was about. The anti-science actions of a particular elected official. So, yes, a “they’re all the same” approach bugs me. Call it quibbling if you like.

    But ultimately, I’m not even sure what the discussion of ideology vs science is doing attached to this topic. Firstly, it appears to be primarily a corruption problem (influence peddling). Two, it begs the question ‘How is anti-vax an ideological position?’ To me anti-vax seems to be more of an abiding scientific misconception kept alive by commercial interests. Where’s the ideology? ‘Greed is good?’

    Postscript – ’cause I can’t let this one pass. Regarding RFK’s ideology – I can’t speak for RFK, I don’t follow him, but some of us who are liberals don’t believe that corporations are evil, we just believe that a free market incentivizes a careless disregard for safety and environmental impact without appropriate feedback or checks from the people that it effects. I don’t find that belief inherently anti-scientific.

    Okay now, I’m declaring that horse dead. I will cease to beat it unless it rises up and bites me in the rear.

  49. “the region’s power needs would not be increased if all the aluminum smelting plants in the state were forced to shut down”

    That makes sense to me: aluminum smelting requires an awful lot of power, so if you don’t do it presumably you need less power.

    Or are you citing this as an example of cherry-picking the evidence, ignoring all the reasons not to force smelters to close and focussing on an irrelevant “benefit”?

  50. Chris says:

    I am citing it as a case of requiring an entire industry to shut down without regard to the repercussions (and is it “pro trade union” to wipe out several employers in a region?) . It is an example of someone’s ideology ignoring the whole picture. So in a sense it is cherry picking.

    As a veteran of several years of dealing with the vaccine issues on Usenet, I am amused at those who figure it has a specific political ideology. Especially at thinking that anyone who argues the safety of vaccines is being called part of “Big Pharma” by a libertarian. Somehow John Scudamore does not strike me as a right-winger. But that is just me. You, on the other hand, might think that belief in satanic ley lines, the Illuminati and the Protocols of Zion as truth is far-right. (Roger Schlafly on the other hand was a right-wing anti-vaxer, but argued differently than Scudamore)

    Personally I don’t care about the political ideology, I really only care about the science…. and that cash does not buy anti-science legislation.

    (side note: I am presently reading Voodoo Histories, the Role of Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History by David Aaronovitch. I have gone through the first two chapters, one on the Protocols of Zion and about Stalin’s purging of people they thought were sabotaging industry… but it was really incompetence. The chapter I am on is about McCarthyism… conspiracies seem to also span ideologies.)

Comments are closed.