Conservative or Liberal Sets of Views

Josh Marshall wonders why people believe what they believe. He begins with the common tendency among conservatives to deny climate change:

There’s been a lot of recent evidence not only that Republicans disproportionately disbelieve the evidence for man-made global warming but that their skepticism is growing. I think that trend is fairly classed under the general heading of Republican/conservative hostility to science.

He misses a step here. The fundamental problem is not that conservatives desire to oppose science but that they are willing to ignore scientific evidence when it conflicts with their views. If there was a commonly held belief in global warming but the scientists came out against global warming, then conservatives would agree with the scientists.

Conservatives primarily reject the scientific consensus on climate change for two reasons. It is preferable that global warming not be true since it leads to undesirable real world consequences, and conservatives exhibit a strong tendency to ignore facts when they conflict with what they want. Secondly, climate change is a problem which can only be solved with government coordination. As conservatives oppose government action which does not involve invading other countries or torture, it is simpler for them to deny the science than to concede there is a problem which where government coordination is necessary.

Josh extends this to other areas:

Another way of looking at this is that in our politics and society, group association seems to give certain beliefs or policy positions a mutual ‘stickiness’ even if they do not seem to be connected together in any logical or consistent way, or any way that would make sense out of the context of our culture and society.

George Lakoff, among others, has presented arguments as to why conservatives and liberals share a set of views. There are also other people such as myself who do not generally agree with the traditional set of views associated with either party. Prior to 2006, Republicans did a far better job of sticking issues together which did not necessarily need to belong together. They found ways to convince social conservatives to support the goals of fiscal conservatives, and vice versa. Over time this has broken down, contributing to the end of their governing coalition.

It is also not necessarily the case that those who are liberal on social issues or foreign policy will support traditional Democratic issues on the economy and taxes. It was far easier for many to vote Democratic when they were the main opposition to an increasingly extremist Republican Party, but it is harder to keep people with a variety of views united behind a governing party. That is partially why Democratic support is in some ways weaker now than it was before the election.

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  1. 1
    Captin Sarcastic says:

    I completely disagree with both of the premises suggested above, that conservatives are hostile to science, or that conservatives are willing to ignore science if it conflicts with their views.

    I’ll offer a third option that I think is closer to the mark… Conservatives have a choice of which science to believe, and they chose to believe the science that aligns w ith their worldview. It may be junk science, but not always, and it may be funded with the requirement that it reach certain conclusions, or not, but there are hundreds of sciency type arguments against AGW out there, some authored by relatively respectable types. 
    I never argue AGW with anyone because I am not a scientist, nor are 99.999% of the people who are currently arguing AGW around the country. The best we can do is cite scientists, but since the data is generally over our heads, an opponent just knowing there is a relatively reputable scientist out there who has an argument against AGW will pretty much trump anything some non-scientist can come up with.

    What is interesting to me is that the forces behind these arguments are so sure that taking action against AGW would be SO bad for us. Time was, you just follow the facts, do what the situation indicates, and see how it plays out. Now, some folks decide how it’s going to turn out, and oppose it on those grounds.

    Maybee AGW is not that serious of a threat, but then again, maybe taking action would be a good idea for our country anyway.

  2. 2
    CRU says:

    How in the world can you ignore the reports on the CRU and New Zealand scandals that are red hot smoking guns on manmade global warming? They threw out data, cooked the books, had horrible databases that couldn’t be squared, they unduly influenced the peer review process to the point of making it meaningless… and this is the backbone of the ‘science’ proving global warming. If anyone is acting on faith it is the left.

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:


    I am not ignoring these. They were addressed in previous posts. The “scandals” have been greatly exaggerated by denialists to fit their own views. They do not affect the scientific consensus on climate change and they do not change the reality of the situation.

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    Captain Sarcastic,

    You are not really giving a third option–you are arguing for my option. (Considering your name, I suspect you might realize this). To choose which science to believe, or to accept junk science as science, is the same as rejecting science.

    They not only have their junk science which they believe will disprove actual science, they have their own mythology around the science. The most prominent example recently has been on the distorted “scandals” such as that CRU cites which do nothing to disprove the science. As most some scientists made their graphs a little prettier, but their misquotations and distortions of hacked email do not change the underlying scientific results.

  5. 5
    Infidel753 says:

    The thing is, global-warming denialism isn’t the only example of this phenomenon.  Many of them also reject the theory of evolution, and some deny the harmful effects of second-hand cigarette smoke, using “arguments” and rhetoric which sound remarkably similar to those of the global-warming denialists.  Creationism has even spawned a whole thicket of fake science (intelligent design, irreducible complexity, etc.) similar to what global-warming denialists use.

    I think you’re right about them ignoring facts that go against what they want to believe.  Global warming, as you say, seems insoluble without government action, so it’s more ideologically convenient to pretend it doesn’t exist.  Evolution contradicts fundamentalist Christian dogma, which is important to the (now-dominant) Christian Right component of the right wing.  Smoking is something a lot of libertarians passionately support, for some reason.

    There is probably also an innate tendency on the right to distrust science, though.  Science has been undermining religious dogma for centuries.  Devotees of religious dogma don’t like that.

  6. 6
    Fritz says:

    Ron, I agree that some of the furor over the initial email releases were overblown.  But the news from CRU just keeps getting worse.
    They destroyed the original data the used (rather than publicly release it), and so only their modified data is now available.  They said, gosh, they didn’t have room for it.   I find that explanation implausible.
    They cooked the peer-review process.  This is of deep concern for science in general.  It’s like interlocking boards of directors in corporations.  They also were conspiring to punish journals that published work by their detractors.
    They now are trying to get a friend in charge of the British government investigation into their activities.
    The comments in the code are pretty clearly those of programmers who are very concerned about their algorithms and lack of code and data quality.
    I hope that the outcome of this scandal is a much more transparent climatology.  All raw data and the source of all modeling programs should be opened when any article is published.

  7. 7
    Ron Chusid says:


    The right wingers claim the original data was destroyed. I’ve seen counter articles showing that they might have not used certain data but the original data was still available. When the original data was added on, the graphs were less pretty but the overall conclusions did not change.

    The question is not whether some scientists might have misbehaved. That is an open question which cannot be settled in political blogs. Regardless of whether it turns out that the individuals misbehaved, there is not enough here to cast any doubt on the overall scientific findings which come from multiple institutions.

  8. 8
    Ron Chusid says:


    Here’s a quick summary (with plenty of links) of response to the claims that the data was destroyed.

    What is happening is not that the news is getting worse but that the distortions from global warming deniers are becoming more elaborate as they twist the hacked emails to make their arguments.

  9. 9
    MKS says:

    This article targets me! 

    I have my undergraduate and graduate degrees from a major technical college.  I have worked as an employee for a scientific administration of the U.S. government, and have received a national award from a major scientific professional society.   Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, and James Clerk Maxwell stand out as great men to me.

    And yet, I am conservative, lean to the libertarian side of the Republican party, do not embrace man-made global warming (at least not in its current hysterical fervor), and prefer the creation model to the evolutionary one.

    It’s sad to read that I am hostile to science!  I suppose my liberal friends would say, “If the shoe fits…”.  Thus, many years of study in science and math are dismissed by a cliche.

    You know, the “scientific consensus” favored a geocentric universe in Galileo’s day.  Perhaps we should examine data and their interpretation a bit more before we declare the “scientific consensus” to be fact, and run about in the politics of panic.

  10. 10
    Ron Chusid says:


    You are certainly taking a hard-line against modern science when you compare a current consensus statement based upon scientific evidence to the non-scientific beliefs which were common in Galileo’s day. You confirm the fact that you are hostile to actual science when you admit that you prefer creationism as well as embrace denialism regarding climate change.

  11. 11
    Fritz says:

    Ron, “Was the data destroyed” should not even be a question, though.  I thought that independent data analysis was one of the keystones of modern science.  How could they not make their original data (and computer program source) available once they published?
    And, yes, when individuals can misbehave in a way that implicates the functioning of the peer-review process, there is much more at stake than a couple of reputations.  Every time there is some report about how climate models show that wars will increase in Africa or whatever the spectre of the day is, and the report comes from “CRU” or “Anglia”, reasonable people should now doubt it.

  12. 12
    Ron Chusid says:


    You have your own views opposing the science and are just grasping onto the right wing claims here to support your own beliefs.

    “Ron, “Was the data destroyed” should not even be a question, though.”

    In other words, you are saying that because right wingers made a claim it disqualifies the science regardless of whether their claims are true since this “should not even be a question.” That is a pretty low standard by which to accept the claims of the denialists.

  13. 13
    Captin Sarcastic says:

    Although I mentioned that some anti-AGW folks do rely on junk science, there is also some real science out there that tends to cast some doubt on AGW (though not disprove). 

    In the brain of a genuine climate scientist, the objective facts may be so compelling as to leave no question of AGW. But since most of us are not scientists, and fewer of us are objective, we are left competing arguments, without any real way of knowing how we should weigh the validity of each side.

    It suspect the truth is that AGW versus anti-AGW is akin to the media giving equal weight to two unequal arguements. The evolution example illustrates this phenomenon, but in a way laymen can easily see through the weighting error. The evolution argument is factually sound, while each and every creation argument that comes up is riddled with logical fallacies, and yet they are given equal merit in presentation.

    Perhaps our news analysts (pundits) would better serve the viewing public not by taking ideological sides, but just taking logical sides. When two arguments are presented, they should just point out whether the arguments would pass or fail in debate class.

  14. 14
    Eclectic Radical says:

    I personally find irreducible complexity a fascinating idea that deserves real treatment by real scientists rather than the kind of people who bandy it about. If there was even a shred of real scientific value to the theory, it would change our view of evolution in much the way Gould’s theories did. We talk about ‘Darwinism’, but today’s evolutionary science would be better called ‘Gouldism.’ Gould proved much of Darwin’s central thesis wrong in ways that strengthened the framework of his system. I think a real investigation of irreducible complexity would similarly strengthen the framework of evolutionary science even if it did disprove a few current theories.
    The problem is that in the case of both the AGW deniers and the Creationists, it is just so difficult to take any of their ideas seriously because they are practicing bad science. Rather than following the facts to a conclusion they are following their conclusions to facts. Even if they were really right (which I highly doubt) it would still be impossible to take them seriously as scientists because their methodology is completely anti-scientific. When you seek for evidence that supports your theory, rather than genuinely testing your theory, you are bound to find lots of support… because it’s what you want to see.
    This is why no one takes anyone who writes about Shakespeare Authorship seriously even though there are real reasons to explore the subject… flawed methodology renders one’s facts highly questionable at best.

  15. 15
    Fritz says:

    Ron, I think you are misunderstanding my comment.  There should be no question of missing data because scientific publication should be an open and transparent process — once data and analysis is published the data should be out there and accessible and copyable by all.  I’m astonished that that isn’t the case.

  16. 16
    Ron Chusid says:

    The data was available.

  17. 17
    Fritz says:

    Also, I think Infidel’s comment about “second-hand smoke” is disingenuous.   Nobody says that smoking is good for you.  Nobody says that hanging around smoke-filled rooms is good for you.
    But in the interest of crushing tobacco smoking as a personal pleasure, the drum-beat against any exposure to tobacco smoke has gone pretty crazy.  Notions of reasonable risk have gone out the window to the point that if someone can smell a cigarette from some other condo unit, there is the potential for lawsuits.

  18. 18
    Infidel753 says:

    I’ve seen libertarians (on blogs, at least) claim that second-hand smoke is not significantly harmful to non-smokers.  This is a false claim.

    Even at low concentrations, subjecting other people to something extremely unpleasant to the senses is a legitimate issue, even if it’s not strong enough to be physically harmful.  Setting off, say, an earsplittingly-loud siren in a public place for amusement wouldn’t physically harm anyone either, but I don’t think most people would want it to be permissible.

  19. 19
    Ron Chusid says:

    Many libertarians like to think that such issues can be easily derived from libertarian principles. Second hand smoke is an issue which doesn’t fit so easily into their world view. For some it is easier to deny the harm from second hand smoke to leave it a clear cut libertarian issue of allowing individuals to choose to use substances which are harmful to themselves.

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