In the culture war of fact: lead with the values

posted in: Syndicated | 31

GMOs are not the only fashionably foolish denialism sloshing around the internet. Chris Mooney explains over at Mother Jones:

“So is there a case study of science denial that largely occupies the political left? Yes: the claim that childhood vaccines are causing an epidemic of autism. Its most famous proponents are an environmentalist (Robert F. Kennedy Jr.) and numerous Hollywood celebrities (most notably Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey). The Huffington Post gives a very large megaphone to denialists. And Seth Mnookin, author of the new book The Panic Virus, notes that if you want to find vaccine deniers, all you need to do is go hang out at Whole Foods.

Vaccine denial has all the hallmarks of a belief system that’s not amenable to refutation. Over the past decade, the assertion that childhood vaccines are driving autism rates has been undermined by multiple epidemiological studies—as well as the simple fact that autism rates continue to rise, even though the alleged offending agent in vaccines (a mercury-based preservative called thimerosal) has long since been removed.”

The offshoot:
“If you want someone to accept new evidence, make sure to present it to them in a context that doesn’t trigger a defensive, emotional reaction…

…You can follow the logic to its conclusion: Conservatives are more likely to embrace climate science if it comes to them via a business or religious leader, who can set the issue in the context of different values than those from which environmentalists or scientists often argue. Doing so is, effectively, to signal a détente in what Kahan has called a “culture war of fact.” In other words, paradoxically, you don’t lead with the facts in order to convince. You lead with the values—so as to give the facts a fighting chance.”

The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science
How our brains fool us on climate, creationism, and the vaccine-autism link.
— By Chris Mooney
Mon Apr. 18, 2011 3:00 AM PDT
Hat tip to Cami Ryan

See also Henry Miller’s take on Chris Mooney at The Heartland Institute:
Mad Science
Environment & Climate News > May 2006
Written By: Review By Henry I. Miller
Published In: Environment & Climate News > May 2006
Publication date: 05/01/2006
Publisher: The Heartland Institute

The Republican War on Science
by Chris Mooney
Basic Books, September 2005
342 pages, $24.95 cloth, ISBN 0465046754
available on

“I enjoy a spirited, well-argued political argument as much as anybody, but in The Republican War on Science, journalist Chris Mooney offers only a tiresome polemic. It makes one think of a debater who is assigned to one side or the other of a proposition on the basis of a coin flip: If it lands on heads, he has to argue that the Republicans are the bad guys… ” more at link

Further Update

The Panic Virus, Seth Mnookin
“This IS a real tour-de-force”  — GMO Pundit
“This passionate defense of vaccination may be just what the public needs…a tour de force.” — The New York Times 

“A book that should be required reading at every medical school in the world. The Panic Virus is a lesson on how fear hijacks reason and emotion trumps logic.” — The Wall Street Journal
“Serious and gripping…Mnookin’s careful science and compassion for both sides are examples for all journalists.” — Nature

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David Tribe is an applied geneticist, teaching graduate/undergrad courses in food science, food safety, biotechnology and microbiology at the University of Melbourne.