In its latest cover story, the conservative Weekly Standard has decided to try to refute, outside of the scientific literature, the large body of research on the psychological underpinnings of political ideology (summarized in my book The Republican Brain). The critique, written by Andrew Ferguson, fails badly, in part because it is highly selective at best. Details here.
But what’s particularly interesting is how Ferguson handles the overwhelming evidence of modern day conservative science denial. The basic answer is that he trivializes it. There’s really just one sentence on the matter in his article, and it’s pretty mystifying:
[Mooney’s] list of [conservative] false claims is instructive. Along with the usual hillbilly denials of evolution and global warming, they include these, to grab a quick sample: that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2009 will increase the deficit, cut Medicare benefits, and lead to the death panels that Sarah Palin hypothesized….
Ferguson then goes on to try to defend some of these false claims. He even manages to stand up for “death panels,” which was PolitiFact’s 2009 “lie of the year”!
But notably, Ferguson does nothing to defend evolution denial or global warming denial–or to suggest that conservative science critics are actually factually right in these areas.
So what, precisely, is going on here? Is The Weekly Standard saying that it is “hillbilly” to deny global warming and evolution, and it is too smart a publication for such nonsense? That seems unlikely, for reasons I’ll explain below.
Or alternatively, is Ferguson suggesting that I’m saying that such beliefs are “hillbilly”? But that doesn’t make sense either—if only because I’m certainly saying no such thing.
I know, I know–it can be tough to figure out what conservatives intellectuals are saying sometimes. But let's try to make sense of this.