If you’ve read this blog for long, you know I have issues with conservatism. Many of these issues come from an utter unwillingness to be reasonable. Mountains of evidence that evolution is real? They counter with some nonsense about the world being 6,000 years old. Enough evidence to cover the Himalayas that global warming is here and scary? They want to show you a study funded by an oil company. It’s ridiculous.
But, I also frequently opine that the liberal version of this kind of nonsense is not hard to find. You just have to look for phrases like “wisdom of the ancients” or “natural remedy.” It comes with a healthy fear and paranoia regrading some amorphous entity known as “the establishment.” The thing about liberal cranks that really bothers me is how bad they make the rest of us look.
But both the liberal and conservative strains of quackery come from the same source: feelings. Each of us has an idea of how the world “really” is. The problem comes when we try too hard to make the real world fit with our perception of it. This is where cognitive dissonance comes in. That is, you believe, for instance, that vaccinating your kids is bad, but there is a wealth of data saying vaccinations are good for children and society as a whole and that they are very low risk. But they don’t feel low risk because you know someone whose kid had bad reaction or you heard about something like that and hey, who gets polio anymore anyway, right?
So what do you do? You have two choices. One is that you realize that mountains of scientific evidence outweigh your unusual (or media-scaremonger driven) and anecdotal experience and vaccinate your kids. This way they don’t get whooping cough or polio and neither does the kid who can’t get vaccinated because they really do have a bad reaction or they have leukemia or something similarly horrible. The second choice is that you ignore the data and go with your gut feeling. In this circumstance, you eliminate the infinitesimal chance that one of your kid has a bad reaction to the shot, but you expose them to risk from all kinds of diseases they wouldn’t have gotten before. This is what is known as an irrational choice.
Irrational choices are fine in a rational world because they don’t disturb the system as a whole, but if too many people start making irrational choices like not vaccinating, then the world becomes irrational and all of a sudden you have babies dying because they didn’t get the vaccine for whooping cough or, even worse, the planet turns into an oven and sea levels rise. Fortunately, we live in a rational world, so this is really just a fun thought experiment.
And now we come to my point which is that, when there is data, I try very hard to do what the data says. Why? Because I trust science. Science does not have an agenda. Companies have agendas. Individuals (even individual scientists) have agendas. Religions often have a agendas. But science does not have an agenda. Or, if it does, that agenda is to know everything about everything, which is only going to help the decision-making process.
And it doesn’t matter if you’re a conservative or a liberal, if you are actively denying science (and I don’t mean some cutting edge theory, I mean stuff for which there is a nearly total consensus and an overwhelming volume of data), then you are behaving irrationally. That means you are behaving not only counter to your best interests, but often to the best interests of those around you. You are making the world worse.
And I don’t understand why people do this. I’ve never understood. There are, of course, some decisions we have to make by gut. Who do I marry? Do I like this painting? Which guitar do I like better? How do I feel about this tie? These are emotional decisions. They have to be because we don’t have data for them.
But to deny data simply because it doesn’t mesh with your worldview is the worst kind of navel-gazing. Facts, despite the current perception, are not the same as opinions. We can argue about books or music or art or whether wood floors are better than carpet, but we cannot argue about vaccines or global warming anymore than we can argue that 2+2=4. I’ve run into too many people who do this kind of thing and it drives me nuts. They can never cite solid sources. Maybe they’ll send you to some obviously crackpot web page, but they’ll probably try to change the topic or ignore your request for facts to back up their claims. Why? Because they don’t have facts. Just feelings.
If you are one of these people, please, get on the reason train. The view is nice. The weather is cool. And we don’t have polio.