Liberal Biases, Too, May Block Progress on Climate Change
Ted Cruz’s argument that climate change is a hoax to justify a government takeover of the world is absurd. But Bernie Sanders’s argument that “toxic waste byproducts of nuclear plants are not worth the risks of the technology’s benefit” might be equally damaging.
Highlighting the left’s biases may seem like a pointless effort to apportion equal blame along ideological lines. But it is critical to understand how they have come into being. It suggests how difficult it will be to overcome our scientific and technological taboos.
Research suggests that better scientific knowledge will not be sufficient, on its own, to overcome our biases. Neither will it be mostly about improving education in STEM fields. To defeat our scientific phobias and taboos will require understanding how the findings of science and their consequences fit into the cultural makeup of both liberals and conservatives.
Joel Mokyr at Northwestern University, an expert on the history of science and technology, notes that the ease with which people accept scientific knowledge depends on how straightforward the proof is.
Einstein’s theory of relativity was readily accepted despite the fact that few people understood it because there were a couple of experimental results no other theory could explain. Natural selection is trickier.
“It is awfully hard to find a smoking gun” to prove evolution, Professor Mokyr told me. “This is by definition because the process is so slow.”
The evolution of scientific knowledge is messy, too. It does not neatly converge on truth along a smooth line, but rather jumps around as new knowledge disproves old certainties. Scientists’ understanding of the speed, intensity and implications of climate change is substantially different from what it was only a couple of decades ago.