New Scientist : Divide, Rule

Once in a while, I read something in the New Scientist magazine that makes me consider whether I should cancel my subscription, as an act of activism. However, doing this would not achieve anything in terms of change or correction, nor would it be an effective signal to anyone, as my words and actions carry so little significance.

I cannot imagine the editorial staff at New Scientist being overcome with shame and remorse by hearing my admonition, but it really needs to be given : they have indulged in the worst display of “divide and rule” I have read in a long time.

The editorial of 30th January 2013, in addition to an Opinion piece from, invents two pigeonholes of allegiance, and attempts to squeeze everyone into one of them. Then it dismisses one group and pleads for everyone to join the other. This is psychological manipulation of the worst sort.

So what is the faultline that New Scientist claims we need to be on the right, correct, safe side of ? Science. And then it goes on to define what science is, and what unscientific is, by listing various technologies.

So, apparently, since I reject a blanket approval on all genetic engineering, I can automatically be labelled politically as a “liberal”, and also told I am being unscientific. Great. There I was, asking everybody to trust the evidence base, and not to get confused between technology and science, and now it seems I am being accused of being anti-science.

So, for the record, here is my take on the issue. Technology is not the same as science. For example, it is perfectly possible to manufacture medicines by chemical processes that, when tested, show an ability to treat illness and poor symptoms. And then, when the medicine is used by the general population, it is perfectly possible for the chemistry to cause unintended side-effects that were not detected (or reported) in the trials.

I am grateful my mother refused to take an anti-nausea medicine when she was pregnant with me, because otherwise I could have suffered congenital defects from Thalidomide administration. Thalidomide was a technology. Not a science. Science was the research process that determined that medication with Thalidomide was causing congenital defects.

According to the Opinion piece, I am in the camp of “good” people because I accept Climate Change science. But then, I can also be definitely categorised as “liberal” or “progressive”, and also “anti-science”, because I disagree with the notion of the safety, productivity and acceptability of the genetic engineering of food crops.

And further, according to this Opinion piece, I must be committing a “sin against science” because I have ethical aversion to unregulated stem cell research – peoples’ religious and spiritual sensitivites about the use of human embryos need to be respected in a righteous community, I believe.

According to this Opinion piece, “Progressives, not conservatives, are the ones most likely to replace scientific research with unscientific ideology.” This is Orwellian, psychopathic nonsense if you consider the reality of the actions of political forces in the United States of America : including the changing of the law to enforce unscientific education and the “conservative” Republican efforts to trim the science budgets of the Federal administration.

Labels are just words, and they can be played with. As an example, I consider myself a conservative with a lowercase “c” : I believe in the conservation of environmental wealth; the conservation of energy resources, water, forests; the conservation of human civilisation; the conservation of the rights of the vulnerable; the conservation of social budgets through tax revenue-gathering; the conservation of public utilities and health; the conservation of the tradition of dialogue in public space; and the conservation of freedom of thought and speech. I don’t think I’m being “socially authoritarian” because I believe in equality, access, justice, education, self-advancement, health and safety, biosecurity, ethical science and the precautionary principle – these things are of the finest “liberal” intellectual tradition.

For somebody to be labelled as “anti-scientific” because they have concerns about certain technologies, or disagree with the efficacy of certain policies, is surely divisive, and possibly falls into the category of hate speech. This “Libertarian” misuse of free speech is irresponsible, as it unscientifically brands people as right or wrong based on a personal judgement, without researching the full spectrum of social and political thought on science and technology.


Challenge unscientific thinking, whatever its source
30 January 2013
Magazine issue 2902

Science may lean to the left, but that’s no reason to give progressives who reject it a “free pass”

IF SCIENCE could vote, who would it vote for? Ask scientists, and a clear answer comes back: science leans to the left.

A 2009 survey conducted by Pew Research in the US found that 52 per cent of scientists identified themselves as liberal, and slightly more believed the scientific community as a whole leaned that way. The corresponding figures for conservatism? Just 9 per cent and 2 per cent respectively.

This association between science and left-leaning politics can only have been reinforced by the disdain with which vocal right-wing politicians, particularly in the US, have treated scientific evidence in recent years. That contrasts with the Obama administration’s endorsement of it – although words always come more readily than actions (see “How Obama will deliver his climate promise”).

Certainly, some conservatives conspicuously reject those parts of science that clash with their world views – notably evolution, climate change and stem cell research. But this doesn’t mean those on the left are automatically and unimpeachably pro-science. In “Lefty nonsense: When progressives wage war on reason”, Alex Berezow and Hank Campbell put forward their view that unscientific causes and concerns are just as rife among progressives as conservatives. Conservatives may sometimes be blinkered by their enthusiasm for what they see as moral rectitude, but progressives can be overcome by “back to nature” sentiments on, say, food or the environment.

Berezow and Campbell further claim that progressives who endorse unscientific ideas get a “free pass” from the scientific community. The suspicion must be that this is because scientists themselves lean towards the left, as does the media that covers them. (Both friends and critics of New Scientist tell us we lean in that direction.)

Is there any substance to that suspicion? We should go to every possible length to ensure there isn’t. Unreason of any hue is dangerous; any suggestion of bias only makes it harder to overcome. Science and liberalism are natural allies, but only in the literal sense of liberalism as the pursuit of freedom. That means freedom of thought, freedom of speech and, above all, freedom from ideology – wherever on the political spectrum it comes from.

From issue 2902 of New Scientist magazine, page 3.




Science Is Not Opinion

Wed Jan 30 19:18:36 GMT 2013 by Eric Kvaalen

“IF SCIENCE could vote, who would it vote for? Ask scientists, and a clear answer comes back: science leans to the left.”

No. Scientists lean to the left. Science itself does not address questions of moral values.

“Science and liberalism are natural allies, but only in the literal sense of liberalism as the pursuit of freedom.”

Science has nothing to say about whether the pursuit of freedom is good or bad.


Out Of Your Own Mouths

Thu Jan 31 07:10:04 GMT 2013 by Sandy Henderson

The editorial , whilst striving for balance, betrays it’s inclinations when it names what some call “left” as progressive. Nor is it unbiased to claim that liberalism is necessarily left biased ( socialistic ). Liberty venerates freedom, but not without responsibility, otherwise that would be licence.

It would be of interest to know what percentage of scientists poled would class themselves as self employed. I suspect that most are employees, and with that comes some baggage. When you have to bear the full costs of your mistakes yourself it alters your perceptions and you are more acutely aware of double standards in others.

Besides which scientists are not science, just as farmers are not farming. Success and failure in either depends on results, not the political persuasion of those employed.

Whether science has anything to say , or not, about politics, really depends on how dependable research is into human behaviour and how deniable these results will be by those who have an interest in so doing


Lefty nonsense: When progressives wage war on reason

30 January 2013 by Alex Berezow and Hank Campbell
Magazine issue 2902
Comment and Analysis and US national issues

Conservatives rightly get a bad rap for anti-science policies. But progressives can be just as bad, say Alex Berezow and Hank Campbell

Editorial: “Challenge unscientific thinking, whatever its source”

IN 2007, fresh off an election victory in both chambers of Congress, the Democratic party set out to fulfil its campaign promise to make the US more sustainable – starting with the building they had just gained control of.

With their “Green the Capitol” initiative, the Democrats planned to make the building a model of sustainability and an example to us all. They replaced light bulbs and bathroom fixtures, but perhaps most significantly, they took the step of greening the congressional cafeteria. Cost was no object. Good thing, too.

The problem, as they saw it, was an excessive reliance on environmentally wasteful styrofoam containers and plastic utensils. And so they issued a decree: from now on, the cafeteria would use biodegradable containers and utensils.

They claimed science was on their side: the utensils could be composted, and would thus be better for the environment. The result was a miracle of sustainability, at least according to internal reports, which claimed to have kept 650 tonnes of waste out of landfill between 2007 and 2010.

The only problem was that the “green” replacements were worse for the environment. The spoons melted in soup, so people had to use more than one to get through lunch. The knives could barely cut butter without breaking. And instead of composting easily, they had to be processed in a special pulper and then driven to Maryland in giant trucks.

In 2010 an independent analysis found that the saving was equivalent to removing a single car from the road – at a cost of $475,000 per year. Wary of disappointing their environmentally concerned supporters, Democrats waited until the Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives in 2011 – and then suggested that the programme be killed. Republicans duly instructed the cafeteria to revert to using utensils and containers that actually worked.

Deposed Democrat speaker Nancy Pelosi saw an opportunity, and took it: “GOP brings back Styrofoam & ends composting – House will send 535 more tons to landfills,” she tweeted.

Did progressives call her to account? No, but they should have. According to the Democrats’ own figures their programme only saved about 200 tonnes of waste per year. Where did Pelosi get 535 tonnes from?

This anecdote is both illuminating and chilling: if an environmental story is being told about people on the right of the political spectrum, anything goes. But if progressives play fast and loose with the facts, they are given a free ride.

Conservatives’ sins against science – objections to stem cell research, denial of climate science, opposition to evolution and the rest – are widely reported and well known. But conservatives don’t have a monopoly on unscientific policies. Progressives are just as bad, if not worse. Their ideology is riddled with anti-scientific feel-good fallacies designed to win hearts, not minds. Just like biodegradeable spoons, their policies often crumble in the face of reality and leave behind a big mess. Worse, anyone who questions them is condemned as anti-science.

We have all heard about the Republican war on science; we want to draw attention to the progressive war on reason.

We recognise that the term “progressive” is potentially troublesome, so let us lay our cards on the table. In the US, “progressive” and “liberal” are often used interchangeably. But the two should not be confused.

Liberalism, as defined by John Locke, means the pursuit of liberty. By that definition progressives are not liberal. Though they claim common cause with liberals (and most of them are Democrats because very few progressives are Republican), today’s progressive movement is actually socially authoritarian.

Unlike conservative authoritarians, however, they are not concerned with banning “immoral” things like sex, drugs and rock and roll. They instead seek dominion over issues such as food, the environment and education. And they claim that their policies are based on science, even when they are not.

For example, progressive activists have championed the anti-vaccine movement, confusing parents and causing a public health disaster. They have campaigned against animal research even when it remains necessary, in some cases committing violence against scientists. Instead of embracing technological progress, such as genetically modified crops, progressives have spread fear and misinformation. They have waged war against academics who question their ideology, and they are opposed to sensible reforms in science education.

We do not want not to demonise all progressives. Some are genuinely pro-science. We recognise the huge value some progressive ideas have had, and that vilifying an entire philosophy based on the actions of its radical ideologues would be unfair.

But we do want to demonise the lunatic fringe. We contend that there is a disturbing and largely unreported trend among influential progressive activists who misinterpret, misrepresent and abuse science to advance their ideological and political agendas.

Of all of today’s political philosophies, progressivism stands as the most pressing problem for science. Progressives, not conservatives, are the ones most likely to replace scientific research with unscientific ideology.

Conservatives who endorse unscientific ideas are blasted by the scientific community, yet progressives who do the same get a free pass. It is important the problem be recognised, and that free pass revoked.

This article appeared in print under the headline “Science left out”

Alex Berezow is editor of

Hank Campbell is founder of Science 2.0. Berezow and Campbell are authors of Science Left Behind: Feel-good fallacies and the rise of the anti-scientific left (PublicAffairs, 2012)

From issue 2902 of New Scientist magazine, page 24-25.




Quo Vadis?

Wed Jan 30 21:08:53 GMT 2013 by Eric Kvaalen

“We recognise the huge value some progressive ideas have had, and that vilifying an entire philosophy based on the actions of its radical ideologues would be unfair.”

So what is that philosophy? The word “progressive” seems to imply getting rid of what we had in the past — traditional moral values, religion — basically the opposite of “conservative”.


One thought on “New Scientist : Divide, Rule”

  1. Jo

    So now you know how us AGW sceptics feel, having experienced that same tactic yourself.


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