There is a strong bid in certain corners of the internet to reject the common sense nostrum, that, “both sides do it.” This is the idea that where you find a liberal pointing at a conservative’s flaw, you’ll soon find the same flaw in the liberal, and then you can observe that “both sides do it.” The idea is insanely addictive as evidenced by countless discussions where it is brought up, whether it is true or not. The idea of equivalency in all two sided policy discussions is a form of cheap cynicism. It is a quick way to ‘sound’ smart, but to get an idea of how stupid it can be, check out the raging stupidity of this opinion piece in the Scientific American. The piece’s premise is that the Republican war on science is well understood, but the left has a war too. Here is an excerpt:
The left’s war on science begins with the stats cited above: 41 percent of Democrats are young Earth creationists, and 19 percent doubt that Earth is getting warmer. These numbers do not exactly bolster the common belief that liberals are the people of the science book. In addition, consider “cognitive creationists”—whom I define as those who accept the theory of evolution for the human body but not the brain. As Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker documents in his 2002 book The Blank Slate (Viking), belief in the mind as a tabula rasa shaped almost entirely by culture has been mostly the mantra of liberal intellectuals, who in the 1980s and 1990s led an all-out assault against evolutionary psychology via such Orwellian-named far-left groups as Science for the People, for proffering the now uncontroversial idea that human thought and behavior are at least partially the result of our evolutionary past.
First of all, what the hell is a “young Earth creationist”? Is that the same thing as a Fundamentalist Christian who takes a strict interpretation of the Bible, or is it some undefined terminology that the writer has shoehorned into his thesis? Also when did 19 percent of a group with “doubt” come to represent an opportunity to jump to broad conclusions about democrats, the left, and liberals (like there is any difference between those categories)? This writer uses a level of analysis that would never pass ‘peer review’. The fact that 4 out of 5 democrats except a scientific explanation without doubt should really be the end of the discussion.
If this writer had an ounce of integrity he would show how the left has changed policy. Has the left succeeded in getting the Texas School Board to ‘teach the controversy’ about nuclear waste? No it has not. Has the left been caterwauling about Solyndra? No. Has the left been shouting down climate science for decade after decade? No. The writer gets this zinger off.
Try having a conversation with a liberal progressive about GMOs—genetically modified organisms—in which the words “Monsanto” and “profit” are not dropped like syllogistic bombs.
This guy is probably going to explode if he hears about the seed bank in Norway one more time. What this writer succeeds in doing is showing that an ultra-sophomoric, “both sides do it” mantra has crept into every forum of our society and rarely has it ever looked as stupid as when it is applied to science. This writer has to dig up an idea from a 2002 book about “Science for the People” which nobody has ever heard of, to make his point. If you have to go that far, you may want to come off your dime store wisdom about “both sides do it.”
The ultimate point is that if a decent magazine like Scientific American can publish lame ideas, then these ideas have entirely too much power over our discourse. One crappy lame-brained piece is not enough to discredit the entire enterprise. The point is that false equivalency is a dangerously easy idea, and it is too easily accepted even by people who are smart enough to know better.