More on Right Wing Science-Phobia: Up from comments edition

A post or two below I tried to tear a strip or two off a new, conservative Slate wannabe site called Culture 11.

In that post, I asserted that the new webzine’s launch with zero science content illustrated a broader problem of current American conservatism refusal to confront the significance of science’s methods and results in any account of the ideas that matter in modern thought, not to mention daily life.  I also suggested that this was so because facts inconveniently muddle what I see as the fantasy life that passes for intellection on at least the web-cages of the right.

To his credit, one of the site’s editors, Conor Friedersdorf, responded with a polite comment, suggesting that as feature editor he would willingly entertain and commission suggestions for “worthwhile” (his loaded word) science stories.

I answered with a long comment saying, in essence, he couldn’t ask for others to do his job for him, but commenter JRE later said it better, which is why I’m excavating his comment for your reading pleasure here:

If Conor Friedersdorf is serious about being serious — that is, if he really wants to examine the triple point where culture, politics and science come together, there are some superb examples out there he might consider as templates.
For example, in his book The Republican War on Science Chris Mooney has argued (persuasively, in my view) that the conservative movement has become actively hostile to, and destructive of, the scientific enterprise. Crooked Timber got an entire seminar out of it.

Now, I’d expect that Mr. Friedersdorf might have a different take from Chris Mooney, and maybe he could scare up some smart conservatives who believe that they are, too in favor of real science — and, in the process, let us how what they think about developmental biology, climatology, and a host of other topics. Because, to be frank, every time I hear another conservative claim that mainstream science is politicized from root to branch, and it’s the right wing that’s carrying the torch of dispassionate inquiry, I think that I don’t know of a time when one party has been so identified with vain, ignorant, dishonest windbaggery.

But this is Conor Friedersdorf’s chance to prove me wrong. How about it, Mr. Friedersdorf?

Image:  Carl Spitzweg, “The Alchemist” c. 1860.  The reproduction is part of a collection of reproductions compiled by The Yorck Project. The compilation copyright is held by Zenodot Verlagsgesellschaft mbH and licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Source:  Wikimedia Commons.

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5 Comments on “More on Right Wing Science-Phobia: Up from comments edition”


  1. The author of the comment and the proprietor of this blog seem to be under the mistaken impression that there is a monolithic “right-wing” that is of a single mind about science. In fact, those on the right are of many different minds about science — a Goldwater voter who earns his living as a mechanical engineer and a Huckabee voter whose children are home-schooled in creationism, for example, are both on the right, but their attitudes toward science are quite different from one another.

    It is also worth pointing out — contra the implicit implication of the commenter — that being a conservative and being a Republican are not the same thing. The GOP has an embarrassing record on science indeed.

    What is equally embarrassing is that an MIT professor, and the readers of his blog, would assume that an editor at a right of center Web magazine favors the Bush Administration approach to science, not because he has ever written anything suggesting as much, or because he has commissioned articles arguing as much, but because this particular MIT professor has such a caricatured view of those who don’t share his political beliefs that he assumes them guilty of the worst intellectual follies absent any evidence whatever.

    So far in this exchange, a professor of science writing criticized a Web magazine that is TWO DAYS OLD for not publishing enough stories on science. The features editor replied stating that he’d love to publish worthwhile science stories. The professor, who imagines “worthwhile” to be a “loaded” word, replied that the editor shouldn’t expect others to do his job for him.

    Well this editor has worked at a few newspapers, and The Atlantic, which happens to be his favorite magazine and a magazine where the professor has published, and he is asserting here and now that part of the job of a features editor is precisely to pick the minds of science writing professors at MIT on ideas for good science features. Unless the professor imagines that editors spin their story ideas out of thin air, I cannot imagine how this could seem unusual.

    Finally, I must say it is bizarre that the professor and his commenter, who are accusing a two day old publication of viewing science through the lens of ideology rather than reality, are themselves the ones who are making inaccurate presumptions based on ideology… and more tellingly, when asked for suggestions about good science stories to cover, their reply is to cite a book on the politics of science.

    Gentlemen, please, I am not interested in stories on the politics of science. For God’s sake, my favorite science writers, off the top of my head, are Carl Sagan, Gregg Easterbrook and Michael Pollan. I am interested in publishing good science journalism, not engaging in a proxy war on the politics of science for either political party.

  2. Tom Says:

    Dear Conor,

    Thanks for this comment. I think I’ll stop with this reply; feel free to respond if you choose, of course, but I’m out after this.

    The point you make that strikes home is, of course, that yours is a very young site. It is too early to come to conclusions, and if I have leapt too far, I apologize. That there is not one science story at launch seems to me regrettable, to say the least, but if you didn’t think the story had some legs two days ago, perhaps you do now.

    But the substance of your comment above is quite off point. There are some nasty rhetorical tactics on display — accusing your critics of an implicit meaning that is nowhere stated is an old one for example, and its use generally indicates that the user would rather engage an argument different from the one actually presented.

    It is certainly too that there are on the right many minds about science; but it is also true that this is less in evidence than it should be in at least what I read of the right wing web press, so I’ll trust you’ll forgive in posts that criticize that press focusing on the point at hand. Irrelevancy is another way to distract from the core argument.

    Nor did, if you look through all the words devoted to this topic and your publication (too many, I fear) is there any connection made between the administration and on Conor Friedersdorf.

    I’m glad you have some experience behind you Conor; you are getting more now. The level of argument here, on the site blog (as noted and not discussed below) and in the several pieces below is about that of your comment above — huff and puff and not much there.

    So, life being short and the hour late, I’m going to let it rest. I will check in on Culture 11 from time to time. If a hundred flowers have bloomed and good science reporting and essays have showed up, I will say so right here.


  3. […] More on Right Wing Science-Phobia: Up from comments edition By Tom In that post, I asserted that the new webzine’s launch with zero science content illustrated a broader problem of current American conservatism refusal to confront the significance of science’s methods and results in any account of the … The Inverse Square Blog – https://inversesquare.wordpress.com […]


  4. Gregg Easterbrook? Well there’s a guilty plea.

    And what’s with the weird third person? This is a blog. All pronouns are in order.

    I am glad to see that Conor the conservative is ashamed to be associated with the largest and most powerful conservative institution in America, the thoroughly discredited GOP.

  5. Tom Says:

    What follows is posted for JRE, who had some trouble I couldn’t quite fathom getting through my unmoderated comments non-filter. (I only moderate stuff with multiple links, for obvious reasons.)

    Thanks, Tom, for the kind words, and thanks, Conor, for responding.

    I think Conor Friedersdorf’s two main points — that it is too early to judge his infant publication by what it hasn’t done yet, and that “conservative” is not the same as “Republican” — are quite well taken.

    In suggesting that — Culture 11 — consider some kind of conservative complement to Chris Mooney, I left the unfortunate impression that I thought conservatives (not Republicans) would feel compelled to — defend — the kind of behavior Mooney describes.
    I don’t think that, and I am grateful to Conor Friedersdorf for saying that he does not think it, either.

    In fact, there are many principled, intellectually honest conservatives who are deeply embarrassed by the spectacle of the GOP’s taking money from commercial interests, and votes from religious interests, to promote the anti-science agendas of each.
    Perhaps Mr. Friedersdorf’s willingness so directly to express that embarrassment is one small herald of a new (dare I hope it?) bipartisan honesty about the world we live in.
    The very best commentary I’ve ever read along those lines was in John Rogers’ classic post “I Miss Republicans” in which he asked plaintively

    “… Remember Republicans? … They were the grown-ups. They were the realists. …
    How did they become the party of fairy dust and make believe? How did they becomethe anti-science guys? The anti-fact guys? The — anti-logic guys? — ”

    With the help of Mr. Friedersdorf and his underground army of honest conservatives, maybe some day not too far in the future, we’ll be saying

    “Oh, — there –you are — welcome back! We missed you!”


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