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Is Joe Blow “Anti-Intellectual”?


It’s a common claim among Darwinists that people who question “expert” scientific opinion on such topics as evolution, global warming, and the mind-brain relationship are “anti-intellectual” science deniers. Steven Novella, a Yale neurologist and credulous Darwinist and materialist makes the claim in a recent post:

As science-communicators and skeptics we are trying to understand the phenomenon of rejection of evidence, logic, and the consensus of expert scientific opinion. 

Ironically, Novella, who considers himself a skeptic, decries the skepticism of people who don’t agree with him.

Purity and Consensus

How can it be, scientific experts ask, that so many people doubt scientific experts? Novella:

There is, of course, no one explanation — complex psychological phenomena are likely to be multifactorial. Decades ago the blame was placed mostly on scientific illiteracy, a knowledge deficit problem, and the prescription was science education. Many studies over the last 20 years or so have found a host of factors — including moral purity, religious identity, ideology, political identity, intuitive (as opposed to analytical) thinking style, and a tendency toward conspiratorial thinking. And yes, knowledge deficit also plays a role. These many factors contribute to varying degrees on different issues and with different groups. They are also not independent variables, as they interact with each other. Religious and political identity, for example, may be partially linked, and may contribute to a desire for moral purity.

“Moral purity” plays a big role in Novella’s theory. A want of moral purity puts you in tune with the latest science consensus. Novella may have a point. He rambles about several scientific studies that cast aspersion on people who don’t sufficiently esteem scientific studies, and he concludes:

[The] alternative [to science credulity] is populist rejection of not only experts, but the institutions of expertise and the concept of expertise itself. This leads to intellectual anarchy (often justified by portraying it as intellectual freedom, but that is not the issue and entirely misses the point). The populist view is mostly about believing what feels good, going along with an explanatory narrative that makes some kind of sense of a complex and scary world and organizes that understanding around vilifying an enemy, who is to blame for our problems. What’s scary is that our political and media institutions may favor such simplistic and appealing populist narratives, and disadvantage more nuanced approaches.

To Novella’s chagrin, the rubes don’t fall in line with science experts nearly as often as scientific experts think they ought to. Why so? 

Joe Knows a Few Things

Consider Joe Blow. Joe has no scientific education. He’s a truck driver. He works a couple of jobs to support his family, he pays his taxes, coaches his son’s little league team, and goes to church on Sundays. He is anything but a scientific expert, but he does know a few things. 

Joe has been told since the 1980s that the world is going to end due to global warming. It sounds like those crazy guys with the placards who say the world is gonna end tomorrow. The earth’s sell-by-date keeps getting pushed forward — polar ice caps were supposed to melt, but didn’t, polar bears were supposed to go extinct, but didn’t, sea levels were supposed to inundate coastal cities, but didn’t, and tens of millions of climate refugees were supposed to perish fleeing the catastrophic heat. Joe’s still waiting. He is also still waiting for the apocalyptic global cooling he was told about in the 1970s (Joe ain’t no scientist, but he has a good memory). He remembers watching Paul Ehrlich on TV in the late 1960s warning that overpopulation was going to cause billions of people to die of starvation and cause nations to disintegrate over the next couple of decades. Joe wonders how a scientist could be so wrong and still keep his job and even get elected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the United States National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. 

The Rules Don’t Apply to Scientists

Joe knows that if he screwed up his own job like that, he’d be fired before the day was out. But those rules don’t apply to scientists. Joe remembers hearing that DDT and other pesticides was going to kill all birds and give us all cancer. DDT was banned, and lots of people started (again) dying of malaria, and scientists were pretty proud of themselves for getting DDT banned and told people who didn’t want to get malaria to sleep with nets.  

Joe remembers being told by scientists in the 1990s that AIDS was going to spread to the heterosexual community and kill millions of Americans. He remembers the panic over Y2K, when nothing happened except that some scientists got big grants to study it. Joe has heard a lot about the science replication crisis — he doesn’t fully understand it, but he knows that it means that a whole lot of science is basically made up.

Joe remembers his father talking about when the U.S. government sterilized tens of thousands of innocent people against their will because scientific experts insisted that humanity was degenerating due to poor breeding. Joe isn’t exactly sure what eugenics was, but he knows that nearly all scientific institutions embraced it for nearly a century, and Joe suspects that it was just a way to make sure there weren’t too many people like Joe. 

Thinking About Evolution

Joe doesn’t know what to think about evolution. He believes in God, and knows that it’s obvious that a Higher Power made this beautiful and vastly complex world. He doesn’t have a problem with the claim that animals change over time, but he doesn’t think that scientists should drag his son’s teachers into federal court to force them to teach his boy that there’s no purpose in life. He thinks we should be able to question science, especially in schools. And he wonders why Darwin’s theory is so certain, since it can’t even stand up to questions from schoolchildren. 

Joe wonders why scientists say that babies aren’t really human before they’re born, when it’s obvious that life starts at conception. Joe wonders why scientists say that there are lots of genders besides men and women, when it’s pretty obvious that men are men and women are women, and saying otherwise doesn’t make otherwise true. Joe thinks that if scientists don’t like fossil fuels, they’re free to stop using them. Why do scientists fly to global warming conferences in big jets, Joe wonders? Why do billionaires who preach about climate change own so many houses? And Joe wonders why no scientists objected to taking money from a known child molester like Jeffrey Epstein. Heck, if they didn’t speak up about that, why would anyone expect them to speak up for scientific truth?

Joe Is No Scientist

But he knows that time and time again scientists have lied and cheated and said stupid things and they’ve even sterilized and killed people, and they never seem to be held to account. Heck, they even seem to prosper when they’re wrong. 

And Joe knows that he’s an expert on one thing: his own money. He pays his taxes, and when scientists call him stupid, what they always mean is that he doesn’t want his own tax money spent on what scientists want just because scientists want it. Joe thinks that scientists should explain why they screwed up so much in the past before we believe everything they say today. 

In a democracy, Joe says, the ultimate expert is the people, and scientists have done little over the past century to earn people’s trust. Unaccountability is the name of the game in the scientific world. Again and again scientists screw up, and then they insult the people who pay their salaries and they insult the people who point out that they’ve screwed up. Joe thinks that employees should be polite to their employers.

Joe may be anti-intellectual, but he’s no fool.

Photo credit: Veronica538 / CC BY-SA.