Why the Republican War on Science?

Conservatives reject moral relativism where standards of right and wrong are thought to be mere products of time and culture, but what about the dangers of intellectual relativism where one believes what he wants to believe simply because it supports one's value structure?
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This post is part of a Huffington Post series that showcases commentary from some of our most active and thoughtful users. See Marvin's commentary as HuffPost user Realpolitic here, and read his second piece below.

Conservatives have been engaged in a war against science for at least as long as John Scopes of Scopes Monkey Trial fame sat sweating in a hot Tennessee courtroom on trial for teaching evolution. To this day, Republicans distrust information from elites, academics, and even that reported in the mainstream media. Conservatives work especially hard to undermine science that interferes with commercial interests, namely the profit motive. What happens when scientific conclusions clash with a preconceived ideology and why the difficulty in recognizing one's own preconceptions? Or is the Republican war on science really a war on reality itself?

The global warming consensus is more often debated in the popular media where a he-said, she-said reportage is used than among scientists. In fact, the U.S. Climate Change Research Program reported in 2009 that:

Observations show that warming of the climate is unequivocal. The global warming observed over the past 50 years is due primarily to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases. No scientific organization of international standing disagrees:

A 2010 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences analyzed "1,372 climate researchers and their publication and citation data to show that (i) 97-98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of anthropogenic climate change outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and (ii) the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of anthropogenic climate change are substantially below that of the convinced researchers."

Therefore, why the denial campaign?

Researchers have been measuring the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii since 1958. The CO2 content, uniform throughout the earth's atmosphere, has increased from a pre-industrial concentration of 280 ppm to 392 ppm today, an increase of more than a third. CO2 and other greenhouse gases act as a blanket in our atmosphere that trap the sun's energy. The last time CO2 levels were as high as today was three million years ago, during the Pliocene era, a time long before even the first cigar chomping conservative took his first tax deduction. CO2 levels at that time remained elevated for thousands of years giving a picture of where we are heading today. Then, the Arctic was ice-free in the summers with temperatures being between 20 to 29 degrees F warmer than today, sea levels anywhere from 15 to 100 feet higher, and global temperatures 5 to 7 degrees F warmer. During this era, the Isthmus of Panama cemented North America to South America.

Temperatures at the earth's surface have risen 1.1 degree C, or nearly 1.98 degree F, since the beginning of the 20th century and the warming is accelerating. NOAA's annual State of the Climate Report for 2009 reports that "Past Decade is the Warmest on Record According to Scientists in 48 Countries":

Each of the last three decades has been much warmer than the decade before. At the time, the 1980s was the hottest decade on record. In the 1990s, every year was warmer than the average of the previous decade. The 2000s were warmer still. "The temperature increase of one degree Fahrenheit over the past 50 years may seem small, but it has already altered our planet," said Deke Arndt, co-editor of the report and chief of the Climate Monitoring Branch of NOAA's National Climatic Data Center. "Glaciers and sea ice are melting, heavy rainfall is intensifying and heat waves are more common. And, as the new report tells us, there is now evidence that over 90 percent of warming over the past 50 years has gone into our ocean."

With more heat energy in the atmosphere, chaotic weather patterns are becoming routine. An estimated 15,000 people died in the Moscow heat wave of 2010. Thailand experienced the worst flooding in its history with Bangkok, its capital city of 10 million, choked by water. Australia is almost an Armageddon with record wildfires, flooding that saw 60% of Queensland under water, and temperatures well above 100 degrees F. Catastrophic wildfires scorched Texas last year, rudely ignoring Governor Perry's blanket denial of climate change. Perry's response was to hold a prayer meeting to pray for rain, but he may as well have hired a diviner to search for water in the ground. Although likely not invited to the prayer meeting, scientist Jay Gulledge stated:

There is a well documented link between the earlier start of spring, higher summer temperatures, and drier conditions during summer and fall -- that is, climate change -- and a dramatic increase in wildfire activity in the western U.S. since the late 1980s. These observations reveal an increase in fire risk due to climate change.

Given this massive body of information and the reality of intensifying storm systems, how do conservatives so easily scoff at climate change? For example, Rick Santorum boosted:

I've never supported even the hoax of global warming." Has the GOP completely abandoned the Enlightenment, adopting instead an almost pagan idolatry for the powers of the wind and rain gods? Well, some psychology is needed to explain the GOP war on science. "In particular, more and more attention focuses on motivated reasoning, a subconscious and often automatic emotional process in which people rationalize pre-existing views that are important to their identities, including in the face of direct factual refutation. So we are beginning to be able to understand the Republican denial of science as part of a motivated process in which certain scientific claims are seen as so threatening to self-identity and group affiliations that they must be rejected in order to preserve a sense of self.

Well, we have ended largely where we began that conservatives just trust their gut instincts more than others. However, science is not the movie Rashomon where the same story is told from multiple perspectives completely changing the narrative. If we do not share the same facts, dialogue is impossible. When science becomes just another front in the culture wars, society is the loser and scientific innovation migrates to distant shores. Lastly, conservatives reject moral relativism where standards of right and wrong are thought to be mere products of time and culture, but what about the dangers of intellectual relativism where one believes what he wants to believe simply because it supports one's value structure? Just asking!

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