About ten years ago Bruno Latour wrote an article titled Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern, in which he (grossly simplifying) commented on how the critical tools developed by left-leaning intellectuals to protect society from unstable knowledge presented as solid science were hijacked by the right in order to de-stabilize perfectly good science in order to further their own political agenda, be it for religious reasons – as in the opposition to teaching evolutionary biology – or economic ones – as in the opposition to many forms of environmental science.
The key example of the latter that Latour uses is the denialism surrounding anthropogenic climate change, or, as it is more popularly known, “global warming”. He cites Frank Luntz’s strategy, after acknowledging that they were losing the scientific debate, of trying to further the idea that the evidence is not complete.
Further ahead in the text, Latour exclaims: “Why does it burn my tongue to say that global warming is a fact whether you like it or not? Why can’t I simply say that the argument is closed for good?”
Fast forward to the present, and the situation only got worse, especially in the US; a deep polarization of the political argument, paired with a willfull politicization of that particular issue, only led to an increase in the number of climate change deniers there.
And, alarmingly, it seems that the US is setting the example; recently the investigative reporter George Monbiot published a news item (Parliament of Fools) reporting how conservative politicians in the UK are following the steps of their American brethren. In his words, “A ‘flat-earth love-in’. That’s how one MP described the debate he witnessed in parliament last week. The politics with which citizens of the US, Canada and Australia are now wearily familiar – in which elected representatives denounce both scientific evidence and the researchers who produce it – have arrived in Britain.”
This is a dangerous trend that has to be repealled vigorously. The necessary criticism of science should not be confused with an ideological nihilism serving powerful interests. As Monbiot put it, “Never underestimate the willingness of powerful people to ignore the evidence they find inconvenient. Never underestimate their willingness to appease industrial lobbyists by repeating the nonsense they generate. Never understimate their readiness to sacrifice the common interests of humankind for the sake of a belief they refuse to abandon.”
And always remember: Science. It works, bitches.