Science is not the enemy

Many who read AMERICAblog consider themselves progressives or liberals.

As such, we generally favor truth, science, honesty, people over corporations, citizens’ welfare (education, health care, health insurance, jobs, living wages, housing and a variety of similar goals), freedom, voting rights, civil rights and other causes often espoused by the Democrats. Often, we are diametrically opposed to conservatives and their beliefs.

Often when conservatives post replies to liberal blog posts, articles or comments, they use a number of techniques that really don’t add anything to the topic at hand. Sometimes they just do an ad hominem personal attack. Other times they may use disproven information or even lie. They may introduce other topics to try to divert from the posted topic. Or they may deny the validity of the original argument or the information presented without presenting any evidence to the contrary.

And frequently, they’ll attempt to generate some kind of strong feeling in the readers such as anger, fear, hatred or some other adrenalinized emotion. When they use the latter on us, it is usually with the hope that it will cloud our judgment, our logic, our facts, because the truth offends them.

Often we’ll chortle to ourselves just how foolish our opponents are, resorting to their standard techniques as a much-used reflex and not thinking through the issue. And show that they are unable to come up with an intelligent reply. With them, it seems to be a stimulus-response reaction. Much like a knee jerk in response to a tap with a reflex hammer.

Angry egg via Shutterstock

Angry egg via Shutterstock

Recently, I did two posts that obviously touched a nerve and perhaps incited a reflex among readers.  The first article was about the potential risks posed by e-cigarettes.  The second, about the known medical benefits of male circumcision.  Both articles were my analysis and synthesis, as an M.D. and practicing physician, of the best medical science to date.

You’d have thought I spat on the flag.

Many of the replies posted used the conservative tactics mentioned above. Some people used wild hyperbole, questioned my credentials and honesty, others just denied the evidence posted. Some, clearly, didn’t read the post, much less the information in the links. Several of those who posted clearly had a liberal bent (at least from what I’d seen of their posts on other topics on AMERICAblog and other sites.) Yet, on these two topics, had I not seen those previous posts, I would have thought that they were definitely of the conservative persuasion. At least from the tactics used in the post, if not the content that they wrote.

The tone of many of the replies to these posts was sung in the key of “I.”

E-cigarette via Shutterstock

E-cigarette via Shutterstock

On the e-cigarette post, the overwhelming response to my article was: “But, I want to be able to smoke.” Few of the replies were concerned with others who might possibly be affected by the smoke: former smokers, children, asthmatics and others with breathing problems. It took us generations to realize that second-hand smoke from tobacco was dangerous. Might it not be the same here? Could our smoking of e-cigarettes lead children and other adults to become addicted?

Apparently not. Many of those who responded seemed to use the conservative, “I got mine (e-cigarettes), now you get yours.”

 An anti-circumcision protester stands in front of the White House in Washington DC on March 30, 2013. Rena Schild /

An anti-circumcision protester stands in front of the White House in Washington DC on March 30, 2013. Rena Schild /

The replies to the post on circumcision was  similar in nature. Denials of the data, anger, hyperbole and diversion. Few were concerned that someone who is uncircumcised could well spread disease to a partner or multiple partners (I had noted, for example, the fact that female partners of circumcised men have a lower risk of getting HPV, which can cause cancer in women). Some voiced opinions with no, or limited, basis in fact. No one seemed overly concerned about uncircumcised infants and children who are at risk for genitourinary diseases. The key of “I” resonated here, too.

I’d like to ask you to go back to these two posts and just skim through the comments. Look at a few from each post.

Perhaps the anger generated prevented clear thinking about the topics. Whatever the cause, I was amazed that many progressives/liberals/Democrats reacted as they did, by mimicking conservative tactics: denying, distracting, distorting, demonizing.

AMERICAblog editor John Aravosis has written a number of articles about the larger “outrage” problem in American politics today. I’d hope that when considering science, of all things, everyone, conservatives and liberals both, would at least keep an open mind.

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Mark Thoma, MD, is a physician who did his residency in internal medicine. Mark has a long history of social activism, and was an early technogeek, and science junkie, after evolving through his nerd phase. Favorite quote: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science... is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny.'” - Isaac Asimov

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