31 July 2010

Conservatives and the mistrust of science

The federal government's scrapping of the mandatory long form census has been ascribed to various reasons, from Stephen Harper's selective libertarian philosophy to a sop for the Conservative hard core. Possibly all of these reasons apply to some degree or other, but not to be overlooked is the Conservatives' awkward disconnect between their policies and what science tells us about those policies. Areas of interest that serve as examples include climate change, justice and social health.

That we live on a warming planet has now been firmly established by climate change science. Yet another massive study, this one by U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has established this fact. "Unmistakable" is the word used by Derek Arndt , co-editor of the NOAA report. Nonetheless, the federal government continues to drag its feet in responding to this, the greatest challenge humanity faces. Reports like this must be inconvenient indeed for the foot-draggers, particularly in light of their unequivocal support for tar sands production.

And then there's the justice portfolio. The Conservatives propose a tough law and order regime of longer sentences and bigger prisons. Yet experts in the area tell them this is only marginally useful in keeping the public safe from crime, that there are far more effective and cheaper ways. The data that supports the experts is not welcome in the federal cabinet room.

And then there's the long form census. This presents conservatives with a particularly sticky problem. Analysis of the demographics of  a host of countries increasingly tells us that a more equitable society is a healthier society. Extensive research shows that not only do more equal societies have lower rates of heart disease, crime, drug abuse, obesity, mental illness and other social ills than less equal societies, but the rates are lower for all classes in society, the rich as well as the poor. This is graphically illustrated in the book The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better by epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. Furthermore, Wilkinson and Pickett show that the rates aren't determined by absolute levels of poverty but by relative levels within a society. These statistical relationships are not good news for conservatives. Privilege is, after all, a fundamental tenet of conservative philosophy.

That the Harper government would sabotage the integrity of the long form census is therefore hardly surprising. What political party would want government paying for knowledge that not only undermines its policies but undermines its basic philosophy into the bargain?

1 comment:

  1. Bill, remember what Harper told his caucus in defending his prison fetish. He told them to ignore statistical evidence of the steady, ongoing decline in crime and trust their gut instincts that crime was rampant instead. He told them to ignore reality and common sense and they did just that. That caucus is a gaggle of tightly controlled automatons.

    Cheney understood the value of "red meat" gestures to maintain the zeal of the uber-right. So does our Furious Leader, Mr.Harper.