Saturday, February 6, 2010

Battles Go Away

Chris Mooney has pointed to a spot along the divide where he thinks a bridge would be splendid:

In a feature story for Discover magazine a year back, I surveyed the vaccine-autism debate and tried to pose a question I felt few others had adequately considered. What would it take—beyond the overwhelming scientific evidence, which already exists—for this battle to finally go away? A Lancet retraction isn’t going to do it, that’s for sure. For vaccine skeptics, that’s just more evidence of corruption and collusion in the medical establishment. Indeed, I doubt any individual scientific development has the strength to move these folks—because we aren’t dealing with a phenomenon that’s scientific in nature.
The last part is true enough. It's not "scientific in nature," this mode of thinking that entails a studied, principled, obdurate stand against facts when facts contradict preferences.

It's undeniable: reason-driven, evidence-responsive methods of obtaining truths about the world show a persistent tendency to produce answers that discomfit people for various reasons. As Mooney himself says:
We need to get people in a room and try to get them to agree about something—anything.
I say we start here: that truth matters; that a body of demonstrable facts is a precious thing that is worth more than even the loudest, best organized, most lavishly financed screaming; that passions, desires, and emotional investments have their place in human affairs, but they should not trump reality.

Twaddle about putting people in rooms and building bridges does not change the fact -- and it is a fact -- that the truth is sometimes not as we would prefer it to be. Battles will happen, and the ones worth fighting will be fought for locating and defending the truth, and thereafter responding appropriately to it.

(via Ophelia Benson)

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