Tuesday, May 18, 2010

On Hacker News on New Scientist on Living in Denial

(This is an extended version of a comment posted on a Hacker News article .)

(No, I don't remember the customary capitalization rules for different parts of speech in titles, why do you ask?)

From the article in question: "Vaccine denial: Umbrella term for a disparate movement claiming that certain vaccines either (1) do not work or (2) are harmful"

I have no particular sympathy with any anti-vaccine activism that I'm aware of. But I wonder how, other than by not being an important faction in the appropriate big political tent, "anti-vaccine denial" ended up on this article's excrement list along with Holocaust deniers, while "nuclear power denial" and "genetic engineering denial" didn't.

My impression is that political opposition to nuclear power plants, to nuclear waste facilities, and to GM crops have had at least as much economic impact as political opposition to vaccines. Thus, it seems to me that they shouldn't be left off this list because they're unimportant.

Perhaps the columnist thinks that the anti-nuke and anti-GM-crops political movements don't belong on the list because they have achieved their success primarily by honestly making valid technical points? Granting for the sake of argument that that is a tenable position, then why ignore them? Wouldn't the anti-nuke and anti-GM movements make useful examples to clarify his position by comparing and contrasting? Wouldn't describing what is healthy and good about the thinking of the anti-GM and anti-nuke coalitions help us understand better what is exactly is so characteristically diseased and vile about anti-vaccine folk to justify grouping them with Holocaust deniers?

Now, I vaguely remember that long ago, when I first encountered "politically correct" used in the usual modern sense, I laughed pretty hard. Cruelly. Since then I've used the term repeatedly, trying to criticize suitably dishonest tactics with the nasty reminder that they seem not only dishonest, but significantly parallel to dishonest tactics which were used to support murderous totalitarian regimes. So maybe I should recognize that being labelled a "denier" for arguing against the IPCC version of AGW (as opposed to, say, little-feedback "lukewarming") should be considered karmic justice. (Pretty crude justice, I think, since the parallel seems broken in various ways. E.g., the left regards Che t-shirts rather more fondly than right regards Rommel t-shirts. If you want a recognizable parallel, it would work a lot better to make a nasty reference to how Confederate sympathies are widely tolerated. It's not that there are no real problems to be nasty about, just that being nasty about the particular problem of Nazi sympathies is delusional.)

Perhaps what's going on is a rhetorical declaration of political factional loyalty by politically correct use of a partisan barb, not an actual assessment that people are violating some objective standard of analysis and discourse. Perhaps then I should accept that, since I've confessed to politically-correct-for-libertarians[*] use of the barb "politically correct." However, if indeed that's what's going on, I think it would be nice if the New Scientist would be honest about it. If the tables were turned, I'd be pretty disgusted with a magazine article, either an openly partisan one or a nominally objective one, which published a lot of text based on a definition of "politically correct" in neutral terms, but mysteriously happened to choose only targets on the left when illustrating those terms, avoiding e.g. any school boards which have made embarrassingly right-wing curriculum or library choices, or various episodes of narrowly doctrinaire in-group infighting weirdness among libertarian groups, even when discussing parallel kinds of misbehavior on the left.


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