Tuesday, February 25, 2014
There are many things I disagree with about his column, but Michael Schulson (or the editor) of The Daily
Beast asks a pregnant question in the opening blurb to "Whole Foods: America's Temple of
Pseudoscience" (HT: Snedcat):
Americans get riled up about creationists and climate change deniers [sic], but lap up the quasi-religious snake oil at Whole Foods. It's all pseudoscience--so why are some kinds of pseudoscience more equal than others?Schulson comes to the following interesting and relevant conclusion about the predominantly leftist clientele of Whole Foods:
... By the total lack of outrage over Whole Foods' existence, and by the total saturation of outrage over the Creation Museum, it's clear that strict scientific accuracy in the public sphere isn't quite as important to many of us as we might believe. Just ask all those scientists in the aisles of my local Whole Foods. [link added]Schulson also does a good job cataloging the scientfic nonsense peddled at Whole Foods and likening it to religious dogma and practice. That said (and again), there are many things I disagree with about Schulson's analysis. For example, I don't agree with parts of his conclusion, which is that:
Bringing sound data into political conversations and consumer decisions is a huge, ongoing challenge. It’s not limited to one side of the public debate. The moral is ... that whenever we talk about science and society, it helps to keep two rather humbling premises in mind: very few of us are anywhere near rational. And pretty much all of us are hypocrites.I think Schulson is right to look at the questionable "science" tolerated or accepted on both sides of this cultural divide and conclude that neither side is ultimately rational. His exhortation to bring "sound data into political conversations and consumer decisions" is also laudable.
But good data isn't enough. What is also needed -- whether we are discussing how to achieve good health, the origins of life, or the proper scope of government -- isn't just good data, but the proper method of evaluating such data. Without it -- as we see time and time again in politics -- all the data in the world won't amount to a hill of beans. We should not just insist on good data, but rational justifications that actually follow from it from each other when conversing. In fact, we should start off by insisting on this from ourselves, because the conclusions we form have life-promoting or -impairing consequences. If enough people start doing this, the political conversations would start improving as a result.
It is this last context -- rational self-interest -- that I think is missing from Schulson's analysis, and I think it causes him to miss why leftists get so irritated by the Creation Museum, yet don't bat an eye at Whole Foods. When someone adopts an ideology or a practice that has no rational justification, that person has, somewhere along the line, accepted an arbitrary statement or evaded a falsehood. No matter how much that person distracts himself by performing rituals or making long-winded justifications or getting others to join his folly, he knows what he has done, and the best way to anger him to to hold a mirror up to his face. The Creation Museum is just such a mirror. Add to that a dollop of jealousy of the political power theocrats have regrettably amassed in recent decades, and you have the perfect trigger for an angry leftist to explode.
P.S. More than once in the past, I have offered my support here to Whole Foods CEO John Mackey for his stand against ObamaCare, with which I agree. Considering some of the products he sells and the campaigns his stores support, I regard him as at least intellectually inconsistent, like many too many other businessmen.