Are libertarians science deniers?

Conference hall of ~1200 attendees at 2014 Amaz!ng Meeting
Conference hall of ~1200 attendees at 2014 Amaz!ng Meeting

A response to Donald Prothero’s speech ‘The Mind of a Science Denier’ presented at the 2014 Amaz!ng Meeting

Throughout my experience at The 2014 Amazing Meeting, I had few major disagreements with the information presented during panel discussions, speeches, and presentations. Read my thoughts, typed while in flight, here. Most of the major disagreements involved Donald Prothero’s speech ‘The Mind of a Science Denier.’

Some major points of contention I had with his quite partisan speech — much unlike other speeches which did not seem to have much discussion of politics or political leanings (although to be fair Michael Shermer seemed to echo some of his libertarian perspectives) — were rejecting the notion that ‘woo’ exists within both ‘the right’ and ‘the left’ and the claim I will discuss in this piece – that libertarians are [overwhelmingly] science deniers who reject the notion of [human-caused] global warming.

From my experience, libertarians do not overwhelmingly deny [fields of] science — rejecting the ideas that humans are contributing toward global warming and that global warming is happening — but rather object to particular government policies/business regulations which are aimed to be an effective response to climate change.

Objecting to a government program or policy is simply not equivalent to science denial; one can oppose a policy or program and still believe global warming is happening. Libertarians often get undeserved reputations due to their opposition toward particular government programs. From my experience, people often jump to unfair conclusions — delving into the mind of libertarians – as a result of libertarian opposition to government policies and programs.

Just because a libertarian opposes measures implemented by the TSA, for instance, does not mean that they have no regard for safety and security in airports. Just because a libertarian opposes government funding for a social program or agency does not mean that they hate people who are destitute, racial minorities, flood victims, etc. Just because a libertarian opposes business regulations put forth because of global warming does not mean that they are a science denier.

Libertarians may oppose government spending because they think government responses are not effective responses to societal problems. Libertarians may think government officials are spending too much money and private organizations should instead tackle challenges. Libertarians may support a government initiative, but find minor problems with it, thus leading to opposition until there is some revising.

Sure, some libertarians, motivated by political ideology, may both reject government responses to global warming in the form of business regulations and not believe global warming – contributed to by humans — is happening.

Prothero, though, in his speech, from what I remember, made no distinction between libertarians who deny global warming and libertarians who believe global warming is happening but oppose government regulations responding to global warming. Prothero also did not even, unless I am forgetting something, present statistics which identified libertarians who reject the fact that global warming is happening [and oppose government sanctions intended to offset global warming] – but rather glibly dismissed libertarians as science deniers – again, overlooking the disctinction between opposition to policy from people who are not ‘science deniers.’

Personally, I don’t identify as a libertarian. I would rather not use political labels for various reasons including association with perspectives I do not endorse and the limiting nature of labels. I instead prefer to talk about issues on an issue-by-issue basis rather than using a label and being pigeonholed. Additionally, I have no opinion on government sanctions responding to global warming, but do accept the fact — deferring to scientists who are experts – that global warming is happening and humans are contributing to it. My personal stances, though, are irrelevant when considering my objections to Prothero’s speech.

I would appreciate feedback from Prothero and others. Perhaps I missed some nuance in Prothero’s presentation or it is actually the case that libertarians overwhelmingly both oppose government sanctions responding to global warming and reject the fact that global warming is happening. Still, neglecting to recognize that libertarians may oppose environmental government sanctions but accept the fact that global warming is happening is a huge oversight. I expect better at a skeptical conference.

As always, feel free to comment below.

Justin Vacula

Justin Vacula hosts the Stoic Philosophy Podcast; serves as co-organizer and spokesperson for the Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) Freethought Society; and has hosted monthly Stoic Philosophy discussion groups for the Humanist Association of Greater Philadelphia.

He has appeared on and hosted various radio shows and podcasts; participated in formal debates and discussions; was a guest speaker for college-level courses; was featured in local, national, and international news; and has been invited to speak at various national, local, and statewide events.

Vacula received bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Psychology, a minor in Professional Writing, and the distinguished W.A. Kilburn Memorial Award for Philosophy from King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He is currently living in the Scranton, PA area attending Marywood University’s graduate-level Mental Health Counseling program and has worked with the Arc of Luzerne County’s Transition to Community Employment program as a teacher’s assistant and job coach alongside adult learners with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

He also plays poker; volunteers as a member of the website and media team for the Greyhawk Reborn Dungeons & Dragons campaign while playing at events in the Eastern United States; and enjoys metal music.

  • shanepbrady

    Well, as a libertarian, I can’t deny some of the criticism of libertarians over climate change, but this talked missed the mark on a few levels.

    There are no libertarians in office now or in the past, libertarians make up a tiny fraction of the population. They are not the majority of climate deniers.

    Prothero’s talk mentions “unfettered capitalism” but doesn’t connect that to what that has to do with denying science. It’s correlation without causation. Now, aside from that, few people actually believe in unfettered capitalism, and I would consider such use of a word as nothing more than a strawmen argument.

    In the world of climate change denial, some people believe in the free market, but a whole lot (like the oil companies) support crony capitalism or corporatism, neither of which have anything to do with the free market.

    I respect Prothero’s work with creationists, but when it came to this talk, his own obvious liberal bias was front and center, and it ruined the talk for me. And that comes from someone who is generally disappointed with out libertarians handle climate change.