And then there are a few intrepid individuals who will throw reason to the wind and embrace what they want to believe in spite of overwhelming evidence.
Many want to believe AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) is a hoax. It would be very nice if they are right -- curbing our CO2 emissions, if it is ever done, will result in a drop in the standard of living in every nation in the world. Only a few people see AGW as a good thing: Luddites, technophobes, and starry-eyed alternative energy proponents who haven't done their economics homework. To everybody else, it's bad news.
Some are spearheading a very formidable resistance to doing anything about it, well-funded by the fossil fuels lobby. The evidence for AGW is pretty strong: CO2 levels have been rising significantly (everybody agrees on that), the arctic ice cap is thinner than it used to be, and the most recent decade has been the hottest on record.
The counter-evidence the AGW denialists cite is they point at every snowstorm that occurs as evidence of cooling. This is idiotic and easily deflected: there has been at most 1 degree Fahrenheit of warming so far, and nobody with an IQ over 70 believes that 1 degree of warming will mean there will be no more snowstorms.
Then they get more creative. "Most of the recorded temperature data from the 20th century is flawed!" they say. Their solution for this: "We have to start all over. Ignore the data from the 20th century, start again from scratch, and collect data for at least several decades if not another century.".
Unfortunately, before enough warming (How much? 5 degrees?) occurs to convince these "skeptics", warming will cause the thawing of permafrost and the massive release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere potentially causing a catastrophic, irreversible, runaway warming effect.
They also say "Climate models are really complex -- those climate scientists don't really know what they're talking about!". Again, the solution is "Let's wait until it's too late.".
Note the pattern here: they aren't really producing evidence, they're trying to dismiss the overwhelming evidence that is there. That's what I call "manufacturing an absence of evidence".
Liberals are not without guilt here, too. During the '70's and '80's, they were dead against the notion that ANY human behavioral trait, including (and especially), intelligence, was influenced by normal variation in the human genome. (Except for homosexuality, they said. That one, they knew for sure, they said, was 100% determined at birth!). The evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin wrote a whole book, Not in Our Genes, (which I have not read) denying the influence of normal genetics on human behavior, in 1984.
People who did twin studies were vilified as Nazi eugenicists, it was really hard to make any progress for awhile. Eventually, some brave souls put up with all the ad-hominem attacks and did the twin studies, and the evidence came back that nature was a far stronger influence on the human mind than any well-understood factor in nurture. Scientific American did an article on the topic in the '90's. Title: "Eugenics Revisited", satisfying Godwin's law. You know that a debate is getting heated when Scientific American sinks to the same level as Creationists who claim that belief in evolution leads to genocide!
The nature denialists put up a good fight: "Identical twins have an identical experience in the womb!" was one claim. But the observed dissimilarities between fraternal twins refuted that. "Identical twins adopted at birth are both placed by the same adoption agency, so they wind up in similar homes!". Studies were done that tracked the standard of living of the respective homes. Sorry, in spite of these attempts to manufacture an absence of evidence, the verdict was still overwhelmingly nature. The real smoking gun was that unrelated people adopted into the same family aren't much more similar than if they had been raised in different families. Identical twins separated at birth taking IQ tests separately have scores nearly as similar to each other's as one person taking two tests on different days.
In spite of the liberal attempts to manufacture an absence of evidence, the notion that we enter this world as a "blank slate" is dead to any reasonable person.
See my other blog entry which reviewed the book The Genius in All of Us. The author, David Shenk, was trying, even in 2010, to resurrect the "blank slate". He even admitted, in his book, that "The blank slate is dead.", and then spent every other sentence in the book trying to bring it back to life. In his desperate quest to manufacture an absence of evidence, he even tried to pooh-pooh the whole concept of statistical evidence!
Another area is the lives of primitive humans. A few hundred years ago, primitive people were seen as depraved, brutal "savages" to be either religiously converted or enslaved by their more enlightened brothers.
The political left condemned this exploitation, interference and victimization, and rightly so. But they went too far. Marx had the belief, based on no evidence at all, that during prehistory, humans lived in an idyllic, egalitarian, altruistic society, and it was only the modern class-oriented, market-driven society that had brought man down to a lower, more selfish, state.
In the early 20th century, left-leaning anthropologists like Margaret Mead were so beholden to this vision that they painted the lives of primitives they observed as sexually liberated and wonderful. Later anthropologists observing the same culture found that just the opposite was true.
But as the 20th century wore on, more people spent time with primitives, and it became more and more evident that preliterates were brutal, selfish, and even worse, quite gender-stereotypical, to put it mildly.
The liberals have huge problems with this: they hate social stereotypes, including gender stereotypes, however true, with a passion. Given that the evidence is overwhelming, their strategy is, again, to manufacture an absence of evidence. "Those tribes don't count because they don't live on the African savanna!", they say. "All modern primitives are uncharacteristic of prehistoric life because they've all been influenced by modern civilization at this point.", they say. Some go so far as to say "We know nothing about the lives of pre-historic people!".
That's ridiculous. We know a lot of things for certain about prehistoric people:
- They didn't have access to refined sugar.
- They didn't have access to hard liquor. Alcohol available to them, if any, was extremely weak, and probably tasted terrible.
- Life expectancy was a lot shorter than it is now.
- Because human babies are so helpless and burdensome, and life expectancy was short enough that the presence of grandparents couldn't be relied upon, if a female wanted to pass on her genes, she was going to be much more able to do it if she had someone committed to helping her raise the kid.
- A female knew for certain that any baby that emerged from her body was her own child. Infidelity by her husband, or his taking multiple wives, had no possibility of undermining that.
- If a male wanted to pass on his genes, he had to avoid being cuckolded. Potential infidelity by his wife was a very serious threat to his passing on his genes.
- Males were, on average, bigger and stronger than females.
- A male had the physical potential to create a lot more offspring than a female could.
- Due to our digestive system being less ample than that of apes (smaller abdomen, smaller and less strong mouth for chewing), and due to what we know from observing modern people who attempt raw diets, a tribe was dependent upon cooking to be healthy and fertile enough to maintain their numbers. If a tribe lost their fire and didn't know how to restart it, they would probably dwindle out within several generations.
- Humans without tools or fire were easy prey for predators, due to their not being able to run very fast, and their lack of claws or formidable mouth and teeth.
- A small tribe that didn't swap mates with other tribes over many generations was subject to severe health problems due to inbreeding.
- The children of incest were most often unhealthy.
- In the tropics, resistance to disease was more important than it was for those from colder climates.
- Sunburn was a more serious problem in the tropics.
- People wanted the best for their children.
- Healthy people had more children.
- If a war occurred between tribes, the tribe that was healthier, more numerous, and whose individuals were smarter and physically stronger was more likely to win.
- The average person was smaller than the average person is today.
It should also be noted that liberals were completely comfortable with talking about observations about modern primitive peoples in the days of Margaret Mead when they still thought that such evidence was in their favor. It was only after they learned that the evidence was overwhelmingly against them that they started trying to declare it inadmissible.
One sure sign that you are dealing with someone who is manufacturing an absence of evidence is, when they claim we "can't know" something, if you suggest an experiment that would shed light on the subject, they get angry.
There is a basic drive in human nature to believe what we want to believe. When we hear evidence to believe something we don't like, we try to find evidence to support our position. Failing that, the next step is to try to find excuses to dismiss the evidence we don't like. To be an honest intellectual, one must resist this temptation.