Right and reason

There’s a video from Postcard News doing the rounds, showing a lady demonstrating the ability of a cow-urine-based substance to purportedly detoxify the human body. It does a fabulous job of making a mockery of itself given that it is only a few minutes long – and I’ve reached the point where I know I can draw a line and say debunking this is, at long last, beneath me.

What truly irked me about the video is its viewership: I’m not sure if Postcard News cares about whether the video is being shared by people poking fun at it but it’s bound to be pleased that, on Facebook, the clip’s been watched over 83,000 times in the last 80 hours, with lots of engagement. Throw in on-site views and WhatsApp and I can easily imagine 200,000 views in the same period. Thus far, these figures have been impossible to achieve with legitimate videos showing bona fide science at work, at least without a little paid push. (I’m not counting videos celebrating ISRO.)

I think this viewer behaviour confirms something I’ve been suspecting for about a year now: that people on the political left are more adhesive and those on the right are more cohesive vis-a-vis their reactions to ideas from across the aisle. To use the USGS’s language of hydrology:

Right → “Water is attracted to water”
Left → “Water is attracted to other substances”

Of course, such characterisation seems morally desirable, at least as the left would look upon the right and see protectionism and xenophobia, and the right will look upon the left and see exclusion and degeneracy. However, the same self-conception has put science journalism in an uncomfortable place: appropriated by a faction whose appreciation is passive at best and disappropriated by a faction that promises to celebrate it in exchange for some amount of debasement.

For example, I would contrast Postcard’s video about cow-urine-based detox with one on black holes from The Wire‘s stable, and the latter will brook no discussion – even one motivated by antipathy – in left or right circles, nor will the general populace of the left actively defend further its message. However, have a person on-screen prescribe cow piss for, you know, holistic wellbeing and you’ve got people on the right standing up for what they think is right and pushing it in the left’s face, and people on the left circlejerking off to how dumb they think others are.

I’m happy to note that The Wire has made space for a science section but beyond my colleagues and writers themselves, it certainly feels like a passive installation – the hosting of a science section for a science section’s sake. If it was not, I should be seeing higher engagement from one side of the spectrum; I’m not, whether I’m going by offline engagement or online. While this bodes quite well for being able to have a bipartisan audience that can be engaged if journalists and editors are persistent as well as didactic enough, it doesn’t bode well at all for the leftist’s oft-righteous claim to be on the side of reason.

From my POV at least, it seems like most pro-left people I engage with have taken for granted some second-hand assurance that they’re on the side of reason without knowing what a significant chunk of the architecture of reason actually looks like.