[S]omething I’ve been thinking about a lot lately [is] the remarkable extent to which powerful groups, including a fair number of economists, have rejected intellectual progress because it disturbs their ideological preconceptions. What brings this to mind is the debate over extended unemployment benefits, which I think provides a teachable moment... [I]f you follow right-wing talk... the Wall Street Journal and famous economists like Robert Barro... the notion that aid to the unemployed can create jobs dismissed as self-evidently absurd. You think that you can reduce unemployment by paying people not to work? Hahahaha! Quite aside from the fact that this ridicule is dead wrong, and has had a malign effect on policy, think about what it represents: it amounts to casually trashing one of the most important discoveries economists have ever made, one of my profession’s main claims to be useful to humanity... that economies can ever suffer from an inadequate level of “aggregate demand” ... [W]e had a scientific revolution in economics, one that dramatically increased our comprehension of the world and also gave us crucial practical guidance about what to do in the face of depressions. The broad outlines of the theory devised during that revolution have held up extremely well in the face of experience, while those rejecting the theory because it doesn’t correspond to their notion of common sense have been wrong every step of the way. Yet a large part of both the political establishment and the economics establishment rejects the whole thing out of hand, because they don’t like the conclusions.Of course, the obvious and immediate anti-science parallel is the right's denial of the consensus of relevant climate scientists about the reality of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change and resource descent and the practical measures available for their collective redress. And reactionary efforts to refuse the teaching of evolutionary biology or apparently even the basics of female human reproductive biology offer up yet another conspicuous anti-scientific pillar of contemporary conservatism. And there is a ramifying host of comparable refusals of an accountability to reproducible results central to harm-reduction models shaping policy on gun safety, capital punishment, racial profiling, nonviolent recreational drug use, the yields as against the input-intensivity of industrial petro-chemical monoculture, public health impacts of urban food deserts, high-speed rail versus interstate highways and air traffic, investment in pre-K and after-school programs, nutritional assistance, preventative care, socializing healthcare provision to lower costs, and on and on and on and on.
As Krugman indicates, it is usually the parochial interests of particular elite-incumbent stakeholders to which conservative political formation are beholden for patronage (the petroleum industry, the gun lobby, multinational agribusiness, patriarchal evangelical christianists, scared resentful white racists whose irrational passions can be mobilized to provide voting majorities for policies harmful to majorities, and so on) that invest in programs of systematic deception about consequences and suppression of consensus science in order to achieve demonstrable benefits for themselves at whatever costs to majorities and in the longer term.
What I would add to this myself is just a cautionary note. There is a dangerous allure in overgeneralizing Krugman's point that Republicans are indulging in an "ideological" rejection of "progress." Yesterday on the Melissa Harris-Perry Show I heard a scholar make the observation, in connection to climate science denialism across the Republican Party, that it is the right wing in this country which is really "postmodern." This is a claim I have heard over and over again for fifteen years or so -- and part of what is striking about it is that however often it is trotted out, the maker of the claim usually whips it out like a rabbit in a bikini from a hat, and everybody gasps around the table as though it were unheard of. I daresay it is the evergreen thrill of the "gotcha!" that accounts for the shimmer of novelty that inevitably attends the repetition of this cliched observation: left-wing scholars making pragmatic, post-structuralist, and social constructionist claims were castigated by reactionaries as nihilists and relativists for so long, there is a certain sweet payback in the accusation that it is the Mayberry Machiavellis who declare themselves ideological makers of reality rather than beholden to the "fact-based reality" of liberal policy wonks who are the real postmodernists!
Such denigrations of "postmodernism," whether from otherwise dependable liberals or from belligerent conservatives, tend to take the form of an affirmation of science as a politically neutral or even anti-political space. It seems to me quite crucial to recognize that the "fact-based reality" on which liberal policy wonks depend who are devoted to harm-reduction models and equitable cost-benefit analysis and sustainable outcomes is made up of warranted scientific facts that arise out of specific and contingent and actually vulnerable historical and political processes. The problem we confront in the willful macroeconomic illiteracy of austerians -- or in the convenient denial of climate science by petrochemical CEOs who otherwise trust the consensus of, say, relevant medical researchers -- is not the problem of a politicization of science, but in an incompetent, incoherent, bad politicization of a science that depends for its legibility and force on a more competent, coherent, better politicization. To advocate public regulation and investment in the service of science literacy education, accountable results, standards of publication, proper attribution of credit, safety regulation, fair use, sustainable implementation is absolutely to "politicize" science. Ideology does not trump science, so much as that reproducible research, the costs risks and benefits of which are equitably distributed to the diversity of its stakeholders (without which proviso one can never properly speak of scientific or technological progress, for progress, too, is an inedicably political concept), depends on the support of its own ideology.
I agree with Krugman about the anti-scientific ideology of reactionaries. But this ideology is embedded within a reactionary anti-intellectualism on which the deceptions and frauds of incumbent elites invariably ultimately depend. (And, yes, Virginia even a menacingly relativistic pragmatist or poststructuralist can make ready coherent recourse to the notions of deception and fraud and progress even without a faith in just-so correspondence accounts of truth and other theological fancies.) It seems to me vitally important to insist that any comforting denial of the interminable construction of what we take to be facts of a matter or of the indispensably political character of progressive scientific and policy-making processes is of a piece with anti-intellectualism more generally, and as a habit of mind eventually conduces to reactionary ends, even when it is offered up in opportunistic, ostensible support of fact-based scientifically-accountable policy outcomes. And, like it or not, it is to scholars derided, rightly or not, as "postmodernists" that we owe the most forceful and influential formulations of these indispensable insights. If you would decry anti-intellectualism it would be best not to indulge in it while making your case.