Why do conservatives take some diseases seriously, but not others?

I agree with others that sheer tribalism is a big part of it - Trump said it was no problem, so that became the tribal Republican line.

I think however if we look internationally there is something inherent in the right wing mindset that makes it hard for them to handle this sort of epidemic. Boris has struggled in the UK. Bolsonaro in Argentina. In Australia (IMHO) the right wing federal government and the right wing state governments have been less effective than the left wing state governments.

The key thing about fast moving ie highly infectious epidemics is they are best combatted by extreme collective action in which everybody does something - with no immediate and obvious benefit to themselves - for the benefit of the wider (non-monkeysphere) community. Not only that but the collective action probably necessitates providing financial support to the wider (non-monkeysphere) community who are put out of work. And then the ultimate resolution involves everyone having a minor medical intervention - vaccination - not because one is sick or someone in one’s monkeysphere is sick, but for the benefit of the community at large.

So we have collective action, collective healthcare, and redistribution of resources to the wider community. These are all concepts that align more readily with left wing than right wing thinking.

Then, the thing that does spur the right wing mindset to collective action is external threat, but the collective action is directed outwards. If a logical effective collective response to the epidemic was to invade the Middle East, Trump would have done it ages ago.

I don’t think that the difference between the reaction to COVID as opposed to Ebola has anything to do with the specific symptoms of the diseases. Ebola was an external threat and never became an internal threat so the right wing mindset (keep it out!) worked well. Also, even had it got loose in the US, it is only transmitted in relatively “within monkeysphere” ways (direct transfer of bodily fluids of someone who has the symptoms). Charity and collective action within monkeysphere is a right wing value. COVID’s far more insidiuous and anonymous and fleeting respiratory transmission requires an “everybody” response that the right wing mind baulks at.

To be clear I don’t want to insult the intelligence of every right wing person by suggesting they are all incapable of perceiving and responding to the threat of something like COVID. My point is just that it necessitates a response that jars with right wing thinking and that perhaps causes more right than left wing people to react badly, or more slowly, etc.

A successful response also requires a tolerance of ambiguity and an ability to adapt to changing information and circumstances.

Consider the expert guidance from a couple of months into the crisis: minimize contact, close everything, surgical masks where interaction is necessary, wipe everything down with antimicrobial solutions, and so on. If you read the technical literature, you know the experts were saying, “we don’t have enough information on the current outbreak to know how meaningful each of these factors will be in comparison to the others, but these are our best guesses based on prior events in this category with this type of infectious agent.” But that nuance got simplified in the mainstream discussion to blunt scientific dicta — “do this and you’ll be safe.”

Over time, as investigations progressed, the advice shifted. We learned that antiseptic wipedowns weren’t that important. We understood that ventilation of closed spaces was much more significant in this outbreak than it had been in prior outbreaks. We saw a strange discrepancy in impact across age groups and wondered if we could reopen schools. The picture kept changing as evidence accumulated and was incorporated into evolving models.

To people who can tolerate ambiguity and adapt to change, this made sense. The evolution of the advice was proof that science was working, that information was being gathered and considered, and the epidemiological models were being improved. But to many people in the mainstream dialogue, this was brutally simplified to something like, “the science was wrong, the scientists don’t really know what they’re doing.” They didn’t, and still don’t, understand that science-based guidance is not gospel, it’s always subject to progressive refinement.

Tolerance of ambiguity and acceptance of continuous change, needless to say, are not among the strongest tools in the conservative’s psychological workshop.

Well, there was one particular conservative who had plenty of hype for Ebola;

I think this is a huge part of it. Lack of trust in government, lack of trust in experts.

Conservatives in general are not big fans of government intervention, and US conservatives in particular are strongly opposed to it. Add in Trump talking about the deep state and saying the threat is exaggerated, and trust in government reaches rock bottom levels.

As for experts, the comparison to diet advice is instructive. When medical advice is not just refined, but sometimes completely reversed (eat margarine instead of butter - oops, actually margarine is even worse for you, sorry; egg yolk will raise your cholesterol levels - nope, it’s fine; fat is bad and you should avoid it wherever possible - whoops, it’s sugar that’s bad, and those low fat foods you’ve been dutifully eating are even less healthy than the original) it’s inevitable that people are going to take it less seriously and have less trust in those who issue it.

With the coronavirus, we first had people advised not to bother with masks and told that it was handwashing and distance that was important; then later masks became mandatory. And there were also the huge BLM protests right in the middle of the pandemic, for which normal rules were suspended. Those made it seem like either the experts didn’t know what they were talking about, or they weren’t trustworthy because they changed their advice for political reasons.

And then somehow it all got mixed up in the culture war, and wearing a mask and taking the pandemic seriously became a signal of political allegiance rather than something individuals decided for themselves. A ridiculous and very damaging situation.

No, not wearing a mask and not taking the pandemic seriously became a signal of political allegiance.

I’m not sure there’s any difference, and anyway both are true.

There were rational reasons to wear a mask. There are not rational reasons not to.

Nitpick: it’s inevitable that people WHO DON’T COMPREHEND HOW SCIENCE WORKS are going to take it less seriously and have less trust in those who issue it.

For someone who understands science and reason, experts changing their guidance is exactly what you’d want to see as new evidence accumulates. The ‘experts’ who stubbornly cling to the old orthodoxy are the ones to watch out for.

Yep, exactly. Or like I said above:

Double masked vaccinated outdoors vs no mask unvaccinated indoors was the comparison I saw. Neither is following the science.

And when some of that guidance was influenced by eg lobbying from the sugar industry, or to take another example, pharmaceutical companies claiming their new opiate pills aren’t addictive? Guidance that’s not only wrong but actively harmful. I think in general there’s an argument for waiting to see what stands the test of time. (But in a pandemic, time is what you do not have.)

Agreed, that’s why until diet science works itself out I’m in hibernation, eating nothing. :stuck_out_tongue:

And a few years later, when asked about Covid, his answer was “I don’t take responsibility at all.”

I’ve posted this before, but it’s worth posting again:

Heh. Or more sensibly eat what you enjoy, with everything in moderation.

It’s possibly a bit off topic, but I’m not sure the changing diet advice really does reflect how science is supposed to work. Failure to publish studies that don’t find the desired/expected results is a big problem in drug trials, but also seems to happen in other areas of research:

Then there’s the influence of industry on the science. Most infamously in tobacco, but also food:

And the industries get another chance to influence things, by lobbying the government when they set nutritional guidelines, or food labelling.

Finally there’s the press, who love to report new findings with no caveats, the more dramatic the better, not caring if they are misleading people. It really does make it hard to know what to believe or rely on.

Oh, absolutely. The bias towards publishing research with positive results; industry pressure on the sciences; and the way the press and public misunderstand scientific terms… these are all big problems. I guess you could say that the scientific method is the worst way to think about things - except for all the other ways that have been tried.

It’s not a problem with the scientific method as such, but with funding, incentives etc, plus people being overly confident of preliminary results.

There’s something else I’ve heard but don’t know if it’s true: that the early advice not to wear masks was not because they thought them ineffective, but to prevent ordinary people buying them up and taking supplies that medical staff needed. Maybe I should ask about it in GQ?

That was true, and they literally said so at the time. The messaging in the first couple months was “don’t buy masks because we don’t know how much protection they offer to the average citizen yet, but they’re very necessary for our first responders”.

None of which I have a problem with, and I really struggle to understand why so many people are freaking out about it. It seems completely reasonable to me.

Yeah, nobody with basic reading-comprehension skills and a rudimentary understanding of science had any problem with or objection to that initial advice.

That so many people did have problems or objections says nothing about the advice itself.

It a world that relies on click bait, soundbites, sensationalism and not reading beyond the headline (or reading replies to twitter comments made by politicians) it was very easy, almost too easy for the GOP to say ‘the scientists don’t know what they’re talking about, Fuaci should be fired, first they told us not to wear masks, now they’re telling us we have to wear two masks, they’re a bunch of liberal liars trying to censor us’.

They’re freaking out about it because it gave them another pro-trump/anti-fauci talking point.

Come on all. They are just following the instructions of the Dear Leader.

I will just point out that anti-vaxx used to be shared between the ultra-right and ultra-left. Now it is largely the former.

Here’s what the BBC said:

And the WHO:

World Health Organization officials Monday said they still recommend people not wear face masks unless they are sick with Covid-19 or caring for someone who is sick.

“There is no specific evidence to suggest that the wearing of masks by the mass population has any potential benefit. In fact, there’s some evidence to suggest the opposite in the misuse of wearing a mask properly or fitting it properly,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO health emergencies program, said at a media briefing in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday.

“There also is the issue that we have a massive global shortage,” Ryan said about masks and other medical supplies. “Right now the people most at risk from this virus are frontline health workers who are exposed to the virus every second of every day. The thought of them not having masks is horrific.”

Both mention mask shortages, but also recommend against wearing them on the basis that they hadn’t been shown to work. Was that the true state of knowledge at the time?