General Jack D. Ripper: Mandrake, do you realize that in addition to fluoridating water, why, there are studies underway to fluoridate salt, flour, fruit juices, soup, sugar, milk… ice cream. Ice cream, Mandrake, children’s ice cream.
Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Lord, Jack.
General Jack D. Ripper: You know when fluoridation first began?
Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: I… no, no. I don’t, Jack.
General Jack D. Ripper: Nineteen hundred and forty-six. Nineteen forty-six, Mandrake. How does that coincide with your post-war Commie conspiracy, huh? It’s incredibly obvious, isn’t it? A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual. Certainly without any choice. That’s the way your hard-core Commie works.
– Dr. Strangelove or: how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb
The socialist haunted world: our modern demons
One of Carl Sagan’s greatest books is “The Demon Haunted” world, an exploration of the different forms of pseudo-science and the reasons for why so many people believe in such things as ESP, ghosts and creationism.
He feared that the world was being increasingly taken over by “superstition” and a medieval world view. Hence the title of his work: many people seem to be turning to a pre-scientific world, where the invisible forces of Satan worked in concert to lead Christians astray and cause all sorts of grief and mischief.
Said Sagan, who sadly passed away many years ago:
I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges nearer, pseudo-science and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive. Where have we heard it before? Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us-then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls. The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.
The demons Sagan feared are stirring.
Belief in pre-scientific concepts such as ghosts, witches, ESP, psychic abilities and hell are still prevalent. The new millennium is here, and the demons that haunt us seem even more relevant. But it is not just the demons of the medieval world that stir.
For over one hundred years another “demon” has haunted the imagination of conservatives, free-market advocates and libertarians: the demon of socialism and Marxism.
Behind every advance in science or development in public health policy, there have been those who have seen the dreaded hand of socialists, Marxists and atheists.
Since the earliest decades of this century, conservatives, cranks and religious fundamentalists have seen signs of their activities everywhere. They fear the socialists are going to “steal” their power, wealth, status and control. How so?
Let’s begin with the opposition to Einstein’s theory of relativity.
The over 1920s to 1940s: special relativity as a Marxist plot
Academic Jeroen van Dongen recently published a review of “Einstein’s Gegner” by German academic Milena Wzeck (in German, thankfully we have van Dongen’s review).
Van Dongen details how Einstein’s theory was met with a wall of disbelief and hostility by some members of the scientific establishment, and was subject to attacks in the popular press and by conservatives.
Indeed during the 1920s they went so far as to establish “think tanks” in opposition and held rallies against Einstein and his theory. “Anti-relativists” established the “Academy of Nations” in 1921, publishing papers refuting Einstein theories and awarding prizes to themselves:
“Anti-relativists… built up networks to act against Einstein’s theory in concert. This led to some success. For instance, the clamour about the theory in Germany contributed to the Nobel Committee’s delay in awarding its 1921 prize to Einstein and to the particular choice of subject for which he finally did receive it: his account of the photo-electric effect, instead of the controversial theory of relativity.”
In fact, Einstein was so concerned by the vitriol of their attacks that he cancelled speaking engagements fearing an assassination attempt.
Initially Einstein and other scientists tried to engage them, but without success:
“Their strong opposition was not due to a lack of understanding, but rather the reaction to a perceived threat… Anti-relativists were convinced of their own ideas, and were really only interested in pushing through their own theories: any explanation of relativity would not likely have changed their minds.”
All the tropes of the contemporary denial machine can be seen in the anti-relativist movement: the “think tanks”; the conferences; the threats and intimidation we’ve seen against climatologists such as Michael Mann in the US and Phil Jones in the UK; the publication of papers and books denouncing the science; and the outliers and gadflies with scientific credentials who have taken exception to the science.
But this was not the end of the opposition to Einstein’s theory.
It took a much darker turn.
The Nazi war on science: special relativity as a “political issue”
The politics of relativity became even more fraught when the Nazi’s rejected Einstein’s theory, dismissing it as “Jewish Science” whose foundations lay with Marxist thought.
Let’s take one example, an extract from an article written by a prominent member of the pro-Nazi scientific elite, Johannes Stark.
Stark was actually a recipient of a Noble Prize for his work on electromagnetism. However he was forced to retire from his position at University of Würzburg in 1922 for his persistent attacks on Einstein’s theory. When the Nazis came to power, Stark become prominent once again. 
In his essay “Respect for Facts and Aptitude for Exact Observation Reside in the Nordic Race” (published 1936) he makes the following claims:
“There have been repeated attempts in lectures and books to present the theory of relativity as the grand capstone of centuries of progressive scientific development, which began with Copernicus, Galileo and led, via Kepler and Newton, to Einstein. No!.. Einstein is not the pupil of these men, but their determined opponent..
..This theory could have blossomed and flourished nowhere else but in the soil of Marxism, whose scientific expression it is…”
“Thus, in its consequences, the theory of relativity appears to be less a scientific than political problem…”
“…In this manner, assisted by adversity in the newspapers and lectures from professional chairs, this purely scientific theory… grew into a physical world view.
..The few who were of different opinions were disregarded.” 
Note the smearing dismissal of “theory” in the same way today’s denialists dismisses “computer models”.
Also note how the theory of relativity is framed not as a scientific question, but a “political” issue.
Party politics and political orientation determines the value of a theory. The pseudo-science of “race” and the prejudices of the author allow them to wave away the solid, empirical basis for relativity.
Again, sound familiar? 
The 1950s to 1960s: fluoridation as a socialist plot
For those of you who have seen – and remember – Stanley Kubrick’s satirical masterpiece “Dr Strangelove, or how I stopped worrying and grew to love the bomb” there is a character called General Jack D. Ripper, a military officer who is firmly convinced “communists” are behind the fluoridation of water in the US (see above quote).
However, there was a genuine “anti-fluoridation” movement that thrived not only in the US, but around the world. Individuals actually believed “communists” where behind this and it was all part of a massive conspiracy. It is worth quoting the Wikipedia entry on this:
“Water fluoridation has frequently been the subject of conspiracy theories. During the “Red Scare” in the United States during the late 1940s and 1950s, and to a lesser extent in the 1960s, activists on the far right of American politics routinely asserted that fluoridation was part of a far-reaching plot to impose a socialist or communist regime. They also opposed other public health programs, notably mass vaccination and mental health services…”
Some took the view that fluoridation was only the first stage of a plan to control the American people. Fluoridation, it was claimed, was merely a stepping-stone on the way to implementing more ambitious programs. Others asserted the existence of a plot by communists and the United Nations to “deplete the brainpower and sap the strength of a generation of American children”.
In fact, it was not until the late 1990s that most Americans started drinking fluoridated water, that’s how powerful this “conspiracy” theory was:
“…In the case of fluoridation, the controversy had a direct impact on local programs. During the 1950s and 1960s, referendums on introducing fluoridation were defeated in over a thousand Florida communities. Although the opposition was overcome in time, it was not until as late as the 1990s that fluoridated water was drunk by the majority of the population of the United States.”
Of course, to today’s ears these charges sound fanciful and ridiculous.
However, they are manifestations of deep-seated sense of anxiety and a loss of control.
The 1990s to early twenty-first century: global warming as a socialist plot
“The word ‘government’ actually appears as the first of three purposes of the new entity… How many of you think that the word ‘election’ or ‘democracy’ or ‘vote’ or ‘ballot’ occurs anywhere in the 200 pages of that treaty? Quite right, it doesn’t appear once. So, at last, the communists who piled out of the Berlin Wall and into the environmental movement, who took over Greenpeace so that my friends who funded it left within a year, because [the communists] captured it — now the apotheosis is at hand. They are about to impose a communist world government on the world. You have a president who has very strong sympathies with that point of view. He’s going to sign it. He’ll sign anything.” – Christopher Monckton
“He [Maurice Strong] set up the United Nations Environment Program, out of which came the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the whole idea of climate as a vehicle for shutting down industrialization.” – Tim Ball
I think by this stage we can see a pattern emerging over the last 100 years, as conservatives, cranks and individuals with libertarian leanings have reacted to the findings of science and the need for government policy with hostility, contempt and fear.
Again and again they dismiss the science as conspiracy orchestrated by the socialist “demon”. Everywhere they turn, they see the workings of the “Evil One” of Marx and socialists in manipulating science, government and public policy.
The tragedy is that these conspiracy theorists slow our response to climate change. The “battle for fluoridation” took almost forty years to play itself out.
The concern is that we may not have that much time with climate change.
Loss of power, status and control and a conspiratorial worldview: the sources of denial
We can point the finger at the likes of Exxon, the Koch’s and the conservative think tanks for fostering “climate change skepticism. But I think the roots of denial are much deeper than that.
As the above examples show, the fear that other “forces” are going to diminish the power, status and authority of individuals (and by extension the industries they work for or the companies they run) fuels denial.
It explains why behind every new scientific discovery – from evolution to relativity – religious and social conservatives react with such alarm. Many of those who opposed Einstein’s theory felt their status and achievements where being swept away (Stark).
Others, whose fears were grounded in ignorance and fear, recast their concerns as a political issue. Thus, those opposed to fluoridation where already anti-communist, and therefore assumed what they did not like must have it’s roots in communism.
However, another key feature of all these movements and their reactions to science was a conspiratorial world view.
The demons are stirring.
They have taken flight, and haunt the imagination.
The enemies of the Enlightenment have targeted the science of climate change, evolution and evidence based medicine. For four hundred years they had been pushed back and kept at bay.
But they’ve returned, and taken on new forms to soothe the anxieties of denialists everywhere. Where some of see the empirical evidence for climate change, others see a shadowy cabal of socialists intent on controlling their bodily fluids, freedoms and wallets.
El sueño de la razón produce monstruos
 Nazi culture: intellectual, cultural and social life in the Third Reich, By George Lachmann Mosse, University of Wisconsin Press 1966 page. 198
 Ibid pg. 213
 I rush to say that I do not attempt to equate today’s “deniers” or climate change sceptics with Nazis (viz Godwin’s Law), but how even the most commonly accepted and robustly tested scientific hypothesis have been politicised in the past.