Its probably complicated. It probably began with religions resisting evolution, to increase their inerrancy, and to avoid change. They could argue that by challenging religious accounts of the world and its development, science had become immoral. Then it moved into commerce. Business resisted being put to extra costs when science discovered health problems with their products. Smoking, for example, became branded as a right, a freedom, its health consequences denied.
So, it became relatively common to attack science for commercial and ideological purposes long before it became mainstream amidst the righteous. Indeed the right used to champion military and commercial science as the way of the future, just as much as the left.
However problems also arose from science, with scientists talking down to, and at, people, and arrogantly assuring them that their fears about technological projects were misplaced. The failure of official science was marked by the disasters of thalidomide, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, the racist studies of infection, and so on. Commercial science, in particular, was governed by profit, not accuracy or safety. Then there was the use of science as a death machine – agent orange, napalm, nuclear weapons and so on – with little recompense to those damaged by it, or threatened by it. There were constant changes in medical recommendations, and a relatively high level of iatrogenic disease (disease generated by medical techniques). Consequently, even more people felt alienated from a science which affected their lives and which they had no input into.
Then, another big move occurred. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the State had expanded to include not only all men with property, but propertyless women, black people and so on, and by the late sixties and early seventies, ordinary people were active within that State, demanding equality, services and the end to elite authority. The righteous panicked.
Samuel Huntington wrote about this “democratic distemper” or “excess of democracy” in his report to the Trilateral commission on The Crisis of Democracy. The power of the people who should have power was being disturbed, chaos was emerging. His recommendation was to encourage voter apathy – to get people out of participating in the State.
This was achieved by encouraging distrust of government, so there was no point in people getting involved. The after events of Nixon was used to promote this idea of government as inherently corrupt, as was the Vietnam war. The free market was to be trusted rather than political action. Money and business were marks of virtue, everything else was pretense. You were to look after yourself and avoid government ‘interference’. You got out of politics that could impact the ruling class and just guarded your personal property. Even government action which looked like it might help you, was ‘interference’ and to be distrusted. This abrogation of participation and action, was portrayed as part of the way to end elite authority, with the only elites in this view being left wing or governmental – wealth was not a thing that defined elites or marked power differentials. Hence the eager funding of libertarian think tanks. This meant removing the knowledge we have about social action from the public domain. Social ‘science’ (such that it was) was declared to be interfering and communist etc.
These ideas promised to deliver liberty and prosperity for all. They couldn’t and didn’t.
We have had 35 to 40 years of them, and they have never delivered. Wages became stagnant, wealth was distributed to the rulers, social mobility collapsed, the State was used to impose restrictions on ordinary people, people became more alienated from governmental processes, commercial media saw their job as largely supporting this order, rather than any alternative, as they were part of the corporate class.
Growing failure meant scapegoats had to be found. It was said to be the fault of immigrants, the fault of intellectuals, the fault of minorities, the fact that we had not got 100% free markets. Anything but the fault of the ideology itself, or behaviour of the corporate class. Once it became clear that science implied that the social order was coming to an end through environmental destruction, it became important to attack science to continue the arrangement and entrench the power of the elites.
The attack made use of techniques pioneered by tobacco, religion, libertarians, and so on. It fitted in with the official ideology, by making your freedom the freedom to be anti-science and anti-the-authority-of-knowledge. It supposedly demonstrated your ability to think against the grain (as it agreed with the ruling ideology). It allowed political action and involvement against those who criticised the elites. It gave people some sense of importance in the alienated world they lived in….
It helped save the power of the rulers for a bit longer, and they gamble that they will be rich enough to ride out the coming troubles, as money gives you everything…. at least so they think.