Antiscience Beliefs Jeopardize U.S. Democracy

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It is hard to know exactly when it became acceptable for U.S. politicians to be antiscience. For some two centuries science was a preeminent force in American politics, and scientific innovation has been the leading driver of U.S. economic growth since World War II. Kids in the 1960s gathered in school cafeterias to watch moon launches and landings on televisions wheeled in on carts. Breakthroughs in the 1970s and 1980s sparked the computer revolution and a new information economy. Advances in biology, based on evolutionary theory, created the biotech industry. New research in genetics is poised to transform the understanding of disease and the practice of medicine, agriculture and other fields. 


The Founding Fathers were science enthusiasts. Thomas Jefferson, a lawyer and scientist, built the primary justification for the nation’s independence on the thinking of Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon and John Locke—the creators of physics, inductive reasoning and empiricism. He called them his “trinity of three greatest men.” If anyone can discover the truth by using reason and science, Jefferson reasoned, then no one is naturally closer to the truth than anyone else. Consequently, those in positions of authority do not have the right to impose their beliefs on other people. The people themselves retain this inalienable right. Based on this foundation of science—of knowledge gained by systematic study and testing instead of by the assertions of ideology—the argument for a new, democratic form of government was self-evident. 

Yet despite its history and today’s unprecedented riches from science, the U.S. has begun to slip off of its science foundation. Indeed, in this election cycle, some 236 years after Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, several major party contenders for political office took positions that can only be described as “antiscience”: against evolution, human-induced climate change, vaccines, stem cell research, and more. A former Republican governor even warned that his own political party was in danger of becoming “the antiscience party.”

Such positions could typically be dismissed as nothing more than election-year posturing except that they reflect an anti-intellectual conformity that is gaining strength in the U.S. at precisely the moment that most of the important opportunities for economic growth, and serious threats to the well-being of the nation, require a better grasp of scientific issues. By turning public opinion away from the antiauthoritarian principles of the nation’s founders, the new science denialism is creating an existential crisis like few the country has faced before.

Written By: Shawn Lawrence Otto
continue to source article at scientificamerican.com

26 COMMENTS

  1. Idiocratic endeavour fuelled by theocratic ignorance…the stupid religious are procreating, the clever secularised, not so much….whoever gets the biggest vote wins….who are the voters? Some people will do anything for power…these are politicians we are talking about remember?

  2. From time to time (only when driving) I’ll listen in on “Political Hack Talk Radio.” I stomach as much as I can because I’m sometimes interested in the mindsets of others who wield lobbying power that may affect me.  I won’t give copy to their surnames, you know who they are. I reckon each democratic country has their counterparts. 

    Also from time to time, I will e-mail them when they get a bit of science very wrong or most recently, when their Party seems to be abandoning reason in favor of faith as in the case of the Georgian Congressman calling evolution a lie from the Pit of Hell, though to their credit, and likely business savvy, that story wasn’t touted on PH Talk Radio in the US. 

    I’d like to ask that others take an interest in e-mailing these behemoths of disinformation with expert counter-punches. I’m sure some are strictly entertainers with just voracious appetites for money, but wouldn’t it be stunning if our educational e-mails effected some positive change in those venues? Perhaps I’m naive, but I’m going to continue my effort and I ask you to consider trying it out. 

    Cheers,
    Mike

  3. The anti science quasi-religious morons who seem to have taken over the Republican Party will I believe encourage normal Republicans to vote for Obama .(they will see it as a Hobson’s choice)
    Recently some of these batshit crazy oafs have come to the fore with statements of nonsense like from the creationist Broun and some other idiot who described as a disgrace the profile picture of Charles Darwin on a £10 note.
    Then there were the “tea party ” fools with their puerile rants.
    It’s hard to cast one’s vote for anyone one regards as a fool!
    A wealthy friend of mine who lives in New York said he’d rather vote for the doorman in his block of flats rather than the current GOP vice presidential candidate whom he describes as vote whoring oik.

  4. Just to be fair and balanced.

    Higher Superstitions, The Academic Left and it’s Quarrels With Science

    Plenty of anti-science incoherence to go around regardless of motivation. Politicians went to college, generally, and many picked bad habits on both sides of the ant-science divide.

  5. If anyone has the wherewithal to debate evolution has to know creationism is a crock. They are defending creationism for ulterior motive.  I think much of this insane anti-science  we are seeing from politicians is theatre to appeal to drooling idiot voters.

    They [Christian rednecks] were so stupid that they couldn’t pour piss out of a boot even if the instructions were printed on the bottom.
    ~ Joe Bageant (born: 1946-01-01 age: 66) Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War

  6. A tiny victory today. I wrote the CBC condemning our climate change denying Prime Minister Harper, putting the blame squarely on his nutty religious beliefs. To my astonishment they read it in prime time on CBC radio exactly as written.

  7. Party seems to be abandoning reason in favor of faith as in the case of
    the Georgian Congressman calling evolution a lie from the Pit of Hell,
    though to their credit, and likely business savvy, that story wasn’t
    touted on PH Talk Radio in the US

    Yep that probably has more to do with ‘Keep the crazies on the path & out of the media where it can do election damage’

    As for tilting at fundagelical windmills, well I was a minor part of a concerted effort among many talented rational folks to keep one UK counties science classes untainted by batshit insane cobblers…i.e. Creationism & ID.
    They made a tactical error by boasting about it to the BBC before they initiated the nonsense, I think it was more a circle jerk for the local jeebus droolers then  anything seriously cobbled together.
    Started funnily enough by the chairman of the SACRE seeing a BBC science prog with RD…the SACRE chairman spat the dummy cos it mentioned evolutionary theory several times and he thought it unfair!…muppet!

    The report that the local SACRE commissioned as a feasibility study was so badly constructed and argued it was not that hard to kick it to scrap.
    Actually atrociously formulated and error strewn throughout.
    But it was intense while it lasted and they still dealt under the table with regards to intentions.

  8. valhalla 
    As for tilting at fundagelical windmills, well I was a minor part of a concerted effort among many talented rational folks to keep one UK counties science classes untainted by batshit insane cobblers…i.e.
    Creationism & ID.

    Ah! But the religinuts and their government stooges are fighting back! – EMMANUEL COLLEGE RUNNING POST GRADUATE TRAINING OF TEACHERS!

    http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk

    MORE than 100 schools across the North East could start educating trainee teachers “in-house”.

    Eight graduate trainee teachers are six weeks into learning the ropes at Emmanuel College in Gateshead under the Schools Direct programme – an alternative to the traditional PGCE qualification.

    Now the Government have announced that 101 headteachers in the North East have said they are interested in training the next generation of
    teachers themselves.

    The shake-up in traditional training has been welcomed by Jonathan Winch, principal at Emmanuel College, the first school to roll out the
    initiative.

    He said: “We are the designated lead school for this and it replaces the Graduate Teacher Programme which we previously ran here.

    ▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬

    “We employ nearly all of our trainees at the end because the caliber is very high.

    “From the very beginning they are in the classroom watching the professionals and the candidates very quickly become excellent at what they do.”
    Vice principal Tim Sims added: “We are using a traditional PGCE model, but there is a significant element of school-led training which we hope to increase in the future.  

    ▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬

    School Direct also enables schools to recruit trainees that match their specific requirements.” 

    ▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬

    Under the national scheme, schools get more say on how teachers are trained, including the
    appointment of their own trainees, setting their curriculum and pairing up students with serving teachers for an entire academic year. 

    Mr Winch, who paired up the college with Newcastle University, said the scheme helps make the teaching profession competitive and has already chosen his next 18 graduates to be trained at the school in 2013/2014 academic year. 

    Five of Emmanuel’s students are based at the school while a further three are working from Bede Academy in Blyth.

    All of the students will then head to other schools in the region for a six-week placement starting in January.

    Registration for the scheme for schools has now passed and the Teaching Agency will next inform head teachers how many trainees have been designated to their school in October.

    Read More http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk

  9. Yeah that will be a Vardy tainted idea no doubt.
    The Government has already decided that free schools can employ teachers with no formal credentials…the excuse was so parents could help out in the classroom.
    Total cobblers of course.

    This is the whole point of free schools, so that the insane can make kids insane..that is and always has been the religious holy grail to insure the continuance of the scam unto future generations.  it will certainly damage rationality and analytical thought for the next generation, the religious are having an orgasm methinks..it is a popular move in their covens.
    But when the dimly aware and factually barren victims are offered work, surprise surprise low paid menial and unprotected.

    It is almost a return to Dickensian sociology, notice the employers are not shouting foul…because they need  a labour pool where they can pick and choose even discard at will, they are not fussed about intelligence, just so it can walk and breath at the same time is enough….after-all they want  the University places to only go to them and theirs.
    They were no best pleased at places being offered for everyone that applied.
    They absolutely hated the Open University for instance…still do.
    And the struggles I have had trying to convince employers today that the OU was a recognized Uni just beggars belief.
    So it is a Dickensian dream melded to a bronze age society, except the porkers today have little class and no vision beyond selfishness, never let it be said a cretin with a wallet full of cash does not have ambition, it is just blinkered.

    A return to barons and serfs, the Tory dream where a few get rich by exploiting the many poor with no representation.
    To do that they need to access education, government and they need a tool to manipulate to their will. religion is perfect for that little task.
    And religion has more in common with the right then the left of the political spectrum seems to be a reason they hang around one and other so closely.

    One day the media will wake up. but not the Murdoch lot they will just fester and get all righteous and giggly about Jay Lo’s Bum or which football player is diddling which other football players missus.
    It is  a slippery slope for sure.
    But it is the last huzzah the last concerted effort to get their delusion established front and centre…they will eventually lose of course the tipping point has been well passed.
    But they will cause as much grief and turmoil as their black little toxic hearts can manage.

    Seen on face book so not original by any means…

    My personal message to religious dim bats everywhere…
    “You there, Fuck off, and when you get to where you fucked off to, fuck off again, in fact keep fucking off until you get back here…THEN FUCK OFF AGAIN”

    .

  10. Oh Great. You just spoilt my day. I mean I don’t blame you for passing the news, but man alive, Emmanuel College being allowed to certify people as teachers! I am a P.G.C.E from John Moores Uni and I can’t tell you how offensive this is to me.

    Presumably these people will not be subject to Ofsted or the Teaching Agency inspections. Michael Goves has a lot answer for. How does a party with no majority get away with this?
    On the subject of science in American society I have an off the wall observation to make. In the Seventies Scooby Doo was all about solving the mystery of an apparent supernatural origin which always proved to be the care taker or similar character. 
    The message was clear; employ scepticism, look for the evidence and you will find a rational explanation.
    I watched the modern Scooby Doo and the Goblin King with my four year old daughter yesterday. You couldn’t have got more magic and woo into a cartoon if you tried. Voodoo,witches,ghosts,fairies,goblins and imps were the order of the day. Wouldn’t you know it but the rationale bookish character of Velma was shown to be foolish at the end because she had been insisting on finding a scientific explanation of the spooky events rather than trusting her senses.
    So the question is, has Scooby Doo changed for editorial reasons ( supernatural baddies are more exciting) or because of a change in the American psyche; the idea that rationalism is to be distrusted?

  11. This is not surprising, given the recent nonsense some politicians have been espousing publicly.  The bioethics committees, for instance, have had a disturbingly religious bias motivating them for a while under the pretence of moral concerns.  Their poorly thought-out ideas have effectively knee-capped most attempts to improve medicinal practice.  Case in point:

    http://pinker.wjh.harvard.edu/

  12. Christian numbskulls versus modern science?

    No contest.

    The anti-science attitude is a bit more worrying, but then even these people need the benefits of modern science so that they can use it to rubbish it! As always, they will be first in line for the benefits! Hypocrites!

    When I think of all the great science that has come out of the USA, the article is a bit depressing. Maybe the author has a point that science has become so specialised that individual scientists no longer feel the need to engage non scientists. People like Richard and Lawrence Krauss are doing a much needed job.

    I raise a glass of something red to them and to their efforts!

  13. This is the same college exposed by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, isn’t it?  The one with the explicitly biblical bias when it came to teaching evolution?  If so, then this is worrying news.  The last thing we need is to give schools and colleges a license to promote misinformation.

  14. It is ironic that the intellectual tools currently being used by the political right originated on the academic left. This is the most important line:

    “By falsely equating knowledge with opinion, postmodernists and
    antiscience conservatives alike collapse our thinking back to a
    pre-Enlightenment era, leaving no common basis for public policy.”

    Both absolutism and relativism inevitably collapse into solipsism.

  15. Zeuglodon
    This is the same college exposed by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, isn’t it?

    Yes.

     They claimed to teach evolution properly in science, but their then head of science was an active member of the creationist pseudo-science organisation “Truth in Science”!  What went on in other curricular areas and the background atmosphere is another matter.  Their sponsor Vardy is an evangelical fundamentalist.

    Their public examination results are excellent, but that can be attributed to social selection for strong parental support (which they deny), excluding disruptive influences, better buildings and finance than competitor schools, along with working a longer day than LEA schools.

  16. The Pinker article referenced by Zeuglodon is excellent, scary, and very relevant.   Moderators or anyone – can this be added as an external web article?  It’s too good to be just buried in the comments where it’s easily missed.

  17. The Pinker article referenced by Zeuglodon is excellent, scary, and very relevant. Moderators or anyone – can this be added as an external web article?  It’s too good to be just buried in the comments where it’s easily missed.

    Hey, thanks! That’s an interesting idea, but I don’t know how to submit the link to the mods.  There must be a way, though, as I’ve seen posts begin with “Thanks to [user] for the link”.  Can anyone tell me how to do it?

  18. Zeuglodon – and anyone else.

    Hey, thanks! That’s an interesting idea, but I don’t know how to
    submit the link to the mods.  There must be a way, though, as I’ve seen
    posts begin with “Thanks to [user] for the link”.  Can anyone tell me
    how to do it?

    For articles on DISQUS email them a link . You can do that by emailing the URL of the news story to articles@richarddawkins.net

    For discussions look here: http://richarddawkins.net/faq/

  19. This is a shame considering that the Obama administration’s U.S. policy, allows government employed scientists to speak freely with the media and public about scientific and technical matters based on their official work without approval from the public affairs office or their supervisors. It’s a shame so much of their work falls on deaf ears. Meanwhile in Canada, the government must approve all media and speaking requests for its scientists. Clearance is often not given, or is delayed so much that experts can’t speak in a timely and meaningful way. I hope the next elected government in the US doesn’t adopt the Canadian Governments’ silencing of publicly funded scientists.

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