Anti-Science as a Political Platform


This came to my attention through Orac at Respectful Insolence and I thought I would pig-pile on – the platform of the Texas Republican party. Mine is not a political blog and I will try to refrain from expressing any purely political opinion. Rather I do often address the science that informs politics and the intrusion of politics into science or the denial of science by political activists – all of which is evident in the platform.

Orac does his usual great job of addressing the evolution denial, anti-vaccine sentiments, and promotion of alternative medicine in the platform. Unfortunately, promoters of unscientific medicine and opponents of science-based medicine find allies on both sides of the political aisle. On the left they tend to appeal to anti-corporate and new age sentiments. On the right it’s all about freedom – health care freedom, freedom from mandates, and freedom from regulation. The platform specifically opposes regulation of vitamins and supplements, stating: “We support the rights of all adults to their choice of nutritional products, and alternative health care choices.”

I have written about the health care freedom movement before.  Essentially it is an attempt to undermine rational and reasonable measures to establish a minimum standard of care in medicine. You can’t have a standard without some criteria and some method of enforcing the criteria. The current standard is largely science-based, transparent, and fair, but proponents of unscientific methods that fall below the reasonable standard want to abolish it so they will be free to practice witchcraft as medicine. Health care freedom is presented as consumer freedom, but it is really anti-consumer and all about the freedom to sell pseudoscience and bad medicine.

The most troubling passage in the platform, however, is this:

We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

That’s right, the Texas Republican party opposes teaching our children critical thinking skills because that will encourage them to challenge authority. However, this plank in the platform does require some background. The concern here is really that liberals are using public education as a mechanism for instilling liberal values opposed by conservatives, and disguising this agenda as “outcome based education.” For example, here is a 1993 report from Texas Republican Phyllis Schlafly:

When they talk about “higher order thinking skills” or “critical thinking,” they mean a relativistic process of questioning traditional moral values.

This controversy obviously has a long history in Texas. The Schlafly report (What’s Wrong with Outcome Based Education) reflects a culture war being fought in the public school classroom. I think that both political sides have legitimate complaints about public education. OBE is supposed to be about using outcomes to measure the effectiveness of educational methods. However, under the OBE banner lots of experimental and (in my opinion) dubious teaching methods have been tried. One aspect of this the Schlafly report complains about is structuring teaching so that the pace of learning is set by the slowest student in the group, with the quicker learners being kept to the slower pace. This reflects the basic difference in world view between liberals, who tend to be egalitarian, and conservatives, who tend to value individualism and meritocracy.

Written By: Steven Novella
continue to source article at


  1. I just saw this story on The Young Turks. It left me shaking my head in disbelief. It seems that not only does the US maintain a close relationship with Saudi Arabia, but now they want to emulate them. “Don’t think for yourself. Just do as you are told.” Crazy.

  2. What the hell is going on here? this is appalling nonsense!

    Undermining parental authority is part and parcel of education; they may or may not have wisdom but their knowledge is of a past generation, and if they resent their offspring learning and discovering new horizons then they certainly have no wisdom what so ever, and are selfish to boot.

  3. I have submitted this comment at Dr. Novella’s blog:

    Hello Dr. Novella. I bought your critical thinking lecture course and found it to be of the highest quality and value. My own children are past college at this point, but I recommend your course to all my high school age relatives as one of the most valuable things that they can study to help them make the important decisions that are coming up re higher education. I only wish it were offered to all high school students, everywhere. The very idea that critical thinking should not be taught is its own damning evidence, and underlines the importance of doing so. Please keep at it.

  4. Well, you KNOW those awful subversives Galileo, Newton and Einstein want to do nothing more than see you don’t mind your Ps and Qs.

  5. Now THIS is when all the america bashing should come out in full swing!

    Texas is full of these nutcases and the surrounding states are going to get rotten being next to this bad apple. I shake my head, too, and wonder what the hell I can do…

  6. Awesome. Sea-monsters and dragons. They keep backing themselves into the absurdity corner.

    I feel a bit trolled by this article though. Since when is bureaucracy and legislature a rational or scientific process? Vitamin C improves the immune system, but making that claim qualifies it as a drug under FDA regulation (requiring a prescription). The same goes for nicotine’s enhancement of short-term memory, but the FDA is nowhere near wrangling Philip Morris on that.

    Injecting babies with mercury compounds is a bad idea, that’s why they are putting a stop to it (“precaution”). There is no scientific evidence that injecting babies with mercury causes any harm, just as there is no scientific evidence proving GenMod corn pollen almost wiped out the Monarch butterfly… but we know that happened. There is no predictive model for the Earth’s ecosystem, thus scientific statements cannot be made about it, which is the feeble crutch global-warming deniers lean upon. Science once told us that DDT was safe and that homosexuals could be cured with genital electro-torture. Was opposition to DDT irrational and unscientific?

    Actually, science never said DDT was safe. It can’t. No harms could be proven scientifically, which is very different than saying a thing is scientifically proven safe (same as thimerosal concerns). People don’t understand what science is or how it works and this leads to error. People mistake science as a synonym for Truth. Science is a methodology which precludes certain errors, and that will land us on the moon and triple lifespan but it is not an oracle.

    I resent this slipped in detail which implies criticism of FDA protocol is anti-scientific or New Age hokum. To say our current health systems are reasonable is pathetically naive. So there is no corporate corruption, bureaucracy problems, cultural problems, or just plain human stupidity controlling the wheel? Such belief is an example of irrational faith, and this hurts the movement towards reason more than any schools teaching the Loch Ness Monster.

  7. That isn’t a political plaform. It’s an extended diagnosis of institutionalised sociopathy.

  8.  What got me is this “…have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs….”

    Isn’t that what all education is supposed to do?

  9.  This sounds like the usual fundie message:- “I’m an ignorant anti-intellectual retard, but I’m an arrogant,  superior, thick, dozy, assertive, ignoran,t retard, so there need to be more like me supporting my view!”  Sign you kids up to  “Rednecks United”!

  10. “We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

    on the plus side there’ll soon be no one left to maintain the US nuclear stockpile


    What got me is this “…have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs….”

    Fundies and insects have fixed beliefs. –  Intelligent humans have learning capabilities to expand and up-date their knowledge.

  12. on the plus side there’ll soon be no one left to maintain the US nuclear stockpile

    Don’t worry, I’m sure there are plenty of bright, critically thinking, students in Korea, China, Japan, India. . . etc. willing to help out Uncle Sam maintain his nuke stockpile.

  13.  I looked up HOTS – and found it is a teaching program for grades 4 to 8 for students with learning disabilities – . It looks like the Platform Committee needs to “get with the program”.  Learning disabilities …


    Learning disabilities …

    Most of the fundies who turn up here to argue have ” Learning disabilities ” –  ..memetic  Theist Learning disabilities , not genetic inherited ones.  Perhaps they recognise and resent the cap fitting, but they still wear it!

  15. There is failed theist arithmetic involved.  The collective thoughts of 20 half-wits, do not add up to a work of genius.  IQs do not add up in gatherings.  The lowest common denominator is more usual. 

    It is only the compositing of properly reviewed studies and information, which builds scientific knowledge.

  16. I would like to see anyone who considers themselves a rational human being say that they oppose critical thinking skills with a straight face. I hate to be the “slippery slope” guy, but this is the kind of thinking that leads to the Operation in the novel WE. This operation is a lobotomy that removes the centre of the brain that causes Imagination, leaving the subject a brainwashed servant to the Great Benefactor, the One State’s ruler-for-life. Aren’t critical thinking skills the most important part of secondary education, and in turn becoming an adult? How the hell does one function in society without being able to think???

  17. I have had much more exposure to alternative health people than most.  They are naive and idealistic.  They have plenty of evidence for corporations trying to restrict access to harmless substances like teas, protein powders, vitamins, herbal extracts… So they tend to side automatically with anyone who opposes them, even if they are utter quacks. They are very trusting. 

    There needs to be a distinction between permitting you to use non-effective remedies like homeopathy, and getting the government health insurance to pay for them.

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