Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Anti-Science Movement

With the U.S. mid-term elections a thing of the past, it is a good time to take stock of where we are as a country in terms of scientific goals. The GOP’s newly acquired control of the House and gains in the Senate means that the relatively science-friendly Obama administration must now steer a rougher course in supporting America’s science establishment. The conservative agenda of governance is generally pro-business while forsaking scientific progress. Take this excerpt from a Rush Limbaugh broadcast:

“The four corners of deceit: government, academia, science and media. Those institutions are now corrupt and exist by virtue of deceit. That’s how they promulgate themselves; it is how they prosper.”

It is tempting to laugh off this and other conservative rhetoric, but Limbaugh and similar voices are no laughing matter. America, more and more often, bears witness to these fact-less exclamations from high-profile figures in the American political arena. Take tea party poster child Christine O’Donnell’s claim that “evolution is a myth.” Or consider Representative Darrell Issa’s (R-CA) intention to investigate climate scientists for fraudulent claims about global warming. Then there is the contentious Alaskan race between moderate Republican incumbent Lisa Murkowski and her tea party opponent Joe Miller who said Murkowski’s acknowledgement of the reality of global warming is “exhibit A for why she needs to go.” And we can’t forget the anti-science vitriol from conservative cheerleader Sarah Palin who famously decried fruit fly research a waste of public money. These are just a few examples of a rising anti-science tide that academia can no long ignore.

There is no doubt about the growing anti-science streak on the American right that could have tangible societal and political impacts on many fronts including environmental regulation, stem cell research, and many other important issues. The right-wing populism that is flourishing in the current climate of economic insecurity echoes many traditional conservative themes such as opposition to taxes, regulation, and immigration. The biggest area of concern, however, is the movement is also tapping an age-old U.S. political impulse – a suspicion of elites and expertise. In addition, the movement is also averse to science-based regulation, which it sees as an excuse for intrusive government. This is why we see resistance to oil drilling regulation even in light of the massive BP spill in the Gulf.

Denialism over global warming has become a merit badge of the political right. Limbaugh, for instance has advised his followers that “science has become a home for displaced socialists and communists,” and has called climate-change science “the biggest scam in the history of the world.”

 U.S. citizens face economic problems that are all too real, and the country’s future crucially depends on education, science and technology as it faces increasing competition from China and other emerging science powers. But in the current poisoned political atmosphere, the defenders of science have few easy remedies. Reassuringly, polls show that the overwhelming majority of the U.S. public sees science as a force for good, and the anti-science rumblings may be short-lived. Scientists and educators should redouble their efforts to promote rationalism, scholarship and critical thought among the young to help illuminate the pressing science-based issues of our time. Of course, that’s the whole idea behind the Science Lifestyle Blog. Keep the faith!

1 comment:

  1. Whoa: you hit this one out of the park .. agreed science has taken a bit hit. What can we all do??



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