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An election about science?

September 9th, 2010 · 4 Comments

When it comes to the November 2010 elections, few people identify science as the core issue. Economic concerns (JOBS! JOBS! JOBS!), fossil-foolish fueled anger at government, passions over the role of government, and otherwise are among the many reasons why the current vogue is to predict a Republican wave come November.  A hidden element of the election, for most Americans, is that this election is fundamentally about science.

Very simply, while most Americans continue to hold science and scientists in high regard, an increasingly large share of the Republican Party’s elite, office holders, candidates, and mouth pieces are taking seriously anti-science positions.

As Nature magazine’s editors summarized it in Science Scorned,

The anti-science strain pervading the right wing in the United States is the last thing the country needs in a time of economic challenge.

This searing editorial begins with a quotation from Rush Limbaugh:

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.

While, as Nature’s editors state, “it is tempting to to laugh this off,” the reality is that Rush’s bombast is the position taken by too many of 2010’s Republican Party candidates. Expertise and knowledge and institutions that value these are the enemy.

Sadly, Rush and ilk are making understanding and support of science an ideological litmus test.
While climate denial is central to that litmus test, it is far from the only element.

Denialism over global warming has become a scientific cause célèbre within the movement. Limbaugh, for instance, who has told his listeners that “science has become a home for displaced socialists and communists”, has called climate-change science “the biggest scam in the history of the world”. The Tea Party’s leanings encompass religious opposition to Darwinian evolution and to stem-cell and embryo research — which Beck has equated with eugenics. The movement is also averse to science-based regulation, which it sees as an excuse for intrusive government. Under the administration of George W. Bush, science in policy had already taken knocks from both neglect and ideology. Yet President Barack Obama’s promise to “restore science to its rightful place” seems to have linked science to liberal politics, making it even more of a target of the right.

It is hard to understate the damage that anti-science syndrome suffering ideologues could create. The achievements of science are core to our existence, from medicine that saves our lives to analytical tools that enable speed-of-light communications to … Demonization of science fosters, in the near and long-term, a weakened economic competitiveness for the United States. And, it will lead to a much weaker nation in the decades to come due to climate chaos in addition to a weakening of America’s position in the sciences.

Few Americans put ‘respect for science’ and basic scientific knowledge at the top of the list when they go into the poll booth. Considering the stark contrast between the parties and the serious negative consequences of having a governing elite ignorant of and disdainful for science, perhaps it should make it higher up the list.

NOTE: There has been a growing gap between scientists and the Republican Party. In 2009, of 2500 polled scientists, just 6 percent of the polled identify themselves as Republicans (as opposed to 23 percent of the overall population). The increasing number of anti-science Republican politicians (for example, on climate change issues) will harden this divide.

In a related discussion, see David Roberts, Grist, The right’s climate denialism is part of something much larger.

Consider what the Limbaugh/Morano crowd is saying about climate: not only that that the world’s scientists and scientific institutions are systematically wrong, but that they are purposefully perpetrating a deception. Virtually all the world’s governments, scientific academies, and media are either in on it or duped by it. The only ones who have pierced the veil and seen the truth are American movement conservatives, the ones who found death panels in the healthcare bill.

It’s a species of theater, repeated so often people have become inured, but if you take it seriously it’s an extraordinary charge. For one thing, if it’s true that the world’s scientists are capable of deception and collusion on this scale, a lot more than climate change is in doubt. These same institutions have told us what we know about health and disease, species and ecosystems, energy and biochemistry. If they are corrupt, we have to consider whether any of the knowledge they’ve generated is trustworthy. We could be operating our medical facilities, economies, and technologies on faulty theories. We might not know anything! Here we are hip-deep in postmodernism and it came from the right, not the left academics they hate.

Scientific claims are now subject to ideological disputation. Rush Limbaugh is telling millions of people that they’ve taken the red pill and everything they once knew and could trust is a lie. They’ve woken up outside the Matrix and he is their corpulent, drug-addicted, thrice-divorced Morpheus. What could go wrong?

Hat tip to Climate Progress.

Tags: Energy · republican party

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 frflyer // Sep 10, 2010 at 1:44 am

    Vote the Deniers out!

    Spread it around

  • 2 frflyer // Sep 10, 2010 at 1:55 am

    “Economic concerns (JOBS! JOBS! JOBS!), fossil-foolish fueled anger at government, passions over the role of government, and otherwise are among the many reasons why the current vogue is to predict a Republican wave come November. A hidden element of the election, for most Americans, is that this election is fundamentally about science.”

    Precisely why Democrats and Greens need to seize on this situation and use it against the GOP and tea party. This is the GOPs biggest weakness,

    Not sure it is the biggest — although this is certainly an item for discussion.

    although right now it looks like a strength. And it should be a major topic in Dem campaign ads etc.

    Relentless hammering away at the disparity between the GOP position and the scientific evidence and consensus.

    Relentless hammering away at the issue of GOP/oil supported denier disinformation. Hammering away at the media to start reporting the science instead of the gossip.

  • 3 The Republican Migration from Peacock to Zombie // Sep 13, 2010 at 11:34 am

    [...] with each day, Republican Anti-Science Syndrome suffering is becoming ever more pronounced. While the attacks on science, scientific institutions, and scientific authority go well beyond [...]

  • 4 @JonCarson44 responded to my tweet … one of my tweets, not others // Jan 12, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    [...] Very simply, it would be a winning strategy to lay out — clearly and forcefully — why November 2012 is truly an election about science. [...]

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