Anti-Science Attitudes the Last Thing US Economy Needs: Nature


Photo credit: olga.palma via Flickr/CC BY

Over the last few years, sound science has been under attack in disciplines focusing on everything from climate to vaccines. Yesterday, I excerpted an interview with a man whom many consider to be a champion of sound science -- Simon Singh deftly articulated the public relations crisis science faces in the modern age. So I thought I'd follow up on the topic today, after seeing that the esteemed scientific journal Nature published a fantastic op-ed, Science Scorned (subs. required), that details the threat posed by the growing anti-science attitudes held by many of the nation's leading politicians and media ringleaders.Here are a couple key parts of the essay, some of which was reprinted over at Climate Progress:

US 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.... Yet the public often buys into anti-science, anti-regulation agendas that are orchestrated by business interests and their sponsored think tanks and front groups.

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 ...

There is a growing anti-science streak on the American right that could have tangible societal and political impacts on many fronts -- including regulation of environmental and other issues and stem-cell research. Take the surprise ousting last week of Lisa Murkowski, the incumbent Republican senator for Alaska, by political unknown Joe Miller in the Republican primary for the 2 November midterm congressional elections. Miller, who is backed by the conservative 'Tea Party movement', called his opponent's acknowledgement of the reality of global warming "exhibit 'A' for why she needs to go".

Again, this willingness to buck a vast body of science at the suggestion of a politician or a radio broadcaster likely comes from the difficulty of accepting the ramifications of the problem. Acknowledging that climate change is caused by man means acknowledging that we may have to take steps to change our behavior. And especially right now, when many Americans are bearing the brunt of an interminable recession and many others are out of work, those steps -- seem altogether counter-intuitive and outlandish.

But that's also why there's hope. The rampant climate change skepticism isn't tethered to a crumbling trust in science in general. It may be just that at this moment, opportunistic politicians and media mavens have succeeded in temporarily manipulating the debate (which it seems to me that they have). Here's Nature again:

In the current poisoned political atmosphere, the defenders of science have few easy remedies. Reassuringly, polls continue to show that the overwhelming majority of the US public sees science as a force for good, and the anti-science rumblings may be ephemeral. As educators, scientists should redouble their efforts to promote rationalism, scholarship and critical thought among the young, and engage with both the media and politicians to help illuminate the pressing science-based issues of our time.
Indeed.

More on Anti-Science Ideologies
The Danger of Armchair Pundits 'Investigating' Climate Science ...
Dispatch from the Front Lines of a War on Science

Tags: Global Climate Change | United States

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