Ignoramus Nation

All of us here at SeaMonster are scientists of one stripe or another. Science is largely responsible for revealing the world of wonders we celebrate, illuminating the weighty issues we debate, heck even for designing the surfboards we ride.

But science — which is nothing more or less than applied, rationale thinking — is under unprecedented attack in this country. The rest of the civilized world must be scratching their heads. The “debate” in the United States about the existence of evolution and climate change are not only absent but literally unthinkable in any other modern industrialized nation on earth. And let’s face it — this is a lopsided phenomenon, politically speaking: it’s coming from one end of the spectrum. But is anti-science a real problem? Is this significant to our society, our pocketbooks, our standing in the world?

Lest I be accused of partisanship, consider the recent comments of (formerly Republican) Mayor of New York, one time presidential hopeful, and billionaire financier Michael Bloomberg, quoted in Financial Times magazine:

Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York, does not often hide his views. When he recently addressed an international economic forum at Columbia University, on the seemingly “dull” topic of science and politicians, however, his words were incendiary, even by his standards.

“We have presidential candidates who don’t believe in science!” he lamented, referring to the current field of people jostling to become Republican candidate for the 2012 elections. “I mean, just think about it, can you imagine a company of any size in the world where the CEO said, ‘oh I don’t believe in science’ and that person surviving to the end of that day? Are you kidding me? It’s mind-boggling!” . . .

Last month, New Scientist magazine warned in an editorial that science is now under unprecedented intellectual attack in America. “When candidates for the highest office in the land appear to spurn reason, embrace anecdote over scientific evidence, and even portray scientists as the perpetrators of a massive hoax, there is reason to worry,” it thundered. Some 40,000 scientists have now joined a lobby group called Science Debate, which was founded four years ago with the aim of getting more scientific voices into the political arena. “There is an entire generation of students today who have been taught that there is no objective truth – who think that science is just another opinion,” says Shawn Lawrence Otto, co-founder of Science Debate.”

Read the rest here. And, if this makes you mad, add your voice to those calling for “public debates in which the U.S. presidential and congressional candidates share their views on the issues of The Environment, Health and Medicine, and Science and Technology Policy“.

3 Responses to “Ignoramus Nation”

  1. Edd Hind says:

    It’s shocking that science has come to be viewed as opinion. Lobbyists may be more to blame than politicians, but it is no excuse for politicians not knowing better. I would say one thing in criticism of the New Scientists stance which I largely agree with. As a marine scientists who mostly deals with qualitative information, I’d challenge the view that anecdote cannot be scientific. Whilst it should not be used “over” science, as the NS says, I believe it should be used alongside science. There is a lot of uncertainty in the scientific world and anecdote when treated critically can help solve some of it.

    • Emmett Duffy says:

      Edd, good point about anecdote. It’s certainly true that one has to tell a story (or anecdote) to get a point across in most audiences. And that’s fine, but to be responsible the story has to be compatible with the weight of evidence.

  2. John Bruno says:

    Thanks Emmett, great post. It is maddening isn’t it. Both the ignorance of the value of science – even to republicans! (think military high tech, biotech and medicine, space exploration, jobs, etc) – and the growing use of the judiciary to punish scientists like Mike Mann whose work challenges the actions of big political donors.

Leave a Reply