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Advertisement In Brief A large number of major party contenders for political office this year took antiscience positions against evolution, human-induced climate change, vaccines, stem cell research, and more. Such positions are surprising because the economy is such a big factor in this election, and half the economic growth since World War II can be traced to innovations in science and technology.
Partisans at both ends of the political spectrum have been guilty of science denialism. But the Republican version is particularly dangerous because it attacks the validity of science itself.
It is hard to know exactly when it became acceptable for U. For some two centuries science was a preeminent force in American politics, and scientific innovation has been the leading driver of U.
Kids in the s gathered in school cafeterias to watch moon launches and landings on televisions wheeled in on carts. Breakthroughs in the s and s sparked the computer revolution and a new information economy. Advances in biology, based on evolutionary theory, created the biotech industry.
New research in genetics is poised to transform the understanding of disease and the practice of medicine, agriculture and other fields.
The Founding Fathers were science enthusiasts. Consequently, those in positions of authority do not have the right to impose their beliefs on other people. The people themselves retain this inalienable right. Based on this foundation of science—of knowledge gained by systematic study and testing instead of by the assertions of ideology—the argument for a new, democratic form of government was self-evident.
In late growing concern over this trend led six of us to try to do something about it. We put up a Web site and began reaching out to scientists and engineers. Although presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and John McCain both declined a debate on scientific issues, they provided written answers to the 14 questions we asked, which were read by millions of voters.
These efforts try to address the problem, but a larger question remains: What has turned so many Americans against science—the very tool that has transformed the quality and quantity of their lives?
Science denialism among Democrats tends to be motivated by unsupported suspicions of hidden dangers to health and the environment. Common examples include the belief that cell phones cause brain cancer high school physics shows why this is impossible or that vaccines cause autism science has shown no link whatsoever.
Republican science denialism tends to be motivated by antiregulatory fervor and fundamentalist concerns over control of the reproductive cycle. Of these two forms of science denialism, the Republican version is more dangerous because the party has taken to attacking the validity of science itself as a basis for public policy when science disagrees with its ideology.
It gives me no pleasure to say this. My family founded the Minnesota Republican Party. But much of the Republican Party has adopted an authoritarian approach that demands ideological conformity, even when contradicted by scientific evidence, and ostracizes those who do not conform.
This process has left a large, silent body of voters who are fiscally conservative, who believe in science and evidence-based policies, and who are socially tolerant but who have left the party. In addition, Republican attacks on settled scientific issues—such as anthropogenic climate change and evolution—have too often been met with silence or, worse, appeasement by Democrats.
Bye-bye nomination, another one down.
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