GOP Assault on Truth: Why Do Conservatives Pretend They Know More About Science Than Scientists?
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Earlier this year, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) introduced legislation “repealing the...[EPA’s] scientific finding that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases are endangering human health and the environment.” That’s right, politicians voted to repeal a scientific finding. It failed in the Senate. But if Republicans were to take control of the White House and Senate, the bill would undoubtedly become law.
“Politicians overruling scientists on a scientific question,” cautioned EPA Secretary Lisa Jackson on February 8, “would become part of this Committee's legacy.”
It’s too late now, Secretary Jackson. Two months after the global warming hearing, Congress for the first time ever voted to delist a species from the Endangered Species Act. Politicians have determined that the grey wolf is not, contrary to all scientific evidence, an endangered species in need of protection.
“It’s a political move,” says Joanne Padrón Carney, director of the Center for Science, Technology and Congress at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “Congress is not a scientific body. They’re not a peer-reviewed body.”
Who needs the careful application of the scientific method when you have congressmen with absolutely no scientific training making these decisions? Scientists and environmentalists are worried that the wolf’s delisting could set a bad precedent, encouraging Congress to do more science by decree amidst ongoing legislative wrangling. It appears that science has joined health care for the elderly and poor on the list of things Republicans and business-friendly Democrats can hold hostage to the budget and revenue crises.
The conservative attack on science is old and driven by many factors: religious opposition to reason, Barry Goldwater-style anti-intellectualism, corporate muscle, and straight-up Nixonian lies. Nixon liked to play the role of philosopher king, privately conceding that the Vietnam War was unwinnable but declaring the American people unworthy of knowing so. There are some who resist science because of sincere if misguided religious belief, and others who consciously manipulate facts for economic gain. The result, however, is always the same: a stupider America less well-prepared to make good decisions.
“Once you allow the majority to define what science is, all kinds of possibilities open up,” says Arthur McCalla, professor of religious studies at Mount Saint Vincent University. “When religiously inspired populism meets corporate power, things can get really bad."
In the United States, a campaign against the teaching of evolutionary biology has been the fulcrum of anti-science conservatism. What began as "creationism" -- the simple and unadorned assertion that the Biblical description of the history of the earth and the creation of species as understood by fundamentalist Christians was historically factual -- has come to mimic scientific language, posturing as “creation science” and now “intelligent design.” Science, in this case, is something we all have the right to make up on our own.
“It goes right back to those basic fundamentalist points. We say what science is. It doesn’t matter what scientists say science is. We know what science is,” says McCalla. “To what extent are today’s Republicans doing the same thing, except instead of defending the Bible, they are also defending industry?”
Everyone has their own truth. Whichever rendition has the most powerful patron wins. “Facts” get made up about everything: science, abortion, the budget, and Iraq.
Arizona Republican Jon Kyl took to the Senate floor and claimed that abortion was “well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does,” when the number was actually just 3 percent.
Caught in a lie, Kyl released a statement matter-of-factly explaining that his comment was “not intended to be a factual statement.” Kyl, notes Stephen Colbert, simply “rounded up to the nearest 90.”