The never-ending op-eds branding the Republicans the anti-science party aren’t always entirely without merit.
Rick Santorum asserted that Americans “have learned to be sceptical of 'scientific' claims, particularly those at war with our common sense.” Rush Limbaugh has dismissed science as a corrupt institution that exists “by virtue of deceit.” However, the countless articles in the liberal media only tell half the story.
However, perhaps the most shockingly irrational statements comes from a democratic politician, Iowa's Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labour and Pensions Committee. He has called for people to “end the discrimination” against alternative medicine and to disenthrall ourselves from the “dogmas and biases” of conventional medicine.
By dogmas and biases he means scientific proof.
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Harkin was himself instrumental in the creation of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine yet has complained that “the purpose of this center was to investigate and validate alternative approaches. Quite frankly, I must say publicly that it has fallen short. I think quite frankly that in this center and in the office previously before it, most of its focus has been on disproving things rather than seeking out and approving.”
In terms of wilful ignorance, this beats anything Sarah Palin said hands down. Yet the liberal media gave him a free pass.
In 2008 Barack Obama gave credence to anti-vaccine paranoia.
"We've seen just a skyrocketing autism rate,” he said. “Some people are suspicious that it's connected to the vaccines. This person included."
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Bill Maher have also spouted this dangerous nonsense, endangering people’s children.
The Huffington Post has run articles on the Republican war on science yet is itself a mecca of "alternative medicine." It has run articles prescribing enemas as a cure for swine flu, advocated the long-distance healing effects of good intentions (“intention is transmitted by an as yet unknown energy signal”; “intention warps space-time much like gravity”) and given space for actor Jim Carey to warn us that vaccines contain anti-freeze, amongst much other nonsense.
The 1990’s books "Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science" and "Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science" documented the embrace of epistemic relativism and obscurantism. The postmodern journal Social Text, for instance, rejected the scientific method in and of itself as Eurocentric, sexist and racist.
In an unsolicited paper physicist Alan Sokal aped the standard post-modern rhetoric, writing of the “dogma imposed by the long post-Enlightenment hegemony” and the “ideology of domination concealed behind the façade of ‘objectivity.’” It was soon revealed that the editors of Social Text had unwittingly published a parody, the purposeful absurdities of Sokal’s paper being indistinguishable from the usual ramblings of postmodern theorists.
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From postmodern theorist Luce Irigaray’s condemnation of E=mc2 as a “sexed equation” that “privileges the speed of light over other [less masculine] speeds that are vitally necessary to us,” to feminist academic Sandra Harding’s comparison of the scientific method to “marital rape - the husband as scientist forcing nature to his wishes” (she also referred to Newton’s laws as “Newton’s rape manual”), it is clear that certain intellectuals of the left have become as likely to denounce science as celebrate it.
While these people had little influence on mainstream politics, they are the embodiment of a more general trend - a left that has fallen out of love with the enlightenment.
When it comes to the science of human nature, liberals have put political correctness before scientific accuracy. Many on the left today remain what science writer Michael Shermer has labelled cognitive creationists. They accept evolution for all parts of the body – except the brain.
One particular focus for their ire has been the renowned biologist E.O. Wilson. At a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a group calling itself the International Committee Against Racism shouted “Racist Wilson you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide!” and poured a jug of water over his head. The group handed out flyers stating that “Militant action, not merely academic debate, is needed to crush Wilson’s fascist theories.”
Since then, concluded Nobel Laureate James Watson in the British newspaper The Independent, “the assault against human behavioural genetics by wishful thinking has remained vigorous.”
The politically correct far-left believe they are fighting against reactionaries who would use science to justify xenophobia, sexism and inequality. Yet in her magisterial account of the politicized debate about human nature, "Defenders of the Truth," the sociologist Ullica Segerstrale makes clear that Wilson and the other scientists castigated by the left were free of any misogynistic or racist agenda.
Today the left continue their hysterical assault against all those who err from the blank slate view of human psychology.
As the cognitive scientist Steven Pinker explains in the New York Review of Books, for many on the left the target was [emphasis added] “any biological analysis of human nature” including “psychometrics, behavioral genetics, and the neuroscience of politically sensitive topics."
Far-left scientist Stephen Jay Gould and his now largely discredited polemic The Mismeasure of Man are still endlessly invoked by literary intellectuals. Gould’s editor at Natural History magazine, Richard Milner, offered a revealing defense: “Whatever conclusions he reached, rightly or wrongly, he did with complete conviction... if he was guilty of the kind of unconscious bias in science that he warned against, at least his bias was on the side of the angels.”
Bias doesn’t matter, so long as you’re on the correct side.
A technician holds vials containing engineered DNA that will be introduced into the leaves of nicotiana benthamiana plants, which are a close relative of tobacco, in a lab at the facilities of Icon Genetics on August 14, 2014 in Halle, Germany. Icon Genetics has developed a process to produce proteins and enzymes via the nicotiana benthamiana plant that will be used in the production of antibodies for ZMapp, which is being heralded as a possible cure to the ebola virus. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Many liberals accept the overwhelming scientific proof for evolution in our distant past yet attack anyone who holds, quite reasonably, that natural selection didn’t suddenly stop occurring in human beings after some of our species departed from Africa.
"It [Race] doesn't exist biologically, but it does exist socially," said Alan Goodman, president of the American Anthropological Association [emphasis added]:
"Culturally I'm white-ified. People see me as white. That has something to do with how I look, but it has nothing to do with biological variation."
This view of race as "socially constructed" has become fashionable yet is utterly wrong.
In the words of Steven Pinker:
“Because oceans, deserts, and mountain ranges have prevented people from choosing mates at random in the past, the large inbred families we call races are still discernible, each with a somewhat different distribution of gene frequencies.”
According to Professor Mark Pagel of Reading University, “Biologists confronted with this kind of clustered genetic variability in other species routinely refer to the groupings as variants, types, gentes, races and even sub-species.”
It is only by presenting the straw man of a crude and antiquated conception of race that the concept is easily dismissed.
While it’s been the right in America who have denied anthropogenic climate change, it has been left-leaning environmentalists who have opposed the technologies currently best placed to lower emissions. While the Obama administration has been quietly pro-nuclear energy, the most prominent green organizations remain vehemently opposed to its use.
Meanwhile hydraulic fracturing is causing rifts within the Democrat Party and its risks are being inflated by the environmental movement. Yet the burning of the shale gas that fracking extracts produces only half of the carbon emissions of burning coal. Its use is the primary reason why the CO2 emissions of the United States have been falling over recent years.
All conservatives need to stand against the assault on scientific truth, whichever side of the political divide it comes from.
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