Saturday, June 18, 2011

Got Science?

The Republican quest to destroy the American Dream has many components. One of the most insidious is the notion that somehow tax cuts for the wealthy creates jobs. Another is their crusade to deny adequate and affordable health care to all but the wealthy. But there's a third component – one that does not receive much attention in the mainstream media – and one that yet may prove to be the catalyst that destroys the American way of life. That is the GOP's animosity toward established scientific processes and methods.

Not surprisingly, if you follow the money, the most vocal of the anti-science kooks comes from climate change deniers. While the scientific evidence that humans are having a deleterious and potentially irreversible impact on our ecosystem is indisputable, money from the Koch brothers and their ilk to mold public opinion to be against addressing the problem flows freely. Other anti-science efforts are similarly well-funded to deny the truth in areas such as women's reproductive health, fuel efficiency standards, and evolution education.

This topic was the subject of a recent panel at the Netroots Nation conference in Minneapolis. The panel of scientists and educators discussed their initiatives to counter the propaganda spewed by the right.

The problem is real. One of the panelists presented the result of a survey showing that of the top 35 industrial nations, the United States ranks 34th in the number of people who accept the facts of evolution (sorry, Turkey, you're number 35.) Even more insidious is the fact that of the 100 new members of Congress, 46 of them are global warming deniers. The lack of awareness in Congress is unsurprising when you consider the fact that there are 222 lawyers serving and only 9 scientists (including the only human to beat the famed IBM Watson computer).

The panelists are proactively working fix the problem. One, a former Philadelphia 76ers cheerleader has formed an organization to educate the public about the issues. And don't even succumb to the stereotype that these women are airheads – over fifty ex-NFL cheerleaders are pursuing careers in science, engineering, and medicine.

To counter the right-wing propaganda, one scientist described a service that he is involved with. The Climate Science Rapid Response Team is a group of over 100 scientists who are on call to consult with reporters (most of whom have little science training) to help them provide factual information when writing about science-intensive issues. Yet another panelist was a filmmaker who produces films and other media to help educate the public worldwide.

It's no surprise that much of the corporate media is silent on issues that have a scientific component. After all, Anthony Weiner's poor judgement is more sensational than examination of sea level changes. It's also no surprise that surveys show Jon Stewart as the most trusted “news” anchor in the country. One panelist presented a list of scores of scientists and science writers who have appeared on The Daily Show and the Colbert Report. When was the last time you saw a scientist on Meet the Press?

Copernicus and Galileo did not live in the internet era. Yet, they were each vilified when they promoted a heliocentric view of the solar system. Unfortunately, if the Tea Party and Koch Brothers have their way, we will have proven that ignorance transcends the centuries.

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