I must admit I’m getting bored with poking holes in Michael Shermer’s recent piece in the Scientific American, claiming that when it comes to waging war on science, liberals are just as bad as conservatives. It is just too easy. Looks, for instance, of only of instances of conservatives waging war on science that have come up during the last few days, for which you simply can’t find an equivalent among the liberals. In this post, in addition to coming up with one more such instance, I will show a fundamental problem I have with Shermer’s entire concept.
The most recent conservaitve assault on science comes from Arizona. State legislators have some brilliant ideas about improving education in that state.
A group of Arizona Republicans are out with a new bill to undermine the teaching of evolution and subjects such as climate change and cloning in the classroom. The National Center for Science Education called the legislation another “instance of the ‘academic freedom’ strategy for undermining the teaching of evolution and climate change.”
The proposed “teach the controversy” bill is a stealthy attack on evolution as it tries to make science classes give equal weight to nonscientific beliefs and theologies. It’s the equivalent of including claims made by the Flat Earth Society in a geology class, all for the sake of “balance.”
In case anyone has any doubts about the intent of the bill, they make it clear for us what the intent is:
Sec. 2. Intent
The legislature finds and declares that:
1. An important purpose of science education is to inform students about scientific evidence and to help students develop critical thinking skills necessary to becoming intelligent, productive and scientifically informed citizens.
2. The teaching of some scientific subjects, including biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning, can cause controversy.
3. Some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects.
So, Mr Shermer, when was the last time that Democrats came up with such a gem?
But more problematic is how Shermer concluded his piece.
Surveys show that moderate liberals and conservatives embrace science roughly equally (varying across domains), which is why scientists like E. O. Wilson and organizations like the National Center for Science Education are reaching out to moderates in both parties to rein in the extremists on evolution and climate change. Pace Barry Goldwater, extremism in the defense of liberty may not be a vice, but it is in defense of science, where facts matter more than faith—whether it comes in a religious or secular form—and where moderation in the pursuit of truth is a virtue.
That sounds nice, but in today’s world, unfortunately, it is not useful advice. Because on one side of the spectrum-the Right-moderates almost no longer exist. There has been no shortage of career politicians on the Right that have lost challenges to more ideologically driven elements within their own party over the last few years. Hence, in order for them to survive, they have no choice but to abandon any semblance of moderation. And you can’t reach to moderates on both sides when only one side has moderates.
What Shermer is suggesting is precisely what the environmental movement tried to do over the last few years. Not only did they not accomplish anything, they ended up getting blamed (I have to say justifiably, to some extent ) for their naivete.