End of the War on Science?

Posted By Stefan Monsaureus

Chris Mooney, writing at Slate, notes that with the passing of the Bush administration, the metaphorical “war on science” (characterized by government promulgation of misinformation, interference with the communication of scientific findings, and wanton disregard for scientific data) comes to an end. The battle, it seems, will continue.

This bad news comes at a time when we need an appreciation of science—an understanding of its fundamental role in sound policymaking and the future of the economy—more than ever: to help solve our intertwined climate and energy problems, to bolster our long-term technological competitiveness, and to prepare our society for the coming controversies that research in fields like genetics and neuroscience stands ready to unleash. Instead, the communication gap between scientists and ordinary Americans has brought about (or helped to perpetuate) a number of home-grown anti-science pathologies. A seemingly immovable core of Americans don’t believe in evolution and think the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, nearly half of us, according to polling data. Americans are also more likely to reject the Big Bang theory than are people from other countries.

Mooney seems to suggest, though, that continued focus on the battle between religion and science, perpetuated both by “New Atheists” and religious fundamentalists, contributes to the widespread rejection of science by broad swaths of the American populace. Such a conclusion is unfortunate insofar as it implies that both sides in this “debate” are culpable in furthering the lack of public understanding and acceptance of key scientific principles. While it is true that being too strident in using scientific fact to upend religious tenets can cause a backlash, it is the willful ignorance and suspension of reason embraced by some religious zealots that perpetuates this divide.

Mooney is right when he calls for improved communication of scientific advances. But what we really need is a better educated electorate, able to critically evaluate conflicting truth claims. With the end of the Bush era, perhaps Americans will once again be prepared to celebrate accomplishment, and intellectualism will be, if not in vogue, subject to a reasonable level of respect and admiration.

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18 January 2009

One Comment to 'End of the War on Science?'

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  1. Crystal D. said,

    We can seriously hope that this will mean something different for the direction of our country. Unfortunately, we can’t pray. If we did, though, everything would be made right… :)

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