A little good news: scientists stand up to politicians

And by politicians, I mean the knuckleheaded, blindered-by-the-right-wing nitwits who refuse to believe anything that doesn’t support their political beliefs…or, the beliefs they profess to believe, in order to maintain their political support (there, I believe that’s clear now).  You know, the ones who don’t get Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s epigram that people are entitled to their own opinions but not to their own facts, and who don’t get the irony that they don’t get it.

Today I ran across this NPR story about scientists in Tennessee fighting a state law that was promoted as an open-minded effort to allow “teachers to question accepted theories on evolution and climate change,” but which the scientists argued was just another attempt to get creationism taught as a theory on a scientific par with evolution.  The story refers to similar efforts in other states where scientists are fighting other efforts to distort science fact into political fiction.

Allow it?  Questioning theories and explaining how hypotheses are proved and become accepted scientific fact is the basis of science.  Teachers don’t need state lawmakers’ permission to break down and explain the parts of any scientific theory, or they shouldn’t.  Not knowing that, while trying to sneak a little religion into the secular science, the grandstanding pols peel back another layer of their own ignorance…or is it another layer of toadiness?

Slamming your eyes shut and screaming “no no no no no no no I can’t hear you” in the face of inconvenient facts is not the reassuring response I want out of my elected representatives.  I agree with Rice University professor Ken Whitney, who thinks that a candidate’s refusal to acknowledge scientific fact as fact ought to be a deal-killer when we go to the ballot box:

I would have an extremely hard time voting for someone who actively argued that evolution should not be taught, or alternately that intelligent design is a valid concept that we should be teaching our kids in public school science classes.

Note, he said we shouldn’t be teaching it in science classes, and that’s because it’s not scientifically valid.  We have to be open-minded enough not to confuse science with religion if we want to get the most value out of each of them.

Sgt. Schultz would have been proud

It was Daniel Patrick Moynihan who said (that I first heard) that while a person is entitled to their own opinion, they are not entitled to their own facts.  The annoying trait among so many people lately–to accept as fact only that information which supports their beliefs, and to reflexively deny the…the factualness of what does not–is nicely addressed in today’s piece by Leonard Pitts, Jr.

[I] can remember a time when facts settled arguments. This is back before everything became a partisan shouting match, back before it was permissible to ignore or deride as “biased” anything that didn’t support your worldview.

If you and I had an argument and I produced facts from an authoritative source to back me up, you couldn’t just blow that off. You might try to undermine my facts, might counter with facts of your own, but you couldn’t just pretend my facts had no weight or meaning.

But that’s the intellectual state of the union these days, as evidenced by all the people who still don’t believe the president was born in Hawaii or that the planet is warming.


To listen to talk radio, to watch TV pundits, to read a newspaper’s online message board, is to realize that increasingly, we are a people estranged from critical thinking, divorced from logic, alienated from even objective truth. We admit no ideas that do not confirm us, hear no voices that do not echo us, sift out all information that does not validate what we wish to believe.

I submit that any people thus handicapped sow the seeds of their own decline; they respond to the world as they wish it were rather [than] to the world as it is.

Do you know what you call a person who does see the world as it is, and doesn’t like what he or she sees, and despite having the responsibility and the power to do something about it, doesn’t?  Yep: a member of the United States Congress.   Paul Krugman accuses Republicans, but they’re not alone on this.

At this point, then, Republicans insist that the deficit must be eliminated, but they’re not willing either to raise taxes or to support cuts in any major government programs. And they’re not willing to participate in serious bipartisan discussions, either, because that might force them to explain their plan — and there isn’t any plan, except to regain power.

Know-nothings, and do-nothings.  What worries me the most is the growing number of people in this country who have one foot in each camp.