And now for something completely different.
Except that it isn’t really. I say that it isn’t really different because, although this post will seem to be about politics, in reality it will be about a common topic on this blog: Anti-science. And where is this anti-science? Sadly, it’s in the platform of a major party of one of the largest states in the country. It also meshes with the anti-science inherent in a lot of so-called “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) and all comes together in one place: The proposed 2012 Platform of the Republican Party of Texas. It’s all there, as you will see.
I learned about this platform on, of all places, Facebook, where it is popping up like so much kudzu. The part of the document that most people seem to be concentrating on involves education, but there’s so much more antiscience in there than just that passage. Still, the section on education is as good a place to start to look at what’s wrong with this document. Three passages pretty much sum up the approach to education espoused by the Texas Republican Party. Here are the first two:
- “We believe the current teaching of a multicultural curriculum is divisive. We favor strengthening our common American identity and loyalty instead of political correctness that nurtures alienation among racial and ethnic groups. Students should pledge allegiance to the American and Texas flags daily to instill patriotism.”
- “We support objective teaching and equal treatment of all sides of scientific theories. We believe theories such as life origins and environmental change should be taught as challengeable scientific theories subject to change as new data is produced. Teachers and students should be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these theories openly and without fear of retribution or discrimination of any kind.”
The first denies reality every bit as much as the second in that it denies a basic fact: That the U.S. is multicultural. It always has been. It always will be. Whenever I see someone ranting against “multiculturalism,” what I see is a fear of change and a fear of the other.
The second is ridiculously problematic, in essence recommending policies that would inscribe the “teach the controversy” tactic of denialists like creationists into state law. The first thing that one has to understand is that evolution is not a controversial theory among biologists. No matter how much creationists try to make it seem so, it just isn’t. It’s religious groups that turn the theory of evolution into a pseudocontroversy, or, as we sometimes call it, a “manufactroversy.” The theory of evolution is one of the best-supported theories in science. None of this is to say that there aren’t letgitimate scientific controversies swirling around the theory of evolution, but these controversies are not what the creationists now controlling the Republican Party in Texas want you to think they are. Creationists want you to think that the very theory of evolution is in question, when its essential elements (evolution through natural selection and common descent) are not. True, scientists will argue over how much evolution is due to natural selection versus other forms of selection, but they don’t argue over whether evolution is the mechanism by which the diversity of life has developed.
Yet, that’s exactly what the Texas Republican Party wants to “empower” teacher to do: Question whether evolution is happening or not, mountains of evidence from multiple different disciplines supporting it be damned. In brief, the platform advocates giving teachers the freedom to teach bad science that was repudiated long ago but, like the proverbial undead, keeps rising from the dead to eat the brains of the living. Unlike most political issues, in many scientific issues there really aren’t “two sides” to the story. I’m all for teaching where various scientific theories break down or areas they don’t explain very well and where there is therefore room for improvement or modification. However, “intelligent design” creationism is not one of these “other sides” to a scientific issue.
Similarly, AGW denialism is not, as usually argued by denialists, a valid challenge to AGW science. Like most forms of denialism, pseudoscience, and crankery, it is largely based on misinformation, cherry picked studies, and willful misinterpretations of existing evidence. It’s questions that scientists have asked and answered (with evidence and experimentation!) a long time ago. As much as ideologues try to make it seem as though the occurrence of global climate change characterized by warming is a scientific controversy or that human activity isn’t a major contributor to it. The scientific consensus might not be as strong as the consensus behind evolution, but it is nonetheless a very strong scientific consensus indeed, backed up by data from multiple disciplines that converge to support the hypothesis. As is the case in evolution, what this platform is doing with respect to AGW is to “empower” teachers to indoctrinate children with their own religion-inspired dogma (“intelligent design” creationism) or ideological viewpoint (AGW denialism).
But this platform is even worse than that.
Don’t believe me? Then get a load of this passage, which is a dagger aimed at the heart of critical the thinking skills of future generations of Texans:
We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.
Because we obviously can’t have children learning critical thinking skills in school, can we? Yes, I realize that teaching higher order thinking skills and outcome-based education are educational systems that aren’t completely without controversy, but notice the key part of the passage. It’s not the part that attacks a specific educational method. Rather, it’s the part where the Republican Party of Texas declares that it doesn’t want schools to teach anything that challenges the student’s fixed beliefs or undermines parental authority. Of course, it’s painfully obvious that the “fixed beliefs” that the Republican Party doesn’t want to see challenged are conservative Christian religious beliefs. In fact, I highly doubt that the people who drafted this platform can even imagine the potential unintended consequences of demanding that schools never challenged a student’s fixed beliefs or undermine parental authority. What, for instance, if the parents are Communists? What if the parents are jihadists who think America is the root of all evil? Would the Texas Republican Party support not allowing schools to teach anything that might undermine those fixed beliefs the authority of parents who instill those fixed beliefs? One group’s “critical thinking skills” have always been another group’s challenge to accepted dogma. What this platform wants to do is to impose one dogma (a vision of America as white, homogeneous, and based on Christian religion) that can’t be questioned because it might make parents uncomfortable while turning science into postmodernism, where “questioning” is enough to elevate any old crank idea to the level of being a challenge to accepted science that students need to be taught about.
The whole thing is utterly ridiculous and transparent. It’s not possible to teach anything of substance without challenging someone‘s fixed beliefs anywhere. Maybe that’s the idea behind the platform: Reduce education to the lowest common denominator, teaching to national achievement tests and emphasizing rote memorization rather than problem-solving and creative thinking. A better recipe for an uninformed and uncreative populace that’s susceptible to pseudoscience I have a hard time imagining. Again, maybe that’s the whole point. Certainly, a lack of basic critical thinking skills will make a person more susceptible to blandishments based on emotion and logical fallacies than he otherwise might be.
That’s not all, though. Let’s head on over to the section on health care, shall we? What sorts of health policies does the Texas Republican Party advocate? Well, besides the predictable promise to “repeal and replace” the Patent Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPCA, otherwise known as “Obamacare”) there’s this rather telling passage:
We deplore any efforts to mandate that vitamins and other natural supplements be on a prescription–only basis, and we oppose any efforts to remove vitamins and other nutritional supplements from public sale. We support the rights of all adults to their choice of nutritional products, and alternative health care choices.
I’ll give the Republican Party some credit here. This is cleverly worded. No one that I’m aware of is trying to outlaw vitamins or make them available on a prescription-only basis. No one. What has been happening in intermittent fits and starts is an attempt to tighten up the regulation of some nutritional supplements, which, thanks to the DSHEA of 1994, are now in essence very close to unregulated. Basically, as long as a supplement manufacturer doesn’t make specific health claims for its products, keeping them on the level of “boosts the immune system” or “supports health,” they can sell pretty much what they want. Even egregious examples of chemicals that are not in any way nutritional supplements being sold as such take the FDA a long time to shut down. What this passage really means is that the Texas Republican Party is supporting the supplement industry and its push to keep nutritional supplements unregulated. In other words, the Texas Republican Party appears to have aligned itself with the “health freedom” movement, which I like to call by its intent: The freedom of quacks from pesky government interference. That is particularly obvious from the last sentence about “all adults” being free to choose whatever nutritional products they want and “alternative health care choices.”
And they say that alternative medicine and supplement woo is primarily a phenomenon of the left! Ditto antivaccinationism. Well, not really:
All adult citizens should have the legal right to conscientiously choose which vaccines are administered to themselves or their minor children without penalty for refusing a vaccine. We oppose any effort by any authority to mandate such vaccines or any medical database that would contain personal records of citizens without their consent.
This is, of course, a very silly plank in the platform. Adults already have the legal right without penalty to choose which vaccines they take and always have. Parents also more or less already have the legal right to refuse vaccinations for their children in 48 states, which allow religious exemptions. In twenty states, philosophical exemptions are allowed, and in the states in which philosophical exemptions are not allowed parents frequently claim religious exemptions, whether valid or not. Moreover, Texas itself already allows both religious and philosophical exemptions to school vaccine mandates; so the issue is a moot point there, unless there is a movement in Texas that I’m not aware of that is trying to make it more difficult to get philosophical exemptions. Also notice how the platform plank conflates vaccine exemptions with a Big Brother-style database containing personal records of citizens. The two don’t go together logically; one can only assume that they were put together to obscure the Texas Republican Party’s obvious alignment with the antivaccine movement in its embrace of opposition to tightening up school vaccine mandate exemption requirements.
Lest you doubt me regarding the increasing seeming alignment between right wing politics and the antivaccine movement, though, I can’t help but point out a post by Kent Heckenlively on that other wretched hive of scum and antivaccine quackery, Age of Autism, trumpeting how the Tea Party has joined the antivaccine crank party the Canary Party in opposing vaccine mandates in California:
In a sign of increasing political strength, the Canary Party has achieved an alliance with the East Bay Tea Party, one of California’s largest tea party groups, on the issue of AB2109, a measure sponsored by California Assembly Member, Dr. Richard Pan. The bill seeks to limit the ability of parents to obtain a philosophical exemption to refuse a vaccine or modify the schedule by requiring them to get a note from a doctor if they wish to vary the schedule or chose to decline vaccinations.
This is, of course, utter nonsense. The bill in question, AB 2109, is all about informed consent, as opposed to misinformed consent, as I’ve written before. Unfortunately, in the case of AB 2109 it was a party line vote, with Democrats in favor and Republicans all opposed. In any case, all AB 2109 requires is that a parent seeking a religious or philosophical exemption to vaccination see a pediatrician for a discussion of the benefits and risks of vaccination; i.e., an informed consent discussion. That’s all. It won’t prevent anyone from getting an exemption. All it will do is make it a little more difficult. Parents won’t be able just to sign a form; they’ll have to have an informed consent-like form signed by a health care provider. Unfortunately, in a late addition to the bill, that now includes naturopaths. Given that naturopaths are notoriously prone to antivaccine views and often advocate not vaccinating, this addition to the bill has greatly weakened it and is not justified on a scientific or medical basis given that naturopathy is a hodgepodge of pseudoscience, quackery, and supplements.
But back to the Texas Republican Party platform. There’s so much more in the platform that’s wrong, including pseudo history, blatant calls for what would be in effect the mixing of church and state, and claims that the U.S. is a “Judeo-Christian” nation. The platform, including the blatant calls for letting teachers teach religious and ideologically motivated pseudoscience such as creationism and AGW denialism without interference of pesky scientific standards to stop them, has clearly come down on the side of anti-science, much as, sadly, the Republican Party as a whole seems to have done these days. It’s basically crank magnetism put into a political document.