Pharyngula

The Death of the Republican Brain

Perhaps this is redundant, since Jon Swift has already taken care of it, but how could I possibly resist an article titled “The Death of Science,” posted on a “Blogs for Bush” site? It’s got wingnuts, it’s got irony, it’s got dizzyingly inane interpretations of science. It’s like everything that’s wrong with the Bush approach to science, all in one short article.

What reasons could a blinkered Bush supporter with a petrified brain and no background in science possibly advance to support the claim that science is dead?

A lot of different factors – but the main thing was that science could only thrive as it did from about 1650 until 1850 when everyone agreed on the rules. The prime rule of science was truth – everyone involved in science had to tell the truth to the best of their ability, and always be willing to correct one’s views when new evidence called in to question previously held beliefs. What killed science was when its strongest advocates stopped telling the truth.

Now you might think he’s about to complain about those great advocates of science, the Republican party, and their current marriage to the dogmatic ignoramuses of the Religious Right (hey, that’s where I’d take it, anyway), but no—he’s blaming scientists and their credulous belief in “Piltdown Man, Haekel’s [sic] embryos, eugenics, Population Bomb, ALAR, etc, etc, etc.”

Wha…? Look at his definition of science, which includes being “willing to correct one’s views when new evidence called in”, and then look at his examples. Piltdown Man: a known fraud that was happily discarded when evidence was found against it. Haeckel’s embryos: a more complex case where the root observation was still valid, although Haeckel did fake a small part of the data…but most importantly, the recapitulation theory he supported was discarded because it doesn’t fit the data. Eugenics: a social theory that darned few scientists support, and that is actually poor biology. The Population Bomb: Ehrlich’s book is not aging well in the details, but overpopulation is still a pressing problem, and hasn’t disappeared because the advocates of unlimited growth don’t like the book. The ALAR scare: this one is a wingnut totem, but they’ve got it all wrong—ALAR is a weak carcinogen, and it isn’t unreasonable for parents to refuse to expose their kids to something that was a convenience for the apple industry.

What we actually see here are myths that science-deniers cling to; biology has long moved on past Haeckel and Piltdown, and it’s only creationists who refuse to discard them.

So the author, Mark Noonan, is ignoring his own definition. It won’t surprise you then that the other part of his complaint is that science doesn’t have enough dogma.

Why did science stray from the path of truth? I think it is because we ceased educating the men of science with a knowledge of religion – a knowledge, that is, of genuine truth, genuine reason, and the relationship of man to creation, and his Creator. When science became a narrowly forcused search for something immediately practical, it was bound to eventually be hijacked by people who wanted to use the cover of science for very impractical efforts.

What actually has happened is that science is committed to finding evidence for its assertions, and no evidence for any gods has ever been found. Where a few hundred years ago, nearly every scientist was religious, over time they have been willing to correct their views to arrive at the reasonable conclusion that natural principles are sufficient to explain the universe. If Mr Noonan wants science to support “his Creator,” all he has to do is come up with evidence. Otherwise, it seems to me that what he’s asking for is that we should bend the data to rationalize his religious myths. That’s anti-scientific.

He’s lying in that article. I found a more recent article by Noonan, which does a better job of illustrating what his actual grievance with science is: it’s gotten too hard.

It took a little longer than I expected, but here is a news story I’ve been expecting for years now:

Global warming boost to glaciers

Its a problem, you see? Some glaciers are growing – and that doesn’t fit too well with global warming…so, as soon as I found out that some glaciers are growing, I know that eventually the global warming enthusiasts would say that both growing and shrinking glaciers are caused by global warming. It is the most flexible theory in human history, this global warming. Having a hot spell? Global warming. Cool spell? Global warming. Low rainfall? Global warming. High rainfall? Global warming. Everthing is as it has always been? Global warming just hasn’t affected you yet – but if you don’t see Gore’s movie and vote Democrat, you’ll die.

Ah, you see, every cause must generate simple, straightforward effects—even weather isn’t allowed to be complex. If global warming is going on, every day must be warmer than the same day the previous year, every summer must be hotter, every winter must be less cold. There are no statistical effects, and definitely no random component to the weather. “Weather” is also a single unitary phenomenon which can be evaluated by one instrument, a thermometer. Precipitation? That isn’t affected by global warming! (Oh, and quick, tell me: if there is more energy in the atmosphere, does that mean it will rain more, or less? And remember, you can only give one answer for the entire planet.)

I don’t know whether I should be relieved that the conservative party I despise is represented and led by incompetent idiots like Mark Noonan, or distressed that the citizenry is so poorly educated that they can still manage to elect fools like that to high office.

Comments

  1. #1 fyreflye, FCD
    August 26, 2006

    I think the observation that science has always been too hard for all but a few, and that it is getting harder as we learn more is an important one. The suggestion that is dying is probably premature. But it may be reasonable to remember that science prospers by the sufferance of many who tolerate it rather than understand it. Popularization is important in maintaining the tolerance, but is not usually pursued in a way that really promotes understanding. It seems to me a fragile relationship.

    You have failed to notice that we’re living in the Golden Age of popular science writing. Dawkins, Wilson, two Ridleys, Dennett, Diamond, Flatow, Myers, Carroll, Guth… Well, why go on? The problem is not that there’s no one to explain complex science issues to the public but that all but a tiny portion of the public is too lazy and too uninterested in reading anything more challenging than The Da Vinci Code. It’s much easier to quote the Bible than to take a couple of weeks to study Endless Forms Most Beautiful. You don’t have to be a genius to understand science questions but you do need to care enough to try. What have you read lately?

  2. #2 Ichthyic
    August 26, 2006

    Stretching my brain way back into the dimmest mists of blogospheric time (i.e., February), I recall Richard Cohen being proud he doesn’t understand math. Oh Their God, wasn’t that a debacle!

    indeed. Algebra was the very first course I can recall that really began to teach one how to think logically.

    I don’t think i ever would have understood physics without it, in fact.

    to think that the mere fact that someone might not utilize algebra in whatever their daily grind is belies the value to critical thinking that it provides.

    but then, that IS these folks’ goal, is it not? to belittle real critical thinking skills so we all end up stupid sheep?

    certainly seems so.

  3. #3 Flex
    August 28, 2006

    John,

    There are easily hundreds of examples. I can think of two of Einstein’s 1905 papers which explain phenomena which resulted in general use technologies today. Both the papers on special relativity and the photoelectric effect. The GPS system has already been mentioned, but I haven’t seen any mention of all the remote controls, security alarms, fire detectors, night-vision, digital cameras and other products which use some form of photoelectric effect.

    I can’t think of any products off the top of my head using brownian motion, but there may be some.

    Infant death as a topic alone could be expanded in many directions. How many people remember the blue babies? Nowadays heart surgery pretty much eliminates the developmental defect of a hole between chambers of the heart. The procedure may be commonplace these days, but it took scientific thinking to develop it.

    Maternal nutrition studies, almost pure statistical science, has led to healthier babies and thus less infant death. Vaccinations of the parents also has contributed to reduced infant mortality.

    Amniocentesis and ultrasound have also allowed detection of developmental defects.

    Once an infant is born, the products developed through scientific research expand. Rear-facing baby car seats are not just stylish, they are safer. How do we know? Because there is scientific evidence for it. Cribs and railings are designed to avoid babies getting their heads caught in them, how do they know how wide the openings can be? By measuring thousands of children, in other words, scientifically.

    Infant medicines have a quantified amount of active ingrediants, determined and dosed using the tools of science. We know what the active ingrediants are because of scientific investigation….

    … and it continues.

    As another commentor noted, one of the reasons ideologies are wrapping themselves in the guise of science is because science has been so successful in improving the lives of human beings.

    Oh, and in case you aren’t already aware of it you can find many other examples in the James Burke BBC series ‘Connections’ or the companion book. It’s a little dated these days, but it has many examples of how scientific research has led to technological innovation and then how technology has inspired science in turn.

    Cheers,

    -Flex

  4. #4 dna
    August 28, 2006

    “I can’t think of any products off the top of my head using brownian motion, but there may be some.”

    What about the infinite improbability drive? If IDiots are allowed to use fiction in thier arguments, so are we!

  5. #5 David Marjanović
    October 14, 2006

    Pholidote is right. More heat = more evaporation = more precipitation. There is currently no desert older than a couple of million years; 50 million years ago almost the whole world was a tropical rainforest because the global average was so hot. Of course there weren’t any glaciers either.

  6. #6 Hank Roberts
    April 19, 2008

    I see the pseudohistory about Alar is popping up again widely, who’s promoting this one again? Election year, ya think?

    For the record:
    July 2005, Vol 95, No. S1
    American Journal of Public Health S81-S91
    © 2005 American Public Health Association
    DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2004.044818
    PUBLIC HEALTH MATTERS
    Regulatory Parallels to Daubert: Stakeholder Influence, “Sound Science,” and the Delayed Adoption of Health-Protective Standards
    http://www.ajph.org/cgi/content/full/95/S1/S81

The site is undergoing maintenance presently. Commenting has been disabled. Please check back later!