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 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