Monday, August 22, 2011

The Anti-Science Canard

Whenever there is a Republican candidate who doesn't believe in evolution, is skeptical of global warming, or opposes things like embryonic stem cell research, political opponents label him/her as "anti-science." There's a prime example at the Bad Astronomy blog, where Phil Plait recently hyperventilated about Rick Perry.

To say I am not a fan of Rick Perry, Republican Presidential candidate, is to seriously underestimate my antipathy toward him. He is anti-science in almost every sense of the word, and his stance on nearly every issue on which I’ve heard him speak is the exact opposite of where I stand.
That's a good way to make people disregard anything you might have to say since you admit extreme bias. But back to the anti-science claim. Let's take the common case of disbelief in evolution.

Unfortunately a lack of belief in evolution is a mainstream position in the U.S. According to a Gallup poll in 2009, a majority of Americans reject evolution. Does this mean that more than half the country is "anti-science"? Of course not. Being ignorant of important areas of science makes you ignorant, not anti-science. Then there is the religious angle. The reason so many Christians (and Muslims) have a problem with evolution is because of religious belief. Most Christians readily accept science that doesn't directly conflict -- as they see it -- with their religion. (Obviously there are Christians that have accommodated their beliefs and accept evolution -- I'm not talking about them.) I believe that most scientists would agree that evolution is a complex scientific topic, and is not intuitive. Poor science education, general ignorance, and religious belief opposing evolution are also abetted by an entire industry of professional creationists. For those better educated religious people who reject evolution but might feel uncomfortable about it, there are a whole bunch of pseudo-scientists out there feeding them on the notion that evolution is bad science imposed by a rigid academic orthodoxy. In short, it is easy to reject evolution. And it is entirely possible to be "pro-science" overall, while rejecting those parts of science which conflict with your beliefs.

Ignorance regarding certain aspects of science makes you ignorant, not anti-science. Calling someone who rejects evolution or global warming anti-science, is about as stupid an overstatement as labeling abortion supporters as pro-death, or opponents as anti-women. No doubt the oil industry, which relies heavily on science and technology,would be amazed to learn that Rick Perry is anti-science. I'm pretty sure that someone as smart as Phil Plait knows the difference between being opposed to science, and being ignorant in major areas. Unfortunately extreme dislike of political opponents often results in intellectual dishonesty, or an inability to separate analysis from emotional responses such as name-calling.


  1. Neil deGrasse Tyson has a bit of a different take on Republicans and science, if you're interested in hearing it:

  2. I dunno...Do Rick Perry types have an interest in educating themselves on Evolution to make themselves less ignorant? If not, I think that counts as being anti-science.

  3. Being lazy, uninterested in filling in gaps in your knowledge, or blinded by your religious beliefs doesn't mean you are against science. Also, I doubt many people who don't believe in evolution think of themselves as ignorant, even though they are. Being anti-science implies that you are against science in general.

  4. @ Capital Punisher

    It makes them anti-evolution, not anti-science.

  5. Do you have any suggestions how to remedy this ignorance from many of your fellow conservatives, especially the politicians?

    The fact that politicians (e.g. State Rep Gary Hopper of NH) are legislating creationism into science class isn’t helping USA science education. For too many election cycles, I've seen just about all Republican and some Democratic presidential candidates disavow evolution and many (I think sincerely such as Perry and Bachmann, not so sure about Bush Senior or Junior) believe in creationism and returning the USA to its (mythical) Christian roots. Meanwhile the math/science smarts of USA’s children continue to deteriorate (as recently measured by PISA – summary of results found on Here is a satirical look at the results of mandating teaching of non-science in science: - Pay attention to the last panel… this seems all too true, unfortunately.

  6. "Do you have any suggestions how to remedy this ignorance from many of your fellow conservatives, especially the politicians? "

    Good question, and I wish I could remedy it, because I find it embarrassing to the political right. Ignorance can be overcome by education, but usually by the time people become politicians, it's probably too late. Politicians tend to think highly of themselves; I doubt many of them are going to be willing to admit ignorance and do something about it.

    And then there is the religious angle. If creationism is part of their religious outlook, unless they abandon or change their faith, it is unlikely that they will suddenly embrace scientific reality.

  7. "Ignorance regarding certain aspects of science makes you ignorant, not anti-science."

    Ignorance is simply being uninformed about an issue. Guys like Perry aren't ignorant of the science behind evolution, they are well aware of it. They learned it in school like all the rest of us yet they choose to deny it in favor of a simplistic explanation that doesn't upset their belief system. That makes him and those like him anti-logic. Logic and reason are good characteristics to have in a President IMHO.

    All I need to know about Perry was summed up when he said political office is "a pulpit" and that "God has put me in this place at this time to do His will."

  8. To deny evolution, you have to believe the scientific community is a huge anti-Bible conspiracy. My wording is only slightly different from the way they way creationists would say it themselves.

    So while it would be slightly more accurate to call them anti-scientists, this is a distinction without a difference.