Vilifying Science at Our Peril

“Science has become a home for displaced socialists and communists.” – Rush Limbaugh

 It would be easy to dismiss such foolishness as simply the delusional ramblings of an unhinged mind, or to recall that, as Senator Al Franken so aptly put it in the title of his book, Rush Limbaugh Is a Big, Fat Idiot. But as satisfying as that would be, we do so at our own peril.

It would be one thing if Limbaugh were simply a lone voice ranting in the wilderness, but like it or not, he is a major media figure with a significant audience. More importantly, he’s not alone. Science bashing has become de rigueur in right-wing political circles. Glen Beck likens stem cell research to eugenics, Sarah Palin argues that climate change is part of a natural cycle, and Tea Party darling Christine O’Donnell calls evolution a myth.

Of course, this is nothing new. Reactionaries discrediting legitimate scientists goes back well before Galileo, but today’s brand of anti-intellectualism is more pernicious, both because of its volume and its potential cost. Galileo only had to deal with the Inquisition. We have to deal with Fox News, and their 24/7 anti-intellectual crusade.

Today’s conservatives, like the orthodox defenders of yore, have a vested interest in convincing the general public that science and scientists cannot be trusted. Without science and the evidence it provides, how are we to refute the nonsense that they spew? Tobacco companies worked for years to discredit the scientists whose studies linked smoking and cancer. Climate change deniers are employing precisely the same strategy. For every hundred scientists with evidence showing climate change is real and humans are responsible, they trot out one of their well paid shills, arguing that climate models are unproven.

The mainstream media aids and abets this misinformation campaign by giving it equal time to legitimate scientists. Controversy is better for ratings than scientific consensus. Under the guise of being fair and balanced, the major news outlets legitimize the naysayers, and imply that their dubious pseudo-research has equal validity to the literally thousands of peer reviewed studies.

It’s time for science to have a few more defenders. When we see scientists being used and abused, it’s up to us to stand up and say something. Let’s fire off some angry e-mails to news outlets that distort and misreport science. Let elected officials know that we, the scientifically literate public, will vote only for candidates who fund legitimate scientific research and make decisions based on reason rather than anti-intellectual rhetoric.

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