Questionable Motives

September 20, 2011

What is the role of science (and supporters of science) in politics and how is the media failing us?

Filed under: accommodation,Politics,Science — tildeb @ 9:49 am

There is all kinds of stupid being peddled in political debates masquerading as scientific debate. From Rick Santorum’s idiocy to Sarah Palin’s creeping creationism, from Perry’s prayer day to Bachman’s anti- stem cell ignorance,  science is under attack by Republican ignoramuses who represent leadership for great swaths of truly ignorant people – people who believe that a good dose of faith-based belief has equal footing with knowledge, supported by the confused who think accommodating the two incompatible methods of inquiry somehow promotes respect for science. That’s delusional.

Paul Nurse, who shared the Nobel prize for medicine in 2001, is president of the Royal Society and past president of Rockefeller University, New York, wades into the fray with this article warning us of this anti-science agenda by politicians. He writes,

One problem is treating scientific discussion as if it were political debate. When some politicians try to sway public opinion, they employ the tricks of the debating chamber: cherry-picking data, ignoring the consensus opinions of experts, adept use of a sneer or a misplaced comparison, reliance on the power of rhetoric rather than argument. They can often get away with this because the media rely too much on confrontational debate in place of reasoned discussion. It is essential, in public issues, to separate science from politics and ideology. Get the science right first, then discuss the political implications.

We need to emphasise why the scientific process is such a reliable generator of knowledgewith its respect for evidence, for scepticism, for consistency of approach, for the constant testing of ideas. Everyone should know and understand why the processes that lead to astronomy are more reliable than those that lead to astrology. We need to be vigilant about what is being said in the public arena. We need to be vigilant about what politicians are publicising about science and take them on when necessary. At elections, scientists should ensure that science is on the agenda and nonsense is exposed. If that nonsense is extreme enough then the response should be very public.

His conclusion is a rather sobering and important counter point to those people – scientists and non scientists alike – in the accommodationst (NOMA) camp:

It is time to reject political movements that reject science and take us back into the dark rather than forward into a more enlightened future.

I don’t think Nurse goes nearly far enough to simply reject the political movements that support ignorance in the name of faith-based beliefs; I think we need sustained criticism for anyone who pretends that there is some way to accommodate science and contrary faith-based beliefs in whatever form and wherever they appear. We need to hammer home the point that supporting those who refuse to respect the methodology of science on behalf of some faith-based belief does not attract scientific allies. It undermines respect for the method of science itself and has the effect of mitigating its contrary conclusions in the service of ignorance.

Accommodationism, plain and simple, IS anti-science.


  1. Accommodationism, plain and simple, IS anti-science.

    Agreed, so WTH is wrong with the JREF?

    Comment by The Arbourist — September 22, 2011 @ 2:13 am | Reply

    • Brian Thompson is being so open minded that his brains have fallen out. In the name of wanting to appear respectfully tolerant, he wants us to suspend respecting healthy scepticism in this special case and sees no problem with doing so. He pretends it is an issue of intrusive atheism into his sceptical organization rather than an issue of capitulating the use of healthy scepticism in order to make more friends, but he fails to appreciate why anyone might complain that his special pleading throws healthy and consistent scepticism under the faith bus… a strategy that an organization dedicated to promoting healthy scepticism might want to reconsider.

      Comment by tildeb — September 22, 2011 @ 9:46 am | Reply

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