The Talking Lion

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Teach The Children Well

A couple of spot-on columns in Friday's WashPost and NYT from Eugene Robinson and Paul Krugman on the politics of ignorance and the right's political strategy of winning votes by either dumbing down the nation, making up facts, or doing both.

Robinson's main concern is that the policies of the Bush administration is holding this country back when it comes to education and technology. He lists the "trifecta" of restricting stem-cell research, ignoring global warming and categorizing intelligent design as an appropriate alternative to the theory of evolution. Preach, Eugene:

The much-maligned Kyoto treaty isn't the point. Treaty or no treaty, it looks as if sooner or later the world is going to have to find a way to prosper without spewing so much heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Other nations are busy trying to develop technology and coping mechanisms to prepare for that day. When it comes, we'll be at or near the back of the line.

Maybe we'll line up all our obsolete SUVs along the coast to try to hold back the rising sea.

To round out the trifecta, the other day Bush reiterated his support for teaching "intelligent design" in America's schools along with evolution, as a way of exposing students to different points of view. This really borders on madness.

Intelligent design isn't a scientific theory at all; it's a matter of faith -- Creationism 2.0. Faith is a different kind of truth. Charles Darwin's landmark discovery of evolution, with a few minor modifications and additions over the years, has proved to be one of the sturdiest and most unassailable scientific theories of all time. To the extent that science can say anything is true, evolution is scientifically true. Done. Settled. As Walter Cronkite used to say, "That's the way it is."

To teach American children in science class that intelligent design is an alternative explanation of how birds, anteaters and people came to be birds, anteaters and people is simply to make American children less well educated than children elsewhere.

But I guess it's okay to give our children a poorer quality of education than other countries in this world. That's just the way politics goes sometimes. It's a dirty buisness, right? On some occasions, though, I think it gets too dirty. Like in this case, when our nation is not properly informed of the dangers of global warming and legitimate scientific theories have little credibility in our schools. That's not politics. That's poo-litics. Dirty and smelly and a huge waste.

Also, there's Krugman. Not only is he a sexy man, but he also gets at the heart of this Republican strategy of "creating doubt about inconvienent research results" and how, unofrtunately, it seems to be working. What do you have to say about it, Paul?

There are several reasons why fake research is so effective. One is that nonscientists sometimes find it hard to tell the difference between research and advocacy - if it's got numbers and charts in it, doesn't that make it science?

Even when reporters do know the difference, the conventions of he-said-she-said journalism get in the way of conveying that knowledge to readers. I once joked that if President Bush said that the Earth was flat, the headlines of news articles would read, "Opinions Differ on Shape of the Earth." The headlines on many articles about the intelligent design controversy come pretty close.

Hahahahahaha, that's a good joke. Excuse me while I repeatedly walk into this brick wall. But wait, there's more:

Finally, the self-policing nature of science - scientific truth is determined by peer review, not public opinion - can be exploited by skilled purveyors of cultural resentment. Do virtually all biologists agree that Darwin was right? Well, that just shows that they're elitists who think they're smarter than the rest of us.

Exactly. Don't forget about what gary Bauer said, a moajority of Americans believe in this theory, and the opinion of a majority of Americans is far more important than the opinion of a bunch of scientists with their crazy book-learnin'. But speaking of Intelligent Design:

Some of America's most powerful politicians have a deep hatred for Darwinism. Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, blamed the theory of evolution for the Columbine school shootings. But sheer political power hasn't been enough to get creationism into the school curriculum. The theory of evolution has overwhelming scientific support, and the country isn't ready - yet - to teach religious doctrine in public schools.

But what if creationists do to evolutionary theory what corporate interests did to global warming: create a widespread impression that the scientific consensus has shaky foundations?

Creationists failed when they pretended to be engaged in science, not religious indoctrination: "creation science" was too crude to fool anyone. But intelligent design, which spreads doubt about evolution without being too overtly religious, may succeed where creation science failed.

Conservatives may achieve some short term victories, but "creating a widespread impression that the scientific consensus has shaky foundations" could lead mean the future of our nation is flushed down the toilet. But that's what happens when you practice poo-litics...


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