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Conservatives, liberals and adaptationists

I am always annoyed by the fact that everyone has an opinion on evolution.  Regardless of whether they can explain the first thing about how it works, they know whether they “believe in it” or disbelieve.  Many people, especially in the US, use their disbelief in evolution as a basis for political action.  Others will attack the “scientific orthodoxy” and claim the “evolutionists” are ideologically driven.  The whole idea of the scientific method and the tentative nature of all scientific knowledge escapes these people.  But when it comes down to it, if the average person doesn’t choose to have opinions on real scientific controversies, why jump in about fake ones?

Over the last few weeks it has begun to dawn on me that I should be awfully grateful that the general public isn’t more invested.  I should be grateful that I am not an economist.  Most people can describe themselves in terms of political ideologies, and those political ideologies are usually linked to economic “beliefs”.  Many of the most loudly expressed beliefs are “conservative”…belief in the power of the free market, belief in lower taxes, opposition to redistribution of wealth (except, of course, when it comes one’s own way).  Political parties are based, in a large part, on political ideologies.  Ideologies.  Not scholarly work.  Not data about how the world really works.  Ideologies.

Supply-side economics is a failed idea.  It’s been tested, it has failed.  The unrestricted free market has failed and failed horribly; Enron was one test, the “mortgage backed securities” scam was another.  But political ideologues are unmoved by data.  It was the failure of human nature, not of the system.  Hmm…where have I heard that before?  Oh yeah…communism.  Great idea, if only it wasn’t for human nature.

It’s bad that biology has become a political issue.  People take a biological question like “when does life begin?”, impose an arbitrary answer on it, and use it as a motivation to go and pass laws restricting how doctors can care for their patients.  But at its worst, the political appropriation of scientific ideas pales in comparison to what has happened with economics.  “I’m a fiscal conservative” says the average person who knows little about economics.  “I’m an adaptationist myself”, one might answer.

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3 Responses

  1. What about “I’m a fiscal conservationist” or “I’m an evolutionary progressist”?
    :-)

  2. I’m not sure how I would categorize myself other than I accept the teachings of Larry Moran. So, that would make me a “Moranist.” Maybe I could say I follow the “Toronto School” of evolution.

  3. Hopefully not this school of Moranists, Mike. :)

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