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American public turning against science?

An Op-Ed in the Boston Globe by Ken Miller expresses that concern:

AMERICAN science is in trouble, and if you wonder why, just go to the movies. Popular culture is gradually turning against science, and Ben Stein’s new movie, “Expelled,” is helping to push it along.

I believe that American culture has a deep vein of anti-intellectualism, and the current anti-science movement has roots that go back at least to the “Reagan revolution”. It’s a multi-pronged attack – there’s astroturfing by big business (acid rain, smoking, climate change), there was the “property rights vs. science” battle that was lost in the West in the 1990s, and there’s the battle against the creationists. Sadly they have fed one upon the other – big business showed that scientific opinion is for sale (and if some scientists are for sale, then maybe all are, right?) The property rights issue managed to cast science as just another interest group. The creationists built on both of these ideas – they bought their own scientists, cast real science as just another ideologically-driven lobby, and then asked for “fairness” and “equal time”. Expelled is, of course, part of the next step – demonise science and scientists.

Expelled is a slick propaganda piece, full of outright lies. Miller continues

Why is all this nonsense a threat to science? The reason is Stein’s libelous conclusion that science is simply evil…Stein is doing nothing less than helping turn a generation of American youth away from science. If we actually come to believe that science leads to murder, then we deserve to lose world leadership in science. In that sense, the word “expelled” may have a different and more tragic connotation for our country than Stein intended.

My hope is that Stein has overplayed his hand when he said that science leads to murder. But most of the people he may have reached with the movie will never any of Stein’s more outrageous nonsense.

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2 Responses

  1. It’s not just evolution (and physics, and geology and…) but includes the “dismal science” of economics. Hilary Clinton’s response when asked about the opinions of all those economists who disagreed with her stand on a “gas tax holiday” was something to the effect of “who cares what those people who have been studying the subject for many years think?”

  2. Ian, the problems with the American public and science are getting more serious. See for example my most recent blog entry.

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