Friday, August 23, 2013

America's Growing Ignorance: Welcome to the Age of Denial

Once upon a time the Republican Party valued science, intellect and knowledge.  Indeed, Democrats were at times looked down upon as being ignorant and the unwashed rabble.  Now, the picture has been totally reversed and the GOP actively campaigns against scientific knowledge whether it be on climate change or sexual orientation and a host of issues in between and party leaders wear ignorance and idiocy on their sleeves as a badge of honor.  What caused this reversal?  In my mind, the rise of the Christofascists in the GOP for whom modernity and knowledge are a growing threat because they destroy the infantile house of cards faith system that these individuals need to find a distorted sense of self-identification and security.   A column in the New York Times by a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester looks at America's increasing ignorance which is fueled by snake oil merchants in the pulpit and the Republican Party base.  Here are excerpts:

ROCHESTER — IN 1982, polls showed that 44 percent of Americans believed God had created human beings in their present form. Thirty years later, the fraction of the population who are creationists is 46 percent

In 1989, when “climate change” had just entered the public lexicon, 63 percent of Americans understood it was a problem. Almost 25 years later, that proportion is actually a bit lower, at 58 percent. 

This is not a world the scientists I trained with would recognize. Many of them served on the Manhattan Project. Afterward, they helped create the technologies that drove America’s postwar prosperity. In that era of the mid-20th century, politicians were expected to support science financially but otherwise leave it alone.

Today, however, it is politically effective, and socially acceptable, to deny scientific fact. Narrowly defined, “creationism” was a minor current in American thinking for much of the 20th century. But in the years since I was a student, a well-funded effort has skillfully rebranded that ideology as “creation science” and pushed it into classrooms across the country. Though transparently unscientific, denying evolution has become a litmus test for some conservative politicians, even at the highest levels. 

Meanwhile, climate deniers, taking pages from the creationists’ PR playbook, have manufactured doubt about fundamental issues in climate science that were decided scientifically decades ago. And anti-vaccine campaigners brandish a few long-discredited studies to make unproven claims about links between autism and vaccination. 

What do I tell my students? From one end of their educational trajectory to the other, our society told these kids science was important. How confusing is it for them now, when scientists receive death threats for simply doing honest research on our planet’s climate history? 

Americans always expected their children to face a brighter economic future, and we scientists expected our students to inherit a world where science was embraced by an ever-larger fraction of the population.

My professors’ generation could respond to silliness like creationism with head-scratching bemusement. My students cannot afford that luxury. Instead they must become fierce champions of science in the marketplace of ideas.  

[A]s we know from history’s darkest moments, even the most enlightened traditions can be broken and lost. Perhaps that is the most important lesson all lifelong students of science must learn now. 

The irony is that the Christofascists are obsessed with America's declining influence in the world, yet they are the ones that will lead to further decline.  As noted before on this blog, many historians blame the rise of Christianity for the fall of Ancient Rome.  Now, the "godly Christians" are working to destroy America and bring back ignorance and a new Dark Ages.

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