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The latest issue (November 2012) of Scientific American has an excellent and very timely article by Shawn Lawrence Otto called "America's Science Problem" in the print version, and renamed as "Antiscience Beliefs Jeopardize U.S. Democracy" in the online version.

Mr. Otto's article cogently discusses the the origins of the science denial movement in the United States beginning a century ago with Democrat William Jennings Bryan (of Scopes Monkey Trial fame) who ran a fundamentalist campaign against the theory of evolution. It then goes on to discuss anti-science's persistent endurance up to today including both those Democrats who believe vaccines cause autism, and those Republicans who deny anthropogenic climate change, evolutionary biology, the meaning of the fossil record over geologic time, and big bang cosmology as well as fundamentalist concerns over control of a woman's reproductive rights and an anti-regulatory zeal against environmental protections.

It is a very good article worthy of Scientific American that is accessible to any level of reader. If you are not a Scientific American subscriber or don't have the print version already, please click the above link to read this article in full (and if you are so inclined, please consider becoming a Scientific American subscriber).

Below the orange what-not, I list the standard maximum three paragraphs from the article particularly emphasizing the conclusions of the article.

First Mr. Otto summarizes what is knowledge and why knowledge is the basis for a functioning democracy:

Locke watched the arguing factions of Protestantism, each claiming to be the one true religion, and asked: How do we know something to be true? What is the basis of knowledge? In 1689 he defined what knowledge is and how it is grounded in observations of the physical world in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Any claim that fails this test is “but faith, or opinion, but not knowledge.” It was this idea—that the world is knowable and that objective, empirical knowledge is the most equitable basis for public policy—that stood as Jefferson's foundational argument for democracy.
Next Mr. Otto summarizes how this reliance on knowledge has changed since Jefferson's time, with knowledge now being falsely equated with mere opinion:
By falsely equating knowledge with opinion, postmodernists and antiscience conservatives alike collapse our thinking back to a pre-Enlightenment era, leaving no common basis for public policy. Public discourse is reduced to endless warring opinions, none seen as more valid than another. Policy is determined by the loudest voices, reducing us to a world in which might makes right—the classic definition of authoritarianism.
And finally, Mr. Otto clearly summarizes the consequences when facts are superseded by opinions (the second and third sentences are the real kickers):
“Facts,” John Adams argued, “are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” When facts become opinions, the collective policymaking process of democracy begins to break down. Gone is the common denominator—knowledge—that can bring opposing sides together. Government becomes reactive, expensive and late at solving problems, and the national dialogue becomes mired in warring opinions.
If you are further intrigued, please read the whole article. If facts, evidence, and reason become lost, then this nation will be on (if it isn't already) the brink of calamity. I believe Mr. Otto clearly lays out the case and the dangers.

Originally posted to dewtx on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 02:50 PM PDT.

Also republished by SciTech.

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