2007 02 05
Attacks on science
A nice editorial in the LA Times about how the Democratic Congress should bring science back to Washington. By Chris Mooney and Alan Sokal – includes a nice discussion of the attack on science from postmodernism and “theory” on the left which the Sokal hoax targeted, in addition to the much more serious recent attacks from religious conservatives and corporate interests on the right.
There’s one point about the religious conservatives’ bad effect on science that I found interesting. So, some of them want to stop the teaching of evolution, and some of them want to stop stem cell research. In the article these agenda items are mentioned as being of a piece, but I think they are quite different.
Trying to stop the teaching of evolution, and disputing the genuine scientific consensus about it with dirty tricks (eg fake scientists and fake science foundations) to sow doubt — about the existing strong evidence for evolution, and even about scientific rationality generally — in the minds of people with weak science backgrounds is wrong. It’s lying. It’s an illegitimate intrusion of religious belief into a question where religious belief has no place.
But trying to stop stem cell research is okay. It’s an ethical objection to a scientific program involving humans, and religious convictions have a proper role to play here in a public reflection on what research programs are okay to pursue. I think stem cell research is fine, but if someone has an honest moral objection to it — if their objection is not a disingenuous backdoor way to attack abortion rights — I think it’s appropriate that they try to stop it. (Provided they do this by having public hearings, writing to bioethical advisory boards, etc, rather than backroom dealing.) That is, it’s possible to attack a certain research program on religious grounds without attacking science. But the standard sort of attacks on evolution are attacks on science itself.
Another nice piece and a place to help here; via Metafilter.
Howls of outrage (2)