Science doesn’t change based on politics or popularity.

The internet is absolutely teaming with articles and blog posts that denounce science, or at least popular, consensus conclusions. It seems to me that almost all of them come from people who would label themselves as Social Conservatives. Science is about new ideas developing from and often replacing old ideas as new data become available. This, of course, is the antithesis of conservative, and this is a battle that has been going on for a very long time.

The trick now is that science has an even footing. Many people accept the structures that keep science honest as being equal to the standing of politics, religion, or culture to help make lives better. A great many find science even more trustworthy due to the ability of science to admit mistakes without loosing internal stability, as mistakes and corrections are the actual basis for much advancement.

For quite some time, science has been denounced for its seemingly democratic nature; when a large number of people look at the same facts and draw the same conclusions, we say that a theory has gained acceptance. Science also, oddly, is attacked, based on a very poor understanding of the scientific lexicon, for admitting there is room for doubt and new discovery by labeling those concepts which cannot be explained using a solvable equation as “Theories”. So, science has been demonized, mainly, for open-mindedness and willingness to hear new ideas.

The conservatives have taken a new avenue lately, then, to try and make sure that their voices are heard.

Now they are attacking science for not accepting the “theories” that they propose as being valid. Again, this largely comes from a lack of understanding about the process, but it increasingly includes those who are simply playing off the desires of certain elements to find backing for fringe research. This includes everything from Intelligent Design and the so-called Abortion-Cancer link to the “theory” that vaccines cause autism. All of these ideas have been explored by science, and the evidence has been found to be so weak that almost no one pursues it any further.

The new tactic then is to claim discrimination and censorship are keeping these ideas from being explored, as though there is a conspiracy to shape the universe so that the facts reflect what science is already teaching, rather than science teaching based on the facts as they are known. The fake outcry is being propped up in an attempt to portray the scientific community as biased and ideological.

We see this poorly enacted in the Intelligent Design debate. The common argument goes that there are gaps in the data that we fill based on inference, which is true as far as it goes. The conservative then argues that Intelligent Design fills those gaps. The premise always boils down to: Your theory extrapolates from incomplete data, thus you can’t prove it, so my theory, which requires no data, is (at least) equally valid. Never mind that the only “facts” which they ever produce to “support” intelligent design are gaps in the evidence for evolution and ancient literature. There is no signature on the foot of any creature to denote a divine sculptor.

Last week, I read a similar diatribe from an anti-choice group about the supposed censorship of their opinions being paraded as fact. There is a single scientist who believes he has found a link between abortion and breast cancer. He didn’t do any studies his self, instead relying on studies others conducted. Many of the original studies have been dismissed as having methodological weaknesses, which might taint their results. Additionally, the link he found was a statistically insignificant increase in breast cancer rates. Essentially, the results were hyped up to produce a politically viable hypothesis from poorly gathered information. The British government is being asked to prohibit this “link” from being touted as scientific fact, and the “pro-life” groups are in an up-roar over the censorship of their cherished barb. This is as close as they get to having facts to support their religious ideal.

Here is the simple truth: you can’t cram ID into classrooms based on the gaps in evidence for evolution, gaps no other scientific theory explains, without also throwing out all the factual data we have gathered. You also can’t teach theories that have been discredited, based on all available data, simply because you like them better than the theories that are being taught.

It is not censorship to teach based on the facts. Plenty of people want to deny the evidence of historical events, too, but we aren’t going to start downplaying the importance of slavery as a cause for the American Civil war, or the horror of the Holocaust any more than we are going to start teaching kids to fear the Illuminate or the MMR vaccine. Science has changed to fit new discoveries and facts. If you want to change science, bring evidence.

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2 Responses

  1. The world has become a place where facts do not matter. People believe whatever they want and that is how the world is or suppose to be.

    • I agree that this is a disturbing trend, but it is not new. People have long held that tradition and culture are more important than discovery and adjustment. It is sad, but it is human nature as much as it is to question and experiment.

      We want to understand things. We like to believe that we do. Science is all about the admission that we don’t, and that new understanding is always happening. The problem is that new understandings undermine the security of established ways of thinking. As much as we want to understand, we hate to admit when we do not.

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