Politics & Policy

The Anti-Science Smear

Liberals embrace the rhetoric of science, but not its cautious and dispassionate reasoning.

The last time Republicans were roundly condemned as anti-science, it was for their resistance to destroying human embryos for stem cells. Their crude religiosity supposedly blocked imminent leaps ahead in medical progress.

Then-vice-presidential candidate John Edwards went so far as to predict in 2004 that because of “the work we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk, get up out of that wheelchair, and walk again.”

In other words, as a major figure in the self-styled party of science, Edwards made an outlandish assurance worthy of a faith healer. For the Left, science is as much a branding device and political bludgeon as a serious commitment. Edwards didn’t know the first thing about spinal-injury research and didn’t care — so long as he could sell demagogic flimflammery under the banner of glorious science.

#ad#The extravagant promises about the miraculous cures on offer from stem-cell research have proven, at best, premature. Regardless, destroying embryos isn’t necessary to the enterprise. The allegedly anti-science policy of the Bush administration to prohibit federal funding for research involving the new destruction of embryos pushed scientists down the increasingly promising avenue of finding alternative sources of stem cells.

This episode is worth recalling as Texas governor Rick Perry is portrayed as the worst threat to science since the Inquisition had a few words with Galileo, or as they say in Texas, “treated him pretty ugly.”

In no sense that the ordinary person would understand the term is Rick Perry “anti-science.” He hasn’t criticized the scientific method, or sent the Texas Rangers to chase out from the state anyone in a white lab coat. In fact, the opposite. His website touts his Emerging Technology Fund as an effort to bring “the best scientists and researchers to Texas.” The state has a booming health-care sector composed of people who presumably have a healthy appreciation for the dictates of science.

Perry’s offenses against science consist of his statements on evolution and global warming, areas where “the science” is routinely used to try to force assent to far-reaching philosophical or policy judgments unsupported by the evidence.

Unless he has an interest in paleontology that has escaped everyone’s notice to this point, Perry’s somewhat doubtful take on evolution has more to do with a general impulse to preserve a role for God in creation than a careful evaluation of the work of, say, Stephen Jay Gould. Perry’s attitude is in the American mainstream. According to Gallup, 40 percent of Americans think God created man in his present form, and 38 percent think man developed over millions of years with God guiding the process. Is three-quarters of the country potentially anti-science?

Similarly, Perry’s skepticism on man-made global warming surely has much to do with the uses to which the scientific consensus on warming is put. It is enlisted as support for sweeping carbon controls that fail any cost-benefit analysis and gets spun into catastrophic scenarios that are as rigorous as Hollywood movie treatments. For all their talk of fidelity to science, global-warming alarmists bring to the issue an evangelical zeal to match that of the participants in Rick Perry’s Houston prayer meeting a few weeks ago.

Science is often just an adjunct to the Left’s faith commitments. A Richard Dawkins takes evolutionary science beyond its competence and argues that it dictates atheism. An Al Gore makes it sound as if there is no scientific alternative to his policy preferences. They are believers wrapping themselves in the rhetoric of science while lacking all the care and dispassionate reasoning we associate with the practice of it.

It is in this vein that Rick Perry is branded anti-science. Ultimately, a president’s views on evolution count for little. Ronald Reagan shared Perry’s skepticism, and the nation survived. In Texas, Perry adopted policies designed to draw doctors and technology firms to Texas and create jobs. He succeeded. In this, he’s proven admirably empirical — more so, indeed, than the president of the United States.

— Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. © 2011 by King Features Syndicate.

Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

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