Thursday, September 30, 2004

Mooney on Fire

Be sure to have a look at this excellent article from Chris Mooney about the increasing use of bogus science by the religious right. Whether the issue is creationism, health risks to women from abortion, or stem cell use, religious conservative now routinely cast their arguments in scientific terms. In one sense, the fact that they must fight on science's turf in making their case is a big defeat for religion. But the fact remains that it's very easy to blind people with science, especially when you're claiming to provide scientifc legitimacy for moral assertions people believe anyway.

Here are too excerpts:

Brind's story provides a case study in how religious conservatives have shifted gears in their battles over science and policy. Instead of simply lecturing about the moral evils of abortion, they've increasingly depicted the procedure as damaging to women's health. And on a range of other issues, Christian conservatives have similarly adopted the veneer of scientific and technical expertise instead of merely asserting their heartfelt beliefs. Their claims--that abortion causes mental problems in women, that condoms aren't very effective in preventing HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, that adult stem cells have more research promise than embryonic ones, and so on--now frequently comprise the right's chief arguments on these issues. Granted, the Christian right's new “science” generally remains on the fringe of the scientific community. But since conservative funders have managed to underwrite a variety of think tanks and advocacy groups that push these arguments, it has nevertheless influenced policy at the state and federal level.


All told, Christian conservatives have gone a long way towards creating their own scientific counter-establishment. Indeed, the religious right's “science” represents just the most recent manifestation of the gradual conservative Christian political awakening that has so dramatically shaped our politics over the past several decades. “They're saying that their faith is not just a pietistic private exercise, but that it has implications in the world of education, or politics, or the world of science,” notes Michael Cromartie, an expert on the religious right at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. And by providing a scientific cover--albeit a thin one--for religiously-inspired policies, this appropriation of science has at least temporary benefits for groups seeking to promote them. After all, the scientific method is inherently open to abuse. Because it encourages open publication, continual challenges to the conventional wisdom, and a presumption of good faith on the part of researchers, those who would deliberately slant their interpretations or cherry-pick their facts find plenty of running room.

This is straight Lysenkoism, and we all know how that turned out. Fighting this stuff needs to be part of every scientist's job description.


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