Science, or Not?

My school education, despite being heavily in the Catholic school system, was fairly consistent on the point of science: respect science, and use science. Science wasn’t taught as dogma; it was taught as a method, with a sense of rigor.

What schools did so many conservatives and libertarians go through, and were they good students? How did they get such disrespectful attitudes towards science?

Not liking the impact, financial or otherwise, of a scientific discovery doesn’t make it wrong. Finding small bits of data that don’t support a theory doesn’t discredit the theory. Different effects contribute to any specific situation; there’s a reason why exercises in scientific text books, especially before college, specifically discount friction, for example; it just confuses students to calculate the speed of a falling object based on the force of gravity and then adjust for air resistance because the object isn’t falling in a vacuum. The fact that objects fall more slowly in nature than in a vacuum doesn’t disprove Newton’s laws of gravity; it means there are more effects involved.

What’s really peculiar is how in some cases, such as climate change, small fragments of contradictory research lead to, “Teach the controversy!” while refutation of the link between vaccines and autism doesn’t dent some people’s belief that there is such a link. A few scientists are accused of fudging climate change data and a whole field is discredited, never mind that the accusations turned out to be over small details. One scientist is proven to have faked a study, and millions cling ferociously to the discredited study anyway.

It’s as if people routinely stop reading after only 10% of whatever scientific research they need to understand and don’t trust the people who read the other 90% — or wrote the research. Worse, almost no one in those political movements is calling their bluff. “Dude, you’re making us look stupid, acting is if those objedtions are meaningful.” “Sorry, that’s not how birth control works; by no reasonable definition of the word, ‘abortion,’ does that qualify as abortion.”

It’s as if the Queen of Hearts is in charge: “Words mean what I say they mean,” and we’ll cherry pick the science until we can support our conclusions, even when the science should make us doubt our conclusions.

I acknowledge that the overlap between climate deniers and vaccine opponents is minimal, so it’s not quite as bad as someone accepting some discredited theories while trying too hard to discredit others, most of the time. There’s probably an anti-intellectual fringe that distrusts everything and chooses “what feels right,” to them, despite all research to the contrary, including research about our own fallibility when it comes to our instincts and “common sense.”

Between that and legal attempts to favor unborn fetuses and “closely held” corporations over actually adult female women, it’s been a rough week.


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