AMERICAN ANTI-INTELLECTUALISM IS LEADING TO AUTHORITARIANISM

Today’s denial of inconvenient science comes from partisans on both ends of the political spectrum.

Science denialism among Democrats tends to be motivated by unsupported suspicions of hidden dangers to health and the environment. Common examples include the belief that cell phones cause brain cancer (high school physics shows why this is impossible) or that vaccines cause autism (science has shown no link whatsoever).

Republican science denialism tends to be motivated by antiregulatory fervor and fundamentalist concerns over control of the reproductive cycle. Examples are the conviction that global warming is a hoax (billions of measurements show it is a fact) or that we should “teach the controversy” to schoolchildren over whether life on the planet was shaped by evolution over millions of years or an intelligent designer over thousands of years (scientists agree evolution is real). Of these two forms of science denialism, the Republican version is more dangerous because the party has taken to attacking the validity of science itself as a basis for public policy when science disagrees with its ideology.

It gives me no pleasure to say this. My family founded the Minnesota Republican Party. But much of the Republican Party has adopted an authoritarian approach that demands ideological conformity, even when contradicted by scientific evidence, and ostracizes those who do not conform. It may work well for uniform messaging, but in the end, it drives diverse thinkers away—and thinkers are what we need to solve today’s complex problems.

This process has left a large, silent body of voters who are fiscally conservative, who believe in science and evidence-based policies, and who are socially tolerant but who have left the party. In addition, Republican attacks on settled scientific issues—such as anthropogenic climate change and evolution—have too often been met with silence or, worse, appeasement by Democrats.

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