A Gallup poll conducted in 2012 found that 58 percent of Republican voters reject evolution and believe that God created human beings in our present form — and only 10,000 years ago. But wait before you scoff. Fully 41 percent of Democrats held to that same belief. These poll results appear shocking at first until one looks more closely at anti-science beliefs and those who hold them. Upon inspection, we find that both political conservatives and progressive liberals reject science when it conflicts with their political or social dogma.
Global warming provides a good illustration. While nearly all scientists concur that global warming is real and is the result of man-made events, only 49 percent of Republicans accept that truism. Meanwhile, 81 percent of Democrats accept that science.
Many liberal groups then mount arguments for reduced reliance on fossil fuels to diminish global warming. However, these same groups often reject nuclear power, which is approved by the large majority of scientists with relevant expertise. Likewise, progressives often mount political resistance to hydroelectric power since dams disrupt natural river flow and related ecology. Even wind power is opposed by many progressive groups since birds are often killed by the blades of large windmills.
But continued reliance on fossil fuels is rejected by progressives since they contribute to global warming. The confusing intersection of science and politics continues unresolved.
Genetically modified organism-based agriculture provides more evidence of the rejection of scientific findings. The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association and the the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine are in agreement that GMOs are safe and can help offset global disease, starvation and brain damage in children. Nevertheless, many progressive groups at the local, state and national level work to prohibit GMOs. Their appeal is often emotional, using anti-corporate rhetoric and anti-scientific fear-mongering with such notions as “Frankenfoods” in the forefront.
Should these groups succeed, more disease, human misery and starvation could result. Yes, anti-scientific thinking and initiatives can lead to human suffering and death.
Another illustration, this one laid at the feet of conservative and traditionalist religious groups, concerns stem cell research. While bio-medical researchers rigorously and optimistically pursue stem-cell-based treatments for a host of devastating and fatal diseases, conservative groups use political and economic power to block such research. The sensibilities of these groups appear to assign higher moral value to embryonic tissue than to countless people suffering with conditions that may some day be successfully treated with stem-cell-based interventions.
The causes of cancer are likewise, and wrongly, the subject of political debate. Environmental groups, with political agendas apparent, frequently point to trace levels of chemicals in our air and water as the genesis of many cancers. Thus, environmental protections are offered as cancer prevention. Far more scientifically validated cancer causes are apparent. Fundamental in cancer research is the fact that it is the DNA of cancer patients — genetic roulette if you will — that causes cancerous cell mutations. Other known cancer causes such as smoking and obesity are within our control and offer demonstrably effective personal interventions.
While the history of scientific contributions has improved our world immeasurably, they have been under attack, historically and presently. Perhaps by recognizing that disparate groups, including conservative, progressive, religious and environmental, have rejected and combatted science — using their preferred lenses — we gain some advantage in promoting scientific research and findings, along with all they offer as our most promising path to an improved societal future.