Once upon a time, I was a working scientist. I made discoveries; I published dozens of scientific papers; I managed a laboratory that was supported by Federal grant monies. I would approach elections with profoundly mixed emotions. For many years, the Republicans would run on platforms of reducing Federal spending, but the Republicans would always strongly support the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation.
That is, up until 2000. That year the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) meeting was in New Orleans. Before that, SfN meetings were deliberately held during the late fall but always avoided Election Day. That year, for perhaps the first time, scheduling the meeting (with over 30,000 attendees) had become so cumbersome that we had to take the week we could get, and that included Election Day.
I voted absentee (not easy to do in those days in Mississippi) and went off to the meeting to present my work. I stayed up late into the night watching election returns, and satisfied with the outcome, went to bed. The next morning I grabbed a cup of coffee, walked the several blocks from my hotel to the cavernous convention center in New Orleans, and to my surprise, there were literally hundreds of people crowded around a few TV sets mounted into the atrium ceiling. I remember thinking, “What are these people doing? The election is over.” But of course, it wasn’t nearly over. There was plenty of election left, as I found out a few minutes into joining the group and staring at ‘The Morning After’.
Defend Science sprung up to, well, defend science, which had never needed defending before in my post-Sputnik lifetime.
But along with other scientists, I’ve been disappointed as the field is subjected to a blistering attack from the Know-Nothing right. At the same time as the Obama Administration, occupied with other battles, has offered only a weak defense, if any.
The Tea Party movement, in particular, has exhibited a strong anti-intellectual tendency which not only scares me (as it would, since I’m an unabashed egghead) but even scares commentators from the right such as Rod Dreher (then a Dallas Morning News columnist, now a blogger for Belief.Net) and Kathleen Parker.
It was Palin that sent the cat amongst the canaries. Sarah Palin (and her “intellectual” successor, Christine O’Donnell) are the embodiment of this epistemically-closed-and-proud-of-it New Politics. At least Reagan seemed to wink at the idea that he wasn’t the smartest guy in the room, and he knew it. These guys (and gals) are stupid, they’re proud of being stupid (“can I call you Joe”) and they’re appealing to all the stupid people out there that somehow feel that the childlike state of stupidity is something to be aspired to.
I will let Mr. Universe opine on the global warming aspect of this debate, but I will just drop a little factoid which I believe to be true but will leave for him to investigate: all 37 Republican candidates for the US Senate believe that global warming is a fallacy. As a scientist, I fought epistemic closure with everything I had. (Unsuccessfully, I might add. We’re all closed.) What scares me are the people running for state and national offices in 2010 who embrace it.