Citizen Scientists

December 11, 2007

If there is any one issue that has dominated the presidential primary season so far, it’s religion. Whether it’s Mitt Romney’s Mormonism, Mike Huckabee’s Christianist nuttery, or the eagerness of the other GOP wannabes to do backflips and handstands to appease the fundies, religion has been the controlling issue on the Republican side. And, with the continuing ridiculous smears aimed at making Barack Obama look like a closeted Muslim terrorist, one could say it has infected the Democratic side as well.

But the plain fact of the matter is that the continued well-being of America is not going to depend on which president can Jesus-whoop the loudest, but which president recognizes the need to respect and promote science. As this commenter points out, we don’t expect our presidents to hold advanced degrees in economics, but a candidate who laughed off the very idea of economic policy would not be considered a serious choice for the presidency. The fact that the entire Republican Party is in thrall to people who are not just proudly ignorant of science but actively working to undermine and marginalize it, and that the entire GOP presidential field is ready to pander to them, should make every patriotic American’s blood run cold.

So for whatever it’s worth, sign me up with the scientists and science writers who are calling for a presidential debate in which the candidates will be restricted to debating on science and technology issues. Not Jack Bauer fantasies about waterboarding nuclear terrorists. Not Tim Russert gotcha games. Not groveling declarations of piety. A debate in which the candidates will have to make it plain that even if they can’t answer Jeopardy! questions about climate change and biology, they are ready and willing to listen to those who can, and pay respectful attention to what they have to say. An assemblage of scientific luminaries has formed to promote this idea, along with a blogger coalition, and I invite you to consider what they’re saying.

There may once have been a time when this sort of thing could have been left to the Big Media Types who serve as ringmasters in these events, but I can’t think of an era in which yahoos and their appeasers have exercised such complete control over mass market media. In the past, a lamebrain like Glenn Beck would have been exiled to a UHF television station where his gibberings about global warming conspiracies could be filtered through a wall of static. Now he is cosseted and overpaid by CNN, despite his continued sub-basement ratings, in the hope that when Rush Limbaugh drops dead on the golf course or OD’s on OxyContin, his fans will stage a Gadarene stampede to Glenn Beck’s show.

Lucky us, to live in a time when a clown like this can dispute the reality of global warming by comparing Al Gore to Adolf Hitler, or creationists can mire school districts in endless wrangling over teaching evolutionary theory, or scientific data on everything from birth control to medicine have to be smuggled past a phalanx of fundamentalists and Bush administration lackeys. In civilized areas of the globe, where the rule of reason tends to prevail, scientists continue to do good and valuable work. With a concerted effort, following Bush’s long overdue eviction from the White House, we may be able to contribute to that endeavor once again. And if campaigns like Sciencedebate 2008 can do even a little bit to advance that goal, sign me up.

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2 Responses to “Citizen Scientists”

  1. Scott Stiefel Says:

    “to do backflips and handstands”
    How about a barrel roll?

    “a Gadarene stampede”
    Holy shit! I never thought I’d hear that referenced outside religious circles.


  2. […] Science Debate? Science Debate 2008 Sciencedebate 2008 Si los políticos debatieran sobre ciencia Citizen Scientists Political Issues and the Science Lobby Krauss joins top scientists in call for special presidential […]


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