The GOP's Assault upon Reason

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             On Sunday, May 11, 2014, Senator Mark Rubio told ABC News, "I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it." Senator Rubio also denied the efficacy of concerted action to confront the growing danger of climate change. He opined that "I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it, except it will destroy our economy." 

             Rubio claimed that scientists exaggerated the danger with a dismissive statement that "our climate is always changing," and that "I don't know of any era in world history where the climate has been stable."  Rubio's remarks were made a few days after he told CNN that President Obama wasn't really qualified to speak on climate change since he was "not a meteorologist."

             Rubio's skepticism about whether climate change is occurring and whether human activity is an agent of climate change is widely shared among GOP legislators, party members and right-wing institutions across the United States. The mere fact that the population of the earth has increased from an estimated 620 million humans in 1700 A.D. to the current estimate of 7.2 billion plus today is, from their perspective, utterly irrelevant as is the evidence presented by NOAA and the overwhelming majority of scientists who have seriously studied the issue of climate change. 


             The refusal to acknowledge the existence of climate change is rooted in the shared worldview of so many GOP adherents who are unable able to grasp the conceptual distinctions  between a scientific theory and an economic or a political theory and who consistently conflate  personal opinions and beliefs with facts and data.


             Simple ignorance by hard scrabble,low-information citizens is only part of the explanation. Paranoia also plays a part. Religious lunatics and fundamentalists, increasingly fearful of creeping secularization and the ascendancy of science as a challenge to many of their cherished myths and fables, have also joined the ranks of the deniers and have now become the functional equivalent of a Christian Taliban.

             This point was recently highlighted in a recent New York Times' article by Alan Blinder ("Bryan College Is Torn: Can Darwin and Eden Coexist?", May 20, 2014). The small, self-described  "Christian liberal arts college" that was named after William Jennings Bryan has, since its founding in 1930, insisted that faculty sign a statement of belief as a part of their employment contracts. The statement of belief expresses the institution's beliefs about creation and evolution, and includes an assertion that: "The origin of man was by fiat of God."  In February of this year, however, college officials decided that faculty members also had to agree to an additional statement that declared that Adam and Eve "are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life-forms."

             The president of Bryan College, Dr. Livesay, was quoted as having said, "We want to remain faithful to the historical charter of the school and what we have always practiced through the years. There has never been a need, up until today, to truly clarify and make explicit what has been part of the school for 84 years. We want to make certain that we view culture through the eyes of faith, that we don't view our faith through the eyes of culture. I don't think you have to believe the Bryan way in order to be a strong evangelical. But this is Bryan College, and this is something that's important to us. It's in our DNA. It's who we are."

             This reaction against modernity has increasingly become the right-wing's narrative. Aside from the true believers, the movement has been funded by corporate interests and an array of privately-funded "think-tanks" that have commercial stakes in the current debates about public policy, education, and the role that evidence-based research should play in the formulation of environmental and economic regulations. Another New York Times by Motoko Richmay ("Science Standards Divide a State Built on Coal and Oil," May 18, 3104) explains why the even the Common Core Standards have now become the subject of increasing attacks on the right.

             Richmay quotes  Susan Gore, the founder of the Wyoming Liberty Group, to the effect that the new national science standards for schools were a form of "coercion," and "I don't think government should have anything to do with education."  Ms. Gore, who is the daughter of the founder of the company that makes Gore-Tex waterproof fabric, expressed her convictions a few weeks after the Republican-controlled legislature in Wyoming, where coal and oil interests are the paramount players in the state's economy, became the first state to reject the standards, which include lessons about the human impact on global warming.

             Matt Teeters, a GOP State Representative from Lingle, was also reported in the article to have complained to The Casper Star-Tribune that the standards "handle global warming as settled science" and that "There's all kind of social implications involved in that, that I don't think would be good for Wyoming." Teeters argued that such teaching could wreck the economy of Wyoming, which is the country's largest energy exporter. His objections to the new science standards were seconded by Ron Micheli, chairman of the State Board of Education, who claimed that the standard was "very prejudiced, in my opinion, against fossil fuel development."

             The existence of this unholy alliance among GOP legislators, science deniers, religious zealots, and a number of well-documented corporate interests should be a source of concern to every sentient citizen. When facts no longer matter, and anyone's delusions and fantasies are treated as the equivalent of facts, citizens and their elected officials become unable to make the kind of critical, nuanced and insightful distinctions that are essential predicates for informed decision-making. 

             Public policies that are based upon careful research and evidence-based facts are increasingly threatened with inundation by the sea of propaganda that the deniers of reason and their corporate sponsors are able to undam. If not resisted vigorously now, one may discover that, over time, the very idea of democracy has become submerged along with our physical environment.

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