"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)
Friday, August 05, 2005
Even when reporters do know the difference, the conventions of he-said-she-said journalism get in the way of conveying that knowledge to readers. I once joked that if President Bush said that the Earth was flat, the headlines of news articles would read, "Opinions Differ on Shape of the Earth." The headlines on many articles about the intelligent design controversy come pretty close.
Finally, the self-policing nature of science - scientific truth is determined by peer review, not public opinion - can be exploited by skilled purveyors of cultural resentment. Do virtually all biologists agree that Darwin was right? Well, that just shows that they're elitists who think they're smarter than the rest of us....
The important thing to remember is that like supply-side economics or global-warming skepticism, intelligent design doesn't have to attract significant support from actual researchers to be effective. All it has to do is create confusion, to make it seem as if there really is a controversy about the validity of evolutionary theory. That, together with the political muscle of the religious right, may be enough to start a process that ends with banishing Darwin from the classroom.
Matthew Yglesias is frickin' nuts when he says that this issue doesn't matter - it matters a great deal, at least it does for those of us in the reality-based community who continue to believe that, on balance, the Enlightenment was a good thing. In fact, in many ways the anti-evolution trend is more troubling than most of the willfully ignorant bullshit (Copyright © 2005 Robert Novak) promulgated by the faith-based charlatans, because while the assault on reason represented by (for example) denial of global warming or rejection of stem cell research gains little traction beyond the wingnut base, evolution seems to be a difficult concept for a broad majority of well-meaning but poorly educated people to grasp. I seem to recall reading somewhere that more people believe in angels than in the truth of natural selection; whether or not my recollection is accurate on this point, I know anecdotally that a good many of my own friends and family members don't get the idea of Darwinism. It is thus an effective wedge issue for political purposes, because it has resonance beyond the usual morons. And, once the anti-Enlightenment yahoos get their foot in the door, and unpopular (but scientifically well-established) concepts fall prey to political pressures, then "truth" becomes a function of polling. And so the foundation is laid for institutionalized ignorance. This result has dire consequences for the body politic - and Krugman's mention of supply-side (AKA "voodoo") economics is a good example of what I mean.
At least since Adlai Stevenson was marginalized for being an "egghead," and probably much earlier (remember the "Know-Nothing Party"?), anti-intellectualism has been a festering sore in American culture and politics. The ascendancy of "Intelligent Design" mumbo-jumbo tells us that things are not getting better.
Update 8/9/2005: Matt is starting to see the light....