09 April 2012


"An analysis of 36 years' worth of polling data indicates that confidence in science as an institution has steadily declined among Americans who consider themselves conservatives, while confidence levels have been at steadier levels for other ideological groups.  (see graph below, click to enlarge.)

"The study published in the April issue of the American Sociological Review, provides fresh ammunition for those who complain that conservative views on issues such as climate change are at odds with the scientific consensus .... When people want to define themselves as conservatives relative to moderates or liberals, you often hear them raising questions about the validity of global warming and evolution, and talking about how 'intellectual elites' and scientists don't necessarily have the whole truth.

"People who identified themselves as conservatives voiced more confidence in science than moderates or liberals in 1972, but by 2010, that level had fallen by more than 25 percent.  Why the drop?  [The study's primary author] suggested that the character of the conservative movement has changed over the past three and a half decades ~ and so has the [perceived] character of the scientific establishment.

"Over the last several decades, there's been an effort among those who define themselves as conservatives to clearly identify what it means to be a conservative .... For whatever reason, this appears to involve opposing science and universities, and what is perceived as the 'liberal culture'.  So, self-identified conservatives seem to lump these groups together and rally around the notion that what makes 'us' conservatives is that we don't agree with 'them'.

Meanwhile, the [conservative] perception of science's role in society has shifted as well.  In the past, the scientific community was viewed as concerned primarily with macro structural matters such as winning the space race .... Today, conservatives perceive the scientific community as more focused on regulatory matters such as stopping industry from producing too much carbon dioxide."

All of which adds up to a classic case of killing the messenger bearing bad news.  In fact, conservatives have been killing the messenger since at least 1981, when "a paper published in the journal Science made several projections regarding future climate change and anthropogenic global warming based on man-made CO2 emissions.  As it turns out, the authors' predictions have proven to be rather accurate ~ and their future is now our present.

" .... In light of historical evidence that it takes several decades to complete a major change in fuel use, this makes large climate change almost inevitable .... CO2 effects on climate may make full exploitation of coal resources undesirable.  An appropriate strategy may be to encourage energy conservation and develop alternative energy sources, while using fossil fuels as necessary during the next few decades.

"As the 'next few decades' are now, for us, coming to a close, where do we stand on the encouragement of energy conservation and development of of alternative energy sources?  Sadly the outlook is not as promising as it should be, not given our level of abilities to monitor the intricate complexities of our planet's climate and to develop new technologies.  True advancement will rely on our acceptance that a change is in fact necessary ~ a hurdle that is proving to be the most difficult one to clear."

This is only one example of the distortions and outright lies with which the conservative establishment myopically uses to perpetuate profits for the rich, while selling the rest of the nation (and the world) down the river.  It is conceivable that the far right has told these lies so often that they've come to half-believe them.  I wonder, as sea levels rise, the polar ice caps melt, and droughts, hurricanes and famine become more severe, whether those same geniuses will see it all as a liberal plot?

For the record, scientific research and development are our best hope for understanding the problems we've created and how to solve them, the wounds we've inflicted and how to heal them, the delusions we've created and how to dispel them.  The very word 'science' means knowledge.  Science is inherently neither good nor evil.  It is we who decide the uses to which science is devoted, whether winning the space race, finding a cure for cancer, creating ingenious technology like the computer you're using to read this, or discovering and warning the rest of the world about human-caused environmental degradation.  And it is we who bear the responsibility for our choices.  Ignoring them won't make them go away. 

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