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Anti-science left, right, and off the wall

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File:A small cup of coffee.JPG Libertarian John Stossel writes

This year is the 10th anniversary of a book called “The Republican War on Science.” I could just as easily write a book called “The Democratic War on Science.”

Oh yes, that’d be the one by Chris Mooney. Wasn’t he the fellow who claimed that the big shill for 99% DNA identity beteen humans and chimps terrifies creationists.

Hey, we still get Darwin followers in the combox, insisting on that stat. What mainly terrifies us is their simplemindedness.

They can’t seem to absorb the fact that the more they claim that chimps are exactly like people, the less they are credited with providing useful information. We know that’s not true by the most elementary observations.

I would regard a study that “showed” that Mars is more habitable than Earth in the same way. What would “terrify” me is simply the knowledge that people who could believe that would help make public policy.

I feel the same way about the remaining defenders of “junk DNA.” They don’t get it that the Age of Darwin is coming to an end among intelligent people, overwhelmed by information that doesn’t map onto their cozy little grid. (Take heed, Darwin’s followers can still legally destroy careers! And it will be decades before anyone who watches Airhead TV finds out.) Anyway, Stossel:

The conflict conservatives have with science is mostly caused by religion. Some religious conservatives reject evolution, and some oppose stem cell research.

But neither belief has a big impact on our day-to-day lives. Species continue to evolve regardless of what conservatives believe, and if conservatives ban government funding of stem cell research, private investors will continue the work.

Stossel has got quite a few things wrong here, but I will leave that to readers. He goes on to note:

By contrast, the left’s bad ideas about science do more harm.

Many on the left — including a few of my fellow libertarians — are paranoid about genetically modified organisms. These are crops that have DNA altered to make them grow faster or be more pest-resistant. The left calls that “playing with nature” and worries that eating GMO food will cause infertility, premature aging and a host of other problems.

The fear makes little scientific sense. There is no reason to think that precise changes in a plant’s genes are more dangerous than, say, the cross-breeding of corn done by American Indians centuries ago or a new type of tomato arising in someone’s organic garden. Nature makes wilder and more unpredictable changes in plant DNA all the time.

Stossel should go ahead and write that book; it is much needed. One could buy gift copies for Christmas for Whole Foods friends.

The reality is that all science claims that are held without good evidence degenerate into mere politics.

Oh, and then there’s the Islamic State on women in science:

“They claim that most important knowledge is the worldly one and that the only true knowledge, Shariah, is not a knowledge! Because of this, a woman studies these worthless worldly sciences in the farthest mountains and the deepest valleys. She travels, intent upon learning Western lifestyle and sitting in the midst of another culture, to study the brain cells of crows, grains of sand and the arteries of fish! But that the ummah is saved, generations righted, and the flag of Islam raised,” states the document.

The document nonetheless claims that a woman cannot raise her children if she is “illiterate or ignorant,” so ISIS has designed a special educational program for women. From ages 7 through 9 girls should learn Arabic, religious studies and science (accounting and natural sciences). From 10 to 12 they should learn more religious studies, especially those related to women and those concerning marriage and divorce, as well as continuing on in Arabic and science.

G’bye Jane Goodall, Barbara Mcclintock, Lynn Margulis…

Science subordinated to strictly religious politics could be even more benighted and less likely to achieve anything.

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10 Replies to “Anti-science left, right, and off the wall

  1. 1
    Silver Asiatic says:

    The left calls that “playing with nature” and worries that eating GMO food will cause infertility, premature aging and a host of other problems.

    I don’t think Stossel has diagnosed the problem correctly. Yes, people don’t like this ‘playing with nature’, but not because it’s unscientific. It’s a religious fear that is embraced by the children of the hippies – to the new age movement. Of course, Hinduism played an important role in shaping this – animism and pantheism – treating ‘raw nature’ as some sort of mystic property. But it’s more than that …

    The fear makes little scientific sense. There is no reason to think that precise changes in a plant’s genes are more dangerous than, say, the cross-breeding of corn done by American Indians centuries ago or a new type of tomato arising in someone’s organic garden. Nature makes wilder and more unpredictable changes in plant DNA all the time.

    He’s right to point to American Indians and organic gardens. That should set some people at ease. But the bigger problem is that there’s a fear of human intervention in the process. Humans are seen as corrupt and evil – and basically ‘not a part of nature’. Pure nature doesn’t include human ingenuity.

    So, once humans start playing with genetics, there are all sorts of evils that come from that. If nature alone does it, then it’s ok.

    But the fascinating part is that if American Indians did it, then it’s still ok. Because that culture is considered to be ‘part of nature’.

    Like many false belief-systems, there’s some considerable truths to be found in the nature-worshipping fears of the anti-GMO crowd. They did a lot to produce a healthier American diet. We can probably credit them with the success of the Magic Bullet blenders and Ninja food processers. Now we can grind chia seeds and quinoa for smoothies.

    But it’s a snake that eats its own tail, and ultimately eats itself.

    Oil comes from pure nature. Right out of the sacred ground. It should have all the mystic properties of non-GMO food.

    But when humans get oil out of the ground, then that’s evil. One of the commandments of earth-worship is ‘thou shalt not move anything in nature out of its sacred place’. So, oil has to stay in the ground.

    Crystals, however, are sacred objects that can be extracted from the ground.

    Humans that use crystals for sacred healing purposes are ‘good humans’ by definition. So, they use strip mining to extract crystals from their proper place in the ground. Actually, they’re liberating crystals which are crying out to fulfill their true purposes in healing ceremonies.

    All of that said, if consistent, the New-Age, anti-GMO, anti-science, ‘left’ should actually be very supportive of Intelligent Design. Anyone who sees a sacred or religious character in the earth is open to the design inference.

  2. 2
    Silver Asiatic says:

    She travels, intent upon learning Western lifestyle …

    There are quite a lot of parents concerned that their daughters are intent on doing the same thing in American colleges and universities.

  3. 3
    harry says:

    And it will be decades before anyone who watches Airhead TV finds out.

    Exactly.

    I read some letters written by an ancestor while fighting for the North in the Civil War. He was an ordinary farm boy from Ohio writing home about his experiences. I was amazed at how articulate and thoughtful he was. The educational system back then, which was often no more than homeschooling, turned out very thoughtful, literate people. Today it turns out way too many Airhead TV watchers, who, lacking critical thinking skills, are completely vulnerable to manipulation by propagandists. One has to wonder if the powers that be prefer it that way.

  4. 4
    wd400 says:

    As ever, these proclimations seem to have little connection to reality…

    There’s actually very little correlation between political ideology and position on GMOs [1, 2].

    The 99% identity between (align-able) human and chimp sequences is just true, and there are many good reasons to think most of the human genome is junk. Maybe you don’t like the idea of a junky genome, but you at least have to content with the arguments for that proposition.

  5. 5
    Virgil Cain says:

    The alleged 99% alignment (chimp/ human) is like saying that books have the same alignment (99%) when just looking at similar words and forgetting the placement of those words.

    Dictionaries contain almost all of the books ever written!

    And only our ignorance says that most of our genome is junk.

  6. 6
    wd400 says:

    Thanks Joe. Really been missing those evidence-free catechisms…

  7. 7
    Virgil Cain says:

    wd400- your entire position is evidence-free. It can’t be modeled and produces nothing.

  8. 8
    harry says:

    Silver Asiatic @1

    The left calls that “playing with nature” and worries that eating GMO food will cause infertility, premature aging and a host of other problems.

    I don’t think Stossel has diagnosed the problem correctly. Yes, people don’t like this ‘playing with nature’, but not because it’s unscientific. It’s a religious fear …

    As I am sure you will agree, there are limits to our rightly “playing with nature.”

    Eugenics amounts to “playing with nature,” in an attempt by egomaniacal sociopaths, self-appointed “Masters of the Universe,” to direct human evolution. The diabolical horrors of this attempt by mere mortals to play God were exposed at the Nuremberg Trials. The defendants at the Nuremberg Trials were either hung or imprisoned for life. But not all the arrogant jackasses who commit the not very “original sin” of presuming to “be like God” and deciding they possess sufficient “knowledge of good and evil” to do so, were summarily dispatched by the court at Nuremberg. Sadly, such egomaniacal sociopaths are still around and, realizing the PR disaster the Nuremberg trials were for eugenics, are now very careful not to use word. The notion behind it is alive and well. This is because humanity still has a fallen nature, and many are still deceived by the one who first proposed to us that we could “be like God.”

    Science has enabled humanity to “subdue” the Earth, and to “rule over the fish of the sea, and the fowls of the air and all the living creatures that move upon the Earth.” That is a good thing. Although humanity rightly managing nature to the extent that it can is not the same as humanity attempting to manage human nature, as in attempting to do that with eugenics. Human nature is not ours to manage in the sense the self-appointed “Masters of the Universe” want to manage it, like we are their own human herd, to be bred into whatever would be “better” according to their personal prejudices.

    Having expressed the limits basic morality places on “playing with nature,” with which I am hopeful you basically agree, I wonder what limits ordinary prudence, rather than basic morality, places on “playing with nature” in terms of GMO foods.

    As I have pointed out several times in posts on this site, life is nanotechnology light years beyond our own. Having worked with technology most of my adult life, some of that experience was with hardware (I used to use an oscilloscope to shoot trouble back when you could actually put your finger on the transistor or diode that had gone bad, which indicates how old I am ;o) but most of my technological experience has been with software, some of which managed hardware as in digital telephony switches and in communications with robotic equipment on the factory floor. I point this out to give you some idea of where I am coming from with my reluctance to decide there are no problems that are going to arise with the development of GMO foods for consumption.

    To be blunt, in spite of the tremendous advances in scientific knowledge, we are, quite frankly, in my humble opinion, nowhere near ready to start safely genetically modifying food that will be consumed. Our understanding of the nanotechnology of life, and our understanding of the long term ramifications of genetic modifications of food, relative to what there is to be learned before that can be safely done, is comparable to jungle savages tinkering with laptop PCs.

    Why do I say that? Because the nanotechnology of life is simply beyond us, just as the technology that goes into laptop PCs in simply beyond jungle savages. Jungle savages are not stupid. They would make most of us look very uneducated in terms of surviving in the jungle, if we had to do so without modern technology. They could and would learn a lot about laptop PCs, given enough time. But it would be a long time before we would trust them with making modifications to the hardware and software we use. We might tell them, “When you can build a laptop PC yourselves you will be ready redesign them.” And until we can build life ourselves, we are not ready to start making genetic modifications to the food we eat.

    Some of the ramifications of genetic modifications to the food we eat might not be observable for generations. And according to some, the modifications that have been made might could prevent future generations altogether:

    GM corn set to stop man spreading his seed — theguardian.com

    Which brings us back to the eugenicists who currently make up the contemporary anti-life juggernaut, who are now called “population controllers” instead of eugenicists, looking for ways to reduce their herd to a much smaller size, but one they think consists of very fine specimens.

  9. 9
    harry says:

    “Having worked with technology most of my adult life, some of that … ”

    should have been:

    I have worked with technology most of my adult life. Some of that …”

    I think that will make complete sentences of that disaster. ;o)

  10. 10
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Excellent comments, harry. I agree that it’s more complex than I presented it.

    For me it’s something like anti-biotics and hormones in meat — or even free-range and grass-fed beef for the human and health aspects.

    Just because we have the capability to do something with technology, it doesn’t mean we should, ethically or practically.

    Something like embryonic stem cell research is another example. Those who oppose it are called “anti-science” but science should be bound by moral norms also.

    I will admit also, I don’t have an explanation for why so many people have gluten problems these days. As a kid, I never heard of anyone with that. There was no gluten-free wheat products. Now, there’s a big population that has this illness. Some say it’s because of GMO wheat.

    I don’t know, but I will agree that we don’t understand life well enough to do genetic experiments on food. We also don’t tend to look at the harmony of life on earth – something that an ID perspective should give us. Everything is designed to work together — the cycle of the seasons, the cycle of life. Deforestation doesn’t just mean we have less trees. There is a lot connected to that.

    So, in contrast to what it seemed like I was saying … I agree with your reluctance to accept GMO foods, and I also don’t think that a resistance to that, or a preference for organic farming methods, is necessarily “anti-science”.

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