The War on Science Part 3 - Chapters 8 & 9 Summary

Shawn Otto begins the 8th chapter “The Identity Politics War on Science” by introducing the notion that truth as a construct is fundamentally different from scientific claims. Truth may very well be subjective and unique to the perspective of the observer but scientific claims are considered truly objective, meaning that the same conclusion will be reached regardless of who is measuring/observing/determining the claim. This divide is poorly understood by the public but well capitalized on by the media who put significant effort into putting forward perspective truths as factual claims. With the abandonment of journalistic dedication to objectivity in the past century, news media outlets became much more like a source of entertainment — exploiting emotion in order to be successful in their capitalistic business endeavors. Otto also discusses what he calls “intellectual affirmative action” a system that favors diversity of thought and implies that all ideas are created equal, even when they are not equally supported with reason. Educators began to discuss how scientific education ought to be catered to the background of the students learning it. Diverse classrooms required new methods of teaching, which were often laborious. Culturally we are open to diverse schools of thought, but that openness may discredit objective reality (i.e., science). Otto goes on to argue that politicalization of science and education have supported the undervaluing of science as a society. Journalists, more than anyone else, are responsible for this. He concludes by stating that spiritualism is a modern method of anti-science, where the onus of failure is on the nonbeliever and practitioners are incapable of being impartial.

In “The Ideological War on Science”, Otto discusses authoritarian theists who oppose evolution and scientific rhetoric being taught in schools. Anti-authoritarian science is often opposed by religious zealots who are, by nature, authoritarian. Socially we allow these two groups to be equal but Otto assures us that they could not be more different. Ben Carson, a well educated neurosurgeon, has been guilty of rationalizing away scientific notions with authoritarian analogies of creationism. Evolution is well supported by numerous avenues of science, such as modern medicine and polymer science, and can be seen all around us, particularly in dog breeding. After 9/11, George W. Bush became one of the most religious presidents to date and belief in evolution fell from 53% of Americans to 43%. Belief in science had never been more politicized and that divide continues to surround political discussion. The notion of evolution being just a ‘theory’ is put forth to discredit scientists, but as Otto states, science is absolute about what is false, not what is true. Many ideological movements, however, support the opposite reasoning — if it is not false it must be true and the ideological divide continues to worsen.

Lindsey Mooney is a graduate student in the UC Davis Psychology Department. For more content from the UC Davis science communication group "Science Says", follow us on Twitter @SciSays.

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