Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Paul Krugman on science and the Republicans

Thirty years ago, attacks on science came mostly from the left; these days, they come overwhelmingly from the right, and have the backing of leading Republicans.

Scientific American may think that evolution is supported by mountains of evidence, but President Bush declares that 'the jury is still out.' Senator James Inhofe dismisses the vast body of research supporting the scientific consensus on climate change as a 'gigantic hoax.' And conservative pundits like George Will write approvingly about Michael Crichton's anti-environmentalist fantasies.

Think of the message this sends: today's Republican Party - increasingly dominated by people who believe truth should be determined by revelation, not research - doesn't respect science, or scholarship in general. It shouldn't be surprising that scholars have returned the favor by losing respect for the Republican Party.

Conservatives should be worried by the alienation of the universities; they should at least wonder if some of the fault lies not in the professors, but in themselves. Instead, they're seeking a Lysenkoist solution that would have politics determine courses' content.

And it wouldn't just be a matter of demanding that historians play down the role of slavery in early America, or that economists give the macroeconomic theories of Friedrich Hayek as much respect as those of John Maynard Keynes. Soon, biology professors who don't give creationism equal time with evolution and geology professors who dismiss the view that the Earth is only 6,000 years old might face lawsuits.

If it got that far, universities would probably find ways to cope - by, say, requiring that all entering students sign waivers. But political pressure will nonetheless have a chilling effect on scholarship. And that, of course, is its purpose.
Although many religious liberals may disagree, I think this is a problem not just with Republicans. It is a problem that the religious burden of belief imposes on everyone who bears it: how to retain your beliefs without imposing them on science. As long as one's beliefs concern the nature of a reality that is open to scientific investigation, that's not an easy task. And if one's beliefs do not apply to a nature that is open to scientific investigation, what do they really mean? It seems to me that the job of clarifying how one's religious beliefs connect to scientific reality is the responsibility of the religion that asks its adherents to accept those beliefs. Although I haven't done any research on this issue, I'm not immediately aware of any clear statements on this question by any religion.

1 comment:

Justin said...

I guess the rigorous scientific method of liberals doesn't included spell check, Mr. Krugman.