The Science Deniers

Contributed by Paige Barnett.

Yes. It’s true. There are people in this world who scoff, run, hide and even deny the idea that science may and can challenge their world view, religious beliefs and/or long held misconceptions about how things work. For example, a popular misconception: If you drop a penny from the top of the Empire State Building, it could kill a person on the ground. Well, not actually. According to physics, it will reach a terminal velocity, meaning it can only go so fast. This will also depend on other factors such as the wind. While it may hurt like hell, it won’t kill you. So keep the change ya filthy animal. Or, how about this misconception? Humans evolved from apes.  Not exactly. While we are closely related genetically, it’s widely thought through the current research that we share a common ancestor. This common ancestor is known as the missing link. 

As is often true about scientific findings, it starts with a hunch, or rather, an idea about how things work or exist in the world. Then one sets out to find the answers, through questioning, researching, experimenting, data collection, analysis and reworking the experiment ad nauseum until either the idea is proven true or not. This is popularly known as the Scientific Method to elementary school kids, and they can tell you all about it. By the time they reach high school, students should be able to tell you that scientific research is methodical, but definitely not a cookbook.  As Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”  Perhaps Einstein meant that it’s more important to use one’s imagination to seek ideas for solutions and with that, the knowledge will follow. Without imagination, we would not enjoy the science of airplanes, cars, computers, cell phones, music, or medicine.  Science is so much more nuanced, intricate and detailed. Elegant.

Science is a part of our everyday lives. One can not move through this world on a daily basis without coming into contact with some form of science. Look at our human body.  We can treat our bodies medicinally because science examined how it works and discovered ways in which to treat what ails us. Nearly everyone has a cell phone that was born out of decades of scientific research. We drive cars, use public transportation and take planes to far away places. Scientists put a man on the moon, built a space station and put several rovers on Mars. (Go Ingenuity!)  Again, science did this. Yet there are people who will deny scientific facts simply because it does not align with their ideas, religion or even what they learned in school.

This is amusing. People will say, “Oh, gravity is just a theory.”  Sure it’s a theory. but jump out that third story window and find out what happens. It is understood that gravity exists, but have yet to gather all of the data to tell scientists exactly what gravity is. Gravity eludes the question about what is it and where does it come from. Newton’s Laws of Motion are about how objects respond in relation to gravity but are not actually about gravity itself. As defined, “a theory is a carefully thought-out explanation for observations of the natural world that has been constructed using the scientific method, and which brings together many facts and hypotheses.” The science deniers are nothing new.  For decades Darwin’s theory of evolution has been a bone of contention.

In September of 2005, a group of 11 parents represented by the ACLU filed suit (Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District) challenging the Dover Area school districts mandate to teach Intelligent Design alongside Darwin’s theory of Evolution. The district modified its biology curriculum the year prior to present intelligent design as an alternative explanation to Darwin’s theory.  On June 7, 2004, Buckingham brought up creationism at a board meeting and raised objections to the proposed use of the textbook, Biology, written by Kenneth R. Miller and Joseph S. Levine.  He described it as “laced with Darwinism” and said it was “inexcusable to have a book that says man descended from apes with nothing to counterbalance it.” They were to implement the textbook Of Pandas and People. The trial became known as the Dover Panda Trial, much along the lines of the Scopes Monkey trial 80 years prior.  Per the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, Judge John E. Jones, III (Bush appointee) ruled in favor of the plaintiffs argument that intelligent design is creationism rebranded and therefore, religious in nature and should not be taught in a public school setting.

The church has a long history of squashing ideas that fall outside the realm of religious teachings. Galileo’s idea that the universe was heliocentric and not geocentric was deemed heretical in nature by the church. Subsequently, he was placed on house arrest where he remained until he died in 1642. 

So where do we find ourselves today?  Well, where to begin? The flat earthers? The anti-vaxxers? Or the devious climate deniers?   

Flat earthers, what’s there to even say? Anti-vaxxers, however, are quite a clear and present danger to society. The anti-vaccination movement isn’t new. There were smallpox anti-vax leagues in England. The Vaccination Act of 1853 was passed to mandate vaccinations for infants up to 3 months of age and later in 1867 updated to include children up to the age of 14. Penalties were applied to those who refused. Much like today, people decried mandatory vaccinations as a violation of their civil liberties or religious beliefs. The vaccination controversy continued in the 70’s both in the UK and the US regarding the DPT (diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus). There were claims the DPT shot was causing neurological damage. Victim advocacy groups argued their cases in court to no avail due to the courts stating there was lack of evidence. 

The anti-vaccination movement continues today. It’s unfortunate that misinformation has created a space where diseases that were once nearly eradicated have popped up again in communities where vaccinations are not utilized.  It’s also diabolical of any politician to politicize that fear.  Public health and safety should never be on the political menu.  

Last, but not least, the climate deniers. The fossil fuel industry launched a long and quite consequential campaign to deny the science of climate change all in the name of profits. From the 1940’s through to today we’ve heard things like, “the worst thing that can happen, in many instances, is the hasty passage of a law or laws for the control of a given air pollution situation.” Or, “Victory will be achieved when average citizens understand (recognize) uncertainties in climate science.”  That same year, 1998, Exxon launched a grant to form a coalition of conservative organizations known as the Cooler Heads Coalition. Their purpose is to drive home climate denial; groups like the George Marshall Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, Institute for Energy Research, and the Center for New Europe. Fast forward to 2017 and the likes of Joe Bast of the Heartland Institute is stating, “Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. More CO2 leads to faster, more robust plant growth, including staple food crops.  Moderate warming, should it occur, would have a positive effect on humanity.”  

Yeah, ok Joe. You keep telling yourself that. 

Many of us who’ve lived for half a century or more have observed the changes in our climate during our lifetime. While clusters of tornadoes across the midwest are more common the numbers remain steady. Hurricanes and cyclones have increased in number and intensity since the 1980’s. The average yearly global temps are rising and weather patterns are changing. However, it should be understood that not all areas of the globe will necessarily be impacted in the same way.  If humans can limit global warming to 1.5℃, it would reduce the number of people exposed to heat waves by 420 million.  That’s approximately 14% of the Earth’s population.  At 2℃ 37% of the Earth’s population would be exposed to extreme heat waves. What we can expect will be droughts in some areas with extreme precipitation in others.

What can we do?  We can leverage our knowledge with the science deniers using a Truth Sandwich. (see next)

Watch: Here’s a link to a super informative video by the Ninja Nerd: How the Modern, Pfizer & Astrazeneca Vaccinations work

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