Monday, January 6, 2014

Republicans are devolving

Yeah, my apologies for the cartoon and the title of this post. I know they both contribute to people's widespread misunderstanding of evolution.

But you'll understand my intent, I hope, when you read this:
Belief in evolution among Republicans has dropped more than 10 percentage points since 2009, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center.

Pew found that 43 percent of Republicans said they believed humans and other living beings had evolved over time, down from 54 percent in 2009. More (48 percent) said they believed all living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.

Incredible, isn't it? It's the 21st Century, almost 90 years since the Scopes Monkey Trial and more than 150 years since Charles Darwin first published On the Origin of Species. Evolution has been the foundation of modern biology for more than a century.

But in the most powerful nation on Earth, the Republican Party is marching backwards into scientific ignorance and superstition!

There's not much good I can get from that Pew poll. Even Democrats are shamefully ignorant about evolution, with only 67% accepting evolution (and that includes those fuzzy-thinkers who believe that God "guided" evolution).

Even 20% of the "nones" - the religiously unaffiliated - dismiss evolution, and another 13% think that it was guided by a god (which makes it clear, again, that these people aren't necessarily atheists and agnostics).

Overall, only 60% of Americans accept evolution, with a full third believing in creationism. Indeed, a similar 2005 study showed that America was second from the bottom among developed countries in its acceptance of evolution, above only Turkey. (Note that different polls put the question in different ways, so the specific percentages - though always pretty bad - vary.)

If there's one bright spot to this, it's that overall American attitudes haven't changed much in the last two Pew polls. Why is that a bright spot, given that the evidence for evolution just keeps getting stronger? Well, combine that with the fact that belief in evolution is crashing among Republicans.

The Republican Party is getting crazier and crazier, but it must also be getting smaller, if overall American attitudes haven't changed. What's happening is that sane Americans continue to leave the Republican Party, leaving the crazy behind. So, yeah, the crazy becomes even more concentrated as the GOP shrinks.

Still, here's another poll which points to the same problem in today's America:
In a new HuffPost/YouGov poll, only 36 percent of Americans reported having "a lot" of trust that information they get from scientists is accurate and reliable. Fifty-one percent said they trust that information only a little, and another 6 percent said they don't trust it at all.

Now, if you look at this one way, then sure, you can't trust what an individual scientist says. Scientists are human beings, too. Corporate scientists, in particular, can be under pressure to report only findings which support corporate goals (although the problem is usually that contrary results just aren't released to the public).

But what individual scientists say isn't important. Since the scientific method is designed to overcome such bias, it's the scientific consensus which can be trusted. Obviously, there are no guarantees, but the scientific consensus - if there is one - can be trusted to be the best explanation we've got.

After all, if you don't trust science, what then? Do you just believe whatever you want to believe, then? That's what Republicans do, and that's exactly why they distrust science - because science tells them the truth, rather than what they prefer to believe. (And yes, in that poll, only 20% of Republicans trust science "a lot.")

If you don't trust the science, where do you get your information? What's the alternative? Well, the alternative is superstition. This distrust of science tends to be propaganda pushed by people with an ideological motive and, almost always, a profit motive, too.

Science is self-correcting. The scientific method is designed to be self-correcting. And that's not something you can say about politics or religion or any other system of belief. Yes, be appropriately skeptical of what you read in the media. Be appropriately skeptical of what any person, scientist or not, claims.

But science is backed by evidence, which means that skeptical people can believe it - and should. As I say, what's the alternative?

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