Anyone who knows anything about the Republican Party’s quest for a presidential nominee in the US, probably noticed it is characterized by two things: stupidity and denial. For those who believe the two are synonyms for one another; think again. Although denialists do structurally dismiss scientific evidence, this does not mean they’re incapable of rational thinking altogether. In fact, denialism has penetrated every level of society.
“I did not sexually harass anyone.” “I was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs while giving that speech.” When dealing with problems on a personal level, Republican candidates Herman Cain and Rick Perry have already proven they understand the power of denial. However, it is the rejection of scientifically proven facts by a growing group of American politicians– for example the existence of AIDS, climate change or evolution- that is far more disturbing. According to Shawn Lawrence Otto’s new book, less than 2% of members of Congress have a professional background in science, yet half the new members elected in 2010 deny that climate change is happening.
What can we do about it? According to denialism expert Micheal Shermer, the best tool we have is science. However, we should focus less on what science does, and more on how science works. Teach people the ropes. Scientific evidence isn’t just there, it is the result of a process which includes double-blind tests, replication studies by independent labs and peer reviewed publications. Science education might not change the minds of fundamentalists and religious fanatics, but it will get the attention of more moderate disbelievers. So that hopefully in the future, we will just have stupidity to worry about.
This editorial was published in our magazine’s “State of Denial” issue, November 2011