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Do science and partisan politics need to get a divorce?

Dallas Morning News

Originally Posted: October 28, 2015

Well, they’ve been an awkward mismatch, off and on, since the age of Galileo. And if scientific achievements have created better lives for us with, say, antibiotics and vaccines, it’s hard to make the same claim for the political consequences of bigger bombs and better guns.

It’s one thing to debate the utility of scientific fact. But it’s a much more maddening exercise to try to reach people determined to believe that science is a kind of choose-what-you-like cafeteria, where facts are only real if you want them to be.

Several professors at Southern Methodist University are working in their quiet professorial way to urge people here in Dallas to come on down and renew their faith in science. A five-part public lecture series tackling the troubling spread of science denial in America begins Thursday.

They’re starting with a bang: The first lecturer will be Harvard professor Naomi Oreskes, who has written extensively on corporations’ vested interest in and deliberate efforts to undermine widely accepted science regarding climate change.

I know, I know: You can’t even say “climate change” — much less “global warming” — without making everybody go stark raving bonkers. People who don’t know a blessed thing about physics or meteorology or atmospheric system research rocket off to their political encampments and start howling insults at one another.

That’s politics. But when political polarization begins to undermine scientific realities like evolution, the benefits of vaccination or the obvious fact that routine water fluoridation isn’t a mass murder conspiracy, we’re all in trouble.

“The level of scientific literacy is declining,” said Caroline Brettell, University Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and the Ruth Collins Altshuler Director of the Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute (yep, her bona fides are excellent), and the key motivator for putting the lecture series together. “It’s ‘I feel’ or ‘I believe,’ but that’s not scientific practice. That’s not how it works.” READ MORE