Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Fundamentalist Regression is US, Part 2

Terry McKenna returns today to complete his tour of the Bush administration's campaign against reason. And just in case you imagine that there are more moderate Republicans out there who might inspire hope for a more rational and genuinely compassionate conservatism, just check out Paul Krugman's review of the speeches, voting record, and hypocrisy of one man who is held up as the very symbol of a GOP renewal (Times Select—$$$ or trial subscription required). Now, to Mr. McKenna, who answers the question posed yesterday: are we at or near a tipping point in the crusade of fundamentalist regressive thought?

You won’t find a discussion of the Bush administration's war on science in the local papers, nor in our national news weeklies (Time, Newsweek etc.). TV news – if it asks the question at all, does so via softball interviews with Bushies like the now-disgraced Gale Norton. This editorial from Sunday's New York Times sums up her career as ideologue and shill for western mining and energy interests.

It takes the patience of a magazine like The New Yorker to effectively treat complex issues like this one. They have a wonderful piece in their print edition (week of March 12, 2006), written by Michael Specter and titled "Political Science". Their online edition doesn't give access to the full article, but does present the highlights via an interview with the author.

Here are just a few of the science/technology issues:

Condoms: the consensus among public health experts is that only condoms provide effective protection against HIV/AIDS . The Bush administration wants an emphasis on abstinence instead. The data: abstinence fails for 2 reasons: people eventually stop abstaining, and for those who live where HIV/AIDS is the major public health issue, innocent wives become infected after having sex with their infected husbands. The Bush policy is a sop to fundamentalists and the Catholic Church.

Birth Control: medicine has developed an effective morning after pill. This pill should be available over the counter (and would be a great help to couples who have abstained till one night when the passions overtake them). But the FDA, yielding to fundamentalist Christians and the Catholic Church, has so far stopped this one.

Cancer: we now have an effective vaccine against HPV (the primary cause of cervical cancer) – but to be effective, girls would need to be vaccinated before they become sexually active. This one is still in the pipeline for approval, but the same mix of fundamentalist Christians and the Catholic Church are lobbying against mandatory vaccinations – with the notion that the vaccine is not needed (because kids should abstain from sex, of course).

Global Warming: climatologists have no doubt that the earth is warming primarily as a result of our use of fossil fuels. Relying on support from the likes of Exxon, the Bushies have used selected scientists as debunkers – presenting a wait and see approach. The bottom line: so far, the US is taking no ACTION to stop the increase in CO2 emissions.

Intelligent Design vs. Evolution: in fields from geology to genetics, science follows the line of inquiry begun by Charles Darwin. Of course Darwin is “wrong” about the details – the techniques and sciences needed to guide him did not then exist – but like Isaac Newton in physics, all who come after him stand on his giant shoulders. Yet the president wishes American educators to present alternatives to evolution. This is another sop to fundamentalists (even the Catholics are staying out of this one).

Are we at a tipping point? It’s hard to know for sure. To begin with, if Bush is replaced in 2008 by a Democrat, we will see a reversal. But if we have “tipped” we won’t really know it for years – for much the same reason that it took decades to spot the trend now understood as global warming.

Americans are beginning to notice that we are not graduating enough engineers and scientists. Who knows why – but efforts to stifle science surely can’t help.

—T. McKenna

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