When I debate with creationists or global warming deniers on social media, I’m often presented with the cliché that professionals working in the fields of biology, geology, and climatology engage in a conspiracy to suppress whatever crackpot notion my opponent likes to believe. In their view, the reason that textbooks don’t present evidence that the Earth is a mere six or ten thousand years old or that temperatures are falling instead of rising is because scientists believe their funding is dependent on sticking to the orthodoxies of those subjects. And, of course, that funding is said to be lucrative.
Where that latter idea comes from is anyone’s guess. The largest part of federal spending goes to healthcare costs, though we could reduce that significantly if we’d get over our allergy to ooga-booga socialism. But money devoted to basic research is a tiny portion of how our tax dollars are used, and the idea of scientists living large is pure fantasy — unless, perhaps we’re talking about the ones who develop a commercially viable product. Evolution and climate change don’t lend themselves to that, however.
All right, though, what about the idea that scientists feel compelled to conform? Talk to anyone working in the sciences. Talk to anyone in academia. People who only repeat what has come before are encouraged to seek other avenues of employment. Think of any scientist whose name is known to the public. Einstein didn’t spend his career saying that Newton had done everything worth doing in physics. Crick and Watson didn’t tell the world that the search for the DNA molecule was too much against the prevailing understanding of their day. Alfred Wegener didn’t agree that declaring the continents fixed was wise policy. And if someone could demonstrate on the basis of evidence presented before colleagues and news cameras that evolution doesn’t happen or that we’re not in fact warming the planet, that person would become the best known scientist of our generation. Any hot shot fresh from graduate school with the slightest bit of ambition would leap at the chance to prove that the elders in the field are wrong.
More than that, such a person would become the darling of the Republicans. The right wing in this country has had to struggle mightily against science since science shows a good deal of their ideology to be rubbish. Imagine the funding available to anyone who could make a sound argument that the Bible was correct or that the profligate consumption of fossil fuels is good for the planet and its people. Churches would pass collection plates, and oil companies would write checks.
But that doesn’t happen. To be sure, religious institutions and dead dinosaur disinterment corporations hand out money to groups like the Ark Encounter or the Atlas Foundation, but the best that such organizations can come up with is a collection of fringe nonsense that goes nowhere other than being repeated endlessly by right wing trolls.
Science is a robust system of thought that tests for bad ideas. The theories that survive — theory in science meaning an explanation for observed data that is checked by experiment or further observations and that makes successful predictions about what can be discovered — are the ones that the facts and logic support. Anyone who denies this is welcome to present alternatives that will survive the stern requirements of evidence.
I’ll keep to the science until then.
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