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Austin Cline

Fruits of Anti-Science Ideology in the 20th Century

By February 20, 2012

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The impact of anti-science ideology on conservative American politics is unavoidable and many wonder what sort of impact it may have on American society over the coming decades. Well, some lessons can be had from the history of other countries where anti-scientific thinking on behalf of some political ideology has come to control national politics.

Not a single one of those situations turned out well for anyone involved.

Anti-science ideology has taken hold before, differently, but history may provide some lessons. The fundamental elements were similar when the Soviet Union elevated the ideology of Lysenkoism ahead of the warnings of geneticists, whom Trofim Lysenko called "caste priests of ivory tower bourgeois pseudoscience", not unlike Sarah Palin's characterisations of global warming as "doomsday scare tactics pushed by an environmental priesthood". Soviet agriculture was set back 40 years.

The political right in Weimar Germany called Einstein's theory of relativity a "hoax" and said he was in it for the money--much as climate deniers argue today.

During the Nuremberg trials, Hitler's Minister for Armaments, Albert Speer, recounted the use of new technology to deliver a uniform ideological message, much like today's political echo chambers: "Through technical devices like the radio and the loudspeaker, 80 million people were deprived of independent thought." In other words, "Dittoheads".

In his Great Leap Forward, Mao set forth a plan to transform China into a modern society in 15 years. Scientists who advised against his ideas were harassed or jailed. Mao's policies led to the greatest famine in human history and the deaths of over 40 million people.

The US is obviously nowhere near any of these situations, but is reaching a crisis point uniquely its own. With every step away from reason and into ideology, the country moves toward a state of tyranny in which public policy comes to be based not on knowledge, but on the most loudly voiced opinions.

Source: New Scientist, October 29, 2011

For something a bit more recent, consider the decision of South African president Thabo Mbeki to reject the use of antiretroviral drugs for treating AIDS. This was part of his flirtation with the anti-scientific movement that denies that HIV causes AIDS. According to the Journal of AIDS, this resulted in more than 300,000 premature deaths in South Africa.

Science isn't perfect, but anti-scientific ideologies kill. The history of the 20th century is filled with examples of people being killed or dying prematurely because of anti-scientific thinking in high political circles. If such thinking becomes rooted too firmly in the American government, like via a Republican president who denies basic science, then even more people will die.

So how can the scientific community combat the anti-science ideology that is taking hold in America? Becoming more engaged with the public is probably the best first step. Science is inherently political, not simply a matter of neutral facts, so the scientific community needs to be engaged in the political debates that are going on. Mere facts won't change people's minds, but an engaged scientific community may help move some people over time.

February 29, 2012 at 8:56 pm
(1) Tony Messina says:

Sinclair Lewis said “when facism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross”. This is what the country suffers under today and my prediction is that it WILL NOT GET ANY BETTER AT ALL, it will only get worse because so many Americans are poisoned by the lies of religion and despite their tendency to move back and forth from left to right over time, the fact is that they will always side with leaders that are screwed up on religion. And this will never change. Hopefully America will rot on the vine and another country will carry the world into the future. Perhaps China, India or some country in Africa will emerge from this ignorance but America is simply doomed. Were only 230 years old, perpetually broke and we still let religous people influence and destroy our country and our world.

March 2, 2012 at 8:00 am
(2) Tony Messina says:

I gave you a perfectly good comment yet you refused to post it. It was truthful and honest yet you failed to post it. I won’t bother posting or reading any more of your articles at all.

Have a good life,

March 2, 2012 at 11:07 am
(3) Austin Cline says:

You were already told about the moderation queue once, Tony, and that comments don’t appear right away. If you’re that impatient to see your words appear on the screen maybe this site really isn’t for you.

March 2, 2012 at 7:47 pm
(4) evesmaster@msn.com says:

Actually an old idea…

The ideas of physics should be understood conceptually before they are used as a base for applied mathematics. For the nonscience student a base from which to view and appreciate nature more perceptively. In followup physics courses, students will have a better understanding of what it is that they are calculating.

March 13, 2012 at 9:51 am
(5) JTL says:

I do agree that America is poisoned by the lies of religion. I do not understand why the average American will not free themselves from the slavery of Christianity. All you have to do is walk out of the door and be free. Christianity in particular is the most evil, virulent mind virus out there, and it is holding us back as a nation. A preponderance of evidence exists as to the lies and propaganda of the Christian faith. For one thing, the Bible isn’t what it appears to be at all. For those who wish to educate themselves on this subject, I suggest starting with, “Forged” by Bart D. Ehrman. This particular book is written for the neophyte, not the biblical scholar. Lest anyone think Mr. Ehrman is a crackpot, his credentials are quite impressive. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. You know, he has a Ph.D and all that. Most people talking about the Bible have never read it. In any case, Ehrman’s education and research on the Bible convinced even him that it was bullshit.

March 18, 2012 at 5:30 pm
(6) Grandpa In The East says:


For many people, freedom is scary. I requires facing reality of life and of death. That is too much to handle so they go for the “opium of the masses’ often. Some every Sunday. Some even more.


P.S. On the other hand: “Marx was wrong. Religion is not the opiaate of the people. Opium suggests something soporific, numbing, dulling. To often religion has been an aphrodisiac of horror, a Benzedrine for bestiality. At its best it has lifted spirits and raised spires. At its worst it has turned entire civilizations into cemeteries. Philip Adams, Adams vs. God.

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