Bad Astronomy

More on McCain and antiscience pandering

McCain tested scientifically
The post I made last week about McCain being antiscience has made quite a splash, more than I expected (and I expected quite a bit). As usual when I post on politics I have been lauded as a voice of reason, told I am a political moron, had my arguments backed up by others with evidence, and attacked with ad hominems (despite my commenting policy, which I even linked to in the post).

The closest I think any of the attacks on my reasoning came to being correct were ones that pointed out that McCain hates earmarks, not science. That may be true (although his choice of Palin for Vice President – who loves her some earmarks – makes that argument a bit weak), but it occurs to me he chooses science an awful lot for ridicule when lambasting earmarks. Three of his Top Ten choices on his Twitter feed about earmarks were science-based, for example (and lots more science research bashing can be found on that feed), and he used his awful planetarium comment three times in speeches, including a nationally-televised debate with Obama.

And given how far he pandered to his party’s base – going from first calling Jerry Falwell an “agent of intolerance”, to then speaking at the graduation ceremony at Falwell’s Liberty University comes right to mind – I think it’s fair to wonder how much he panders on the issue of science as well.

But even if we ignore all that, the point is, he is ridiculing science research. It may be that he hates science earmarks as much as he hates any other kind, but the tone and content of what he is saying make his stance against science very clear. He said, specifically, “nothing says new jobs for average Americans like investing in astronomy.” But, in fact, investing in science always pays off in the long run, as I have noted on this blog about 20 times in the past (here’s one on space exploration, for example). Even astronomy pays off. Basic research always does. That’s why it’s an investment, and not pork.

And the tone of that comment makes it clear he is deriding science. He could have said, “Investing in astronomy won’t help the common citizen put dinner on the table” which would have been no less inaccurate than what he said, but wouldn’t have been insulting. But then, it wouldn’t have been a zinger, either. Maybe he’s just trying to make snarky soundbites, but it doesn’t matter: the end product betrays a lack of understanding of science, a deliberate twisting of it, and a general tone of disregard for what that science does.

Julianne on Cosmic Variance has more to say on this “Us versus Them” mentality many on the far right have been shilling for years now, a conscious effort to mock those Americans with educations, including, and especially, scientists.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I am elitist. I want the best for myself, my family, my country, my planet. And I damn well want it in my politicians.

One final note: yes, the far right lost a lot of ground in the last election, and yes more moderate people took control (more or less) of Congress. So why attack them now? Because the far right is not gone. Many people hailed McCain as a moderate when he first got in the presidential race, but by the end that was no longer true, as he sold off that moderate stance bit by bit to the party base. The far right still has a voice, still has influence, and in less than two years they may yet get their own elected to Congress in the midterms. Ignore them at your own peril.

Win or lose, the forces of antiscience will always be out there, and will always be one election away from spreading their nonsense again. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.