The politicization of science in the United States comes at a terrible price. Promoted by the religious right and carried forward by an almost exclusively Republican roster of candidates and office-holders, the attack on scientific knowledge and the scientific process is eroding America's once pre-eminent position in the discipline. It also creates an unnecessary sideshow in a presidential election year.
Paul Broun, the incumbent Georgia 10th District congressman running unopposed in November, is the latest Republican to mix science, politics and religion in a way that denigrates all three. Broun, a physician and member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, should know better.
According to a videotape of a speech last month, Broun said "God's word is true, I've come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. And it's lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior."
Broun also said that he believes the Earth is about 9,000 years old and that it was made in six days. Those beliefs are held by many fundamentalist Christians who believe the creation accounts in the Bible to be literally true. Science does not.
Broun, of course, is entitled to his personal views, but not to impose them on the public as his office and his position on the committee might allow him to do. Established science apparently means little to him and those who share his beliefs. Indeed, anti-science views permeate the GOP. Mitt Romney, the party flag bearer, is on record saying that "we don't know what's causing climate change," though he now grudgingly agrees that human activity probably contributes to global warming. Other GOP stalwarts have taken the same off-kilter approach to science.
Most scientists, regardless of party, disagree with such views. No one in Republican circles, of course, will admit that trashing science is part of the party platform, but it sure seems like it given the level of rhetoric. The main casualty of the Republican assault is science itself.
The most noticeable result is growing distrust of science and scientists in the United States. Public funding for scientific research and education is in decline. The United States can ill afford that in a world that requires more and better science if it is to meet the challenges posed by a warming world in which population and available resources to sustain it are on a collision course. Republicans like Broun ignore that challenge by dismissing it as non-existent.
The GOP's misleading interpretation of evolution, embryology and other vital scientific topics is another of the party's smokescreens. It is designed to shift public attention away from the fiscal, political and social crises that confront the nation. The GOP, which has advanced no meaningful, equitable solutions for those problems, obviously prefers distraction to resolution.