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Jan. 27, 2010

A Bit of Political Science for a Change

by Jesse Medalia Strauss

Greetings, Dear Readers.

Now, I understand given this is talkingscience.org, so there is an argument to be made that this blog post could be deemed “inappropriate” or “off topic.” However, recent events in the circus that is the American political world have injected me with what can only be described as an adrenaline rush equivalent of ridiculousness. So, given the thousands of universities that now offer political science as a major as my justification, as well as the fact that the Democrats are pro-science, I will now analyze for you the ridiculousness that is the most recent Massachusetts Senatorial election.

Now, Massachusetts is traditionally an extremely liberal state. The late Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy held his seat for generations, and he accidentally killed a woman. Massachusetts has the most progressive health care system in all the United States, which a Republican governor was forced to implement. Massachusetts was the first state to legalize gay marriage. How is it possible to screw all this up? Well, not surprisingly, the Democrats have found a way. Not only did the Democratic Senate candidate, Martha Coakley, basically stop campaigning after winning the primary, but she insulted the Red Sox. How can you run for any office in Massachusetts and insult the Red Sox?! Additionally, at a time when health care is so critical nationally, Coakley proved her political brilliance by flying to Washington to attend a fundraiser hosted by multiple health insurers. Even Obama, who carried the state by over 60%, couldn’t lift this woman onto his shoulders. In fact, his last-minute campaign contribution came off as pathetic and desperate.

Now since I'm a science journalist, the results of this election worry me greatly, especially if this upset is a precursor for election disasters to come in November. Let me explain why. For eight years I have witnessed, along with the rest of the United States, the systematic dismantling of the role scientific research and argument play in society. For the last eight years, there has been an undeniable full frontal siege on the intellectual fortress of reason and rationality. A siege that has been led by religious right-wing fundamentalists, a neo conservative administration, and the oligopolies they were in bed with. Before you write me off as a looney leftist extremist, I ask you to allow me to explain my thesis in a rational and factual manner.

Firstly, and most alarmingly, the Bush administration attempted to perpetrate a fraud of global proportions against the American people and their future well being. It is a fact, let me repeat this, a fact that the oil conglomerates of the world worked with White House officials in altering scientific data in order to propagate a version of reality for the United States in which climate change does not exist. This was done under the banner of greed and justified under the Social Darwinist ideology that is American capitalism. Like the cigarette companies, who launched a widespread cover-up campaign in order to hide their highly addictive product’s relation to a plethora of deadly conditions, mainly lung cancer, the oil companies sought to cloak the stranglehold they have on the Earth’s health in a veil of deception, propped up by the credibility of a pPesidential seal.

Secondly, let's take a gander at the religious right. It is impossible to deny their relationship with the Republican Party. Just look at polling results in the Bible Belt. We can thank this constituency for the Bush Administration’s push for federally mandated abstinence-only sex education, which denies students the very relevant information they need to protect themselves from STDs. Ironically enough, abstinence-only sex education increases the chances of teen pregnancies.

If the religious right had their way, the Bible would play a major role in science education. For example, in a recent story in The New York Times, an Ohio science teacher named John Freshwater was quoted as saying that because according to the Bible homosexuality is a sin, scientists must be wrong in their claim to have isolated a gene that causes homosexuality. In fact, there exists a substantial proportion of the Republican party, including top Republican officials such as former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who have stated that creationism should be taught alongside evolution as an alternative scientific theory. This idea conveniently overlooks the fact that creationism isn’t a scientific theory. There are no scientific proponents or consensus backing creationism, nor was it proposed originally by scientists. Creationism is a theological theory, and should be taught, if at all, in an objectively-taught theological studies class.

Then there is my personal favorite. There was a group of Christian Republicans who demanded that the Hubbell Space Telescope be taken down. Their rationality: the photographs it was producing contradicted the Bible. Let me reiterate the key word in that sentence: photographs.

But the greatest crime of all is how a Republican majority altered language connotation. As we saw during Palin's book tour, they have an engrained bias against anyone who is liberal and educated. The truth is, public education is a liberal idea, and chances are that under Republican leadership, we would see somewhat less of it. Over the past eight years, we have reached the point where Obama literally had to say “We will restore science to its rightful place.”

Your vote is sacred. Use it wisely. And when you do, I ask you to consider the long term well being of this country. Science and math scores are at an all time low, budgets are being cut across the country, and the debate over creationism is actually growing. If we are to restore science to its rightful place, we need to make sure we have elected officials who are willing to give the subject the time and credence it deserves. And for all those candidates campaigning for Congressional seats in 2012, bear in mind that in this political landscape, no district is “safe.” Don’t win your primary and go on vacation. Campaign your heart out to the end.

Be Skeptical, Be Critical, Take Nothing on Faith.

All the Best,
Jesse M. S.

About Jesse Medalia Strauss

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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