Editor’s Note: In recent years, conservatism has increasingly come to include a deep skepticism regarding any advances in science made during the past few centuries, and  anything that contradicts fundamentalist Christianity. This doesn’t bode well for the future of the nation. 

Sciences Annus Horribilis


In the best holiday movie ever made, the 1951 version of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” the Spirit of Christmas Present warns Scrooge to beware the incarnations of want and ignorance, but ignorance most of all. In a country bedeviled by right-wing news channels, warped social media, Christian fundamentalism and the cult of Trump, it’s a warning that’s being comprehensively ignored.

Selfishly oblivious, the country is being pummeled simultaneously by climate change and COVID-19. Too many Americans reject the remedies to these plagues, spurning the expertise of MDs, PhDs, the UN, AMA, NIH, NASA, NOAA, DoD and CDC. Instead, they accept “science” proffered by right-wing politicians and preachers, conservative journalists, oil company executives, libertarian lawyers and conspiracy theorists.

I have a Facebook friend who’s a great guy, but a true son of the South. Let’s call him “Tex.” As an evangelical and a devout Trump acolyte, he’s skeptical of 21st century science. Although 97% of post-graduate-level scientists surveyed in the nonpartisan Pew Research Center poll agree manmade global warming is raising sea levels, Tex does not. Yet he has no problem believing Noah stowed two of each of the Earth’s estimated 5 million species aboard a single, homemade, wooden boat, when rising sea levels flooded the entire planet.

He also rejects evolution, even though it’s been settled science since the 19th century, and is accepted by 98% of post-graduate-level scientists. Instead, Tex accepts creationism, a discredited Bronze Age world view, based on the history, biology and anthropology catalogued in Genesis. And naturally, as a good Texas Republican, he’s unvaccinated, although he implausibly claims to be avoiding it on scientific and medical grounds, rather than conservative politics or fundamentalist dogma.

I wonder whether Republican anti-vaxxers/anti-maskers, creationists and climate deniers think the scientific community is merely mistaken, or believe it’s purposefully lying, in a massive subterfuge to deceive the nation’s godly right wing. Either way, their own constant lying about “fake news,” “election fraud” and “Chinese hoaxes” has stoked a conspiracy theory industry on the Right, populated by deceit mongers like Alex Jones, who’s profited from claiming liberals faked the Newtown massacre to smear the NRA. At the same time, too many Americans on the other side of the political spectrum still believe George W. Bush fabricated 9/11 to justify invading Afghanistan and Iraq.

Another Facebook friend — let’s call him “Adolf” — believes all the same things as Tex, but with the added bonus of being a flat-earther. He deems nearly all science and history — from the Big Bang and heliocentrism to the Moon landing and Mars rovers — to be plots, hoaxes or both. He calls Einstein an “overrated sham,” and — from Galileo and Copernicus to Newton and, of course, Darwin — he considers the history of scientific advancement since the parting of the Red Sea to be a godless fiction.

Adolf’s idols are fringe scientists without credentials — the sort of experts who claim Bigfoot built the pyramids. At first, I thought he was just having fun with the idea of a flat Earth, but he’s actually deadly serious, and feels nothing but scorn for physicists and geologists with doctorates from places like MIT or Caltech, whom he considers conmen colluding to misinform the populace with fake data. And, sadly, he’s not alone. Many fundamentalists of his ilk disdain as anti-biblical heresy the notion of a spherical Earth.

Conspiracy theories breed cults, and tens of millions of evangelicals venerate Donald Trump as their new Messiah. I have a Facebook acquaintance who believes God literally chose the 45th president to save America. I also have a Facebook friend — let’s call him “Joe-Bob” — who worships both Trump and L. Ron Hubbard. Apparently, curing COVID with bleach and or a livestock dewormer is not all that different from the snake oil scam of treating mental illness with Scientology’s E-meter.

Folks gullible enough for the absurd mythologies of cults such as Scientology are ideal fodder for QAnon. Another Facebook friend — let’s call him “Mac” — is convinced of Trump’s imminent Second Coming, by fair means or foul. Beyond accusations of pedophilia and sex trafficking on the Left, one of this QAnon apostle’s major worries is Democratic Satanism. Most right-wing fundies think Democrats are atheists, so Satanism may seem incompatible, but Mac’s thought processes seldom touch on logic or reality.  

Conservative intellectual Luddites— let’s call them “the anti-science cabal” — comprise a key bloc that’s prolonging the pandemic by rejecting guidance from medical experts like Dr. Fauci. Instead, they echo the rantings of media prophets, such as Sean Hannity, and Glen Beck, whose education totals less than one college semester between them, and who probably couldn’t spell “epidemiologist” or “Fauci” if you spotted them the vowels.

As the West Coast suffered through heat, drought and wildfires, the East Coast was battered by flash floods, tornadoes and tropical storms. Nonetheless, the Right opposes any measures that might ameliorate climate change, and their contempt for modern science may someday destroy the economy they claim to revere so much.

Multiple hurricanes and an endless pandemic will tank a president’s job approval, as has happened to Joe Biden, even though it’s the disloyal opposition of the Republicans — let’s not call them “patriots” — that has made both crises worse. At least there’s one consolation: Despite right-wing rumors to the contrary, the Earth remains round.

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