Op-Eds Speaking Truth to the Powers-That-Be

For the Economy’s Sake, Let Belief in Science Be This Election’s Litmus Test

At a time when we are sending our young men and women to the Middle East to free Afghanis from 9th century fundamentalist ignorance, it is ironic and very wrong when the men and women of the Republican Party who aspire to the highest office in the nation proudly raise their hands and assert their disbelief in science, and, in particular, Evolution.

Surprisingly, almost a full century since the famous Scopes trial, the divide between science and fundamentalist religion in this country is wider than ever. In a 2010 Gallop poll, 40% of Americans surveyed rejected evolution.

A 2006 Michigan State University study compared the American public’s acceptance of evolution with 34 countries. Only Turkey ranked lower than the US. Co-author Jon Miller laid a good part of the blame for this widespread confusion to our politicians who use opposition to evolution to garner conservative votes.

Miller says that it makes about as much sense for politicians to oppose evolution in their campaigns as it is for them to advocate that the Earth is flat and promise to pass legislation saying so if elected to office.

“You can pass any law you want, but it won’t change the shape of the Earth.”

Sadly, the conservatives’ ploy is working. In the same Gallup poll, the majority of Republicans (52%) versus 34% of Democrats and 34 % of Independents declared themselves to be Creationists.

In the recent Iowa straw poll, the two candidates with the most votes, Congresswoman Michelle Bachman and Texas governor Rick Perry,  were absolute in their rejection of evolution.

Although Romney  was a little wishy-washy on the subject, he leaned more towards the Right than former governor John Huntsman whose tweet declaring his unequivocal belief in evolution likely cost him a win.

 It may be good TV election sport, but these candidates are doing our country a great disservice.

U.S. students now rank 25th in math and 21st in science skills internationally, according to a recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report , and the 2007 ACT College Readiness Reports show that only 43% of graduating seniors are ready for college math and 27% are ready for college science.  While minority enrollment has increased a few percentage points, white enrollment in college has plummeted 21%. [1]

Despite these poor stats, just a little more than a quarter of Americans think it is essential for students to understand advanced sciences like physics and advanced math like calculus.

Policymakers in competitor nations like China and India understand that a focus on science, engineering, technology and math is key to economic growth. Without an emphasis on science, which means money for educating scientists and money for research, diseases like Alzheimer’s will not only not be cured, but will single-handedly bankrupt societies like ours with a growing aging population.

Why the disconnect in the U.S.? How did we become the one western country where belief that dinosaurs and people lived side by side 6000 years ago is not political suicide?

It should shock us all that only two of this year’s Miss USA contestants said they believed in evolution. The blame for their brainwashing should be placed squarely on our leaders, especially Conservatives who would exploit ignorance to win power, even if the strategy ultimately destroys Americans’ ability to compete in a global world. George W. Bush, hardly a progressive, was a radical progressive on education when placed beside the current field of Republican candidates.

Although President Obama launched an “Educate to Innovate” campaign to improve the participation and performance of America’s students in science and math related fields, the pushback is astounding. Just at a time when we need more, we’re seeing funding cuts for teaching and research. This could not be more short-sighted.

If it really is the economy, stupid, then being stupid will keep us from appropriately dealing with the economy.

The Earth is not flat.  So please, let this election’s litmus test be hands raised for science and rational thinking, not against it.

About Deborah Shlian

Deborah Shlian is a physician, medical consultant and author of numerous non-fiction articles and books as well as three published novels co-authored with her husband Joel (Double Illusion, Wednesday’s Child and Rabbit in the Moon). Rabbit in the Moon, an international thriller, won the 2008 Gold Medal, Florida Book Award, ForeWord Magazine's Silver Award for best mystery, the Royal Palm Literary Award and Honorable Mention for best Audiobook for the San Francisco Book Festival. Deborah is co-author with Dr. Linda Reid, of the Sammy Greene thriller series. Dead Air, the first in the series won the 2010 Royal Palm Literary Award for Best Thriller. Devil Wind, the second in the series, won the Hollywood Book Award for best Audiobook and the 2011 Royal Palm Literary Award for Best Thriller. Her latest nonfiction book, "Lessons Learned: Stories from Women in Medical Management" will be released in March, 2013. After 25 years in Los Angeles, Deborah and her husband now reside in Boca Raton, Florida.

One comment on “For the Economy’s Sake, Let Belief in Science Be This Election’s Litmus Test

  1. Sandie
    January 15, 2012

    It is so sad that Americans are so ill-informed and brainwashed on this topic. Thanks for your intelligent article on a trend that makes no sense to me.

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