Understanding the nature of ‘anti-science’ criticism

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry’s rejection of modern biology and climate science has generated a fair amount of talk — some of it even from the GOP — about Republicans being “anti-science.” Perry, in particular, has become the apparent spokesperson for this wing of the party.

I’ve seen a few defenses of Perry on this front, most notably from Kevin Williamson who argued many on the left are demanding “a profession of faith in a particular materialist-secularist worldview.” This wasn’t especially persuasive. Today, Rich Lowry presents another argument.

In no sense that the ordinary person would understand the term is Rick Perry “anti-science.” He hasn’t criticized the scientific method, or sent the Texas Rangers to chase out from the state anyone in a white lab coat. In fact, the opposite. His website touts his Emerging Technology Fund as an effort to bring “the best scientists and researchers to Texas.” The state has a booming health-care sector composed of people who presumably have a healthy appreciation for the dictates of science. […]

Unless he has an interest in paleontology that has escaped everyone’s notice to this point, Perry’s somewhat doubtful take on evolution has more to do with a general impulse to preserve a role for God in creation than a careful evaluation of the work of, say, Stephen Jay Gould. Perry’s attitude is in the American mainstream. According to Gallup, 40 percent of Americans think God created man in his present form, and 38 percent think man developed over millions of years with God guiding the process. Is three-quarters of the country potentially anti-science?

Similarly, Perry’s skepticism on man-made global warming surely has much to do with the uses to which the scientific consensus on warming is put. It is enlisted as support for sweeping carbon controls that fail any cost-benefit analysis and gets spun into catastrophic scenarios that are as rigorous as Hollywood movie treatments.

Let’s flesh this out a bit.

When the left, including me, argues that Perry is anti-science, the point is not that he’s actively hostile towards scientists. Rather, the key element here is how the Texas governor evaluates information. Perry, for example, is aware of the scientific consensus on modern biology, but he rejects it. Whether Gallup polls tell us his beliefs are popular or not is irrelevant — he not only prefers his beliefs about the supernatural over the scientific canon, he also believes science classes should feature both facts and myths, and then encourage students to pick which one they like better.

On climate change, Perry isn’t a “skeptic” about global warming; he’s convinced that scientists are engaged in a conspiracy to make money. Lowry argues that Perry “surely” doubts climate science out of a fear of “sweeping carbon controls,” but that’s not what the governor has said. He rejects the science and the evidence because he sees an international scheme motivated by greed. That’s ridiculous, but that’s his position.

What’s more, these aren’t the only examples. Perry fielded questions not too long ago from a Texas journalist who asked why Texas has abstinence-only education, despite the fact that the state has the third-highest teen-pregnancy rate in the country. Perry replied, “Abstinence works.” The journalist, perhaps wondering if Perry misunderstood the question, tried again, saying abstinence-only “doesn’t seem to be working.” The governor replied, “It — it works.”

Perry’s anti-science because he seems to have some kind of allergy to reason and evidence. He doesn’t have to denounce the scientific method or chase white lab coats across state lines to show an obvious hostility towards science itself.