The recent snowstorms in Washington, D.C. did more than provide a visible metaphor for the gridlocked politics of our nation’s capitol—they also exposed one of the most troubling causes of that gridlock: Conservatives' dismissive attitude towards science.
In reaction to the record snowfalls, Fox News’ Sean Hannity announced “it’s the most severe winter storm in years, which would seem to contradict Al Gore’s hysterical global warming theories.” Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe reveled in the irony of a conference on climate change being canceled due to the storm.
Surely more ideal real-world examples of the aphorism “can’t see the forest for the trees,” are harder to find. The absurdity of taking short-term weather phenomena and drawing broad climatic conclusions was underscored by Rachel Maddow’s reaction, who said “when it rains in the desert, that does not disprove the existence of the desert.” And even if we’re willing to accept such short-sighted views, how then do we account for the fact that the Vancouver Olympics are importing snow? In the Fox News line of reasoning, this amounts to all but incontestable proof of global warming’s existence.
But of course we should not be willing to accept this overly simplistic reasoning. What’s more, we should recall the fact that global warming was the first term for a phenomenon that has since taken the name “climate change,” a more encompassing term that, as Bill Nye the Science Guy points out, accounts for dramatic weather episodes like these record D.C. snowstorms.
More troubling than the extent of their flawed reasoning, however, is the consistency with which they display it. As the ex-chair of the Democratic National Committee, Howard Dean, put it, “one of the most disturbing things about the Republican Party...is that they just don’t believe in science any more.”
The repeated disparagement of climate science amply supports the claim. But that’s not the only thing the right wing refuses to believe in—if one follows the party’s platform, one sees antagonisms beyond science; towards government, represented in the Reagan soundbite “government is not the solution to the problem, government is the problem”; towards academia, represented by Sarah Palin’s recent statement at the Tea Party convention “what we need is a commander-in-chief, not a law professor standing at a lectern.” As if the two were mutually exclusive.
And, in the recent Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell debates, one even sees antagonism towards the professional expertise of our military commanders—Senator McCain effectively told our Joint Chief of Staffs Mike Mullen that his military judgment is flawed, and expressed gratitude at the fact that Congress can prevent Mullen from following what he deemed the most appropriate course of action—abolition of the prejudicial and counterproductive policy.
This unwillingness to accept at face value any expert opinion that differs from the party line, no matter how qualified the individual expressing the opinion may be, is not only counterproductive, it’s archaic. It recalls the suppression of truth found in the prosecution of Galileo, and the forced suicide of Socrates. It presents us with yet another inconvenient truth: if we are to address the problems of our modern world, we will need, at the least, a modern approach. And as the debate on how best to address climate change continues, our government seems less and less capable of providing it.