A recent report released by the National Science Foundation has garnered quite a bit of media attention after revealing a survey that found 25% of Americans couldn’t correctly answer the question, “does the Earth go around the Sun or does the Sun go around the Earth?”
But after the snark had settled, people began to seriously question how so many individuals in a country like the United States could be so wrong about a seemingly basic question. The popular but incorrect conclusion often arrived at was that it must be those “anti-science, bible-toting righties.”
A CNN Opinion piece by Sheril Kirshenbaum draws attention to my point. To be sure, I don’t think Kirshenbaum intentionally penned a hit piece on the Republican faithful. Indeed, the bulk of her article appropriately addresses the general need for improvement of science literacy. She also properly lauds the days when science was “cool,” recalling the public fascination with the Cold War space race.
However, when attempting to ascribe blame to the perception of scientific regression created by the study, Kirshenbaum makes the mistake far too many make, attributing the downfall of science to “the religious right.” [Emphasis Added]
Then things changed. The space race faded to memory, and nonmilitary science funding dipped. Science lost its prominence in policy, and today it’s treated as a special-interest group rather than central to the policymaking process.
The emergence of the religious right beginning in the late 1970s created unnecessary battles pitting religion again [sic] “reason,” as if we must choose a side.
Among other things, Kirshenbaum directly attributes the rise of religious Republicans to the sinking influence of science in public policy making.
This fits into the popular belief that conservatives were and continue to be anti-science. Interestingly, a recent report from Northwestern Law Professor James Lindgren turns that incorrect assumption on its head (h/t HotAir). The report examined the very same National Science Foundation survey and found the following:
A majority of Democrats (51.4%) could not correctly answer both that the earth revolves around the Sun and that this takes year. Republicans fare a bit better, with only 37.9% failing to get both correct.
When the the political orientation was further subdivided, conservative Republicans — the group many would identify as the “religious right” — out performed even those intellectual titans known as liberal Democrats.
The American public certainly may have a scientific literacy problem. However, in remedying that problem, it looks like we need to begin first and foremost with our liberal Democrat friends.
Talk about an inconvenient truth.
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