Opinion – science denial harms humanity

This is part of my series of opinion pieces. As I’ve written, it is not meant to be supported by evidence or data – unless I link to evidence. Then it is. On the other hand, my opinions are based on tons of reading and data, so there’s that.

Recently, I read an article where Alabama, a US state with either the worst or second worst educational system in the country, had decided to enter the 21st Century – The Alabama state board of education voted unanimously to approve a new set of science standards on September 10, 2015, according to National Center for Science Education.

Surprisingly, the Alabama board stated that evolution is described as “substantiated with much direct and indirect evidence.” Is it possible that pigs are flying? Let me check.

But like all stories when it comes to science denial, the story isn’t perfect.

According to a story in the Washington Post, “state officials will have to decide what to do about the adhesive label that every high school biology textbook has been required to carry since 2001, a warning emphasizing that evolution is a ‘controversial theory’ that students should question.”

Let me remind the reader. There is absolutely no controversy about evolution, it is considered a scientific fact. The only controversy is amongst ignorant Republican presidential candidates, lead by someone who is ostensibly educated in science, Ben Carson.

Of course, as Theodosius Dobzhansky stated,  “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution.” And as medicine is a branch of biology, it’s clear that our knowledge of evolution helped Ben Carson – not just generally, but in very specific ways that were part of his medical career.

Whatever Dr. Carson says to pander to his ignorant, science denying Republicans, his medical career was filled with evolution of all types.

Science denialism is more than just a cultural discussion between two political groups. It’s dangerous. Science denial harms humanity – we should do all we can to end this absurd belief.

Evolution denial is dangerous

 

I had a discussion a few years ago with someone who stated that “denying evolution is no big deal. Climate change denial is much more critical.”

At the time, I thought that evolution deniers were more or less harmless. But over time, I’ve formed the opinion that all science denial is, more or less, the same – all dangerous.

Here’s the thing. If Ben Carson actually denied evolution, then a whole part of his medical background shouldn’t have existed. He would have to deny the use of important drugs and research that absolutely depend on the scientific fact of evolution.

If evolution denial was implemented in all school systems, then what would our country produce? Biomedical researchers who would have no clue how a virus evolves, who wouldn’t understand how to apply medical studies in animals to humans, and wouldn’t know how to create models to attack cancer.

A pharmaceutical company couldn’t do research in a state or region where most of its employees denied evolution. Amusingly, most of the evolution denying states (almost all in the deep south) have colleges and universities that are actually “pro” evolution. But they have to re-educate students, I suppose, who enter the school from the evolution denying local school systems.

Maybe evolution denial isn’t immediately dangerous. But it forms a long-term problem of not having enough well-educated children who can form the backbone of high quality biomedical research in college and our elite graduate schools.

Here’s something to ponder. Big Oil spends billions of dollars to find more and more oil. Well educated geologists, many or most with PhD level educations, are the ones that study the ground and conclude whether an area has oil or not. Do you think their ads for a geologist includes “creationist beliefs are critical for getting this job.” Uh, that would be a no.

In fact, they want a team of geologists who know how to find oil in rocks that are 500 million years old. Or know that the environment caused growth of a lot of plants in a certain area 200 million years ago, and there may be organic compounds found there. In other words, if you’re a geologist with dreams of making bit money in Big Oil, being an evolution denier is going to be a career problem.

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Climate change denial is dangerous

 

Again, this is cultural and political debate – but it really isn’t a scientific one, unless you’re of the ilk that use the “beliefs” of a handful of pretend scientists (those without any credentials or research in climate change) to create a false balance between the deniers and the mountains of evidence produced by real scientists that show humans are causing climate change.

But it’s not simply an academic argument (generously assuming that climate change denial has any academic rigor behind it). It could cause a massive environmental change that could cause many (most?) species to go extinct, including humans. And we’re not talking hundreds of thousands of years from now, but it could be happening now.

Climate change isn’t just that the days are warmer. It means more violent weather. It means droughts that destroy agriculture. Or massive rains in other areas that destroy cities. It means loss of shoreline – states like Florida may become nothing more than a bump on the butt of Alabama with climate change flooding most of the land.

There are so many consequences that we haven’t even thought about. If the Arctic sea ice keeps shrinking like it has, it could cause massive changes in ocean circulation that could have profound effects on many nations. And an ice free Arctic could mean major security issue for the USA and Canada as they battle for resources there against imperialistic Russia.

Denying climate change means we can’t stop or reduce the effects of it. And this isn’t just a problem with the USA. Europe, China, Japan, Brazil and many other countries have really not done much to forcefully change the world. I’m worried that my children (and eventually grandchildren) will live in a world that isn’t the one I lived in.

I used to slide down a glacier in the mountains above Salt Lake City. That glacier is gone. It’s not that future generations lost a chance to slide down a glacier. But the fresh water is gone. The microenvironment is gone. And this happens a thousand times every day all over the world.

Vaccine denial is dangerous

 

I write about this topic so much, I’m not sure what to add here. We have mountains of evidence, repeated by hundreds of different scientists, that vaccines are relatively safe – actually safer than nearly any medical procedure out there.

And vaccines work. Again supported by mountains of evidence.

Sadly, because of vaccine denial, dangerous pathogenic diseases that many of us thought were gone, a part of ancient history are rising their ugly heads. A simple safe shot that prevents deadly and debilitating disease is being denied? I just don’t get it.

GMO denial is dangerous

 

GMOs are safe and increase crop productivity. That’s it, there’s no debate, except politically. And unlike the right wing, very Christian crowd that denies evolution, GMO deniers are mostly progressives. But science denial is science denial no matter what part of the political spectrum they sit.

Although convincing the militant environmentalists, who push the anti-GMO tropes, that creating GMOs is nothing more than speeding up the selection process for advantageous traits is nearly impossible, it has some bad consequences. I still think it’s terribly ironic that GMO deniers are exactly the same as climate change deniers – they both deny the scientific consensus with logical fallacies and conspiracy theories. 

First, as climate change gets worse, we will need crops to feed us that are tolerant to excessive drought, heat, or weather variability. GMOs are about the only way to do this, or billions of people could starve. Is the expectation that a few organic farms will do this? Hardly. Those farms will feed a small portion of the local population, those who can afford it.

Second, even without climate change, we need to produce more food for more people at a reasonable cost. Americans spend the least amount of their monthly income on food compared to almost every other developed or undeveloped country. Part of it is luck, our country has some of the most productive farmland in the world, but part of it is science – our farms are simply more productive partially because of GMOs.

GMO labeling laws, that is, laws that force food manufacturers to either state the food is GMO-free or not, has become a passion of the environmental wing of progressives throughout the world. But it’s just science denial, which will harm mostly one group of people – the poor.

One might presume that labelling laws are innocuous, just a method for those who deny science to easily find their non-GMO foods. But what is happening is that this scientifically ignorant crowd is making many of us spend more for food.

There are some serious unintended consequences of GMO labelling. First, food companies will have to spend time and resources (including money) to certify non-GMO food, which could be more expensive, because they have lower productivity. The the companies will have to create two groups of their food. Expensive non-GMO and lower priced GMO – at least that’s what one would presume. But differentiating basic food sources will cause a net increase in prices of GMO for many financial reasons – lower volume of production, new manufacturing plants to separate the two lines, and differential distribution.

There is an overlap between groups of liberals who deny vaccines and those who deny GMOs. I sometimes wonder if it’s some elitist issue. They both think they’re better than the rest of us. Their kids won’t get  harmed because of their superior genes, so they don’t need vaccines. And they can afford more expensive foods to nourish their superior selves.

Science denialism is dangerous. Period.

 

Yes, I’m being tough, bombastic, and blunt – science denial harms humanity – and you have to wonder about your moral imperative if continue to deny basic science.

You might think your denialism is based in some sort of fact, conspiracy, belief, or Dunning-Kruger effect problem. Whatever the case is, just realize that you are a science denier, and by doing so, you cause harm to your fellow man. Think about that moral choice.

The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!