These are tough times, it seems, to be a scientist. One of the two major political parties in the United States requires its candidates to publicly proclaim that the theory of evolution is false, that "this world and everything in it is a masterpiece created by the hands of God," and that "every single word" of the Bible is true." The Attorney General of Virginia is suing a former professor at the state university for fraud because he believes that humans are causing global climate change. The Republicans also claim we can achieve energy independence and reduce the price of fuel by offshore drilling. Er, no we can't.
Sadly, while conservatives in general are particularly hostile to reason, they aren't the only ones. Robert Kennedy Jr., who pretends to be a liberal and was actually seriously considered by Barack Obama to be administrator of the EPA, is a crank who believes that all the world's physicians, biomedical researchers and public health authorities are part of a massive conspiracy to poison children. The whole "vaccines are a conspiracy by greedy scientists" thing is not particularly a hallucination of left or right, but it's mostly touted by celebrities with a liberal sheen.
I could go on and on but you know all this. Charlie Pierce has put it very well:
The rise of Idiot America is essentially a war on expertise. It's not so much antimodernism or the distrust of intellectual elites that Richard Hofstadter deftly teased out of the national DNA forty years ago. Both of those things are part of it. However, the rise of Idiot America today represents—for profit mainly, but also, and more cynically, for political advantage and in the pursuit of power—the breakdown of a consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is a good. It also represents the ascendancy of the notion that the people whom we should trust the least are the people who best know what they're talking about.
It seems impossible to crack the granite walls of smug, self-regarding ignorance with facts and reason. To my mind, the basic problem is what Robert T. Carroll calls communal reinforcement. For most people, belief is not a matter of evidence and logic; it's a matter of tribal loyalty. If you try to reason with them, and show them why their beliefs are mistaken, it's taken as an assault and an insult to their friends and their virtue.
Like many people on the side of reason these days I'm starting to wonder why I bother. Truth is all I've got. If that's worthless, I'm helpless. Oh well, gotta keep on doing it.
Update: BTW, I probably should have mentioned that one reason I got all het up to write this post was this. Do check it out.
Oh yeah, it turns out Orac is having some of the same angst today.