David Sanders, one of the Democratic candidates seeking to unseat Steve Buyer in Indiana’s Fourth Congressional District has upgraded his website. In a prior post, I believe I was mildly critical of the content at the old site. I give the new site a thumbs-up: a nice clean layout with plenty of information. Seems to have all of the essentials without being oppressively busy.
Indiana’s Fourth Congressional District includes some or all of Boone, Clinton, Fountain, Hendricks, Johnson, Lawrence, Marion, Monroe, Montgomery, Morgan, Tippecanoe, and White Counties.
Definitely worth checking out if you’re from one of those counties or just think Rep. Buyer has been in D.C. long enough.
Of particular interest to me is Dr. Sanders’ scientific background. He is an associate professor of biology at Purdue. While he makes no specific statement to this effect on his website, I believe he could be trusted to resist what Chris Mooney has characterized as the Republican War on Science. You have Senator James Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, claiming that, scientific consensus on the matter notwithstanding, global warming is a “hoax perpetrated on the American people.” You have the Bush administration tampering with reports on climate change, suppressing science within the U.S. Department of Fish & Wildlife, and radically misrepresenting the research potential of existing stem cell lines.
Mooney’s book argues:
[D]isregard for scientists and the scientific method has grown and ripened with the modern conservative movement. From Barry Goldwater’s anti-intellectualism, through Ronald Reaganâ€™s sympathy for creationism and Newt Gingrich’s passion for science “skeptics,” on through the present day, Republicans have shown a marked preference for politically inspired fringe theories over the findings of long-established and world-renowned scientific bodies.
The problem, I think, is that, as President Reagan said, “facts are stupid things,” and the scientific method reveals facts. To the dismay of tobacco companies, cigarettes cause cancer. To the dismay of oil and car companies, burning fossil fuels causes global warming. To the dismay of Christians who believe the Bible is to be read literally, evolution contradicts the creation story in Genesis.
The solution has been to kill the messenger. Because the scientific method reveals all of these inconvenient truths, inconvenienced politicians have sought to undermine the authority of science as a tool in helping us understand how things work. But, when they do this, I think they do more than poison science. I think they diminish the value we place on rationality and the principles of the Enlightenment generally and, therefore, diminishes our democratic traditions.
Central to the Enlightenment tradition is the idea that there is objective truth, independent of the observer. The Wikipedia entry puts it this way:
The Enlightenment began then, from the belief in a rational, orderly and comprehensible universeâ€”then proceeded, in stages, to form a rational and orderly organization of knowledge and the state, such as what is found in the idea of Deism. This began from the assertion that law governed both heavenly and human affairs, and that law invested the king with his power, rather than the king’s power giving force to law. The conception of law as a relationship between individuals, rather than families, came to the fore, and with it the increasing focus on individual liberty as a fundamental right of man, given by “Nature and Nature’s God,” which, in the ideal state, would encompass as many people as possible. Thus The Enlightenment extolled the ideals of liberty, property and rationality which are still recognizable as the basis for most political philosophies even in the present era; that is, of a free individual being mostly free within the dominion of the state whose role is to provide stability to those natural laws.
This has been something of a disjointed digression, but suffice it to say that I believe the same things that weaken the value we place on science also weaken the value we place on democracy and liberty. Dr. Sanders is a scientist and, as such, it would be my hope that he would help to combat the forces that wish to weaken our respect for science and the scientific method.