Column: On the Internet, There’s No Such Thing as a True Science Denier

Science isn’t like religion in that you can’t just pick and choose the science you don’t concur with. You can’t, say, believe in evolution, but not for species you think are gross. Or think gravity is a sound theory but it only pertains to left-handed Oregonians. Or accept atomic theory but only for people named Adam.

You get the idea; that’s not by definition scientific. If you trust in the rigors of science: evidence, testing, peer review etc.—you’re used to the fact that science is completely indifferent to your feelings. Yes, we all want the sun to revolve around the Earth and for plastic to be nutritious for sea creatures, but in science, wishing it were true doesn’t make it so.

Religion, on the other hand, gets to be custom fitted. You can be a Christian and if you don’t like the part in the Bible about being happy when smashing babies against rocks (Psalms 137:9), you can just ignore it. Or if you no longer think it’s kosher to even say publicly, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;she must be quiet (1 Timothy 2:12),” you can be mum on that one too. Disagree with slavery? No problem. Want to wear something besides linen? That’s fine. Go to Red Lobster religiously? Still OK.

Islam is the same in that respect. President Obama said ISIS, the insanely well-funded terrorist group (who are also don’t believe in evolution), isn’t Islamic. This is how sectarian wars start—one group degrading the piety of another group claiming to be more pure/better/cleaner/uncorrupted then they are. Instead of a holy war about whose god is better, it’s a splinter fight over whom god likes more.

So it’s understandable how religious people—especially religious leaders—bristle at science. They’ve grown accustomed to being able to carve out exactly what they like from religious texts, leaving the objectionable stuff behind.

This has led to a bizarre paradox: The Creationist with an iPhone or respectively the Anti-Vaxxer in a Prius. Utilizing science and all its comforts and advances, while being selectively skeptical about what science actually has to offer. Using technology to deny science takes some skilled compartmentalizing. It’s saying you have faith in science enough to post cat gifs on Facebook but not enough for science to contradict your convictions.

There was a time when we thought the Information Superhighway would make everyone more informed, better educated. Instead its enabled the misinformed to find places to permanently nestle in confirmation bias. Misery loves company—as does ignorance.

This week, NASA announced August had been the warmest on record. Climate change is real. There’s not a controversy. There’s an effort to undermine the data by using the word “controversy.” The Earth is warming. Period. No amount of “nu-huh” will make it not so.

This is the same week when the first car was 3D printed. (And yes, it’s electric.) And at this same incredible time in car history, the epicenter of car culture, Los Angeles, is in the throes of a deadly and completely preventable whooping cough epidemic. Children in the most affluent parts of the city are, according to reports, vaccinated at rates on par with the Sudan. This comes from a fear of vaccines sparked by a long-ago debunked, bogus “study” linking the shots to autism. Now children are actually dying—three infants in California just this year—from the science-denial of wealthy helicopter parents.

And since I already mentioned ISIS and we’re apparently now at war with them, they do this too. They don’t want Syrian children to learn math but are more than happy to use the technology made possible by math (namely YouTube) to post their videos (also made possible by math) of their beheadings of innocent captives.

Enough. This is embarrassing.

Think of science as the user agreement you have to say yes to before getting to use technology. In that contract (we know you haven’t read) is the accord that you—albeit passively—agree in evolution, climate change, vaccinations and math. Otherwise it’s a breach of contract. Go ahead and say “nu-huh,” but unless you’re reading this via candlelight in your self-made cabin, you’ve already clicked OK.


Photo by JD Hancock