Most educated Americans still listen to scientists and believe in established methods of scholarly inquiry. That said, a strange side effect of our country’s recent slide into extreme political polarization has been an increase in the number of Americans who reject the conclusions of scientists and scholars.
We all know that the European Enlightenment, lasting from the late 17th century to the end of the 18th century, ushered in the modern era. As a result of this intellectual revolution, educated seekers of answers to puzzling questions have been more likely to turn to scientists, not demagogues, for guidance.
That said, resistance to the scientific approach has always been with us. (In spite of appearances to the contrary, the 1925 Scopes trial was not the last gasp of American resistance to the scientific method.) Yet the scientific method has retained the respect of educated Americans — at least until recently.
Who would have imagined that in 2017, scientists would feel so embattled that they organized nationwide protest marches to champion the scientific method?
Consultants were paid to sow doubt
I’m not going to focus on the elements of this story that have been widely covered by many journalists — for example, the role of consultants hired by oil companies to spread false information on global climate change, with the aim of injecting doubt into what was a matter of scientific consensus. The details of this well-known story are available from many sources.
After these paid consultants stoked doubts about the causes of climate change, the resulting confusion was exploited by politicians with close ties to the fossil fuel industry. This tactic — an attitude that allowed for the rejection of scientific consensus — was then adopted by Fox News, and the tactic was cynically deployed to increase the network’s…
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