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Dumb Down of America, as Espoused by Rush Limbaugh

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Even as the U.S. faces enormous global economic competitive challenges to our standard of living, high school and college graduation rates are falling. Per capita, China has more college graduates in science and technology than the U.S., according to recent statistics. U.S. graduation rates already behind the small, third wold county of Kazakhstan. And the U.S. has fallen to fourth place in worldwide innovation statistics.

Not that long ago, the U.S. led in high school and college graduation rates and was the world leader in scientific discoveries and technological innovation. It’s what made America economically strong and vibrant…the world class leader. That is who we’ve been since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

Every American knows gloomy these statistics. We’ve heard them over and over again. But just when we need to boost our national science and educational standards, the great leader of the far right, Rush Limbaugh, has taken aim against science and education.

The four corners of deceit: government, academia, science and media. Those institutions are now corrupt and exist by virtue of deceit. That’s how they promulgate themselves; it is how they prosper.

Our country cannot afford to allow this anti-science, technology and education rhetoric to continue while still expecting to support a vibrant middle class and entrepreneurial society far into the future.

Is a truly uneducated, ignorant America how we want our children are to compete in a globally competitive economy that requires superior knowledge of science, technology, and creative innovation?

After Limbaugh’s rant against science, Nature Magazine commented with a strong riposte against Limbaugh’s anti-science, anti-education rant in favor of ignorance.

If we, as a proud forward-leaning, innovative country, do not fight against this propagation of ignorance by right wing media pundits, our children and grandchildren truly will find themselves living in the world’s largest third world country. Is that what you seek for your children and grandchildren?

Science scorned

The anti-science strain pervading the right wing in the United States is the last thing the country needs in a time of economic challenge.

“The four corners of deceit: government, academia, science and media. Those institutions are now corrupt and exist by virtue of deceit. That’s how they promulgate themselves; it is how they prosper.” It is tempting to laugh off this and other rhetoric broadcast by Rush Limbaugh, a conservative US radio host, but Limbaugh and similar voices are no laughing matter.

There is a growing anti-science streak on the American right that could have tangible societal and political impacts on many fronts — including regulation of environmental and other issues and stem-cell research. Take the surprise ousting last week of Lisa Murkowski, the incumbent Republican senator for Alaska, by political unknown Joe Miller in the Republican primary for the 2 November midterm congressional elections. Miller, who is backed by the conservative ‘Tea Party movement’, called his opponent’s acknowledgement of the reality of global warming “exhibit ‘A’ for why she needs to go”.

The right-wing populism that is flourishing in the current climate of economic insecurity echoes many traditional conservative themes, such as opposition to taxes, regulation and immigration. But the Tea Party and its cheerleaders, who include Limbaugh, Fox News television host Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin (who famously decried fruitfly research as a waste of public money), are also tapping an age-old US political impulse — a suspicion of elites and expertise.

Denialism over global warming has become a scientific cause célèbre within the movement. Limbaugh, for instance, who has told his listeners that “science has become a home for displaced socialists and communists”, has called climate-change science “the biggest scam in the history of the world”. The Tea Party’s leanings encompass religious opposition to Darwinian evolution and to stem-cell and embryo research — which Beck has equated with eugenics. The movement is also averse to science-based regulation, which it sees as an excuse for intrusive government. Under the administration of George W. Bush, science in policy had already taken knocks from both neglect and ideology. Yet President Barack Obama’s promise to “restore science to its rightful place” seems to have linked science to liberal politics, making it even more of a target of the right.

US citizens face economic problems that are all too real, and the country’s future crucially depends on education, science and technology as it faces increasing competition from China and other emerging science powers. Last month’s recall of hundreds of millions of US eggs because of the risk of salmonella poisoning, and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, are timely reminders of why the US government needs to serve the people better by developing and enforcing improved science-based regulations. Yet the public often buys into anti-science, anti-regulation agendas that are orchestrated by business interests and their sponsored think tanks and front groups.

In the current poisoned political atmosphere, the defenders of science have few easy remedies. Reassuringly, polls continue to show that the overwhelming majority of the US public sees science as a force for good, and the anti-science rumblings may be ephemeral. As educators, scientists should redouble their efforts to promote rationalism, scholarship and critical thought among the young, and engage with both the media and politicians to help illuminate the pressing science-based issues of our time.

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2 Responses

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    September 26, 2010 at 10:22 AM

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