Paul Krugman in a New York Times column on Sunday gave voice to the fear that must haunt any aware observer of the anti-science tide currently sweeping through the American Republican party. “It should terrify us,” were his words. I’m not an American, but it certainly terrifies me, all the more for the recognisable lineaments which seem to be manifesting themselves in the Australian right and are unmistakeable in the New Zealand ACT party which is in coalition with the government and apparently welcome back next time.
Krugman looks at two serious contenders for the Republican party nomination to run for President, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney.
Mr. Perry, the governor of Texas, recently made headlines by dismissing evolution as “just a theory,” one that has “got some gaps in it” — an observation that will come as news to the vast majority of biologists. But what really got people’s attention was what he said about climate change: “I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects. And I think we are seeing almost weekly, or even daily, scientists are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change.”
Krugman vacillates on how to describe Perry’s statement, first calling it “remarkable” then reflecting that maybe the right adjective is “vile”.
He points out that the second part of the statement is just false. As the evidence for climate change is mounting the scientific consensus is getting stronger.
In fact, if you follow climate science at all you know that the main development over the past few years has been growing concern that projections of future climate are underestimating the likely amount of warming. Warnings that we may face civilization-threatening temperature change by the end of the century, once considered outlandish, are now coming out of mainstream research groups.
But never mind that, Mr. Perry suggests; those scientists are just in it for the money, “manipulating data” to create a fake threat. In his book “Fed Up,” he dismissed climate science as a “contrived phony mess that is falling apart.”
… Mr. Perry is buying into a truly crazy conspiracy theory, which asserts that thousands of scientists all around the world are on the take, with not one willing to break the code of silence.
Romney’s approach is to backtrack on his previous endorsement of the notion that man-made climate change is a real concern.
…last week, he softened that to a statement that he thinks the world is getting hotter, but “I don’t know that” and “I don’t know if it’s mostly caused by humans.” Moral courage!
In Romney’s case it’s a matter of meeting the requirements of the Republican voters:
Within the G.O.P., willful ignorance has become a litmus test for candidates, one that Mr. Romney is determined to pass at all costs.
Krugman sums up:
So it’s now highly likely that the presidential candidate of one of our two major political parties will either be a man who believes what he wants to believe, even in the teeth of scientific evidence, or a man who pretends to believe whatever he thinks the party’s base wants him to believe.
Krugman adds that the deepening anti-intellectualism of the political right in America extends far beyond the issue of climate change, and concludes:
But the odds are that one of these years the world’s greatest nation will find itself ruled by a party that is aggressively anti-science, indeed anti-knowledge. And, in a time of severe challenges — environmental, economic, and more — that’s a terrifying prospect.
I happen at present to be reading a couple of biographies of Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president. The anti-slavery thinking which was prominent in the party’s origins was enlightened and humane by the standards of the day. The dark irrationality which buoyed the institution of slavery wasn’t for them. It’s a strange reversal which sees the Republican party today defending the indefensible on grounds which can only be described as irrational and determinedly ignorant.