A follow up to yesterday’s blast from the past:
Ever since Majikthise, Pandagon, and Alternet linked to my post about Yglesias, my sitemeter hit-counter thingee has blown a gasket (and, Majikthise, um, thanks for the very kind words, but low expectations are much easier to live with…). Anyway, it’s been interesting to read what other people think about the post.
One general angle I’ve noticed is that many commenters are focusing on the politics of evolution. Granted, this post was picked up largely by political websites, so this is to be expected. Regarding the politics, I’m not naive: I understand the role evolutionary biology plays in the culture wars, how it cuts as a political issue, and so on. Nonetheless, there was, in some comments (and a couple emails too), a slight sneering attitude towards biology, as if the actual issues involved–not the political ramifications–were unimportant (I should point out that many, if not most, commentators and emailers agreed that the points about research and education were valid).
After the anthrax attacks, I remember worrying when I heard a White House reporter ask about “the anthrax virus” (and El Supremo didn’t correct him, of course). To some, this might sound like an insignificant detail, but the biology really matters. How you approach treatment, prevention, and protection depends on whether you’re dealing with a virus or a bacterium (and how effective each of those steps will be also determined by the nature of the biological agent). At that moment, I realized the political class, as a whole (with some exceptions), had no idea what they were talking about.
All I ask is that, if I, as an informed citizen, commentator, etc., am supposed to follow the miniscule details of Rovegate, that, in return, those who comment on biology have a basic knowledge of the subject. No political commentator would ever accept the level of ignorance that biologists (and other scientists) are routinely forced to confront-and it is ignorance. A word of advice if you’re a pundit, commentator, or ‘just’ a citizen: educate yourself on these matters, you’re going to need it.
One commenter claimed that going after Yglesias was yet another example of the Democratic circular firing squad. I’m the last person to favor the circular firing squad. Yet, in the midst of all the political battles, we must remember what we are fighting for in the first place: the truth, or at least the fallible human attempt to discern it through reason. We must defend this human search for truth, not because it hurts the religous right, which it does, not because it is part of the culture wars, which it is, but because truth and reason themselves are worth defending. When we fail to defend the truth in service of political expediency, it encourages deceit elsewhere.
The emphasis on truth, or the lack of deceit, might appear hopelessly naive. After all, in the last several years, there has been so much lying about, well, everything. We’ve lied our way into a war, into an irresponsible and unjust economic policy, and lousy social policy. At the very least, let’s hold the line at physical reality. It’s worth the fight.