By way of Matthew Yglesias, we read that,over at National Review Online, Kevin Williamson claims progressives only care about science as a way to wage culture war (yes, coming from movement conservatives, that’s rich):
There are lots of good reasons not to wonder what Rick Perry thinks about scientific questions, foremost amongst them that there are probably fewer than 10,000 people in the United States whose views on disputed questions regarding evolution are worth consulting, and they are not politicians; they are scientists. In reality, of course, the progressive types who want to know politicians’ views on evolution are not asking a scientific question; they are asking a religious and political question, demanding a profession of faith in a particular materialist-secularist worldview….
Evolution is a public question not because politicians have anything intelligent to say about the science, but because the question provides a handy cudgel to those who wish to beat the Judeo-Christian moral tradition into submission in the service of managerial progressivism. Perry should talk about that, not about alleged “gaps” in the scientific evidence, about which neither he nor his questioners nor the great majority of his critics nor the great majority of his supporters knows the first thing.
I don’t think anyone asked Rick Perry or any other GOP candidate about the relative importance of neutral versus selectionist processes. Many people don’t understand the technical details (that’s why we have biologists), just as many people don’t understand the technical details of building a light water reactor. But knowing a candidate’s views on nuclear power in general, its pros and cons, does matter. Given the importance of evolution to biology, we do need to know if a presidential candidate is a creationist or not.
This week, I’m running some analyses trying to figure out how certain pathogenic lineages in E. coli evolved to determine where they came from (e.g., clinic versus farms), and, funny, I thought I was doing it to understand the spread of disease. When I’m not doing that, I’m using genomics to understand the evolution of antibiotic resistance.
The very same algorithms and computational tools that I use to combat infectious disease are the very same algorithms that other biologists use to understand finches in the Galapagos. Or how all those primates evolved, including us. You want to understand the evolution of MRSA–methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus, which kills more people than AIDS does in the U.S. every year–then you have to deal with all those damn dirty apes (and other primates). There’s no a la carte service here.
So when a presidential candidate (actually, most of the candidates in one political party) makes pro-creationist noises, I’m bothered because he could get in the way of research. And because he’s making it that much harder to train the next generation of biologists in all facets of biology. It’s not about “demanding a profession of faith in a particular materialist-secularist worldview.” The question is will the person, with whom the (scientific research) buck stops, interfere with biological research and the teaching of biology?
Before I go home from work, I don’t ask myself, “Now, Mad Biologist, did you beat the Judeo-Christian moral tradition into submission in the service of managerial progressivism? No? Then get back to work! You’re not done yet!” (besides, that’s a lot of work. Someone needs to develop a machine to do that). Evolution matters to this Jewish* liberal because it’s an incredibly powerful tool for understanding the biological world around us, as well as an accurate explanation of biological diversity. When that explanation happens to conflict with certain sectarian dogmas, that’s a problem for those who hew to those dogmas, not the rest of us. Williamson is just going to have to cope with the fact that his party–and many of its elected representatives–has been taken over by people who are willfully ignorant (you thought you could control these lunatics, and now they turn out to be an embarrassment. Too bad. You reap what you sow).
Figure it out, or get out of our way. Either way, there’s useful science to be done.
Using evolution, not creationism.
Update: Williamson doubles down on stupid, accusing Kevin Drum of incorrectly claiming that heritability is ‘only’ fifty percent. Ahem. And that’s before we account for issues of genotype-environment covariation.
*This moderately observant ‘Judeo’ wishes to God (yes, liberals are allowed to do this too) that Christian conservatives would stop using us as a fig leaf for their own insanity.