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The American Anti-Intellectual Threat

NEW YORK – In recent years, the United States has been more a source of global instability than a source of global problem-solving. Examples include the war in Iraq, launched by the US on false premises, obstructionism on efforts to curb climate change, meager development assistance, and the violation of international treaties such as the Geneva Conventions. While many factors contributed to America’s destabilizing actions, a powerful one is anti-intellectualism, exemplified recently by Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s surging popularity.

By anti-intellectualism, I mean especially an aggressively anti-scientific perspective, backed by disdain for those who adhere to science and evidence. The challenges faced by a major power like the US require rigorous analysis of information according to the best scientific principles. 

Climate change, for example, poses dire threats to the planet that must be assessed according to prevailing scientific norms and the evolving capacity of climate science. The Nobel Prize-winning global scientific process called the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has set the gold standard for scientific rigor in analyzing the threats of human-induced climate change. We need scientifically literate politicians adept at evidence-based critical thinking to translate these findings and recommendations into policy and international agreements.

In the US, however, the attitudes of President Bush, leading Republicans, and now Sarah Palin, have been the opposite of scientific. The White House did all it could for eight years to hide the overwhelming scientific consensus that humans are contributing to climate change. It tried to prevent government scientists from speaking honestly to the public. The Wall Street Journal has similarly peddled anti-science and pseudo-science to oppose policies to fight human-induced climate change.