Saturday, June 10, 2006
Science in the Twilight
Her contention is that the Religious Right has taken up "'stealth' religion, which uses the discourse of science and health to make faith-based arguments."
[W]hen conservative activists speak out against comprehensive sex education and same-sex marriage these days, they rarely if ever invoke arguments based on faith principles. Instead, they present themselves as public health advocates, scientific experts, and all-around concerned citizens . . .
They're using graphs, pie charts, and the language of scientific objectivity to make their case for creationism, abstinence-only sex education, and prohibitions against homosexuality -- even if that means making up their science along the way. ...
[C]onservative strategists know that Americans place great faith in science, and are often turned off by overt religiosity. Beyond the one-quarter to one-third of all Americans who identify as conservative Christians, faith-based arguments can go down like a lead balloon.
She gives examples from other areas as well:
- The Family Research Council warns of supposed health effects of same-sex marriage on the grounds that "A father's pheromones influence the biological development of his daughter," and "A strong marriage provides a model for girls of what to look for in a man, and gives them the confidence to resist the sexual entreaties of their boyfriends." Lesbians, in this view, place their daughters at risk of premarital sex and, therefore, pose a public health risk.
- Paul Cameron, chairman of a Colorado Springs group called the Family Research Institute has conducted studies that used highly irregular sampling techniques to "show" that homosexual unions undermine the partners' health, has the highest rate of domestic violence, shortens life, and is a poor environment in which to raise children. His work has little credibility among social scientists and at least two national academic professional associations censured and expelled him from their ranks for misrepresenting sociological and psychological research.
- Supposed "findings" that women who have abortions are more likely to develop breast cancer, and that condoms don't work have made their way into abstinence-only education curricula and web sites linked to the Federal government.
- The U.S. House of Representatives came within two votes of revoking the funding previously granted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to four research projects on topics related to sexuality and health, including HIV/AIDS because of pressure on elected representatives to de-fund research they believe is at odds with conservative religious principles.
As Stein recognizes, "[a]ll savvy political players use language to their advantage" and '[m]etaphors . . . make language meaningful." But "[r]eligious conservatives . . . believe that by its very nature scientific knowledge is a liberal, secularizing force."
The metaphor the Religious Right is fighting against is the Enlightenment. And, while the confluence of forces going under that name may not have been as great a flowering of political, intellectual and religious freedom as we might wish, those who think such ideas are worth striving for had better realize just how great a threat they are under now.
As social conservatives campaigned to require women to be "counseled" about an alleged risk of breast cancer from abortions, the National Cancer Institute revised its web site to suggest that studies of equal weight conflicted on the question. In fact, there is scientific consensus that no such link exists; as the head of epidemiology research at the American Cancer Society had concluded previously, "This issue has been resolved scientifically . . . . This is essentially a political debate."
And there was this about web sites and condoms:
In October 2002, CDC replaced a comprehensive online fact sheet about condoms with one lacking crucial information on condom use and efficacy. The original information, titled Condoms and Their Use in Preventing HIV Infection and Other STDs, included sections on the proper use of condoms, the effectiveness of different types of condoms, and studies showing that condom education does not promote sexual activity. 48 It noted that "a World Health Organization (WHO) review . . . found no evidence that sex education leads to earlier or increased sexual activity in young people."
Now the CDC is definitely a government agency but the National Cancer Institute may not be and that may be the explanation for her putting it that way. Incidently, I put in the "supposed" because Stein did not discuss that particular claim at any length and only indicated that they were questionable by putting "finding" in quotes.