Saturday, June 10, 2006


Science in the Twilight

Arlene Stein, a sociologist at Rutgers University and author of The Stranger Next Door: The Story of a Small Community’s Battle Over Sex, Faith, and Civil Rights (Beacon Press) about one small Oregon town swept up in a bitter battle over gay and lesbian rights, has a very interesting piece at Talk to Action, which describes itself as "a platform for reporting on, learning about, and analyzing and discussing the religious right -- and what to do about it."

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 calls the Discovery Institute "[p]erhaps the most visible organization hawking 'stealth religion'" and notes that, while it "steers clear of words like 'creation,' 'creator,' or 'creationism,' its advocates are savvy conservative Christians who are charting a new, secular-sounding course."

She gives examples from other areas as well:
Stein accepts that the strategy of campaigning against same-sex marriages helped George W. Bush win reelection in 2004. Jacob Weisberg makes the case in his article "The Gay Panic Button" at Slate that the strategy, being run out in the form of the Senate vote on a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman, won't work this time. While that is a consummation Devoutly to be wished, it won't come from a lack of trying on the Righteous Right's part, pseudoscience doubtless playing a major part in the attempt.

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.
When you say "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," what do you mean by "linked to"? Because to me (blogging novice) that means they have a link that goes to a Fed page, which is wholly unsurprising. Do you mean "linked to by the Federal government"? Because that's very disturbing...
I have to say that I was reporting what Stein was alleging, rather than making my own charges against the Bush Administration. The phrase "web sites linked to the Federal government" was hers. In support of that particular statement, Stein pointed to a report prepared by Democratic staffers for Rep. Henry Waxman of California, which can be found here. That report has this claim about web site information on abortions and breast cancer:

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.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

. . . . .


How to Support Science Education