Steven Pinker: The Intellectual War on Science

Steven Pinker in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

ScreenHunter_2967 Feb. 14 19.25The waging of a "war on science" by right-wing know-nothings has become part of the conventional wisdom of the intelligentsia. Even some Republican stalwarts have come to disparage the GOP as "the party of stupid." Republican legislators have engaged in spectacles of inanity, such as when Sen. James Inhofe, chair of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, brought a snowball to the Senate floor in 2015 to dispute the fact of global warming, and when Rep. Lamar Smith, chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, pulled quotes out of context from peer-reviewed grants of the National Science Foundation so he could mock them (for example, "How does the federal government justify spending over $220,000 to study animal photos in National Geographic?").

Yet a contempt for science is neither new, lowbrow, nor confined to the political right. In his famous 1959 lecture "The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution," C.P. Snow commented on the disdain for science among educated Britons and called for a greater integration of science into intellectual life. In response to this overture, the literary critic F.R. Leavis wrote a rebuttal in 1962 that was so vituperative The Spectator had to ask Snow to promise not to sue for libel if they published the work.

The highbrow war on science continues to this day, with flak not just from fossil-fuel-funded politicians and religious fundamentalists but also from our most adored intellectuals and in our most august institutions of higher learning. Magazines that are ostensibly dedicated to ideas confine themselves to those arising in politics and the arts, with scant attention to new ideas emerging from science, with the exception of politicized issues like climate change (and regular attacks on a sin called "scientism"). Just as pernicious is the treatment of science in the liberal-arts curricula of many universities. Students can graduate with only a trifling exposure to science, and what they do learn is often designed to poison them against it.

More here.