“These pernicious anti-scientific trends”

I sauntered over to Duke University this morning to sit in an auditorium and watch the Nobel medal award ceremony via nobelprize.org with some fellow researchers and writers like Anton Zuiker and Eric Ferreri.
Owly Images

Hellooooo, Stockholm! The view this morning from Duke University's Schiciano Auditorium. Yes, I could've watched on my computer anywhere but it felt right to be on the Duke campus. Credit: David Kroll/CENtral Science

As I've written ad nauseum, I've had the wonderful opportunity to watch the goings-on with half of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2012 with Duke's Dr. Bob Lefkowitz. Lefkowitz shared the prize for the chemistry behind G-protein coupled receptors with his former fellow, Stanford's Dr. Brian Kobilka. And as my students know, nobelprize.org is an absolutely terrific (and free) site for some of the most noteworthy documentation of the great scientific discoveries since 1901. So, I've been very interested to now follow the Nobel lectures for all the prizes. But what I absolutely loved was tonight's banquet speech given by Lefkowitz on behalf of himself, Kobilka, and their families. Here's an excerpt that warmed my cockles:
For those of us in the sciences, we watch with delight as every October the eyes of the entire world focus, if only transiently, on the power of discoveries in chemistry, physics, medicine, physiology, and economics to shape our lives. However, as an American Scientist, and now Nobel Laureate, I have never been more aware or more appreciative of this effect of the Prize announcements. We have just had a Presidential election in the United States. One of the fault lines in the campaign was the role that science plays in shaping public policy decisions. A clear anti-science bias was apparent in many who sought the presidential nomination of one of our major political parties. This was manifest as a refusal to accept for example, the theory of evolution, the existence of global warming, much less of the role of humans in this process, the value of vaccines or of embryonic stem cell research. Each of us Laureates aspires in our own small way to do what we can to counter these pernicious anti-scientific trends.
I hope that this excerpt and message makes it to the mainstream media. And I'm happy to work with Dr. Lefkowitz in any way he sees to "counter these pernicious anti-scientific trends."

Author: David Kroll

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  1. Anti-science is not limited to those on the political right. There are people who want chemical-free, all-natural organic products. They believe in veganism, homeopathy, psychics, magnetic and copper bracelets for joint-pain relief, and that tap water is deadly.

    • qvxb, you raise a very important point. While the topics Lefkowitz points to above are mostly issues of the right, I agree completely that many on the left have a whole cadre of anti-science beliefs like those you raise.

      Seth Mnookin mentioned this point in his book, The Panic Virus. Part of the stimulus for his book was attending parties of friends who were liberal and well-educated who were also adamant that their kids weren’t going to be vaccinated.

      Thanks so much for raising this important point. Anti-science beliefs aren’t partisan, they just come in different flavors.

  2. There are two major differenes between the anti-vaxers and climate change deniers

    1: The anti-vaxers are found in both parties in fairly similar proportions

    2: They hold power in neither

    While in general you can find some kooky beliefs on the fringe left, these people simply have little influence politically. The same cannot be said on the right.

    And to qvxb: What is anti-science about veganism? It is actually quite healthy, and a prescription against harming animals is a moral, not scientific, stance.

  3. David– I would love to see you join forces with NC-area Nobelists. they’d be lucky to have you!
    And true on the chemophobia from the left, qvxb. I wonder whether it’s even possible to craft one unified message that could counter all the different anti-science crowds. (shameless plug, Dr. Rubidium and I will be co-moderating a session on the chemophobia topic at ScienceOnline 2013. )

  4. On the Left, the war on DDT has cost the lives of millions of poor African children every year for the last 40 or so. Here’s an inconvenient truth for you. The scientific staff of the EPA recommended against a ban, and were overruled by the lawyer who ran the agency. The overall death toll for this one error is greater than those due to Hitler and Stalin … combined. So color me “unimpressed” by Chad’s claim that the Leftist anti-science forces “have little influence politically.”

    As for the Myth of Global Warming, did Lefkowitz miss a meeting? Nobody (except those who profit from it with research grants) believes that any more.

    • Mark, I believe Chad was specifically referring to anti-vaccination activists. Your point on DDT is valid and I know much discussion has been lent to whether using or withdrawing DDT has cost more lives. As for climate change, the facts are overwhelmingly in opposition to your representation of it as myth. But thank you very much for commenting.

  5. Anyone who thinks that the Right has a lock on anti-science buffoonery has never been to Sedona, Arizona.

    • Diggs, oh yes, I’ve been to Sedona. I thought someone was insulting me when they told me to go sit on a vortex. (Dwight Garner, the superb New York Times writer, explains in this 2006 article.) Seth Mnookin also accurately pointed out in his award-winning book, The Panic Virus, that his inspiration drew from anti-vaccination stances he found at social gatherings of highly-education, left-leaning acquaintances.

      With that said, I concur with Lefkowitz in that the bulk of anti-science rhetoric — and subsequent anti-science legislation — originated on the right.