It now appears that in the two key subjects – global warming and evolutionary biology – science is assuming the role in the eyes of the Fox-News, liberal-baiting culture of an Un-American international conspiracy. In its eyes, Copenhagen is an attempt to introduce world government by a sinister band of, probably communist, unelected meddling fraudsters. Evolutionary biology is similarly a global conspiracy against their simple old-time religion.
It would be easy to pooh pooh this threat. Almost all of the world’s governments and most reputable scientists agree on the broad outlines of the global warming problem. The problem is what to do about it. Similarly, all reputable scientists know that evolutionary biology is the only system of knowledge that makes sense of the vast array of biological data we possess.
But I’m not so sure we can rest easy. The meme for hatred of any international body interfering with the right of Americans to pursue their traditional way of life is very deep-seated. Conspiracy theories can make a lot of headway even when the conspiracy is non-existent and the fear of it mere paranoia. Climate change is different. There really is an international consensus for action. All you need to turn consensus into conspiracy is to convince yourself that the science is fake and that the scientists are fraudsters intent on world domination. Scientific literacy in the western world is now so low that it only takes a few emails to convince a largeish section of the population that their worst fears are true: scientists have bent the data to fit their theory; global warming caused by man-made emissions is a scam dreamed up by power-hungry scientists. QED.
In the modern world, opinion is shaped by gesture politics – a president bowing on U Tube, the words “Nature trick” in an email, count for more than the thought-through, considered policies of Barack Obama or their entire edifice of Western science, on which the ultra-right depend for disseminating their poisonous blogs. Science now needs an Orwell in the face of this new assault on reason.