The struggles of the political biologist
Published: Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 23:09
Last week, some of you may have seen the group of people outside the Student Union with their “Evolution Is a Lie” signs. As someone who is majoring in molecular and cell biology, hearing statements like that frustrates me, but it doesn’t bother me too much. At the end of the day, the people on Fairfield Way are Christian fundamentalists. They have no real power and only inconvenienced me for a few minutes with their yelling about how some of my classes are essentially lies from Satan. I take a much bigger issue with people in positions of power that express this kind of anti-science mentality.
Take the state of Texas. Last week, state textbook review panels urged the State Board of Education to reject several proposed high school biology textbooks because they did not include arguments against Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Karen Beathard, one of the biology textbook reviewers and a Texas A&M University nutritionist, said that she understands the strong support for evolution. However, she also says, “At the same time, this is a theory. As an educator, parent and grandparent, I feel very firmly that creation science based on biblical principles should be incorporated into every biology book that is up for adoption.”
First and foremost, given its lack of empirical data, creation science is not comparable to the theory of evolution. Secondly, the idea that evolution can be dismissed because it is a “theory” shows just how much of a lack of understanding there is among the public. In the vernacular, theory is often used to dismiss something that is wavering in support. However, in the scientific community, a theory is something that has substantial backing, has been confirmed repeatedly through observation and experimentation and is accepted by a strong majority of the scientific community. It holds a lot more water than a simple educated guess. Creation science is effectively teaching creationism and advancing a religious ideology, which has no place in a public school or a science class curriculum.
The United States is one of the few developed nations where evolution is still considered such a controversial issue. How are we supposed to further our efforts in science as a nation when there are people in positions of power that won’t even accept basic premises like natural selection or the age of the planet? It is not only a burden on us in the present, but also on children that are deprived of a solid education in science as a result.
It isn’t just Texas and the issue of evolution, but rather a larger issue of politicians having such disconnect with the scientific community. Last year, Georgia Congressman Paul Broun, a physician and member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, said that what he learned about evolution and embryology in school were “lies straight from the pit of hell.” Michelle Bachmann has also been incredibly off base when it comes to scientific issues. The congresswoman, and at one time presidential candidate, wanted to stop a vaccine because it could cause mental retardation, which was strongly negated by the medical community. She also stated that no studies could be provided to show that carbon dioxide was a harmful gas, something that has also been refuted. There are also people like Todd Akin who don’t understand how a woman’s reproductive system works and essentially make up how it would respond to rape. I don’t know if these kinds of people purposefully say these things to propel their own agenda or just failed to learn about the issue before reaching a conclusion, but either way it is not how a politician should be making policy.
Politicians have had a history of dealing with scientific issues without really understanding the science. In the past there were fears of cloning when it was considered the cutting edge of science. Nowadays, that skepticism has been shifted to things like genetically modified organisms or stem cell research, and most of it stems from this fear of the unknown. Politicians likely aren’t biologists, but if they are going to pass legislation related to these issues, they should be informed and deal with facts, not religion or their own made up pseudo-science. When you consider the impact fields like genetics are having and are going to have on healthcare, our food supply, energy supply and even our economy, it is more vital than ever that the gap is bridged between the scientific community and our politicians.