In un articolo comparso sul Financial Times del 25 novembre 2011, Gillian Tett si preoccupa perché molti politici americani si dichiarano apertamentamente contrari o indifferenti alla scienza. E da noi? E che conseguenze può avere sul dibattito e sulle scelte di policy?
“We have presidential candidates who don’t believe in science!” [Michael Bllomberg, sindaco di New York] lamented, referring to the current field of people jostling to become Republican candidate for the 2012 elections. “I mean, just think about it, can you imagine a company of any size in the world where the CEO said, ‘oh I don’t believe in science’ and that person surviving to the end of that day? Are you kidding me? It’s mind-boggling!”
It is a comment that many observers might echo, particularly among the ranks of American scientists. For while Bloomberg did not specify whom he considers to be “mind-boggling”, the list of targets is long. Thus far, just three of the eight potential Republican candidates have positively declared that they believe in the scientific basis for evolution. The rest have either hedged, or – like Rick Perry – claimed that evolution is just “a theory that is out there… [but] it’s got some gaps in it”. Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann, another contender, has actively called for creationism to be taught too, since she has similar doubts about the evolutionary science.Newt Gingrich has cast doubt on the virtues of stem cell research, Herman Cain has questioned whether there is any scientific evidence behind homosexuality, and most of the candidates have queried climate change. Indeed, whenever any candidate has defended evidence-based science, they have suffered a backlash: witness the travails of Mitt Romney.
In some senses, this is not surprising. A recent survey by the National Science Foundation found that 45 per cent of Americans support evolution (barely more than those who actively reject it). There is similar scepticism about climate change.
The views that Bloomberg considers “mind-boggling” are not outliers, or not outside the coastal areas such as New York, where he resides.
But common or not, the spread of this sentiment is leaving many American scientists alarmed. Last month, New Scientist magazine warned in an editorial that science is now under unprecedented intellectual attack in America. “When candidates for the highest office in the land appear to spurn reason, embrace anecdote over scientific evidence, and even portray scientists as the perpetrators of a massive hoax, there is reason to worry,” it thundered. Some 40,000 scientists have now joined a lobby group called Science Debate, which was founded four years ago with the aim of getting more scientific voices into the political arena. “There is an entire generation of students today who have been taught that there is no objective truth – who think that science is just another opinion,” says Shawn Lawrence Otto, co-founder of Science Debate, who told me that the “situation today is much worse than in 2008”.