The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

Apologies for posting this on Poetics - but these issues affect us all.

- Alan

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 16 Sep 2009 00:27:06 -0400 (EDT)
From: Alan Sondheim <>
To: Cyb <>, Wryting-L <>,
     Cyberculture <>
Subject: New McCarthyism: Fear of Science and the War on Rationality (fwd)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 16 Sep 2009 00:08:27 -0400
From: moderator@PORTSIDE.ORG
Subject: New McCarthyism: Fear of Science and the War on Rationality

New McCarthyism: Fear of Science and the War on

 	Parts of America are slipping back toward the
 	Dark Ages, when fear of knowledge and science
 	led to an impoverishment of civilization.

By Peter Gleick, Pacific Institute - Posted on September 10, 2009

As more and more of the world looks to knowledge,
education and science as the routes out of poverty and
conflict, parts of America seems to be slipping back
toward the Dark Ages, when fear of knowledge and
science led to an impoverishment of civilization that
had lasting effects for centuries.

I've recently returned from two weeks in northern
Europe, and a series of scientific water meetings and
discussions with people from over 130 countries. They
read the news from the United States with incredulity.
America is still seen as the place to come for aspiring
students and scientists around the world. Our public
universities, despite assaults on budgets, independence
and knowledge, still struggle to maintain their
excellence. But my friends and colleagues from overseas
are increasingly shocked, as are many of us in the
U.S., by the expanding efforts of home-grown extremists
to undermine rational discourse, eliminate the use of
fact and science in policymaking, and shut down public
debate over the vital issues of our times through hate,
vitriol, and ad hominem attacks.

Looking through the eyes of my overseas colleagues,
what do we see?

We see a debate over providing health care to every
American that is based -- not on facts or civilized
discourse -- but on screaming mobs shutting down public
discussions and the use of straw man arguments to
promote fear among the public and policymakers. Yet
every major country of Europe provides basic health
care for its population.

We see President Obama appoint one of the nation's best
scientists in the areas of energy, environment, and
national security -- Dr. John Holdren -- to be his
Science Advisor, and then have right-wing mouthpieces
like Glenn Beck spread ad hominem lies about him
because of their fear that facts and actual science may
once again inform presidential action. This should be a
recognizable tactic to us -- lying about a person to
diminish their effectiveness. In fact, these extremists
want to undermine the forward-looking policies that
would prevent the very draconian measures they say they

We see unambiguous evidence that climate change is
already affecting human health and the global economy
-- evidence often collected by world-leading American
scientists and scientific institutions -- while public
opinion polls show that the American people continue to
be misled about the risks facing us by conservative
pundits who ignore, misunderstand, or intentionally
misuse that science to mislead the public into fear of
change. Yet we already see huge economic and
environmental opportunities in adapting to the reality
of climate change.

Fear is an effective tool -- as hate groups and
extremists know. It is no accident that repressive
regimes of all kinds -- fascists, the Nazis, Stalin,
religious states, madrasses -- use tools of hatred,
anti-intellectualism, and fear to control knowledge,
universities, and intellectuals. Fear grows best when
sown in fields of ignorance, while science,
rationality, and education are the greatest weapons
modern societies have against irrational fear. No
wonder Beck and his ilk have intellectuals in their
sights; so do the leaders of Iran, and Burma, and the
Taliban, and North Korea, for similar reasons.

What does this have to do with water -- the ostensible
focus of my blog? Nothing and everything. I try to
focus on numbers here and what they mean for
international and local water issues. Yet water policy,
or any policy, must also be based on rationality,
facts, and civil discourse. Similarly, solving any bad
water contamination problem requires one of two
approaches: don't let the contamination into our water
supply in the first place, or apply the right filters
to clean it up when it does. The same rule applies to
those who would pollute our public discourse with hate
and noise: don't let their vitriol into our media
supply or filter it out before it can poison our

[Dr. Peter Gleick is president of the Pacific
Institute, an internationally recognized water expert
and a MacArthur Fellow.]

c 2009 Pacific Institute All rights reserved.

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