Oh, yeah! Right on! That's what my mind screamed when I opened the mailbox a few days ago and saw the headline on the cover of New Scientist: "Unscientific America -- A dangerous retreat from reason."
It's mostly Republicans who are trying to lead us back to the Dark Ages of irrationality, even though a New Scientist editorial on this subject tries (semi-successfully) to spread the anti-science blame.
Even today, as China and India flex their muscles, the world still looks to the US for leadership.
This is especially true in science. A nation founded on the Enlightenment has melded massive investment in research, an open door to the world's best minds and unparalleled entrepreneurism to become a powerhouse of innovation. Leaf through a typical issue of New Scientist, and you will witness American ingenuity on almost every page.
This is why the tone and content of some recent political debate in the US is so disquieting. 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. Fortunately, there is no reason to panic.
On issues including climate change, evolution and public health, it may seem as if the forces of anti-science are in the ascendancy. If you look through the lens of history or apply a scientific approach, however, logical explanations for these apparently perverse positions emerge (see "Science in America: Decline and fall" and "Science in America: Selling the truth").
What also becomes clear is that no political party has a monopoly on unscientific thinking. While the most alarming statements may be coming from Republican quarters today, don't forget that it was a three-time Democratic presidential candidate who led the attack on evolution at the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial.
Well, when the best example of Democratic unscientific thinking dates from 86 years ago, this shows how modern attacks on science are almost universally from the Republican side of the political spectrum.
It's deeply bizarre, how every G.O.P. presidential candidate other than Jon Huntsman (who has been punished in the polls for his defense of science) is unwilling to embrace the reality of global warming, evolution, and other scientific truths.
The first article in the New Scientist special report on Unscientific America is by Shawn Lawrence Otto.
Download Science in America - Decline and fall
It's depressing reading, especially since we're faced with the near certainty of Republicans nominating an anti-science presidential candidate and, sadly, a decent chance of having this worshipper at the altar of irrationality elected.
The big thing we are working on now is the global warming hoax. It's all voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax." So said Michele Bachmann, a candidate for the Republican nomination for president, in 2008. Bachmann also thinks that the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine can cause mental retardation and that science classes should include creationism. "What I support is putting all science on the table and then letting students decide. I don't think it's a good idea for government to come down on one side of a scientific issue or another, when there is reasonable doubt on both sides."
Bachmann's rival, Texas governor Rick Perry, advocates biblically based abstinence-only sex education. He argues that evolution is "a theory that is out there - and it's got some gaps in it". On climate change, Perry says "the science is not settled... just because you have a group of scientists that have stood up and said here is the fact... Galileo got outvoted for a spell".
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich tells voters that embryonic stem cell research is "killing children in order to have research materials". Rising Republican star Herman Cain claims there is no scientific evidence that homosexuality is anything other than a personal choice.
Republicans diverge from anti-science politics at their peril. When leading candidate Mitt Romney said: "I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer... humans contribute to that", conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh responded with "Bye bye, nomination". Romney back-pedalled, saying, "I don't know if it's mostly caused by humans."
Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman argued that "the minute that the Republican party becomes the anti-science party, we have a huge problem". Huntsman has since been marginalised by Republican pundits.
Otto lays out reasons for the decline and fall of our once unquestioned leadership in science, then says:
These factors have combined to create an assault on science that is unprecedented in American history. Cut loose from objective truth, America's public dialogue has become one of warring opinions and policy paralysis.
In another article about how to "sell the truth," Peter Aldhous cheered me up somewhat by explaining how supporters of science can beat reality-deniers at their own game.
Download Science in America
For example, he says that the most ardent global warming skeptics are Tea Party types. So it makes sense to have people with whom they resonate explain the climatological facts to them.
For these [Tea Party] voters, the cultural filter seems to be the idea that taking action to limit climate change means "big government" intervention in the US economy, anathema to staunch conservatives.
Hammering another nail into the coffin of the deficit [of knowledge] model, Kahan's latest survey of more than 1500 US adults indicates that far from overcoming our cultural biases, education actually strengthens them. Among those with greater numeracy and scientific literacy, opinions on climate change polarised even more strongly.
Kahan's explanation is that we have a strong interest in mirroring the views of our own cultural group. The more educated we become, he argues, the better we get at making the necessary triangulation to adopt the "correct" opinions. On issues like climate change, for most people these cultural calculations trump any attempt to make an objective assessment of the evidence.
...So who might do a better job of carrying the climate message to conservative ears? Perhaps the US military, which is worried about the security implications of climate change, or senior figures within the insurance industry, who are factoring the risk of more frequent severe weather events into their calculations.
Good ideas, but every science-admiring person in the United States has to defend objective truth against those who are attempting to substitute for it their own fantasies, opinions, and self-serving falsehoods.
Subjectivity is a big part of being human. "I like..." and "I believe..." are eminently proper attitudes which everybody is entitled to. But NOT when it comes to objective reality. That belongs to everybody. It is the common ground of humanity. No one is entitled to hijack it for their own ends.
I understand that many people want to believe that fossil fuels can be freely used with no adverse consequences. I realize that Al Gore irritates conservatives who suspect that he is making up global warming myths so a One World government can control everything and everybody. If these private irrationalities remained in individual psyches, I'd say "enjoy your fantasies."
However, reality is too important to waste. Neither the United States, nor the rest of the world, can afford to have political discourse dominated by heads-in-the-sand anti-science zealots who refuse to acknowledge facts.
It's time to fight back. Truth has to be defended. On the back cover of Carl Sagan's book, "The Demon Haunted World," are these words. They're as true now as they were back in 1995, when the book was published.
We've arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces...
I worry that, especially as the Millenium edges nearer, pseudo-science and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive. Where have we heard it before?
Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us -- then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls.
The candle flame gutters. It's little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.