5 demented conservative attempts to hijack and discredit science

On everything from Neil deGrasse Tyson to climate change, these conservatives seriously need to get a grip

Published June 9, 2014 1:01PM (EDT)

Neil deGrasse Tyson                                          (AP/Frank Micelotta)
Neil deGrasse Tyson (AP/Frank Micelotta)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNetWhat happens when you’re part of a religious and political movement whose ideology is contradicted by well-established science? You’ve gotta get creative. Here are the five most ridiculous explanations religious conservatives have conjured up to outflank science, from gay armies to magic birds to the existence of the Loch Ness Monster.

1. Climate Change Isn’t Happening, but if It Is That’s Fine Because It Means Jesus Is Coming

Who’s not worried about climate change? Pastor and conservative radio host Matthew Hagee, who thinks the extreme weather and melting polar caps are not signs of man’s deleterious effect on the environment but rather augurs of Jesus’ impending return.

"The Bible says that whenever we approach the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ,that there would be strange weather patterns, “Hagee said. “Do we believe what an environmentalist group says and choose to live in a world where we're attempting to make everything as clean in the air as possible, or do we believe what the Bible says, that these things were going to happen and that rather than try to clean up all of the air and solve all of the problems of the world by eliminating factories, we should start to tell people about Jesus Christ who is to return?”

Hagee isn’t the only who turns to the Bible when the sea levels rise. At a hearing in 2009, Illinois Representative John Shimkus quoted passages from Genesis promising god would “never again” flood the earth following that whole Noah misadventure (the flood, not the movie). “Man will not destroy this earth, this earth will not be destroyed by a flood,” Shimkus said. “I believe the word of god to be infallible.” That solves that.

Of course, these guys are just a congressman and a radio host. But to see how high up the GOP their beliefs have climbed, look no further than 2016 contender Marco Rubio. Every time Rubio feels the need to shore up his base, he hits the climate change button: just a couple weeks ago he told ABC News’ Jon Karl that he didn’t believe climate change was manmade, dismissing the “notions” of scientists who had proven otherwise.

2. Creationism, Dinosaurs, and the Loch Ness Monster

Rubio had previously disputed to GQ the age of the earth (he quickly backtracked and admitted the earth’s age had been established at 4.5 billion), a necessary two-step given his creationist base. But creationism runs into a problem, most succinctly voiced by Bill Hicks’ one word rebuttal: dinosaurs.

Kentucky’s Creationist Museum presents the tableau of human-dinosaur simultaneity thusly: “Adam and Eve live in the Garden of Eden. Children play and dinosaurs roam near Eden’s Rivers.” Quite the interspecies paleo-harmony!

(That’s hardly where the Creationist Museum ends with the creative science, which ranges from how god de-poisons frogs once in the museum to how Adam and Eve’s children could procreate without incestuous consequences to their DNA.)

But that’s not the oddest dinosaur dodge. For that, you’ll have to go to Louisiana, where privately-run Christian schools were so eager to disprove evolution and indoctrinate schoolchildren to the idea that humans and dinosaurs shared the earth that they tried to teach the Loch Ness Monsteras a real, extant dinosaur. “Are dinosaurs alive today?” the proposed textbooks asked. “Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence…Have you heard of the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland? ‘Nessie’ for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.”

The textbooks were struck down by the courts as unconstitutional. In this case, that may have just been the polite way of saying “you’re out of your mind.”

3. Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s new show Cosmos is driving the right bonkers. Episodes ranging from evolution to the Big Bang to climate change to birds are drawing hackles from the right, as he weekly drops time-tested scientific theories like anvils on creationist fables.

What can they do about it? Every week creationists attempt to counter Tyson’s science only wind up showcasing the weakness of their own theories. Take Answers in Genesis’ Ken Ham’s attempt to rebut the episode about life beginning without god, a response that took a whole month to formulate: “Abiogenesis has never been observed in experimental biology and  violates the most fundamental law in biology, the law of  biogenesis,” he said with his own emphasis. “Nevertheless, the authors of the review are confident there was a naturalistic chemical origin for life.”

As Alternet’s Dan Arel points out, Ham couldn’t have picked a more self-refuting argument if he’d tried, which he probably did. “To claim abiogenesis has not been observed (an honest statement), and then to say this proves their creation story is something that would raise the eyebrows of a first-grader,” he wrote.

That’s only the start. Just a few weeks later, creationists were outraged over Tyson’s episode on electricity. How could electricity be so objectionable? Tyson explained how birds navigate the globe by using electromagnetic waves, which their brains were evolutionarily developed to sense. Creationists caviled that Tyson had “assumed” the evolutionary developments, then offered their own pseudo-explanation: “God did indeed equip birds and many other animals with a seemingly uncanny ability to navigate.” No assumptions there.

Of course, this is all a mask for the creationists’ real goal for Tyson’s Cosmosthey want in. Tyson’s show is popular, acclaimed, and already beloved; creationists know what they’re missing when their nonsense theories aren’t included, and carping from the sidelines is their way of skimming a bit of Tyson’s glow.

4. AIDS Has Been Weaponized to Doom Heterosexual Culture 

HIV/AIDS seems particularly lodged in the darker regions of the conservative movement. But modern conservatives have had trouble maintaining the idea that the disease was a moral verdict upon homosexual decadence after the eradication in the public’s mind of the myth of AIDS as “the gay disease.”

Thus a theory gradually mutated among fringe conservatives that AIDS had become “weaponized” as a way for gays to infect and dominate heterosexual culture.

The idea has been bandied about since the early eighties, but refuses to go entirely away. Its staying power is best evidenced by new Wyoming lawmaker Troy Mader, who recently stood by a book he published at the advent of the AIDS epidemic in which he claimed that gays were intentionally infecting straight people with the HIV virus, while secretly-gay members of Congress worked in the dead of night to pass pro-gay legislation. Mader quoted from an even more radical text that called the alleged gay efforts a mass “national suicide” deliberately perpetrated upon the United States.

Pat Robertson saw proof of this cabal scurrying about the Bay Area. “You know what they do in San Francisco, some in the gay community there they want to get people so if they got [AIDS] they’ll have a ring, you shake hands, and the ring’s got a little thing where you cut your finger,” he said on his television show, not in the mid-eighties, but last summer. “Really. It’s that kind of vicious stuff, which would be the equivalent of murder.”

5. Gay Parents Are Worse Than Straight Parents (If You Lie)

Every once in a while conservatives get tired of coming off as wacky or bizarre in their responses to science, and try to affect serious scientific findings. How do they do it? Largely by making them up.

Such was the case with a study supposedly concluding that same-sex parents were worse for children than straight parents. Previous scholarship had found little difference between the two households, especially when controlling for factors like socioeconomic status. That was no good to the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, which gave a University of Texas-Austin professor over $750,000 to conduct further research on the subject.

Lo and behold, Professor Mark Regnerus found the evidence Heritage was looking for. In fact, he did such a good job that the study was submitted for publication, and accepted a few weeks later, before researchers had even finished collecting the data, thanks to one of the study’s leaders sitting on the board of the journal. Why the hurry? They wanted it done in time to be submitted before the Supreme Court heard cases regarding the constitutionality of same-sex marriage prohibitions.

Needless to say, the peer review was rushed, and an internal audit of the process has dismissed the results. Even Regnerus himself has admitted that the study was far from a collection of data and analysis of same-sex couples versus heterosexual couples, as he failed to control for the stability of the couples, thus giving him the results he’d sought.

Of course, this study has been cited time and again by conservative groups. That is, after all, why they paid for it.

By Evan McMurry

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