Why don’t Science and Reason prevail over Superstitions and Ideological Wishful Thinking?

Paul Krugman asks one more time why over 80 years of economic study, data, and theory have been thrown to the wind for failed ideological hypotheses. He asks why conventional wisdom denies everything that thousands of economists have studied, researched, and debated that now has become accepted theory?  Our current experience shows that what we’ve learned over the years is correct. Why are failed hypotheses based on ideological wishful thinking running policy these days?  I ask this about my own discipline, but we could just as well ask about why we have to fight to keep iron age myths out of biology classes and fight to keep basic scientific theory like evolution and climate science in?  Why do people keep relying on disproved hypotheses, conspiracy theories, and absolutely outdated religious stories?

Here’s the narrative that applies to my discipline from Krugman.

Unfortunately, in late 2010 and early 2011, politicians and policy makers in much of the Western world believed that they knew better, that we should focus on deficits, not jobs, even though our economies had barely begun to recover from the slump that followed the financial crisis. And by acting on that anti-Keynesian belief, they ended up proving Keynes right all over again.

In declaring Keynesian economics vindicated I am, of course, at odds with conventional wisdom. In Washington, in particular, the failure of the Obama stimulus package to produce an employment boom is generally seen as having proved that government spending can’t create jobs. But those of us who did the math realized, right from the beginning, that the Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (more than a third of which, by the way, took the relatively ineffective form of tax cuts) was much too small given the depth of the slump. And we also predicted the resulting political backlash.

So the real test of Keynesian economics hasn’t come from the half-hearted efforts of the U.S. federal government to boost the economy, which were largely offset by cuts at the state and local levels. It has, instead, come from European nations like Greece and Ireland that had to impose savage fiscal austerity as a condition for receiving emergency loans — and have suffered Depression-level economic slumps, with real G.D.P. in both countries down by double digits.

The stupidity is killing our economy.  The stupidity is also forcing medical research back to the dark ages too.  Taliban-like forces in the US have made up research that says that fetuses with no developed central nervous systems ‘feel pain’.  They have invented bogus ‘partial birth abortion’ procedures out of thin air.  They’ve even based laws on these falsehoods.  We have crazies defining zygotes as fully functional human beings with some narrative that a fertilized egg is just some little microscopic person encased in a membrane.

We have tons of Taliban-like idiots trying to convince every one that the data on global warming is just some made up agenda.  Yet, tons of biologists have studied and published research articles on the radical changes in habitat and migration patterns.  Meteorologists have reams of data showing the extremes in weather and temperatures that have shifted significantly in statistical terms.  It is so pervasive and significant  that no scientist that’s not associated with some whacky religion denies global warming. Geologists have documented the changes in water levels and ice formations.  Yet, I can still read some one that notes one cold day in summer and on the basis of that anecdote declares global warming to be a hoax.  They obviously don’t understand that extreme cold in one area of the globe means extreme heat someplace else. However, some one without one college science course can get on TV and proclaim an entire discipline to be deluded.

One possible  answer to my question is there is an evil partnership of corporations and the rich who profit from ignorance and those who follow strict religious ideology who thrive on ignorance period.  These folks have overwhelming political power and access to media.  The media these days refuses to call out lies and fact check  blowhards.  They bring on a politician or a media pundit but NEVER an actual scientist with years of learning and research in the area.  The media even goes along by repeating the change in word meanings that have plagued us recently.  Radical ideas are being put forth as “conservative”.  Conspiracy theories are being held up as just another point of view.  Ever since media has been driven by profits, we have media more interested in ratings and not getting boycotted than actually putting out some useful information.  It is no wonder that we are seeing a systematic destruction of public schools and universities.  The only way this march of ignorance can continue is with a systematic destruction of institutions that actually teach science to people.  There has never been a time when this quote by Jonathan Swift is more relevant since the Dark Ages which were brought on by the same group of religious nuts that tanked scientific thought hundreds of years ago.

“When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”

The same thing can be said about true and genius theories.  The confederacy of dunces will thump their books full of myths and conspiracies and deny people access to science, reason, and truth.

Here’s a pretty good list of how insane the Republican Party has become in terms of irrational, unscientific, and unreasonable positions per the UK’s The Economist.  Notice the use of the term “fatwahs” which implies they’re waging a religious war. Also please remember that this magazine is not exactly a bastion of socialist thought.

Nowadays, a candidate must believe not just some but all of the following things: that abortion should be illegal in all cases; that gay marriage must be banned even in states that want it; that the 12m illegal immigrants, even those who have lived in America for decades, must all be sent home; that the 46m people who lack health insurance have only themselves to blame; that global warming is a conspiracy; that any form of gun control is unconstitutional; that any form of tax increase must be vetoed, even if the increase is only the cancelling of an expensive and market-distorting perk; that Israel can do no wrong and the “so-called Palestinians”, to use Mr Gingrich’s term, can do no right; that the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education and others whose names you do not have to remember should be abolished.

These fatwas explain the rum list of candidates: you either have to be an unelectable extremist who genuinely believes all this, or a dissembler prepared to tie yourself in ever more elaborate knots (the flexible Mr Romney). Several promisingly pragmatic governors, including Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush, never even sought the nomination. Jon Huntsman, the closest thing to a moderate in the race (who supports gay marriage and action to combat climate change), is polling in low single figures.

More depressingly, the fatwas have stifled ideas, making the Republican Party the enemy of creative positions it once pioneered. The idea of requiring every American to carry health insurance (thus broadening the insurance pool and reducing costs) originated in the conservative Heritage Foundation as a response to Clinton-care, and was put into practice by then-Governor Romney in Massachusetts. All this Mr Romney has had to disavow, just as Mr Gingrich has had to recant his ideas on climate change, while Rick Perry is still explaining his appalling laxity as governor of Texas in allowing the children of illegal immigrants to receive subsidised college education.

WTF is wrong with our country?  Our religious freedom was enshrined in the first amendment.  Our scientific advances led to men on the moon, the elimination of some of the world’s worst plagues, and the lap top computer.  Our melting pot of people fleeing class systems and oppression all over the place evolved into a great democracy that provided public education for all and opportunity for any one that wanted it.  Why has it  come down to this?