Anti-Science: In Which 'Age of Autism' Boos Me, And A Scientist Responds

This morning I criticized the website Age of Autism by way of a tweet highlighting their site as part of a list of the 10 worst anti-science websites. They subsequently blocked me, and tweeted 'Boo!' back to me.

As a big fan of free speech, peer review, and dissent, it peeved me that a benign public tweet mentioning AoA as part of a list, would result in being blocked. This is, after all, an organization who, in their own 'About Us' section, condemns those who "aren't interested" in other points of view, and who "don't listen."

Their choice of words, "Boo!", while annoying, perfectly distilled the essence of AoA's willful ignorance. It was the twitter equivalent of sticking fingers in ears and exclaiming, "Lalalalalalalalaaa!"

The science writer, biologist, and autism activist Emily Willingham was also peeved. (Full disclosure: I am one of Emily's followers on Twitter (and she is one of mine), and we have several mutual acquaintances. She has been featured in these pages, and I happen to think she kicks ass.)

Emily wrote a post on her blog, The Biology Files, where the AoA 'Boo!' episode served as a jumping-off point for a screed on the anti-science movement and the value of real science.

She writes:
This nadir of discourse is a perfect example of why the anti-science movement in this country is so damaging. The refusal to think critically, to alter conclusions as necessary based on new evidence, to budge from some pre-set notion regardless of information to the contrary--that "BOO!" sums it all up. It says, "We do not care that you think we're anti-science, and we have taken our ball and gone home." It says, "We are incapable of defending our position, as usual." It says, "We are childishly adherent to our cause, no matter its level of failure, no matter evidence to the contrary." That "BOO!" encapsulates well the attitude and argumentative capacity of those who promote anti-science values.

Yes, I said, "Values." Because the anti-science crowd operates together on a fundamental set of values, whether they're evangelizing against evolution, climate change, or vaccines. They place more emphasis on boastful "gotchas" than they do on getting it right. They use half-truths to get buyers for what they sell--and yes, they're usually selling something--and make people forget that the yin to a half-truth's yang is a half-lie. They value the power of emotion and testimony over method and evidence, and they use emotion and testimony cynically and unabashedly. But most of all, they value the opportunity to say "BOO!" to the folk who rely on the long-term, unemotional, data-gathering process we call "science" to form conclusions.
We see denialism everywhere these days. You can't turn on a news channel today without being bombarded with anti-science sentiment: climate change is a hoax, evolution is 'a theory that's out there,' a blastocyst is a person, Gardisil causes mental retardation. The list goes on and on.

Willingham on the damage caused by anti-science:
This clash of values between science and anti-science intersects every sphere of our lives. People turn to the anti-science practitioners and place their health and lives and their children's health and lives in jeopardy. People turn away from the conclusions of science based on available evidence and endanger everything from the food we eat and water we drink to the very balance of the biosphere. People turn away from educating our children in science, preferring the value of ignorance over the value of knowledge. People turn our nation away from being competitive by making a mockery of the value of knowledge and emphasizing instead the anti-science value of embracing half-truths and promoting scientific illiteracy. Were they able to spin in graves, our founding fathers, many of whom were extraordinary critical thinkers, would be spinning like tops to see the people of this nation they founded so proud in their emphatic and willful ignorance.

We live in a world in which, more than ever, critical thinking abilities and a broad and deep knowledge across the spheres of life and the rest of the physical world will be required tools for function and advancement. The anti-science emphasis on and exploitation of values of half-lies, ignorance, and illiteracy can only endanger us and the world around us, sometimes fatally. It's difficult for me to understand the mental processes of a person or a group of people who prefer ignorance and failure over method and evidence. But then again, my values don't involve resorting to playground childishness like "BOO!" as a retort to legitimate criticism.
Read Emily's entire post here. Share it. Tweet it to AoA, if you want. Warning: you will be blacklisted.

1 comment:

  1. tweeting away. wouldn't be surprised if I were blacklisted a loooooooooooooong time ago