Alternative Facts: The Undoing of Science in America

Professor Betsy Sherman

Tues. and Fri. 10:00 am-11:50



There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge. (Isaac Asimov, 1980).

Does the recent U.S. election suggest that the problem Asimov identified over 30 years ago is more of concern than ever? In 1980, Asimov was writing about the energized movement of the time in support of “creation science,” a fallacious argument against evolution. Little has changed in the intervening years in terms of the acceptance of evolution by Americans. Depending on what poll one reads, approximately 50% of Americans do not accept that humans evolved from extinct primates, roughly the same proportion that does not accept human-induced climate change. Are people’s political affiliations predictors of their views on evolution, vaccines, GMOs, climate change, gay conversion therapy, astrology, homeopathy? We will examine what science is and is not and discuss the central importance of peer review. We must all make decisions based on imperfect knowledge and perhaps no one understands that better than scientists. Central to this course will be an examination of the impact of American anti-intellectualism on our ability to govern ourselves democratically and on our capacity to use science to lessen human suffering.