For the GOP, Ignorance Is Bliss

Whether you esteem or detest uber-liberal economist Paul Krugman, his recent OpEd column in the New York Times, The Ignorance Caucus, is worth reading. ( It lays bare particular characteristics of the Republican Party that makes them unfit to govern in this era when technology and science are the keys to the nation’s economic future. Basically, Republicans don’t like science and don’t like data, particularly when the information derived may lead to conclusions that contradict their commonly held truths. (For example: the sun revolves around the earth and the universe is only 6000 years old.)

An actual example is the Republicans trying to block “comparative effectiveness research” by Medicare or other government agencies. Given that health care expenditures consume an ever increasing proportion of our GDP and that Medicare spending is a major driver of our national debt, it would seem to be a no-brainer that members of both parties would want to find out which treatments for various diseases work best and are cost effective. Eliminating medications, procedures, other therapies, and tests that are of no benefit to patients could save Medicare huge sums and help reduce the debt. The GOP wants treatment decisions left in physicians and patients’ hands, which is fine. But why not give them as much information as possible to help them make the right decisions. Of course, this might reduce profits at pharmaceutical and medical instrument companies, and decrease the incomes of some physicians and hospitals, stakeholders in the health care industry that are major Republican supporters.

Climate change is another area where Republicans refuse to believe the overwhelming majority of scientists who insist that global warming is a real phenomenon to which human activity, articularly the use of fossil fuels, contributes significantly. In addition to disregarding the evidence already accumulated that bolsters this concept, Republicans do not want to fund any additional climate research which they fear will lend further reinforcement to man’s role in global warming. It is probably just coincidental that the fossil fuel industries are major financial contributors to the coffers of the Republican Party.

Republicans also want to end government funding of social science research and do not want the Centers for Disease Control to do research on gun violence. Data on the epidemiology of gun violence might provide statistics showing that the type of weapons sold or the availability of high capacity gun magazines do play a role in gun violence and deaths. We don’t know if this is true or not, but the GOP does not want to find out, because the conclusions of studies on the subject could offend the NRA, who also coincidentally happen to be main allies of the Republican Party.

These are just a few examples of Republican hostility towards science and scientific data. In addition, they refuse to believe that the economy can thrive with higher taxes even though past data shows this to be true. As an illustration of the kind of non-data driven science some Republicans accept, the comments of candidate Todd Akin in the Missouri Senate race stand out, when he said that legitimate rape rarely results in a woman becoming pregnant.

Krugman’s article mentions that the Texas GOP last year denounced the teaching of “critical thinking skills” because these “have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.” Sounds like some Republicans and Islamic fundamentalists have a lot in common in their opposition to modern science and critical thinking, supporting “fixed beliefs” even if they have no scientific foundation. Maybe the sun does revolve around the earth after all.

Resurrecting Democracy

A Vietnam vet and a Columbia history major who became a medical doctor, Bob Levine has watched the evolution of American politics over the past 40 years with increasing alarm. He knows he’s not alone. Partisan grid-lock, massive cash contributions and even more massive expenditures on lobbyists have undermined real democracy, and there is more than just a whiff of corruption emanating from Washington. If the nation is to overcome lockstep partisanship, restore growth to the economy and bring its debt under control, Levine argues that it will require a strong centrist third party to bring about the necessary reforms. Levine’s previous book, Shock Therapy For the American Health Care System took a realist approach to health care from a physician’s informed point of view; Resurrecting Democracy takes a similar pragmatic approach, putting aside ideology and taking a hard look at facts on the ground. In his latest book, Levine shines a light that cuts through the miasma of party propaganda and reactionary thinking, and reveals a new path for American politics. This post is cross posted from his blog.

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Author: ROBERT A. LEVINE, TMV Guest Voice Columnist

Political junkie, Vietnam vet, neurologist- two books on aging and dementia. Last book on health care reform- Shock Therapy for the American Health Care System. New book on the need for a centrist third party- Resurrecting Democracy- A Citizen's Call for a Centrist Third Party- will be available early October 2011