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August 27, 2005

ID: Where Domino Theory Works

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

A while ago, Matt Yglesias stepped back from his shamefully accommodationist position on Intelligent Design.  I was originally confused by his stated reason for doing so -- "At any rate, if ExxonMobil, the American Beverage Association, and their ilk think it's worth lending financial support to this sort of nonsense, I can start to see why pushing back may be important."  Why does it matter who's supporting the nonsense anyway?  If fighting ID is a bad political strategy, it's a bad political strategy regardless of who's paying TechCentralStation to publish pro-ID nonsense. 

Now I think that Matt's list of TechCentralStation corporate contributors does, in fact, lead us to a good reason to fight back against the enemies of evolution.  It's essential to demonstrate that the Reality-Based Community has the power to defend public education from right-wing manipulation.  If the ID movement is able to show other conservative interest groups that confusing dull-witted school boards with phony research is a successful path to getting their agenda taught in schools, a bunch of other bad folks will follow their example.  If a biology textbook includes a little between-the-chapters essay on the dangers of global warming, expect ExxonMobil to fund a front group saying that no such thing is happening.  It's probably a bit of a reach for the alcohol and tobacco industries to block health textbooks that make reference to the dangers of their products, but I wouldn't be surprised to see them try.  Probably a bigger danger in health textbooks is a load of anti-gay propaganda.  Southern school boards will be pressured to purchase history texts saying that slavery wasn't really all that bad.  And defenders of genuinely useful sex education will face an even more powerful attack than they do now. 

In his excellent attack on domino theory in foreign policy, Robert Farley points out that "Domino theory depends on the notion that commitments are interdependent. If we fail to demonstrate resolve in one area, our enemies will attack us in other areas."  I think that's the case with Intelligent Design, though the issue is not one of resolve but of power.  If people on the right see that the defenders of well-established science and historical scholarship are politically too weak to block special-interest groups from controlling curricula, they'll see an ID-style attack as a fruitful strategy, and public education will face attacks from all sorts of crazy people.  But if the ID people go home hungry and their strategy is proven fruitless, we show our enemies that established scientific opinion is not to be trifled with. 

August 27, 2005 in Science | Permalink

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Comments

"bad political strategy regardless of who's paying TechCentralStation to publish pro-ID nonsense."

I would say there were different implications in TCS articles being paid by Joe's Bar & Grill or Exxon Mobil.
The possible larger agenda was the message I got from MY's sentence. Another possible point was that a certain isolated level of bad or mistaken belief can be tolerable, but if the likes of Exxon Mobil are supporting ID, that bad belief might become dangerously widespread.

"I think that's the case with Intelligent Design, though the issue is not one of resolve but of power."

A national showdown or confrontation about power, about local vs national control of school curriculums is a fight (even if non-institutional, but of competing interest groups) I think Matthew might have thought politically dangerous. Go for it.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 27, 2005 9:31:19 PM

Amen. There is no way I let those neanderthals decide what my kids will learn in biology class.

Posted by: Judy | Aug 27, 2005 9:38:37 PM

"Amen. There is no way I let those neanderthals decide what my kids will learn in biology class."

So go to your school board meetings, school events, vote for sane people.

But I think having the Democratic Party as a participant or associate in the fight of good science vs bad, or reason vs ignorance, or local independence vs agnostic national thought control of little kids, or however it might be described, might be counter-productive.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 27, 2005 10:21:21 PM

While it is true that we have government schools, we try to keep them independent by having them funded and controlled locally. Who in their right mind would want a nationally controlled school system (can you say 'indoctrination'?)
That is the beauty of federalism, even at the local level. Everyone gets what they want.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Aug 28, 2005 3:01:49 PM

My personal domino theory is that if Duane Allman didn't die, and remained in Derek and the Dominoes, we would have been spared the general artistic stagnation of Eric Clapton in the 1970s and afterward.

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Posted by: card | Nov 11, 2006 6:46:06 AM

Hearing the Exxon funds pro ID groups is really frustrating. It makes sense of course, if Exxon can influence people so they don't believe in science, then there is no way to make people understand that global warming is happening because of the evidence is scientific.

Great strategy for Exxon, but major problem for the rest of us!

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