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What Democrats Mean When They Talk About Science

Hint: It often has nothing to do with science.
March 13, 2019
What Democrats Mean When They Talk About Science
U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

In the early 1900s, Dr. Arthur Reynolds served as a sort of Dr. Oz for American newspaper readers. Reynolds, the former health commissioner of Chicago, would write articles in American Magazine sharing the latest scientific breakthroughs with his readers. Papers across the country would run excerpts of his groundbreaking work, instructing millions on ways to change their lives for the better.

In July 1916, Reynolds released the results of a scientific study that showed men go bald because they wear hats. Hats caused baldness “by compressing the arteries, the veins, the lymphatics, and to some extent the nerves that supply and nourish the hair,” Reynolds wrote. He acknowledged that women also wore hats, but women’s hats “do not grip the head as men’s hats do.”

Reynolds had also argued  that the key to having good skin complexion was to defecate the same weight of food from your body per day as you take in, and he once warned parents that children should go barefoot at all times during the summer and while indoors, as shoes “distort” children’s feet and toes. At one point, Reynolds suggested drinking cocktails made one much more likely to contract pneumonia.

Needless to say, the science of 1916 was far different than the science of 2019. Yet because of such drastic changes over time, one might expect those citing modern science to use a little humility. But those people are not running for the Democratic presidential nomination.

In announcing her run for president, Kamala Harris said she had to act “on science fact, not science fiction.” At her announcement, Amy Klobuchar insisted the facts were on her side because the people “believe in science.”

And then there’s Elizabeth Warren, who frequently swears blanket obeisance to science. Interesting, then, that science has proved her a fraud; DNA testing has demonstrated that Warren has almost no Native American genes, though she once touted her Indian heritage. It is clear she has descended from a rare group known as homo preposterus, human beings who take pleasure in stepping on rakes.

Of course, all these candidates are speaking about “science” simply as a lever to implement their preferred policies on climate control and to cast conservatives as retrograde mouth-breathers. It’s not enough to believe the the earth is warming; those who are skeptical that the answer is to drink out of soggy paper straws are cast aside as heretics.

Because for progressives, at least in the case of climate change, the science is static. Never mind that such a belief demonstrates a hubris that doesn’t recognize either the past or the future. Simply genuflecting to “science” assumes we’ll always know exactly what we know now.

In fact, for those involved in politics, science has almost always been the slave of ideology. During Prohibition, “drys” frequently cited scientific studies that purported to show alcoholism could damage an individual’s DNA (or “germ plasm”), and damage his offspring through heredity. One poster by the National Education Association, which favored alcohol prohibition, argued:

Laboratory experiments have taught us that even small doses of alcohol attack the most highly developed cells of the body—the brain, the nerves, the racial cells of procreation. These creative cells in alcoholic parents—if not completely destroyed—are degenerated and the child suffers the fatal consequences even before birth. The children of drinking parents show a strong tendency toward weakened mentality—there are more idiots and inferior individuals among them. It is even probable that the germ plasm itself —that vital spark which continues on thru countless centuries—is so affected by alcohol that the children for generations to come suffer from the sins of the fathers.

“Wets” argued this was nonsense. “If alcohol did cause feeble-mindedness,” wrote Dr. Henry H. Goddard, “the number of the feeble-minded would be enormously greater than it now is.” One Wisconsin congressman said he believed drinking cultures had been proven superior, crudely boasting of a “handful of beer and ale drinking Englishmen holding in subjection 300,000,000 Hindu teetotalers.”

Yet the Prohibition enthusiasts—the great majority of whom were progressives who believed alcohol harmed the working class—used “science” simply as a means to achieve their broader goal, expanded government control over Americans’ lives. None of this science was actually valid; it simply fit their purpose like a baldness-inducing fedora.

And control over our lives is simply what modern progressives are after. The Green New Deal has almost nothing to do with science and nearly everything to do with dictating how regular Americans travel, live, eat, and interact with one another. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who believes science has told her the world is going to end in a dozen years, has actually raised the specter of population control, an idea taken whole cloth from the racist progressive eugenicists of the early 20th century.

Obviously, a great deal of science is real and produces demonstrable results. Just last week, scientists announced an HIV patient had been cured of the disease. Scientists are making significant progress in understanding how we age, and fighting cancer. Astronomers are finding new planets all the time, and even some that aren’t so different from earth.

But “science” writ large is always changing, always churning. As Thomas Kuhn wrote in his classic 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, what we know now will not always be the case. As we collect more information, paradigms shift and more creative theories come to light. “Science” is a process, not an immovable object—otherwise, every child in America would have mangled feet.

Around two years ago, I took a DNA test from a major testing service. When I received the results back, the report said I was twice as English (30 percent) as I was German (15 percent). Last week, I checked the results again, and those numbers have now switched to 25 percent and 26 percent, respectively. Every day I am getting more German—in two years, I might just be a giant bowl of sauerkraut.

Clearly, science is always changing. The question is whether as a society, we want to implement potentially damaging policies that could outlive the way we look at the world. Someday, obsessing over the warming climate might seem like tweeting from an abacus.

Christian Schneider

Christian Schneider is a member of the USA Today board of contributors and author of 1916: The Blog. Twitter: @Schneider_CM.