When looking to find the article yesterday that I had written for the Huffington Post, I came across yet another piece that struck a chord with our times today. It doesn’t go back as far as yesterday’s, but was nonetheless written long enough ago while Barack Obama was still president and the Republican Party had only gone partially insane before it began to reject reality.
The subject at hand at that time was Climate Change, and how Republicans were rejecting the science. And not only rejecting science, but doing so because it was incompatible with religion. Now, why in the world that should be a concern to a political party is the question of note – and fits in perfectly with yesterday’s article on how the GOP path to become a religious cult today was set in motion years ago and not something created by Trump.
But what leaped out even more in the old article – most especially today with the GOP near-total rejection of science even in the face of a worldwide pandemic, when you’d think rational people would embrace it all the more with gratitude -- was a larger point that has been totally lost by today’s Republican Party.
So, here then is that article written on September 29, 2015.
Science and Religion – Together Again!
Not long ago, I was reading a book, What Hath God Wrought, an epic, 850-page history about the transformation of the United States from 1815-1848. It won the Pulitzer Prize for history in 2007, and is part of the acclaimed Oxford History of the United States series.
I mention this because the other day, I came across a passage that leaped out in the midst of Pope Francis’s visit to the United States and his addressing Climate Change. This was followed by a range of conservative voices outraged that the Pope would delve into matters of science, most notably GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush who said that the Pontiff’s words on Climate Change should be disregarded because “He’s not a scientist, he’s a religious leader.”
(Never mind that the Pope actually is a scientist, with a degree as a chemical technician. And never mind, too, that the Pope is also a head of state, as leader of the Vatican, which is a city/state, and has a council of scientists advising him.)
More to the point at hand is the division we’ve seen in the conservative perspective of distrusting, often even dismissing science as being almost an agent of the devil (I don’t exaggerate, more on that in a moment), instead of trusting the Bible when it comes to matters like Climate Change or evolution or women’s health. Which brings us back to the book at hand, What Hath God Wrought. Discussing Samuel Morse’s invention of the telegraph (whose first message was the words out of the Bible that serve as the book’s title), the author Daniel Walker Howe writes:
“Morse’s synthesis of science and religion represented the predominant American attitude of the time; only a few eccentrics believed there was any conflict between scientific and religious truth.”
So much for the whole concept of how life progresses and that we learn from the past. I guess not for everyone. This is the natural, expected result of what happens when you deny education, deny science, and retrench your foundation of knowledge, scholarship and reality purely on a system of faith. You regress, as the rest of the reality-based world passes you by. Accepted thought becomes what was once the domain of “eccentrics.”
On the other hand, when your education is based solely on what you believe, it makes passing tests in school so much easier. Unless your teacher believes in grading on a curve.
“Revelation and reason alike, Americans were confident,” Howe continues, “led to knowledge of God and His creation.”
Go figure. Back in the 19th century, in the midst of the greatest period of religious revivalism in U.S. history, Americans believed that education actually increased one’s understanding of the Bible. Not just did religious leaders accept science, but “Evangelists welcomed technological advances along with mass education,” he writes, because science helped them “spread the good news of Christ.”
Compare this to the religious Far Right of today who view the work of scientists as evil. Who want to push science out of the classroom, or at the very least obfuscate it with things like Creationism.
Compare this to when Scott Brown tried to pander to the religious Far Right and snarkily demeaned his then-Senate opponent Elizabeth Warren by continually referring to her as “Professor.”
Compare it to the pronouncements of people like Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) who actually serves on the Science Committee of the House of Representatives, saying – not that “Religious awakening, expansion of education, interest in science and technological progress all went hand in hand,” as Howe describes national and religious thought in the mid-19th century, but rather – “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell.”
Life changes. Opinions change. Values change. But life is supposed to move forward. Otherwise we’d all be living life in reverse like Benjamin Button or Merlin. Starting with all our knowledge, and then forgetting it day-by-day, getting more stupid by the hour. Which is a theory that does appear to work for some people. But fortunately, not for Mankind.
What’s interesting is that long ago, the very opposite reality reigned. Back in 1615, the scientist Galileo was the eccentric, found guilty of heresy by the church’s Roman Inquisition for daring to suggest that the Earth revolved around the Sun, rather than the other way around. He was found guilty. Belief ruled the day. Two hundred years later, the reality of science was accepted, and it was only the “few eccentrics” who didn’t understand that science and religion were seeking the same thing – the truth.
Unfortunately, when some people intentionally pander to the worst instincts of others in order to stir up fear in a base to score political points, the result tends to be falling backwards towards ignorance – which is the very opposite of that whole “mass education” concept. But then, that’s what happens when one looks to politicians for religious and spiritual guidance.
You know, here’s one way I look at it – if God had intended Man to ignore the discoveries, teachings and advances of science, He would never have created scientists.
I probably should have titled this "Incredibly Well-Worth Reading," but since we have our regular title for such things, we'll stick with tradition. But first, a little housekeeping to know where all this comes from --
Delthia Ricks is an award-winning science writer who was the health and science writer for Newsday for 22 years. She’s written four books in the field, was a Summer Fellow in molecular biology computer research at the Farber Cancer Institute, and is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Among many other accomplishments.
Laurie Garrett is one of the leading reporters on medical science. To give just some of her credentials, she has received the Pulitzer Prize, two Polk Awards and the Peabody Award. (Yeah, I know, not bad.) Among her books are The Coming Plague, Ebola, and Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Public Health, as well as Epidemic! The World of Infectious Disease. So, she not only really knows her stuff, but as you can see, she doesn’t sugar coat anything, but is very blunt and extremely pointed. She was a frequent guest on The Rachel Maddow Show in the very early days of the COVID-19 outbreak and spoke warningly of what was ahead.
I mention both their credentials, because it was notable a couple days ago when I saw tweets from them (especially the always deeply-blunt Laurie Garrett) that were actually about something encouraging in the pandemic. I didn’t want to make note of this as just Something I Saw on the Internet. Rather, this is something I saw from Laurie Garrett and Delthia Ricks.
It began with a tweet from Ricks about an article from the National Institute of Health on research into COVID antibodies. She wrote --
“The map: Researchers have mapped where various antibodies bind to SARSCoV2's spike protein. Results could help in the design of new antibody therapies for Covid. Map includes 370 antibodies that target the spike protein.”
This brought a response from Laurie Garrett, never one to be upbeat encouraging unless it is absolutely warranted. Her reply was –
“There are many targets on #SARSCoV2 for antibodies -- some more effectively neutralize the virus than others. Future, better #vaccines and treatments should hit multiple targets, perhaps stopping variants from emerging.”
The point of all this is that research is beginning to show some very positive advances in COVID vaccines. The COVID virus has many protein spikes, each which are “targets” for antibodies. And it seems that some antibodies are able to neutralize these spikes especially well which, if successful, could mean the ability to block variant mutations of the coronavirus from forming.
That’s my very simplistic layman’s sort-hand explanation. For those interested in the NIH article which will be actually detailed and fully correct, you can find it here.
If you missed Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on Sunday, his Main Story was on the PFA chemicals -- the best-known of which is PFOA which is used in Teflon. It's a story that has been reasonably well-told, in part with the excellent 2019 movie Dark Waters that Mark Ruffalo starred in. But Oliver and his team have taken it further in much excellent detail. And for as problematic a story as it is, they still were able to add a great deal of humor to it. Including a wonderful added twist at the end.
On this week’s ‘Not My Job’ segment of the NPR quiz show Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, the guest is Ellen Stofan, the under-secretary of science and research at the Smithsonian Institution. She has a fun, lively conversation with host Peter Sagal about her long history working in the field of outer space, including at NASA, and talks about why she’d like to go to Mars, but not anything much shorter. What’s goofy, as well, is that most of the panelists jump in with outer space question related to movies.
This again is the full Wait, Wait… broadcast, but if you want to jump directly to the “Not My Job” segment, it started around the 18:45 mark.
Continuing our policy of attempting to wean ourselves away from writing at great length about political hell every single day, I thought I’d jump in with a customer service tale.
I’ve ordered the Solimo hand sanitizer twice now, which is Amazon’s house brand. The issue at hand (okay, yes, pun intended) is not with the quality of the product – which has a very good rating and is also extremely well-priced. Rather, in both instances the expiration date was only 4-5 months away. On all websites I’ve checked, including the CDC’s, hand sanitizer should be stable for 2-3 years. So, 4-5 months is considered less.
Also, the order is for six 10-ounce bottles. I wasn’t sure if I’d use up all that in three years. So, there is no way on earth I can use that much hand sanitizer in four months -- unless I start drinking it as aperitif before dinning. And even then, I might have to start chugging it as the expiration date nears.
To be clear, Amazon has been very good about dealing with this. They give no argument and have said each time on their own that they’ll refund the money and I can keep the product. So, in essence I’m getting it for free for four months, twice. And that’s lovely, but I’d rather order it once and have it good for three years and not have to go through all the phone calls and re-ordering (arguably ever again, God willing), especially since the price is so reasonable. If I had a three year supply, it would work out to just $5 a year.
I’m not writing about that so much, though, as I am about the conversations I have with the Amazon folks. And again, as I said, even the conversations have all be very personable and responsive, and pleasant to deal with. It’s just that they always say the same, one particular thing, and it takes all my effort to be as polite in return as possible not to explain how utterly, monumentally wrong – and potentially dangerous – their cheery, well-meaning comments are.
Take this recent instance. The first call I made was to Amazon Customer Service to deal with the order. The second call was to the Amazon Brands office because I wanted to know what was going on with the expiration date – was there an old backlog, or bad timing luck on my part, or was this simply the standard with Solimo – when it came time in four months to order new hand sanitizer.
And what they always say is, “Oh, I use this product myself and use it past the expiration date, and it’s just fine. It doesn’t go bad.”
I always then take a breath and give the polite response. “Thanks, yes, I do know it doesn’t just go bad when it passes the expiration, but that it starts to degrade and over time loses more and more of its potency. And honestly, when it comes to a worldwide pandemic, I’m just not willing to take a risk with a less-potent degraded product past its expiration.
They always answer, “That’s very true. And yes, I completely understand. That makes sense.”
What I want to say is – “Wait, don’t tell me it’s perfectly fine past its expiration! You have no idea if it’s perfectly fine. I mean, seriously. Do you have a lab at home? Do you test it? Are you a scientist or send it in to a research center? How on earth do you even possibly know that it’s just absolutely fine after the expiration date???! Especially since all science says it starts to degrade when expired. And how long do you believe that it’s just fine? A year?? Two months? A week? And how would you know?! As kind and thoughtful as you’re trying to be, that is truly awful, and potentially dangerous advice.”
But I don’t say that. I just take a breath and push the subject elsewhere. Today, though, I have to admit that I did finally get a little fed up hearing that well-intended but deeply wrong-headed comment yet again and (because I didn’t want anyone giving that “advice” to other customers who might believe her as an Authority Figure with Amazon Brands) finally said a much-more polite version, along the lines of “Okay, thanks, yes, though in fairness I don’t have a way of testing how effective it still is, and you probably don’t, so I just don’t want to take a risk during a pandemic.”
She understood and said, “That’s very true. And yes, I completely understand.”
In four months, when December comes around and it’s time to renew the soon-to-be-expired batch, I’ll figure out if I want to go through this again or just trying another brand. I’ve already done the research and have my list.
And look forward to not having to order hand sanitizer again, period.
Yesterday,. the CDC made a major announcement about how all people who were fully vaccinated for COVID-19 no longer had to wear a mask or social distance whether outdoor or indoors (with a few minor exceptions). There was more to it, but that was the big news. The really big news. Later, President Joe Biden had small press conference and addressed it all, as well.
Three things impressed me about Biden's speech, and none were the momentous news.
The first was that President Biden did not make the initial announcement. He didn't hog the limelight to get all the attention and make it seem like it was his news. Instead, since it was a CDC directive, he let the CDC itself actually make the announcement. What a concept.
The second was that in his speech, Joe Biden did not make it about him. About all he had done. About how the news was all about him and that he soaked up all the praise due him. He didn't ask thanks for himself and his great leaders. In fact, what he praised first was the incredible hard work of "the scientists and researchers; the drug companies; the National Guard; the U.S. military; FEMA; the nation’s governors, doctors, nurses, pharmacists," who he said moved Heaven and Earth to get get the country to this point. Again, thanking others first and science -- what a concept. But after that, he did what most impressed me. He went ever farther, and said --
"I need to single out one more group to praise: the American people. The American people. For more than a year, you’ve endured so much and so many lost jobs, so many businesses lost, so many lives upended, and so many months that our kids couldn’t be in school. You couldn’t see your friends or family. All the moments that mattered so much — from birthdays to weddings to graduations — all postponed. And most tragically of all: the lost lives." And then added: "You’ve endured all this. When your country asked you to get vaccinated, you did. The American people stepped up. You did what I consider to be your patriotic duty. That’s how we’ve gotten to this day.
Imagine that. He thanked the American people -- whatever their politics, and just for getting the vaccination. Making clear that it was that action, their sacrifice, the loss of human lives, their "patriotic duty" that helped accomplish this moment and ultimately brought all this science to fruition. Putting it all together with an understanding of what people actually endured.
And the third thing in his speech that impressed me He said --
"You know, some may say, 'I just feel more comfortable continuing to wear a mask.' They may feel that way. So if you’re someone with a mask — you see them, please treat them with kindness and respect. We’ve had too much conflict, too much bitterness, too much anger, too much polarization of this issue about wearing masks. Let’s put it to rest. Let’s remember, we’re all Americans. Let’s remember that we are all in this together."
Imagine that. Talking about kindness. And respect. To treat people well, just for making a personal choice that makes them feel comfortable and safe. Because we're all in this together.
Yes, the medical news from the CDC was wonderful. There is still a very long way to go, most especially throughout the world, but this was a significant day. But having a leader of the country was was willing to make it about the American people and kindness and not about himself was arguably as significant for building on the moment and completing the task. Not just this one, but those to come.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
Feedspot Badge of Honor