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Reality Check

How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future

Donald R. Prothero

Publication Year: 2013

The battles over evolution, climate change, childhood vaccinations, and the causes of AIDS, alternative medicine, oil shortages, population growth, and the place of science in our country—all are reaching a fevered pitch. Many people and institutions have exerted enormous efforts to misrepresent or flatly deny demonstrable scientific reality to protect their nonscientific ideology, their power, or their bottom line. To shed light on this darkness, Donald R. Prothero explains the scientific process and why society has come to rely on science not only to provide a better life but also to reach verifiable truths no other method can obtain. He describes how major scientific ideas that are accepted by the entire scientific community (evolution, anthropogenic global warming, vaccination, the HIV cause of AIDS, and others) have been attacked with totally unscientific arguments and methods. Prothero argues that science deniers pose a serious threat to society, as their attempts to subvert the truth have resulted in widespread scientific ignorance, increased risk of global catastrophes, and deaths due to the spread of diseases that could have been prevented.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-9


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiii

Was 9/11 a conspiracy? Yes, it was. By definition, a group of nineteen al-Qaeda members secretly plotting to fly planes into buildings constitutes a conspiracy. But that is not what the so-called 9/11 Truthers believe. They think that 9/11 was an inside job orchestrated by the Bush administration...

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. xv-xvi

This book was originally written during summer 2010, and extensively rewritten in spring 2012 as events changed many of the points made in the first draft. It represents over thirty years of research and teaching on my part, from my firsthand familiarity with the issues of creationism...

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1. Reality Check

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pp. 1-8

Most people reading through that list would immediately assume that it describes the creationists and their attempts to target the overwhelming scientific consensus on evolution. Indeed, the list could describe creationists, or evolution deniers—but it also describes the actions of...

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2. Science, Our Candle in the Darkness

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pp. 9-28

Foreign travel is an extremely valuable experience. Not only do you get to see amazing sights that occur nowhere else and receive exposure to languages and foods and cultures very different from our own, but if you travel to the underdeveloped world, you also begin to appreciate how...

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3. Betrayers of the Truth: Selling Out Science

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pp. 29-45

As citizens of the early twenty-first century, we have long ago come to terms with the fact that tobacco and smoking are dangerous and addictive. Hundreds of studies have shown that smoking and other tobacco use causes a wide variety of diseases (especially cancer, heart disease,...

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4. Making the Environment the Enemy: Acid Rain, the Ozone Hole, and the Demonization of Rachel Carson

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pp. 46-66

Before the 1960s, there was no significant “environmental movement” in the United States. Pioneering writers and thinkers such as Aldo Leopold (The Sand County Almanac, 1949) and Rachel Carson (who published Silent Spring in 1962) demonstrated the dangers of our impact on nature...

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5. Hot Enough for You? The Heated Debate over a Warming Planet

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pp. 67-104

On April 8, 2010, former vice-presidential candidate and half-term Alaska governor Sarah Palin spoke to the Southern Republican Leadership Conference. She mocked the scientific community, calling global warming research “this snake-oil science stuff that is based on the global...

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6. Gimme That Old Time Religion: Creationism, Intelligent Design, and the Denial of Humanity’s Place in Nature

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pp. 105-140

Item: Ten Republican presidential candidates are debating on May 4, 2007. The moderator asks for a show of hands, and three of the ten candidates (former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, former Colorado representative Tom Tancredo, and Kansas senator Sam Brownback) admit...

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7. Jenny’s Body Count: Playing Russian Roulette with Our Children

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pp. 141-163

When Annie finally died on April 23, 1851, Darwin wrote in his private memoir, “We have lost the joy of the household, and the solace of our old age. . . . Oh that she could now know how deeply, how tenderly we do still & and shall ever love her dear joyous face.”2 Darwin was so utterly...

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8. Victims of Modern Witch Doctors: AIDS Denialism

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pp. 164-183

For anyone who was an adult in the 1980s, the specter of AIDS was a horrendous story that transformed the decade and brought an end to the sexual freedom of the Swinging Sixties and Seventies. The issues of the gay community went from being underground to the top of the headlines...

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9. If It Quacks like a Quack: Snake-Oil Con Artists in an Era of Medical Science

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pp. 184-206

Before the era of modern medicine and its antibiotics, anesthesia, and antiseptics (which were developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries), medical practices were crude, primitive, and often more dangerous to the patient than going untreated. Doctors were often called...

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10. What’s Your Sign? The Ancient Pseudoscience of Astrology

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pp. 207-221

Among the weird examples of pseudoscience that are still widely followed by modern, educated rational people, perhaps the silliest of all is astrology. Its concepts date back to some of the earliest recorded history. The Babylonians were the first known culture to practice a form...

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11. Down the Slope of Hubbert’s Curve: The End of Cheap Oil and Natural Resources

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pp. 222-259

Item: In response the United States resupplying Israel’s military after their victory over their Arab neighbors in the Yom Kippur (or Ramadan) War in October 1973, the OPEC cartel decides to punish the Western nations by slowing down their petroleum sales and production.1 The price...

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12. Far from the Madding Crowd: Human Overpopulation and Its Consequences

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pp. 260-286

All of the issues of resource depletion discussed in the previous chapter boil down to one fundamental issue: human population size and growth. This topic has been controversial and highly politicized for several centuries. In 1729, Jonathan Swift wrote the wickedly satirical A Modest...

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13. The Rejection of Reality: How the Denial of Science Threatens Us All

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pp. 287-330

Blogger and author Farhad Manjoo (2008) paints a chilling (and savagely funny) portrait of how our society has lost touch with reality. Only a decade or two ago, there were just a few media outlets (major newspapers and TV news programs), and everyone got their news from these...


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pp. 331-356


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pp. 357-369

About the Author

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pp. 371-390

E-ISBN-13: 9780253010360
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253010292

Page Count: 392
Illustrations: 39 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2013