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Science Besieged: Skeptical Inquirer on the Battles over Stem Cells, Climate, and the Truth Itself

December 13, 2016

Science in the United States, embattled as ever, is about to enter a new, heightened era of crisis, as old battles over subjects like stem cells and climate change rage on, and political partisanship hardens false beliefs. The latest issue of Skeptical Inquirer brings us to the front lines of the struggle over the place of science and reason in policy and culture, spelling out the growing challenges and offering badly needed ideas about how to advance critical thinking across the board.

In this issue’s cover story, Raymond Barglow and Margaret Schaefer report on the ongoing resistance to embryonic stem cell research, where staunch opposition from an “influential religion-based political movement” has badly hampered its progress and potential. Federal funding has remained severely limited, and private funding has been insufficient to produce the kind of live-saving breakthroughs that many scientists hope to discover. “Failure to publicly fund stem cell research adequately is unjustifiable,” write Barglow and Schaefer, warning that a deeply conservative Trump administration may bring renewed attacks on this research from within the federal government itself.

Opposition to stem cell research is just one symptom of a larger epidemic of science denial that has permeated every aspect of politics and popular culture, and a quartet of scientific experts grapple with how scientists can best navigate these treacherous waters. They are no strangers to fierce personal and professional attacks for their scientific truth telling: Climate scientist Michael Mann, cognitive scientist Stephen Lewandowsky, and psychologists Harris Friedman and Nicholas Brown. “Scientific debates must still be conducted according to the rules of science. Arguments must be evidence-based,” they write, adding, “Skeptical members of the public must be given the opportunity to engage in scientific debate.”

Also, Carrie Poppy reports on troubling survey data showing widespread belief in the supernatural, alien visitations, and even the lost city of Atlantis. Tellingly, over 30 percent of those surveyed purported to believe in a conspiracy theory wholly invented for the survey! And Craig Foster of the U.S. Air Force Academy makes a strong case for extricating one’s scientific skepticism from one’s political allegiances, and encouraging conservatives’ involvement. “It would demonstrate that the promotion of science and reason is taking place across the political spectrum.”

Plus: Joe Nickell bests a mystical tai chi master; Stefaan Blancke shines a spotlight on the rise of creationism in Europe; Alan Scott advises us to resist self-delusion by “wearing two watches;” and much more.

The January/February 2017 issue is available on newsstands and in mobile app stores. For more information, visit http://www.csicop.org/si.

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Skeptical Inquirer is the official journal of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), a scientific and educational program of the Center for Inquiry. CSI encourages the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view. Learn more about CSI and SI at http://www.csicop.org.

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to both the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, the Council for Secular Humanism, and will soon be home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at http://www.centerforinquiry.net.