Tens of thousands gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on June 4 for the Reason Rally. The event gave non-religious people a chance to come together and experience a sense of community while making a bold statement in the nation's capital that laws should be based on reason and evidence, instead of religious faith that doesn't apply to all citizens. A basic sense of scientific literacy is the key to being able to look at a variety of topics logically and appropriately, and it is a quality we need to demand from all of our elected officials.
"We have this extraordinary situation in the United States where science and reason are political. That's inappropriate," legendary science communicator Bill Nye told A Plus backstage at the Reason Rally. A Plus also sat down with other speakers at the event, discussing how misinformation and unscientific reasoning creates laws and policies that are harmful to society as a whole. Because they simply don't make sense, it is hoped that they can be changed.
Many of the speakers also agreed that ignoring science is not a problem that only affects one political ideology; people on both the left and right have certain issues that they willfully ignore the scientific evidence.
Here are 7 issues bound to be addressed by the end of the election which have no business being politicized when the science is so clear:
Evolution is the basis of all biology. It helps us understand how ecosystems take shape, how heritable diseases persist, how endangered species can best be conserved, why certain behaviors occur, and much more.
Evolution is understood and accepted by over 98% of scientists in all disciplines, indicating that there is no controversy to speak of.
But because evolution refutes a literal interpretation of the story of creation in the book of Genesis, there are many who don't want it taught in schools. This has led to textbooks in some states bearing a warning label calling evolution controversial, which is absolutely is not. In other places, teachers undermine scientific instruction by interjecting religious viewpoints in lessons, even when it conflicts with the science.
John de Lancie, an actor most memorable in his role of Q in Star Trek: The Next Generation, believes in using knowledge to continually move forward and abandoning those beliefs that are known to be false.
"Let's talk about all the things that we know. It is extraordinary that every living thing on Earth shares a history. That is extraordinary! Wonderous!" de Lancie told A Plus, speaking of the beauty of continued knowledge. "Taking it at face value, for many years, people [had reason to believe] the Sun revolved around the Earth. We don't think that anymore. And if I insisted on thinking that, you'd think, 'Well what's wrong with him?'"
2. Climate Change
The overwhelming evidence of climate change can be seen throughout the world: higher temperatures, increased ocean acidity, declining polar ice caps, rising sea levels, increased humidity, decreased biodiversity and more.
The scientific community overwhelmingly agrees that climate change is real, the effects are widespread, and humans are largely to blame.
Over 97% of the scientific literature regarding climate change is in agreement.
This isn't good news for companies that profit from harmful practices. Each year, they combine to give hundreds of millions of dollars to organizations that deny climate change, keeping up the appearance of a controversy where there is none so their businesses can continue to thrive.
Bill Nye used his time at the Reason Rally to call for a logical, scientific approach to climate change before it's too late. This means that voters must carefully scrutinize a candidate's environmental track record before voting.
"If someone's been a climate denier for decades and then all of a sudden he's not, how reliable is that?" Nye posed to A Plus, before pointing out a silver lining. "Who is the most strident anti-smoker in everyday life? The person who just quit smoking. So maybe there's a huge opportunity for [a candidate] to embrace science and talk about climate change and leave the world better than he or she found it.
Unfortunately, misinformation about immunizations has bred unfounded fear about their safety and efficacy. In areas where vaccine opt-out rates are high, infectious diseases like measles and whooping cough have the chance to make a resurgence. As the scientific evidence shows that vaccines are overwhelmingly safe, having so many people choose not to get them without medical necessity is incredibly dangerous.
"The paradox of prevention is that if you have so many people who are immunized and one individual who is not immunized, the chances of you meeting someone who's infected is much lower" Nye explained, discussing the principles of herd immunity. "But counting on the rest of us to protect you is a medium-term strategy at best."
There are some people who are immunocompromised and are unable to receive vaccines, or too young to receive a vaccine for a specific illness. If too many people remain unvaccinated for no reason, it puts those who don't have a choice at risk.
4. Sexual Education
Puberty can be a difficult time for adolescents, as changes in anatomy and hormones leave them feeling like strangers in their own bodies. Sexual education class in school is designed to help educate students about these changes as well as teaching the basics of sexual reproduction. Unfortunately, factually-correct sex ed programs are few and far between.
Because nobody wants to think about their child becoming sexually active or may have strong religious beliefs condemning pre-marital sex, there has been increasing pressure to have programs that only teach students to abstain from sex, withholding critical information about the realities of sex.
It's no big surprise that abstinence-only programs are incredibly ineffective and regions that only teach abstinence tend to have higher rates of STDs and teen pregnancy. After all, the teens were not educated on how to put on a condom, use oral birth control, or how certain diseases are spread. Another common feature of abstinence-only programs is the concept of slut-shaming and basing someone's worth as a human being on their sexual activity, particularly young girls.
There are many misconceptions about sex ed programs that are based in science, but students deserve better than to be taught incorrectly and make a mistake that could impact the rest of their lives. Fear-based, inaccurate abstinence programs have no place in the classroom.
Following in the footsteps of inadequate sex education, access to legal and safe abortions is being threatened by unscientific thinking.
Abortion clinics might be required to abide by the same building codes as a hospital, such as hallway width, even though the actual procedures being performed do not necessitate those changes. If their finances don't allow the changes to be made, clinics are forced to close their doors, and those seeking their services must travel farther from home to get them. Having to travel for the procedure is even more difficult considering many states have a waiting period between the consultation and procedure. There are 28 states that require this wait time, which ranges from 18-72 hours.
Some states require doctors and nurses performing abortions to tell patients information about the potential complications of the procedure as well as other risks, even if those statements are scientifically incorrect. Because doctors and nurses are trusted members of the community, hearing this information might scare them out of getting the procedure.
Whether or not a person morally agrees with abortion should not have any bearing on a woman's legal right to access it.
A woman's decision should be based on rational, medically-sound information and no woman should be forced into motherhood based on inane restrictions or even flat-out deceit.
"I myself had an abortion when I was very young and wouldn't be where I am if I didn't," Lizz Winstead, co-creator and former head writer of The Daily Show, told A Plus. Winstead founded Lady Parts Justice in 2012, which fights against anti-science abortion policies and also provides support for clinics.
6. LGBT Rights
A huge milestone was made in 2015 when the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to ban same-sex marriage. Unfortunately, that wasn't enough to solidify LGBT rights across the board, and there are many prejudices that still need to be overcome.
The only reason to be opposed to LGBT equality is because of bigotry rooted in religion or fear because of misconceptions about what being LGBT actually means. When looking at the facts, there is no reasonable reason to oppose equality.
Homosexuality is well-documented in the animal kingdom, making any claims of it being "unnatural" completely unfounded. Gay parents have been shown to be every bit as capable of raising happy, healthy children as straight parents.
The most recent hot-button LGBT issue is providing access to bathrooms and locker rooms based on gender identity. The argument is that some men will claim to be transgender women in order to enter bathrooms to commit sexual assault of women and young girls. The notion of a "peeping Tom" existed long before transgender bathrooms were on anyone's mind, and there isn't any evidence to support that predatory behavior would increase.
Instead, women and young girls are most at risk of sexual assault in parking lots, at work, at school, walking in their neighborhoods, on dates, at bars, and other places that aren't inside the bathroom at Target. The only violence that has increased because of trans-friendly policies is that committed against trans (or even cis) people trying to use the bathroom.
Discrimination has very real consequences. Gay and bisexual teens are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers, and the rate increases dramatically for those who have been shunned by their families. One-quarter of all trans teens will attempt suicide and half will contemplate it.
However, there is evidence that those who get love and support from their families can grow up to be as mentally well-adjusted as their straight, cisgender peers. Discriminatory laws help validate and preserve discriminatory attitudes which have no place in modern society.
7. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are among one of the most misunderstood topics surrounding modern diets.
This area is rife with misconceptions, ranging from causing cancer to being less nutritious than organic food. In reality, GMO crops have been shown to be incredibly safe and are one of the best tools scientists and farmers have to produce enough food when the world is simultaneously dealing with an exploding human population and increasingly harsh growing conditions brought about by climate change.
Still, intense fear based on unscientific misinformation has made it difficult to talk about the facts of the issue.
"Having a couple of stances that are informed by science moreso than my political leanings causes a pretty big rift," blogger and Talk Nerdy podcaster Cara Santa Maria told A Plus. "You know, you have this core audience who's so liberal and you say 'Yay GMOs!' and people are like 'What the fuck?!' You have to really explain it to them. It's a lot of work trying to undo all of the misinformation and all of the pseudoscience that's out there."
Unfortunately, this fear can have real consequences beyond needlessly spending more for organic apples at the grocery store. Not only do GMOs make it easier to grow enough food for the world, but they also make it possible to grow better food.
The primary example of this is golden rice, fortified with beta carotene to curb rampant vitamin A deficiencies in Asia. Because the rice looked different than what they were used to eating and some activist groups who didn't know any better called it unnatural and unsafe and a biotech profit scheme, many people refused to eat the rice. Though the first golden rice was grown in 1999, fear has still prevented it from being accepted and helping those for whom it was intended.
With the human population expected to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050, we cannot afford to denounce GMOs based on misinformation.
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