Despite our technological advances, America continues to produce an abundant society of science deniers. Conservative Christians are often more vocal about holding their personal (and/or religious) beliefs above all else, but it is not a partisan problem. There are liberals and non-believers who are just as guilty of denying science, though they may be more inclined to show it through different subjects, such as a fear of vaccinations or a belief in the law of attraction.
What a large number of Americans does not understand is that science produces facts through evidence and experimentation. These facts may be subject to change as more evidence is discovered, but that does not put them on par with beliefs or intuitive observations.
In fact, many scientific facts are counterintuitive or go against our limited human capacity for observation. The world appears to be flat, the sun appears to move around the earth and heavy objects often appear to fall faster than lighter items -- yet all those observations are demonstrably incorrect.
Science denial is an impediment to the advancement of our society in a variety of ways. Yet, it also does great harm on a more personal, immediate basis.
Todd Akin's comments on rape and pregnancy deny the science of biology. Akin is not the first politician (or person in a leadership role) to voice the erroneous belief that the physical trauma of "legitimate rape" (a.k.a. "forcible rape") sets off a biological response which keeps a woman from becoming pregnant. But his comments are receiving more media attention and bringing this ignorant belief to light.
Unfortunately, the conversation often appears to be more focused on the politics of his "misstatements" in an election year than on correcting the blatant misinformation behind his words.
What needs to be said--loud and clear--is that Akin's comments on rape and pregnancy are wrong. As a recent article in Reuters explains, Rape trauma as a barrier to pregnancy has no scientific basis:
The claim that rape is unlikely to lead to a pregnancy has "no biological plausibility," said Dr. Barbara Levy, vice president for health policy at the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The claim is "not grounded in any physiology or scientifically valid data."This is important because the belief Akin expressed has also been used to accuse rape survivors of lying about their assaults. By saying that the trauma of "legitimate rape" prevents pregnancy, Akin and others who assert this belief are conversely saying that pregnancy is proof that a woman was not actually raped.
It is also important to state the scientific facts because this basic lack of understanding of biology, and reproduction in particular, only strengthens the argument that medical decisions should be made by doctors and their patients--not by politicians on either side of the aisle.
Just as Akin's notions about rape and pregnancy show his ignorance of biology, his use of terms like "legitimate rape" and "forcible rape" (coined last year as part of Akin and current VP candidate Paul Ryan's No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act) point to a basic lack of understanding into both the act of rape and its long-term effects on survivors.
By using these terms, politicians minimize assaults which do not fit their extremely narrow definition of rape and help create an environment which makes it harder for survivors to seek help or speak out about their assaults.
Our current society has set up a platform where politicians and other leaders can posit their uneducated opinions as fact without consequence. Furthermore, politicians are called on by their science-denying constituents to use personal opinions to create and enforce laws.
Because, in America, freedom means the ability to treat a belief as if it were fact. Freedom means the right to speak in ignorance regardless of who it hurts.
Todd Akin's apology is not enough because an apology for his words does not change his reprehensible beliefs or his attempts to use those beliefs to create laws which take away the rights of others. The GOP's condemnation of Akin's comments is not enough because they continue to assert that their personal (or religious) beliefs should be grounds for creating laws which everyone else must follow.
America will never truly advance until we move away from medieval beliefs, learn to value education and begin appealing to the appropriate, credentialed authorities in a given field of expertise.