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Right and left manipulate science

Earlier this month a book by former Republican U.S. Senate nominee Todd Akin of Missouri was released. Akin is the candidate who lost his 2012 Senate race after making the claim that the bodies of women have a chemical function that prevents rape victims from becoming pregnant.

“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down,” he said two years ago.

It’s true that some research indicates that stress can reduce fertilization, but a lot of conservatives for years have been projecting that LIMITED proposition into a hard and fast rule. In order to make a case against abortion when rape and incest are involved, they have claimed flatly that rape victims rarely get pregnant, which is absurd.

In his new book (which, given its content, he probably wrote himself, without the aid of a speechwriter or ghostwriter), Akin said he made a mistake in apologizing for the comment two years ago and that he was right all along. “My comment about a woman’s body shutting the pregnancy down was directed to the impact of stress on fertilization,” he wrote. “This is something fertility doctors debate and discuss. Doubt me? Google ‘stress and infertility,’ and you will find a library of research on the subject.”

It has come to this. Our leaders are defending ignorance.

And they are invoking internet searches as the basis for serious research. I wonder why he didn’t recommend Wikipedia? Just for the fun of it, I ran the search he suggested, putting “stress and infertility” inside quotation marks, as he did. That reduced the number of hits I got, but I did get hits for two scholarly articles – and 31,000 other results that included distinguished medical sources like the London Daily Mail, Slate, a CBS television station in New York City, a right-wing website in Las Vegas, and hundreds of websites that claim they offer healthcare expertise, some of which provide conflicting information on stress and infertility.

While Akin was selling “legitimate rape” again, Kentucky state Sen. Brandon Smith was arguing that climate change is fake because the temperature on Earth and Mars are “exactly” the same. “I won’t get into the debate about climate change but I’ll simply point out that I think in academia we all agree that the temperature on Mars is exactly as it is here,” he said. “Nobody will dispute that. Yet there are no coal mines on Mars.”

These misrepresentations of science are not a partisan thing. Liberals like Robert Kennedy Jr. try to link autism with vaccinations, though science says otherwise, and other liberals demonize transgenic foods that hold out the promise of feeding the hungry worldwide.

Given the hostility that women voters showed for the GOP in 2012, the last thing Republican leaders wanted was for Todd Akin to come back to life. Republican publicist Brian Walsh said that it’s because of Akin that Missouri Democrat “Claire McCaskill is still part of Harry Reid’s majority. It’s frankly pathetic that, just like Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell in 2010, he [Akin] refuses to take any responsibility for sticking his foot in his mouth, alienating voters and costing Republicans a critical Senate seat.”

I don’t know who Walsh’s clients are these days, but it wasn’t long ago – it was 2010 – that he was trying hard to sell Sharron Angle to Nevada voters. Walsh wasn’t deterred (then) by the fact that she had been peddling unscientific and inflammatory fakelore for years, like her bogus claim that abortion causes breast cancer.

“Nevadans deserve new leadership and they will finally have the chance to hold Harry Reid accountable by sending him to retirement and electing Sharron Angle this November,” Walsh said the day after the 2010 primary. He kept up a drumbeat of cheerleading for her until the November election. “But the voters of Nevada will no doubt send President Obama a strong message when they elect Sharron Angle as their next U.S. Senator,” he said shortly before the election.

Characters like Akin, Smith and Angle actually seem to believe their fakelore. But while they are merely poorly informed, liberals often know perfectly well what the science says and dismiss it anyway. Whether ignorance or deviousness is at work, the result is the same. Both sides insist that science adapt itself to political dogma, and that is dangerous.

Dennis Myers is an award winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.