In a NY Times op-ed, "Welcome to the Age of Denial," astrophysicist Adam Frank contrasts the popularly embraced scientism of his postwar, mentoring generation with our present era, in which "it is politically effective, and socially acceptable, to deny scientific fact":
Narrowly defined, "creationism" was a minor current in American thinking for much of the 20th century. But in the years since I was a student, a well-funded effort has skillfully rebranded that ideology as "creation science" and pushed it into classrooms across the country. Though transparently unscientific, denying evolution has become a litmus test for some conservative politicians, even at the highest levels.
Meanwhile, climate deniers, taking pages from the creationists’ PR playbook, have manufactured doubt about fundamental issues in climate science that were decided scientifically decades ago. And anti-vaccine campaigners brandish a few long-discredited studies to make unproven claims about links between autism and vaccination.
And yet it's worse than that. Right-wing efforts to degrade the value of unmolested science have bled into the humanities and social sciences as well.
While for instance the theoretical triumph of Keynesianism is complete, a kind of Hayekian denialism reigns in practice. History and political science are reduced to incoherence as fundamental concepts of American governance, long accepted and honored, are destructively refashioned as a kind of lost originalism. Even the essential art of critical thinking is under relentless assault--although I shouldn't say "even," for attacks on logic, rationalism and empiricism lie at the heart of any successful obscurantism.
All of which demonstrates the extraordinary power of propaganda--the far right's ingenious use of which has paralleled the upward trajectory of our national ignorance. In recent decades the right's unremitting deployment of ideological think tanks, specializing publishers and "academic" papers and, in general, its brilliant manipulation of electronic media have steadily subtracted from American enlightenment.
Meanwhile the moderate left's counter-deployments have been scattered and half-hearted. Don't be aggressive in gainsaying the right's claims: such has been the strategic approach, out of fear of alienating the wafflers and centrists and racking up electoral losses. In some regions this is but political prudence, but as a national strategy it would seem to be failing.
Perhaps it's time for a heavy dose of U.S. Grant's general philosophy of war: Don't worry about the casualties. (I stress general philosophy, for Grant, contrary to some interpretations, was an eminently humane and gentle man.) "The art of war is simple enough," he observed. "Get at [your enemy] as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can and as often as you can and keep moving on."