Dan Rather Tells Both Sides to Stop Ignoring Science

By ACSH Staff — Oct 01, 2015
The politicization of science was on display during the last Republican presidential debate, and former network news anchor Dan Rather took to the internet to criticize the candidates on their science positions. But surprisingly, Rather had equal scorn for targets on both ends of the political spectrum.
Credit: Peabody Awards via flickr Credit: Peabody Awards via flickr

Bipartisan is probably not the term many would use to describe former CBS newsman Dan Rather. His reporting on President George W. Bush's military service, which eventually led to his ousting from the network, painted him as having unnecessarily and unfairly attacked the Republican right. Others may add that his coverage of the Nixon and Reagan administrations had a similar feel and tone.

But now there's a sense that Rather's time away from the media spotlight may have given the veteran broadcaster a new, balanced and more science-based, perspective.

Rather, among other projects, now writes for the website Mashable, and in this role he has penned an attack on the politicization of science.

The former anchorman used the recent GOP debate on vaccines as a launching point to both criticize Ben Carson et al. for their "equivocal stance" on vaccines, and also to remind people that anti-science beliefs run strong in both parties.

"[M]ake no mistake, this isn't just a Republican problem," Rather wrote. "Many of the anti-vaccine hotspots are in ZIP codes that vote overwhelmingly Democratic."

Rather doesn't just hit both parties on vaccines, he hammers Democrats over one of their favorite phrases: "scientific consensus." The left loves this phrase, but only when it comes to the environment. But when discussing food, the phrase couldn't be farther from their lips.

In fact, even Democratic presidential front runner Hilary Clinton is frequently attacked for her pro-GMO stance. Rather explains: "I can hear some Democrats I know thinking this anti-science farce is a Republican problem. But when I talk to scientists about this frightening trend, they don't just mention climate change. They bring up things like Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs); most of the anti-GMO heat comes from the political left."

The main culprit for the politicization of science, in his opinion, is the media, which he "generously" gives a C- for their overall uninspired science coverage. Where they collectively falter, according to Rather, is when they turn science topics into debates, thus creating a false equivalence. "Giving someone equal time to explain their side," he wrote, "doesn t mean there is equal data, research and science behind their view."

Television journalists, he adds, give equal airtime to quacks to discuss their pseudo or anti-science beliefs. Drawing upon years of experience with this, Rather describes how this can go awry.

"[W]hat if the charlatan in the video is more charismatic and camera-friendly than the person backed by the preponderance of science?" he wrote. "It is often easier to be charismatic when you are not hemmed by the boundaries of scientific truth." He singles out Andrew Wakefield as a prime example of this.

The other place Rather believes the media is faltering with science coverage is when reporters fail to press candidates enough on science issues. Bernie Sanders is screaming about scientific consensus on climate change, so why is he not being compelled to accept the similar (actually slightly larger) consensus on the safety of GMOs?

What Rather really wants to see from any political leader or candidate is how they handle a situation when faced with facts that conflict their ideology. Because as Rather notes, "you can't will away facts."