As a European with a liberal Christian background, my first encounters with people rejecting evolution for religious reasons in the United States left me astonished and eager to learn more about this phenomenon, which seems so much at odds with the preconceived image of America as a center of human progress and scientific advancement. One of the first things I learned was that people rejecting or modifying the theory of evolution to fit their religious beliefs is by no means the only way in which science comes under fire for worldview or political reasons. I learned that even many biology teachers question the theory of evolution (Welsh 2011); that conservative interest groups and politicians are influencing school curricula to the extent that the theory of anthropogenic climate change is no longer even taught (Dockrill 2016); that the General Assembly of North Carolina adopted a law barring the state’s coastal protection agency from mentioning calculations in their reports that can be attributed to climate change (Young 2012); and that sex education lessons often do not take place at all, or contain misleading or false claims (Smothers 2015). By following the news, I saw that controversial statements surrounding scientific knowledge occur up to the highest political levels. During the presidential election campaign in 2011, Republican candidate Michelle Bachmann claimed that vaccinations against human papillovirus (HPV) cause mental disabilities such as autism, a claim that was also made more recently by Donald Trump (Weiner 2011; Specter 2017). This situation leads some analysts to claim that there is widespread and deeply rooted “science denialism” in the American population. What was not clear to me, however, is whether this issue is at its core a political problem (Mooney 2005), or as an issue of proper science education, or whether it is more accurate to view it as a broader cultural phenomenon, as a culture war, as James Hunter has put it (Hunter 1991; Morrison 2011).
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