In my eighth decade of life, it is astound ing to read and hear day by day that, with the exception of Jon Huntsman, the entire field of self-proclaimed Republican candidates for President in 2012, led by Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann, do not accept evolution as a natural biological mechanism. Neither do they recognize manmade global climate change as real, which is arguably far more important. One has cause to wonder when they will deny the existence of gravity, electromagnetism, the spherical shape of the planet, or the heliocentric structure of the solar system. Do they actually believe their own nonsense, or is it all just to get primary votes next year?

Being anti-science appeals to a certain voting element in our society, which is sad enough, but when the media casually accepts as normal, without question, such monumentally ignorant, if not stupid, utterances from men and women who claim to be educated the media disgraces itself. Those wanting the power of the presidency are not in short supply. Those qualified to handle such immense power are far fewer. And the current batch of Republican candidates (minus the one), based on their anti-science positions alone, are not among them. But the real issue is why does the media let them get away with it?

Evolution as controversy is nothing new. From the time Darwin first published in 1859 his findings have been a lightening rod for criticism and denial. However, capitalism, fascism, and communism selectively claimed parts of Darwin’s seminal work to support their ideologies, which clearly implied acceptance of evolution as reality. By 1880, in Darwin’s lifetime (he died in 1882), the scientific community accepted as valid the concept of descent with modification (evolution), which is the central thesis of his work.

But there have always been deniers, most often for religious reasons, but sometimes for political agendas. In 1965 the local cell of the John Birch Society (predecessor to the so-called Tea Party) in the town where I was teaching high school science at the time, accused my science department of being infested with subversives because the biology teachers adopted a textbook relying heavily on evolution to explain the living world. Evolution, the Birchers said, was a communist plot along with rock and roll, long hair on males, and feminism.

Each generation seems to breed a new batch of deniers. What that says about our education system is another subject, but one worth exploring. It should be noted that evolution is only controversial in the U.S. The rest of the world wonders what we Americans, or some of us anyway, are upset about. So do I.

So it is still astounding, to my aging self, that despite overwhelming validation of the underlying process, and our growing understanding of genetics, DNA, and molecular biology, that the evolution controversy not only persists, but makes headlines as political figures, supposedly serious people, now brag about their ignorance to adoring supporters, and in front of television cameras. But ultimately this is more an intellectual dispute, not one with immediate consequences for the average person. Global climate change, however, is a different matter.

In 2011, the overwhelming consensus of the worldwide scientific community warns us repeatedly, and has for decades, that climate change is real, upon us, and wreaking devastating changes to our ecosystem. Moreover, they tell us that these changes are occurring largely because of human activity. Storm frequency and severity, sea level rise, agricultural upheaval, cost of living increases, mass migrations, are caused by climate change, all of which, like evolution, is happening whether we choose to accept it or not. Ultimately this is a fundamental national security issue, and obviously affects us all.

In response, the fossil fuel interests have lavishly financed an industry of professional purveyors of doubt, which has spread confusion about the reality of climate change through the media to the public, and even in some academic circles. Obviously, some political candidates have accepted this propaganda as an article of faith. Few of our current crop of media stenographers choose to reveal who is behind all the doubt, and the anti-science crowd thrives on their silence. A sophisticated propaganda machine has replaced facts, overwhelming credible evidence, and reason because large, economic interests benefit handsomely by convincing us to deny reality. The ongoing shame of the corporate mainstream media, and the political candidates, is that they choose to make no judgments about facts, fiction or fantasy, not to mention the lies spread by the well oiled propaganda machine.

What we do get from the so-called practitioners of journalism are inane questions of the sort, “dD you believe in evolution or climate change?” as if these important scientific discoveries were somehow optional articles of a faith-based belief system, not science. Science is based on credible, verifiable evidence, not faith, but the media doesn’t seem to care or know the difference, nor do the candidates, nor increasingly the public. Perhaps our ever sensation-hungry media could ask the anti-science candidates if they believe in witches, and favor restoring the practice of burning them alive. The answers might be instructive, and could lead the evening news. It would probably help ratings. I am breathless in anticipation.

That the media won’t outright laugh at the evolution deniers, as the newspapers did in 1925 during the famous Scopes monkey trial in Dayton, Tenn., and also chase the climate change deniers right off the political stage, is a national tragedy that will foster inevitably a further disintegration of rationality in government. Censorship of government climate scientists during the Bush administration was frequent and blatant, not unlike the struggles Galileo had with the church in the 17th century. Galileo knew he was right, the church knew he was right, but the power elite of the time didn’t want the truth to be known. In that respect not much has changed since the 1630s, but the scientific community now has a much stronger voice if only the media would allow it to be heard.

Denying evolution is an intellectual issue, not a national security issue. Denying climate change is a national security issue, as quiet studies by the Pentagon conducted during the oil-soaked Bush administration have documented. So what do we do about a bevy of presidential candidates who no doubt support huge expenditures for national defense, but deny the single largest threat to our country’s interests, not to mention life on earth as we know it?

Richard Knabel is emeritus professor of physical science at SUNY, and also a selectman in West Tisbury. For many years he taught a course entitled Science and Survival.