The Know Nothings redux

In the mid-19th century, the United States was home to something called the Know Nothing movement. It was a political movement that was anti-intellectual, anti-Catholic, and anti-immigrant. Its aim was to "purify" American politics. Its adherents ignored history and inconvenient facts which did not support their beliefs.

It seems that now, in the early 21st century, we are seeing a revival of that movement. Science and education are under attack in our society by the followers of this philosophy. From climate science and evolution theory through acceptance of hard-won medical technology or even basic hygiene like having your waiter wash his hands before he serves your food, know-nothingness is on the march and it apparently will not be satisfied with anything less than returning us to the Dark Ages.

It's not just science that is under attack; it is the whole concept of the scientific method of testing hypotheses with experimentation and unbiased observation. The Know Nothings know what they know because it feels right to them and they don't need any of the stinking facts developed by your scientific method. Any facts that do not support their intuitively felt conclusions are jettisoned.

Tom the Dancing Bug reminds us that the Know Nothings have a lineage. Galileo and Copernicus had to contend with them, just as Michael Mann and Neil deGrasse Tyson do today. He shows us the effect of the modern Know Nothings in nine frames.


  1. This was a fascinating post. I "knew nothing" about the "know nothing" movement, so it was interesting to look into that, and see the connections to what is happening in the world, and particularly in the US, today.

    1. It is very depressing. One expects more enlightened attitudes will always prevail, but, unfortunately, history teaches that that is not always the case. And that is frightening.


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