The 1 November 2011 issue of New Scientist has an outstanding series of essays on the loss of scientific reasoning in the US and the horrible consequences of it. Refuting the widely-held recent claims that the US was founded as a Christian nation, Shawn Lawrence Otto reminds us that:
"The early settlers were Puritians seeking freedom from authoritarian Chrisianity. To be a Puritan was to study both the Bible adn the book of nature in order to discern God's laws, a process called "natural philosophy", which today we call "science"."
He goes on to note that science is politics and that it's not just the religious right that is non-scientific. For instance, liberal San Francisco legislators "passed an ordinance requiring cellphone shops to warn customers about radiation hazards such as brain cancer, despite no scientific evidence." and think about how childhood vaccination rates are often lower in highly educated, liberal neighborhoods.
Peter Aldhous writes about how 'the deficit model' is often assumed; if people are dispassionately told the facts, they'll come around to making the right decisions. Despite the Obama Administrations attempts to do that with climate change, it just doesn't work that way, in part because people don't make decisions that way. Aldhous reviews research showing that people make decisions in different ways and that to convince them, you've got to tap into the ways that the are making decisions. Turns out that liberals tend to be more swayed by what Yale's Dan Kahan calls 'egalitarian-communitarian' processes and messengers, while conservatives respond better to what Kahan calls 'hierarchical-individualists'.
I highly recommend reading this article. Depressing, but at least it lays out some starting points for change.