IN 2007, fresh off an election victory in both chambers of Congress, the Democratic party set out to fulfil its campaign promise to make the US more sustainable - starting with the building they had just gained control of.
With their "Green the Capitol" initiative, the Democrats planned to make the building a model of sustainability and an example to us all. They replaced light bulbs and bathroom fixtures, but perhaps most significantly, they took the step of greening the congressional cafeteria. Cost was no object. Good thing, too.
The problem, as they saw it, was an excessive reliance on environmentally wasteful styrofoam containers and plastic utensils. And so they issued a decree: from now on, the cafeteria would use biodegradable containers and utensils.
They claimed science was on their side: the utensils could be composted, and would thus be better for the environment. The result was a miracle of sustainability, at least according to internal reports, which claimed to have kept 650 tonnes of waste out of landfill between 2007 and 2010.
The only problem was that the "green" replacements were worse for the environment. The spoons melted in soup, so people had to use more than one to get through lunch. The knives could barely cut butter without breaking. And instead of composting easily, they had to be processed in a special pulper and then driven to Maryland in giant trucks.
In 2010 an independent analysis found that the saving was equivalent to removing a single car from the road - at a cost of $475,000 per year. Wary of disappointing their environmentally concerned supporters, Democrats waited until the Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives in 2011 - and then suggested that the programme be killed. Republicans duly instructed the cafeteria to revert to using utensils and containers that actually worked.
Deposed Democrat speaker Nancy Pelosi saw an opportunity, and took it: "GOP brings back Styrofoam & ends composting - House will send 535 more tons to landfills," she tweeted.
Did progressives call her to account? No, but they should have. According to the Democrats' own figures their programme only saved about 200 tonnes of waste per year. Where did Pelosi get 535 tonnes from?
This anecdote is both illuminating and chilling: if an environmental story is being told about people on the right of the political spectrum, anything goes. But if progressives play fast and loose with the facts, they are given a free ride.
Conservatives' sins against science - objections to stem cell research, denial of climate science, opposition to evolution and the rest - are widely reported and well known. But conservatives don't have a monopoly on unscientific policies. Progressives are just as bad, if not worse. Their ideology is riddled with anti-scientific feel-good fallacies designed to win hearts, not minds. Just like biodegradeable spoons, their policies often crumble in the face of reality and leave behind a big mess. Worse, anyone who questions them is condemned as anti-science.
We have all heard about the Republican war on science; we want to draw attention to the progressive war on reason.
We recognise that the term "progressive" is potentially troublesome, so let us lay our cards on the table. In the US, "progressive" and "liberal" are often used interchangeably. But the two should not be confused.
Liberalism, as defined by John Locke, means the pursuit of liberty. By that definition progressives are not liberal. Though they claim common cause with liberals (and most of them are Democrats because very few progressives are Republican), today's progressive movement is actually socially authoritarian.
Unlike conservative authoritarians, however, they are not concerned with banning "immoral" things like sex, drugs and rock and roll. They instead seek dominion over issues such as food, the environment and education. And they claim that their policies are based on science, even when they are not.
For example, progressive activists have championed the anti-vaccine movement, confusing parents and causing a public health disaster. They have campaigned against animal research even when it remains necessary, in some cases committing violence against scientists. Instead of embracing technological progress, such as genetically modified crops, progressives have spread fear and misinformation. They have waged war against academics who question their ideology, and they are opposed to sensible reforms in science education.
We do not want not to demonise all progressives. Some are genuinely pro-science. We recognise the huge value some progressive ideas have had, and that vilifying an entire philosophy based on the actions of its radical ideologues would be unfair.
But we do want to demonise the lunatic fringe. We contend that there is a disturbing and largely unreported trend among influential progressive activists who misinterpret, misrepresent and abuse science to advance their ideological and political agendas.
Of all of today's political philosophies, progressivism stands as the most pressing problem for science. Progressives, not conservatives, are the ones most likely to replace scientific research with unscientific ideology.
Conservatives who endorse unscientific ideas are blasted by the scientific community, yet progressives who do the same get a free pass. It is important the problem be recognised, and that free pass revoked.