So a colleague posted this article on my Facebook wall and queried me for my thoughts on the matter. With longer things to say, I think I am going to use my blog more than Facebook. Partly because of the easier formatting, but also the more permanency of keeping my ideas in one place. The article is a NY Times article in which the author talks about the growing anti-science strain in this country called Welcome to the Age of Denial. Perhaps none of my ideas on the subject our very original and there are a number of excellent comments made under the article itself, but I think it’s worth sort of collecting a lot of them in one place.
The problem itself is much like Climate Change itself in that it is quite complex and no single factor can be completely to blame. To start simply however many have pointed to a weakening economy as the reason for this change. Of course weaker economies do tend to breed more extremism, more faith based reasoning as the amount of people living near poverty increases. The great irony being that as the nation rejects science more the innovation and growth science can bring also goes away too. In addition the strength of our economy is built on this growth in science and innovation and if we had all that going for us, where did we falter?
Please keep in mind that what I am going to say is a lot of opinion based on what I’ve read and what I’ve observed as an educator for now 11 years.
I think if we are going to make things better there are numerous factors that have to change:
- The corporation is out of control. Money carries a lot of weight and everyone knows that. Corporations do not want to take responsibility to the damage they’ve caused to the environment or the human body in the case of pharmaceuticals or fast food. It’s not even conspiracy theory thinking to say that in a capitalistic society that corporations have a vested interested in making sure you are not concerned about important issues and so the spreading of misinformation in an age where information is easily disseminated is a big factor in the growing anti-trust in science.
- The politicization of science. It was interesting to read this article and learn how in a way things have gotten worse in regards to scientific issues according to pulls from 1982 until now. Especially when I had read about the increased secular population in the U.S. According to polls also the number of agnostics, atheists or people who do not associate themselves with any particular religion is also growing. Initially I thought these things were at odds, but not so if you think that U.S. is becoming increasingly polarized. The continued two party system in this country is getting uglier and uglier, and despite that their is almost no difference between what the two parties actually do when operating the government the platforms they run on give a staggeringly different perception. Especially when it comes to social issues. It is these social issues that are the main reason why I remain a democrat because quite simply science demonstrates that the democrats are right. But there are many things I disagree with in terms of how they run the government. That being said, somehow the democrats have sort of taken science as part of their party platform. It shocks the hell out of me when, if I support scientific consensus on an issue, that makes me automatically a liberal democrat. Science doesn’t take sides. If the science is properly done it simply shows you what is, and once we are okay with that, we can move forward and figure out what is to be done about it, or done with it. And just for the record I also am quite aware that while the democratic party has sort of taken up the reins of “pro-science” it does very little good with it.
- The devaluing of education. Much could be said about this topic. Of course it’s no big news that we continue to fare rather poorly in comparison with many other countries on the scientific literacy of youths coming out of school. This is all too apparent to me as a professor who teaches many freshmen every semester. Schools continue to get less funding, tuitions continue to rise. Best practices in teaching are pushed aside in favor of standardized metrics that can be used to compare different schools to figure out who should get a piece of the every shrinking pie of funding. This leads to increased class sizes, meaning less interaction between student and teacher, this leads to grade inflation where students do not get a meaningful evaluation of their actual abilities, and it leads to less critical thinking skills in place of rote memorization. One day I will write an entire post probably regarding this subject, but suffice to say there is good reason why a lot of people don’t even respect the institution of education more when many students come out of school without basic writing skills let alone good quantitative skills, how to think critically and understand how science is done. There is also politicization here too, and there should be one place where both parties agree, is that you can’t really spend too much money on education.
- Increasing transparency of science. There is a word I was looking for instead of transparency, but I need the skills of the person who posted the article to my Facebook page to be able to find it. lol What I mean by transparency here is that we take less notice of how it impacts our lives. One commenter on the article said something to the fact that things are so small now we don’t see the gears and the machinery that makes things move so we wonder less how things work. Well I’m not sure I necessarily agree with that, but I think he is right in some way. Just like Republicans fail to see how taxes have actually benefitted their lives, I think many don’t understand how science is part of their everyday world and how knowledge of science would actually improve their lives regardless of what they do for their career. Especially when so many important issues in government rely on a scientifically literate population. I already have a blog post on this, so I won’t go into too much detail, but there does seem to be a general lack of awareness on why science is important and how many things in this world are actually rooted in science. This is also a place where perhaps education is failing the young.
- Increased strain of biblical literalism. In Europe, the fact that the Catholic church has publicly said that evolution is not in conflict with biblical teaching is huge in telling you that, while Catholicism may still have its problems it is at least trying to get away from the biblical literalism that plagues science today in this country. A close relationship with good, good morals, and the happiness that people gain from faith should not in conflict with scientific advance. One of my big problems is how people here can take one particular part of the bible so literally but ignore many of the other parts that are no longer practiced. Any time words from the bible are literally used as a direct argument against scientific findings, I think we have a problem. Much like I am annoyed that science has been associated with the democratic party, I know many good Christians who are annoyed that Christianity has become associated with the Republican Party. Ultimately we have to take both religion and science out of party associations even if sometimes political decisions have to be made regarding science and religion.
Well those are the top 5 I can think of and I think they require a greater amount of overhaul than just one thing. I think ultimately the most important is to continue the fight to make government value education, and also to make corporations responsible for poor practices. I feel like the other ones sort of fade away if we can start to increase scientific literacy and not let corporations run the government.