It started innocently enough. The enlightenment began when humanity began to question the accepted doctrines and dogma of faith. A few learned people started to realize that without facts or evidence, a belief was simply an opinion. And thus that belief was subject to dispute and discussion. In the latter days of World War II, the age of science entered its golden period. Atomic energy was harnessed (for good and ill), air travel became the joining connection for the shrinking globe and science was rigorously applied to the combat of disease and medical maladies.
That wonderful period continued until the turbulent era of the 1960s. Prior to that, every movie had a hero scientist. The scientist was someone to whom everyone looked to for the answers to the challenges of their predicament. But that changed in the 1960s. The tremendous cultural changes which swept the
Regrettably, rather than reinvigorate debate over process and validation, a wholesale rejection of science began to form. Our space program, once the object of rapt admiration of a hopeful world, withered and faded into salacious stories of astronauts in diapers and metric to English conversion catastrophes. Individuals appropriated science for their own agendas. Greenpeace, beginning with some grounding in ecology has wandered far afield into the realm of pure politics and the philosophy of luddites (Why I left Greenpeace). Al Gore, once a simple politician from
Science remains at the core of our modern lives. And yet few people understand the scientific method, the development of scientific principles or the basis for our technological world. Thus, lacking any firsthand knowledge or critical thinking skills, often science is glorified or demonized by the very beneficiaries of its application. In the case of desperate parents of autistic children, they are conned into believing that somehow mercury, heavy metals or other “unnamed toxins” are at the heart of their children’s condition. It is, to some degree, understandable. There is a powerful desire in the heart of parents to cling to hope for their children, no matter how irrational. It underpins the behavior of the parent who speaks to the media, after their own son or daughter commits an unspeakable criminal act, describing them as “the nicest child you would ever meet”. This said in the face of the fact that their child is 27 and has just stabbed fifteen people to death with a spork.
Setting deep emotion aside, it is the lack of understanding of scientific principles that permits the abuse, misuse and ignorance of science in all parts of our lives. Most damaging is when this occurs in the development of policy. We see the detrimental effects in the rush to manage climate change – based partly on incomplete science which has yet to prove causality between. This is not to say that reducing the amount of emissions into the environment should not be a goal – but the CBA (cost benefit analysis) must be weighed with real facts, not rhetoric and half truths.
Some years ago beta carotene was touted as the next cure all for cancer and a host of other maladies. With little supporting data, our irresponsible media trumpeted it as the next great thing. People began consuming this in supplement form across the
We see this ignorance of reasoned debate play out in the present political campaigns. Individuals simply make up their own facts, deride and abuse those who challenge their preconceived notions and make no effort to become educated on the issues at hand.
There is no arbiter of truth.
The best we can hope for is the continued use and growth of the internet as a source for verification and validation. There are ways to determine if the individual you are debating is playing from a position of integrity or emotion. I hope that we will continue to support reasoned discussion and action.
I am concerned that those people who are the true subject matter experts will shrink back from such discussions, leaving a vacuum to be filled with empty air.