Ali’s idea finally arrives! I imagine our immigrant from Iraq member suggested this topic because he has been shocked to learn how ignorant Americans are about science and how often those beliefs influence public policy.
Me, too. Public ignorance of basic scientific principles and facts is kind of legendary in this country. We have touched on it tangentially before, but not really since 2011 meetings on anti-intellectualism and the politicizing of science. We’re going to debate my pet peeve, political ignorance, on September 28. So, our summer of ignorance will be a long one.
As for science, we all can name a few big areas of illiteracy that make it into the news on a regular basis because it they impact politics and public affairs.
- Climate change denialism.
- Genetically-modified organism (GMO) food.
There are others. I’ve met people in recent years that believe the government and/or corporations are dispersing harmful chemicals nationwide in a deliberate effort to increase the rate of disease. Pro-life advocates believe abortions cause breast cancer and the pill is an abortifacient (the AMA and American Cancer Society disagree). Bruce, our neurologist, has mentioned before that a lot of his patients want only “natural” treatments, rather than those icky pharmaceuticals with their industry-bought scientific studies. Abstinence only education. Fluoridated water.
Anyway, I think we should start off on Monday by getting some facts of our own. I’m going to do some research on how many Americans actually believe the major scientific fallacies I listed above. Then, we can debate what to me are the really important questions, like who encourages people to believe this stuff, and why do some anti-science views end up influencing public policy while others do not? Do “both sides really do it” equally?
Discussion Questions –
- How many Americans hold flat-earthly wrong views on the major scientific questions of our day? Has it gotten worse or better in recent decades?
- How do these opinions break down by Right and Left, politically? When is ideology/partisanship a driver of ignorance and when is it just coincidence?
- Who in positions of influence is abetting this scientific illiteracy? Politicians? Religious authorities? News Media? Bogus think tanks? People making money off the ignorance?
- Who cares? Which anti-sci views are hurting us all by influencing public policy (e.g., climate) or third parties (e.g., anti-vaccine)
- What can be done? Better science education? Better news media? Less craven politicians?
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- WHY: Must-reads.
- WHEN IT MATTERS:
- Anti-science views become “political” when they becomes an agenda item for the party in question. Recommended.
- Anti-science beliefs threaten American democracy! (Recommended but long, Scientific American,).
- WHICH SIDE IS WORSE?
- IDEA: Wouldn’t you love to see this?
Next Week: Wrongful Criminal Convictions.