Saturday, March 23, 2019

We need to believe science

Fact: We have a tremendous problem in the world (especially America) these days with people who disbelieve or distrust proven science.

Some people don't believe in vaccinations. And thus we have an outbreak of about 100 cases of the mumps in the Philadelphia area, centered around Temple University. And a measles outbreak keeping hundreds of kids out of school in Washington state. And brave kids going behind their anti-vax parents' backs to get vaccinated. The terrifying list of examples is long...

And some people don't believe in the overwhelming scientific evidence for climate change or the role that we humans have played in contributing to that change. They don't accept, even as we are bludgeoned by catastrophic weather events (southeastern Africa and the American Midwest most recently) and rising seas, that we must, in the words of the LNP Editorial Board, "change our consumption habits, pivot toward renewable energy and be willing to make inconvenient adjustments to our fossil-fueled lifestyles."

Heck, some people don't even believe that the world is round. I'm looking at you, Kyrie Irving and Mike Hughes.

But is all this disbelief, denial and distrust new? Sadly, no. I was recently browsing through Science Year, The World Book Science Annual for 1971 (Doesn't everyone do that for fun?) when I came across an article titled "The Rejection of Science," by Harvard professor I. Bernard Cohen.

It starts off with a dig at astrology, but then turns its attention other related anti-science matters and also the lack of federal funding for scientific research. Here are some excerpts from this article, which is now nearly a half-century old:

  • "A paradox of our times, and a dismaying one to any scientist, is the dual way in which people look at the planet and stars. We live in an astonishing era when man has made his first celestial voyages, employing all of his scientific and technical genius to send instruments, and even himself, to discover the physical realities of the heavens, Yet, at the same time, there has sprung up a new preoccupation with the stars as supposed messengers of men's fate, charted to guide his present and forecast his future."
  • "The trend toward anti-science, and to some extent anti-rationalism, is surely anomalous in an age characterized by many great scientific advances, and so many new technological and medical applications."
  • "Is this apparent turning away from science, at the moment of its greatest potential, a national, or a worldwide phenomenon? Is it related to increased pseudoscience and mysticism? Has it ever happened before? It often seems that those critics who express the most serious concern about our age assume that things used to be better. But were they? Has our era rejected science more than any other era? I believe that a careful study shows that it has now."
  • "It would seem to me inescapable, therefore, that a real self education in science, its nature and its nurture, and its role in producing effects upon society through the medium of technology, is the first step for anyone who is seriously determined to contribute to a better world."

1. Speaking of one particular denier of man-made climate change, as I write this on the morning of March 23, 2019, The Washington Post reports that:
"Attorney General William P. Barr is expected to make public as early as today the principal conclusions of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin to influence the 2016 election, giving the public its first glimpse into the findings of the 22-month probe.

Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein were at the Justice Department Saturday morning, where they were reviewing Mueller’s report and working on a summary of conclusions to provide to lawmakers."
So that's happening...

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